The Key to Success with Sponsored Content

The use of sponsored content (also known as native advertising**) is on the rise, though not many brands understand exactly what it is, how it works, or who is currently using it.

Sponsored content is content (e.g. blog posts, articles, Facebook posts, videos, tweets and Infographics) written (or co-written) by a brand (say SAP) and published on a publisher’s domain (say Forbes.com) for the purpose of acquiring new audiences.

Sponsored content is interesting, engaging, quality content NOT a marketing message. It should add value to the user’s experience (i.e. entertain, educate, enhance communication etc.), and always, always line up with the reader’s expectations on the publisher’s site.

It should also be labeled clearly as originating from the brand or sponsor and not the editorial team of the publisher. Here’s a great example of sponsored content on Forbes.

Why use Sponsored Content – The challenge

In recent years consumers have developed a severe case of “banner blindness.” The banner ads we’re used to seeing alongside regular website content are suffering from consumer suspicion, doubt and even contempt.

Hence marketers have been forced to reconsider the way they advertise since they’re not reaching the audiences they want to.

The opportunity

Sponsored content is more aligned with the media that today’s consumers are used to. It provides brands with an opportunity to engage with consumers using a more relevant message and without losing credibility.

According to the State of Native Advertising 2014 report authored by Hexagram and Spada, the most popular reasons why brands and marketers use sponsored content are:

  • To provide a more relevant message to audiences (67%);
  • To increase consumer engagement (63%);
  • To generate awareness or buzz (62%);
  • To create word of mouth advertising (48%);
  • To combat “banner blindness” (43%).

Who uses Sponsored Content?

The Hexagram report indicates that 62% of publishers offer sponsored content opportunities to advertisers; 41% of brands use sponsored content, and 34% of agencies work on sponsored content campaigns.

Done right sponsored content can benefit both the publisher and the brand. However there’s one rule that should be followed to ensure an effective campaign.

The Rule

Brands must put the needs of their audience first and avoid pitching at all costs.

This forces them to think of creative ways of relaying a brand message without resorting to old advertising tactics that consumers hate and don’t interact with anyway.

When sponsored content is done right it tells a fluent story that is highly appropriate and useful to consumers. Somewhere within the story, a brand message is “tucked in” so tactfully that the reader’s experience is not disrupted with a pitch – like this IBM article published on Forbes.

If this can be achieved then consumers will receive and engage with relevant messages, and brands will invest more with publishers.

Some Final thoughts…

Some brands are not comfortable with the concept of sponsored content – they worry about blurring the lines between editorial and paid content, which could jeopardize consumer trust. This is understandable.

But at the end of the day, as long as readers are getting the kind of content they want and not complaining like in this case, and as long as there’s transparency about the origin of content (e.g. ‘Sponsored Content’ or ‘Brought to you by…” or something similar) then brands have nothing to worry about.

What do you think? I’m interested to hear your views or experiences (both good and bad) about sponsored content.

How the Media Covers Digital Health Topics

The digital health revolution is empowering people to better track, manage, and improve their health.

And the tools are there – smartphones, wireless devices, desktop apps, patient portals, and many more – all able to monitor, analyze, and report health data on an ongoing basis.

But where do people go to discover what tools and technologies are available to help them manage their health?

Well the Internet is a leading source of information. Pew Research indicates that 85% of U.S. adults use the Internet, and 72% of those get their health information online. But do people look for information about digital health on traditional news media outlets like CNN, Foxnews or NBC news?

And if they do, what kind of information do they find once they get there? In fact while we’re on the subject, how much of the digital health conversation do traditional media outlets cover anyway? Is it helpful and productive or is it biased?

These are the questions I sought to answer when I embarked on an amateur study. My hope is that it will spark some interesting conversations or better yet, yield some insights for real research by experts like Susannah Fox.

Methodology

I chose three top news websites [based on popular ranking] including CNN.com, Foxnews.com and Huffington Post. In each case, I went to the news site and did a search for ‘digital health’. Then I reviewed two articles from the first page of SERP and made an evaluation of the site based on:

  • Volume of ‘digital health’ articles published (on the first page of SERP);
  • Indication of various perspectives;
  • Reporter’s bias;
  • Presence of any misinformation;

Results

#1. CNN.com

  • Volume of articles published: Out of 10 results on the first page of SERP there were 8 articles covering the subject of digital health.
  • Indication of various perspectives: Headlines about digital health were either positive or neutral. The content indicated that CNN has a generally favorable view of the subject. However they also did a good job covering both the pros and the cons of digital health e.g. some of the cons discussed were privacy issues, fear, suspicion, etc.
  • Reporter’s bias: Bias is a hard thing to evaluate especially when you’re not trained to spot it. But some statements, which seemed to indicate some bias caught my eye. For example:

“There is a realization that consumers want, and need, products to connect them with their physicians, their medical records, and with relatives who are helping to manage their care…”

Or,

“In the not-too-distant future, you’ll receive a full diagnosis and cure from your smartphone before you have even realized you’re unwell.”

