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How to Integrate Branded Content and Social Media

2009 December 8

Digital media is being pulled in two different directions.  Branded content, produced by professionals and distributed by corporations, is increasingly being made available online.  At the same time, consumers themselves are producing their own content in astonishing quantity and, sometimes, quality as well.

The two forces seem diametrically opposed, can they be reconciled?  For either to survive, they will need to be.

The Media Revolution

Our conception of media has changed drastically over the past decade.  What used to be a bastion of authority has given way to an “information wants to be free,” open source, socially networked movement.

News is not only created by journalists and editors behind closed doors, but also by private individuals in their spare time.

Live footage transmitted out of Iran by its own citizens can transform world opinion. A clip from a talent show being replayed on YouTube can achieve far more coverage and impact than the original broadcast.  A rumor reverberating through the blogosphere can be picked up and reported through traditional news outlets.

The line between professional and amateur has been substantially blurred.

The Profit Crises

Inevitably content, like anything else, must be paid for.  Subjects must be researched, sources checked, graphics created, etc.

All of that takes time and effort and we can’t expect, nor would we want, to rely on amateurs to provide us with all of our entertainment and information.  Just like anybody else who provides us a service, professional content people expect to be paid.

Moreover, even free content isn’t exactly free.  Servers need to store it, fiber optic cables need to transmit it and web developers need to create an environment where it can be produced and displayed.  These things are, as Chris Anderson pointed out in his latest book, marginally free but not actually free.

So we have, in fact, not one but two profit crises:

Today’s media industry is in crises: Newspapers are being closed, journalists are being downsized and profits and being transformed into losses.  With such an onslaught of free information, who will pay for content?

Social Networks are notoriously unprofitable:  The situation isn’t so rosy in user generated media either. While collective audiences are huge, advertisers value the audience at only a fraction of what they are willing to pay for branded content.  After all, most amateur content is crap, some of it offensive, etc.  (See here for more on this).

An obvious solution to both problems would be to integrate Branded Content and Social Media.

How Free and Paid Content Can Work Together

There are 2 possibilities that make sense to me:

1. Socially-empowered content sites: Big content sites with a loyal audience can easily add social components. People like to comment on articles and it’s possible to set up successful user blogs – so adding a profile, scoring system, etc. is relatively easy and makes a lot of sense.

Ranking user content as part of a branded content platform is a fantastic way for amateurs and up-and-comers to gain attention and reputation alongside established professionals.

This idea becomes more powerful when the site is aggregated with other content sites: So people can share their friends across the networks. Social networks are already doing this, by piggybacking on registrations of larger sites like Google, Facebook and Twitter, but branded content sites still haven’t caught on.

For smaller brands, aggregation is probably the only way to take advantage of the social media revolution. (See the Primal Forces that Drive Social Networks)

2. Content Plug-ins: The second way would be for existing social networks to build resources for content sites to connect through them (through either API’s or co-development). This is exponentially more challenging technically, but not impossible.

Users already see the value in this and share what they see in mass media with their friends on social sites.  Traditional media companies can do a lot more to help the process along, but they need to get serious about social partnerships.

Some Practical Ideas

Add social newswires to content sites. Real Clear Politics does this with Twitter, and there are a lot of tools around the web can help branded sites bring in social content.  There are a variety of free plug-ins for Word Press, for example.

The problem here isn’t technical, but philosophical.  Most traditional media companies want to keep audiences engaged with their content.  Many believe that the notion that value can be gained by sending users out of the site is lunacy.

However, it can be done and be done well, as The Atlantic Wire shows.

Syndicated Blogs: Top blogging sites should allow their users to syndicate their blogs on branded content sites.  Bloggers would get more exposure, the content sites would get more content and inventory and the hosting site could get a share of the higher CPM’s.

Of course, Branded media sites would have to agree, once they stop whining about how they can’t make money on the web.

Portable Profiles: By enabling users to keep their friends when they join mini networks on branded content sites, top social networks can empower their users, forge revenue sharing deals and continue to spread the social movement.  The emergence of registration services like OpenID and profile aggregators should send a clear signal that people want to own their identities.

The above is not an exhaustive list, and I’m sure there are people with more ideas out there, but it does appear that efforts in this area have been pretty feeble.

If digital media is going to become seriously profitable, it would seem that everybody is going to think more seriously about integrating branded and social media.


