Over the past year, the sponsored post has become the hot new marketing tool of choice for publishers and brands alike. For brands, sponsored posts allow them to tap into the audience of publishers like Buzzfeed, Gawker and The Atlantic; for publishers, sponsored posts provide a much-needed source of revenue.
It’s a simple trade — cash for audience and content — not too different from the ad-sale relationship publishers have had with brands for years.
If you think this is where the sponsored content phenomenon will end, then think again. The Huffington Post is taking sponsored content to the next level and beginning to break down the boundaries between brands and publishers.
As a site that publishes an article very 58 seconds, The Huffington Post has never been afraid of aggressive expansion. Now, they’re launching entirely new sections of the site that are sponsored by brands, like Cisco’s new Impact X section, “where people, technology and social converge.”
“We are empowering brands to take ownership of the real-time stories they want to tell.”
Impact X features stories about people who are using technology to make an impact for the greater good. Instead of creating original content for Cisco, HuffPo’s social marketing team curates new HuffPo articles about technology and social impact, placing them in the Impact X section. This provides Cisco with a steady stream of original branded content, and gives the Huffington Post a way to monetize content the moment it’s published.
“We are empowering brands to take ownership of the real-time stories they want to tell by putting in place the right content strategy, by connecting it deeply to social to maximize earned media, and by strategically aligning content and paid advertising strategies,” HuffPo publisher Janet Balis told Digiday.
Balis packed an impressive amount of buzzwords into that quote (Real-time! Social! Earned media! Strategically aligning!), but HuffPo’s new sponsored content pages are definitely providing brands with a lot of value. If Cisco launched their own blog on tech’s social impact, they’d likely see a modest amount of readers at best. On HuffPo they’re going to reach many more eyeballs, thanks to HuffPo’s direct traffic, as well as the site’s strong search performance.
And once people land on HuffPo content, they share it — at the Digiday Publishing Summit in Scotsdale, Ariz., last week, Balis revealed that HuffPo sees 81 million social actions every month, and 800,000 Twitter referrals and 2 million Facebook referrals every day. During Impact X’s first 10 days up and running, it reached 10 million Twitter accounts and generated 20 million Twitter impressions, according to Digiday.
What makes HuffPo’s new strategy particularly interesting is the fact that brands sponsoring sections don’t need to fill it with just HuffPo content. Johnson & Johnson’s Global Motherhood page features original content created by Johnson & Johnson, as well as content curated by the HuffPo team. In a way, Johnson & Johnson is becoming a part of HuffPo’s editorial operation, publishing content on the HuffPo CMS.
In Impact X’s first 10 days, it reached 10 million Twitter accounts.
This presents an exciting new opportunity for brands that want to create their own original content but don’t want to go through the pains of building an audience. They can now drastically speed up the process by launching their own HuffPo section.
Though HuffPo’s the first, it likely won’t be the last publisher to experiment with taking sponsored content in this direction. Gawker Founder Nick Denton has indicated he imagines giving brands similar power through the new Kinja platform that’s being rolled out on Gawker sites Deadspin and Jalopnik. Expect sponsored content to head in intriguing and controversial new directions over the next few years, as the boundaries between publishers and brands to continue to blur.