  • Presence of any misinformation:  Here’s an interesting statement from this article:

“ Our informed insight will mean that the doctor’s role will change. They will become coaches, rather than a source of initial diagnosis.”

I’m no expert, but the idea of the doctor’s role changing to that of a coach is pretty absurd. And even if there are apps and devices that can diagnose disease, such technologies empower the patient, but don’t necessarily diminish the doctor’s role.

 #2. Foxnews.com

  • Volume of articles published: Out of 10 results on the first page of SERP there was 1 article covering the subject of digital.
  • Indication of various perspectives: Based on the one digital health article available on Foxnews, the headline of that article i.e. ‘6 Technology Trends That Will Change Your Family’s Health’ was neutral. The content of that article did not reveal any opinion or perspective but simply reported the facts.
  • Reporter’s bias: The reporter doesn’t offer a personal viewpoint about digital health except to say, “…as technology continues to evolve, digital health tools will play an even bigger role in how we stay healthy and fit.”  This reads more like a statement of fact rather than a personal perspective.
  • Presence of any misinformation: In discussing the ubiquitous nature of mobile health apps, the reporter quotes technology enthusiast, Robin Raskin who says,

“The next time you go to your doctor, you may be just as likely to get an app as an aspirin.”

Embellishment? I think so. The comparison of apps to aspirin is like apples to oranges. To suggest that a time will come when aspirin and apps will be interchangeable is misleading since most apps don’t even treat illness in the first place (that’s why many of them don’t need FDA approval).

#3. Huffington Post

  • Volume of articles published: Out of 10 results on the first page of SERP there were 10 articles covering the subject of digital.
  • Indication of various perspectives; Most HuffPo headlines covering digital health were neutral except for two, which showed a favorable perspective i.e. “5 Digital Health Trends of 2013: Turning Lemons into Lemonade” and “The Long-Awaited Revolution: Digital Health Innovation.”

Also statements such as, “The year 2013 is an exciting time to have a brain indicate that HuffPo is incredibly excited about the digital health conversation. They do a great job covering all the opportunities digital health has to offer, but unlike CNN there is little mention of problems, challenges or people’s concerns.

  • Reporter’s bias; In addition to having a one-sided approach to this conversation, HuffPo regularly makes bold statements that leave no doubt in a reader’s mind what side they’re on.

Statements such as this, “The technologies that are emerging are super-exciting, but it’s going to take a sea of change in attitude to make patients (and their doctors) get involved in self care,” seem to be scolding the skeptics.

And others like this, “I believe 2013 will bring a higher form of capitalism in health care…I am excited to be a part of that process and a witness to the creativity and innovation of a difficult market,” firmly establishes their position.

(By the way among the articles sampled from HuffPo, there is no disclaimer that says, “The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.”)

  • Presence of any misinformation; There was no noticeable presence of misinformation on Huffington Post.

Conclusion

Traditional news media outlets cover the topic of digital health differently. Some have an overwhelming interest in the subject (e.g. Huffington Post) while others don’t seem to think it’s a very important one at all (e.g. Fox News).  This tells you which media outlets are committed to telling the story and which ones aren’t.

None of the media outlets appear to have a negative view of the digital health revolution. However CNN did a great job giving equal attention to both the pros and cons of digital health. Huffington Post gave the subject more positive coverage than any other media outlet while Fox wasn’t swayed one way or the other.

There were some misleading statements on both Foxnews and CNN, although these didn’t appear to indicate a blatant intention to mislead.

In any case, it would be great if all leading news media outlets took this conversation seriously and gave it the full attention it deserves. There needs to be more coverage of all sides of the story not just the rosy side. I also think it’s OK for reporters to have an opinion about the subject, but the publication should make it clear whether they endorse that opinion or not. Finally, any kind of misinformation (no matter how insignificant) can cause readers to lose trust in a publication.

Over to You

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this subject. Based on your experience, how do you see news media outlets covering the digital health conversation?

Why Do You Blog? 4 Motives for Posting a Blog

Happy New Year!

