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Content publishers have known for years that publishing sponsored content, which is paid for by advertisers, along with original content can damage the user experience on a website. The Federal Trade Commission knows it, too, and that's why there are laws in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR Title 16 Section 255) that content publishers must follow in order to properly disclose sponsored content as such. Now, a study from MediaBrix and Harris Interactive shows us just how many people find various types of sponsored content to be misleading and annoying.

The Public Perception of Sponsored Content

According to the data shown in the chart below, 86% of people believe that sponsored video ads which appear to be regular, unpaid content are misleading. Written content (i.e., advertorials in magazines) that has been paid for is considered to be misleading by 66% of people, and 61% believe that infomercials on television are misleading.On the other hand, sponsored content that is published on Twitter and Facebook typically is not as obtrusive as sponsored videos, advertorials, and infomercials, which might be why the study found that people are more accepting of it. According to the MediaBrix study, 57% of people think Facebook sponsored stories are misleading, and 45% of people think Twitter promoted tweets are misleading.

Sponsored Content Misleading Chart

What Should Authoritative Content Publishers Do?

While publishing sponsored content can be lucrative, it can damage the user experience on a website and tarnish the site's brand reputation, which are two critical considerations for content publishers. At a time in the content industry when publishers are constantly looking for more ways to monetize their content and websites while balancing their credibility and the usability of their websites, the debate over publishing sponsored content will continue. Authoritative Content publishers should weigh the pros and cons very carefully before they risk damaging their reputations with their audiences by publishing sponsored content.In other words, Authoritative Content publishers should be extremely selective and only consider publishing sponsored content that is highly relevant and useful to their audiences. Consider creating a checklist and evaluate each potential piece of sponsored content against that checklist. Questions might include:

  • Does the sponsored content add value to my existing content?
  • Does the sponsored content offer something useful or meaningful to my audience?
  • Is the brand or company behind the sponsored content appropriate for my site, audience, and brand?
  • Is the sponsored content high quality and authoritative?
  • Is the sponsored content written by an expert or credible person?
  • Is the sponsored content so good that my audience will want it regardless of whether or not it's sponsored?

Create your own checklist that puts sponsored content up against strict rules and use it as a litmus test to help you decide whether or not you should publish that content.What are your thoughts about publishing sponsored content?Image: Harris Interactive

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