20 Responses leave one →
  1. December 8, 2009

    Great post, thanks for sharing

  2. December 8, 2009


    Thanks for saying so:-)

    – Greg

  3. December 8, 2009

    Excellent and informative article. Thanks.

  4. December 8, 2009


    Thanks. I’m glad you liked it.

    – Greg

  5. Varsha Peshavaria permalink
    December 9, 2009

    Hi Greg,
    As usual excellent and thought provocating post. Tangible monetary benefits are difficult to see as yet particularly from social media, yet these kind of techonologies are changing our lives significantly and very fast. Thanks for the post.

  6. December 9, 2009


    Thanks for you input.

    – Greg

  7. December 9, 2009

    Hi Greg, thanks for sharing the article.

    I would like to add a further question.

    – How do you see the relation between content’s quality and content’s perceived quality?

    I do think that something more that the endorsement created by branded content is needed in order to allow users to foresee this relation.


  8. cweastman permalink
    December 9, 2009

    Good start…. but what’s to follow?

  9. December 9, 2009


    Good question. First things, first I guess.

    – Greg

  10. December 9, 2009


    I guess that quality, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder…

    …And even that is more complex than it would seem. Some content is viewed a lot, some shared a lot and some rated highly.

    So in the end,a big part of the solution is about presentation and brand values. Some brands might prefer editors choice, some on user metrics. Usually the user is given a choice through an ajax module.

    – Greg

    – Greg

  11. Debbie Harris permalink
    January 6, 2010

    Very informative. Thanks. I am investigating Social Media and best to utilize it for real estate professionals. Keeping it effective seems to be the key.


  12. January 6, 2010


    Good luck and Happy New Year!

    – Greg

  13. January 19, 2010


    Thanks for your post. I’m curious as to how you define “branded content”. Do you define it “produced by professionals and distributed by corporations” as your first paragraph states? Also, what sites do you consider to be “branded content” sites? …any site that is owned and run by a business or organization rather than an individual or network of individuals? Or do you see it as sites who’s product is their content – like publishers, analysts, and broadcasters? Where do you categorize businesses who create content to help drive sales – like podcasts, webinars, testimonial videos, online demos, product sell sheets and brochures — that companies post on their web site. Would you also consider that “branded content”.


  14. January 19, 2010


    That’s a very good question and I think it’s at least partly in the eye of the beholder, so I don’t think there is a precise definition.

    However a brand is a promise that is signified by visual cues. When a sports story is in the New York times, it is intended differently and perceived differently than it would be in Sports Illustrated, largely because the brand promise is different.

    This is actually amazingly powerful. I didn’t know how powerful until I had the occasion to look at what some focus groups said about the news section on our market leading general interest portal. While they gave it high marks for design and usability, they gave it low marks for content, which they felt was “yellow journalism” and not very serious. They much preferred the articles on the leading news site.

    What they didn’t know was that we also owned the market leading news site and were, in fact, syndicating the articles onto the portal. The users were making a distinction that didn’t exist. They were the same articles written by the same journalists!

    Social media content is unbranded. It is about the community as a whole, rather than a specific promise about content.

    – Greg

  15. March 5, 2010

    Great article! I feel that the future of Social Media Marketing (smmarketing?) is different for the small-business person (vs. the big brands) in many ways. We work with local Property Management companies with 50 to 100 Vacation Rentals or smaller resorts and hotels. The incremental gain they get from exploiting social media means a great deal to their businesses. They do not have big marketing budgets to begin with. Having friends and fans is meaningful but the bigger payoff is unbiased guest-reviews (which we place right next to the property info on their listings) as this obviously makes the vacation shopper doing research very comfortable with making an online booking. Anyway – kudos for your great article and starting this great online conversation. Thank you Greg!

  16. March 5, 2010


    Thanks for the kind words. I hope to see you back.

    – Greg

  17. March 15, 2010

    Wow, this is a very interesting look at the relationship between brands and social media. I think whoever figures this one out the best is going to create some real momentum in this social media race.

    Well written and great information,
    Social Media Sean

  18. March 15, 2010


    Thanks. I’m glad you liked it.

    – Greg

  19. May 4, 2010

    Great piece – thanks!

    I have been working with brands and blogs and have set up to connect the 2 with integrity and transparency I do believe it can work. As long as brands allow the blogs to write their own interesting content around the product, using briefs and guidelines to make sure it has value, I think it works.

    I’ve called it a Digitorial = digital media + advertorial, we are running with it!

  20. May 4, 2010


    Thanks for the heads up. Good luck with it!

    – Greg

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