Have you made any resolutions? Perhaps this is the year that you will start a blog, or get published? For many writers there are big, audacious goals in the air for 2013.

But what drives bloggers to blog? Why do you blog?

Is it sheer egoism as George Orwell suggests in his not-so-famous short-form essay, ‘Why I write’ (public library) or are there other reasons for writing and posting a blog?

In this article I examine 4 possible motives for blogging. Where do you see yourself?

#1. To influence

These days there are blogs for every industry and category. And in some ways, bloggers in these niches have become more influential than the media. Think about it – because audiences are segmented by special interests, culture and life circumstances bloggers are able to target and influence specific groups by giving them content that resonates with them in a powerful way.

According to data provided by BlogHer 81% of women who use social media trust blogs so much, that 61% bought an item recommended in a blog.

#2. To be known and talked about

A good number of people prefer the quite, obscure life mentioned in Scripture, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands” (1 Thess 4: 11-12). Unfortunately most bloggers do not fall in that category (except the working with your hands bit).

For many bloggers and content writers there is a slight (or severe) strain of vanity that makes us want to be known, admired, talked about, followed, re-tweeted, invited and so on! Even when we say that our content helps to solve other people’s problems, the fact is we badly want to be regarded as ‘the problem solver’ in that scenario. If you’re a serious blogger examine yourself and see if it ain’t so.

#3. Sheer enthusiasm

Some bloggers do it out of sheer enthusiasm. They are highly motivated to tell their stories and share their experiences, which they feel are too valuable to be missed. Because of their passion these bloggers are likely to provide quality content simply because they enjoy what they do. They’re not stressed out about what to write – and it shows in their content. Their blogs tend to promote a more natural conversation, which invites many readers to converse and engage.

What’s nice about this group is they’re not typically driven by money or ambition (even though money tends to follow those who enjoy what they do!). Sharing their stories is for them a way of spreading enthusiasm about the things they love.

#4. To tell it like it is

Reporters must wait until every source is confirmed, and novelists might spend months or years before publishing a book. But there are bloggers who just tell it like it is, as it happens – now! Their motivation is to express personal thoughts about public, and real life situations that are unfolding at the moment. They don’t have time to gather their thoughts and wait for clear patterns to emerge in a story. Their words flow more freely, have less formality, more mistakes and yet ironically more life.

Bloggers who ‘tell it like it is’ are brave because they are most vulnerable to public criticism and brutal feedback. But what’s great about this group of bloggers is their willingness to embrace the hazard that comes with honest and forthright blogging. Better that than to operate in a safe sanctuary where bold perspectives are muzzled.

Over to you? What are your motives for blogging or starting a blog? Do you see  yourself in any of these categories?

How to Write a Great Healthcare Blog Post in 30 Minutes or Less

Are you a healthcare blogger struggling to write valuable blog posts on a time crunch?

Don’t let anyone tell you that producing great blog content is a walk in the park – not even for mainstream ‘A-list bloggers’. But for healthcare bloggers, producing accurate and valuable blog posts requires an even greater time investment due to industry restrictions (HIPAA), privacy laws and the need for more thorough research.

So if you don’t have much time to blog here are a few tips for producing a great blog post in 30 minutes or less.

Use Your Doctor

The best way to obtain great content with minimum time investment is to interview a physician or other healthcare subject matter expert at your hospital or practice. Start by requesting a 10-minute interview on a specific topic (i.e. a topic in which the doctor is an expert) that your hospital or practice wants to be known for e.g. heart health, orthopedics, children’s allergies etc.

Assuming that you have cultivated a good relationship with the doctor or expert, it shouldn’t be too hard to get a short interview particularly if you plan for it way in advance. Also keep in mind that doctors have egos too, and are usually more than happy to talk about their subjects of expertise.

Capture on video

Once you have secured an interview, prepare to record it on video. You don’t need expensive or professional equipment to do this. An iPad, flip-camera or even a smart phone are more than enough to capture ‘good enough’ footage of your interview.

For our purposes video is the best format to capture the initial interview because you can later transform it into many other formats. Remember to keep the Q&A very brief (this way you’re more likely to get more interview opportunities in the future). I suggest that you ask only one key question and then let the expert talk as long as she wants about the topic (they usually do!).

Produce Many Formats

Now that you have some raw video footage there’s a lot that you can do with that.

