As a content marketer by trade, one of the most successful emerging marketing channels I’ve tapped into over the past couple of years, has been sponsored content.

While sponsored content often has a very broad definition in my experience, it most often translates into connecting with relevant brands, bloggers, and influencers that already have an established (engaged) audience — and coming up with genuine, unique collaborations that get your content in front of their existing audiences.

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From Ted Murphy, IZEA CEO & Founder

Ryan: Which companies are having the most success with influencer marketing and sponsored content right now, and why?

Ted: “The front runners in the space are definitely the consumer packaged goods companies.”

“They were among the first to realize the opportunity with Sponsored Social, and because of that, they have the most experience implementing programs at scale. Outside of CPG, companies that are having success are those who understand the total value chain for sponsored content. They don’t just run one-off campaigns, they are making an ongoing investment in content creation, distribution, listening, and engagement.

These brands leverage content and relationships with influencers to drive additional earned media value and build true long-term marketing assets.”

Ryan: What forms of sponsored content are performing best across the board and do you have any best practices for companies looking to get started with a sponsored content & influencer marketing strategy?

Ted: “Sponsored content should be an exercise in show and tell – not show and sell.”

“No matter the platform, it’s essential to create compelling content that isn’t a sales pitch. Whether it is educational, informational, or simply entertainment, a brand must deliver value to the reader. All forms of content marketing are about building a relationship of trust and that trust is built in small steps forward over time. Trust can be built with an aha moment, a laugh or a nugget of data, and each social platform has unique advantages and disadvantages depending on what you are trying to communicate. Long form content on blogs and YouTube lend themselves to telling more complex stories, while Instagram and Vine are great for quick hits.”

“The key for all forms of content is to make it natural to the environment and the person telling the story. If you are engaging a Creator to produce content on your behalf and distribute it to their audience you need to give them the freedom to do their job and communicate to their audience in their own way.”

Ryan: How should companies identify (and pitch) strong candidates for promoting their content?

Ted: “One of the most common questions that companies have when embarking on Sponsored Social campaigns is how to choose the right Creator. Choosing a Creator can often be like dating – because there are so many options, it’s usually in your best interest to be picky.”

“Here are some steadfast tips to help ensure that you have selected the right Creator.”

“Review the Creator’s social networks and/or blog to be sure they have posted relevant content in the past. This will ensure the Creator and their audience is a match for your brand. Choosing the wrong fit can mean missing out on your perfect audience, as well as losing content authenticity.”

“Review the Creator’s reach and engagement. Reach is important, but reach alone can sometimes be misleading. If your goal is to touch a niche, specialized audience, you want to be sure you are reaching an engaged following; otherwise, your brand message may fall on deaf ears. Look for Creators that have dynamic engagement. You want your campaign to build momentum and buzz outside of the Creator’s owned social networks.”

“Finally, you should try to determine how easy the Creator is to work with. While many vendors can provide you with insights, you should keep tabs on their preliminary interaction with you: Are they responsive? Have they followed instructions? Have they been professional? This experience alone can sometimes uncover how diligent and successful a Creator will be for you.”

Ryan: Most of the notable success stories with sponsored content tend to be larger companies, how can the growing small business owner get the most out of sponsored content?

Ted: “Sponsored Social doesn’t have to mean millions of dollars in marketing budgets.”

“In fact, the recent State of Sponsored Social study found that consumers view TV commercials to be just as effective as Sponsored Social, and far more effective than display ads (a multi-billion dollar industry). Small businesses should assess what their goals are, and where their target market lives. Sponsored Social can be highly effective in niche areas.”