  • Quickly edit it (5 minutes) and post on YouTube and the corporate blog (remember that video is not searchable unless you include some key-word rich text that describes what the video content is all about)
  • Extract the audio and publish as a podcast on your blog, iTunes or any other platform (again key-word rich descriptions apply here as well)
  • Extract images to post on Facebook and Google+
  • Obtain ‘tweetable talking points’ using 140-characters or less
  • If you’re super-creative develop an infographic to illustrate the main ideas that the doctor discussed in the interview.
  • And of course you can also transcribe the interview and post as a Q&A article (or series of articles) on your blog.

Key Takeaway

As a healthcare blogger one of your goals is to provide accurate and helpful healthcare information. This takes time and research. But you can use the experts around you who already have this information at their fingertips. This will help you to save a lot of time without compromising on the quality of your content. One more thing! Just make sure that the doctor or expert reviews the final version before you hit ‘publish’.

Over to you:What are your strategies for producing a quick but valuable healthcare blog content?

Create Your Blog in 3 Easy Steps

With over 72 million blogs on WordPress and 42.7 million on Tumblr, it’s safe to say everyone is blogging these days.

If you haven’t already started, consider a blog as a means of publishing your own work. Remember too that blogging is also a great way to market your skills or professional work on the web.

Easy Create Your Blog in 3 Easy Steps
Starting a blog is a matter of 3 simple steps

Sure, starting your own blog may seem intimidating, but it’s really a matter of three easy steps. Once you’ve completed those, all that’s left is the writing.

Step 1: Deciding What to Write About

The number one excuse for not starting a blog is, “Oh, I just don’t know what I would talk about.” Don’t let that hold you back though; ask yourself three simple questions to decide what you would blog about.

  • What are you passionate about?
  • Is there a subject you think needs more attention on the web?
  • Are you an expert in your field and have knowledge to share?

Step 2: Choosing Your Platform

There are multiple blogging platforms available for beginning bloggers; it’s just a matter of choosing the one that will be right for you. There are also free options that are a good place to start. However, if you even have a small amount of experience, it’s worth looking into purchasing your own domain from a reputable web hosting company.

  • WordPress – This is the most widely used free blogging platform worldwide. If you decide to switch to a self hosted site at a later date, you can easily import your previous work.
  • Blogger – This is another free blogging platform. It provides a variety of themes to choose from; however the software is not as widely used as WordPress
  • iPage – This hosting site sells domains starting at $2.95/year. 24/7 live chat and phone support, makes it a great option for the beginning blogger.

Step 3: Getting Set Up

Once you’ve chosen your topic and platform, it’s time to customize your site. While the design and layout is wholly based on your personal preference and style, don’t forget the basics:

  • About page – This page shows readers why you’re qualified to be speaking on the topic and helps them understand who you are.
  • Social media buttons – If you want your blog to be seen, it’s important to include social media buttons. This allows your readers to share it with their friends, giving you much needed publicity.
  • Contact info – This is one of the most important parts of a blog, and far too many people forget to include it. Be sure to give readers as many options to contact you as possible e.g. phone, email, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, snail mail.

When the technical stuff is done, the fun part begins. From now on, it’s just about content analysis (or maintenance) and content curation. Being a writer, you can utilize the tools you already have to put together quality posts that are fresh and relevant.

Over to you: What other tips can you share for creating a new blog.

Amazon Publishing: Helping Readers and Writers Find Each Other

In a recent article titled “7 Dirty Little Book Publishing Secrets Every Writer Needs to Know”, Susan Daffron at Copyblogger asked an audience of writers, “Where is Your Book?”

It is a scary proposition.

Most of us are content to write blogs, white papers and all kinds of digital content. Why not printed books? (And no – print isn’t dead, just struggling).

It is a good time to be a writer.

Sure the dynamics of publishing are changing. Amazon has made sure of that with their bold entrance into that industry (which was imminent by the way).

“Amazon did what any successful business tries to do: it looked for opportunities to grow by offering different services than its competitors.” ~ Laurel Saville, Embracing New Opportunities, New York Times

All of a sudden there are now huge opportunities for writers.

There will always be an appetite for books (regardless of the format) and writers will have their fair share of work.

The good news is that writers don’t have to put up with publishers mistreatment of them any more. Now they have the option of a simplified process: writer to e-publisher to reader.

Good deal for writers

What Amazon understands is that there is no love lost between writers and their publishers. But writers need readers and readers have a special connection to the authors they love. Everyone in the middle is dispensable.

The only thing readers want is to read a good book. They don’t care about the details.

When all is said and done the relationship between the writer and the reader will remain intact.

Of course it remains to be seen how Amazon will treat book authors in the long run. But for now Amazon is helping readers and writers to find each other.

What do you think? Am I over-simplifying the issue? What’s your take on it?