How Do You Make Sponsored Content Trustworthy?

Native advertising is everywhere: Business Insider predicted spending for it will rise from an estimated $7.9 billion in 2015 to $21 billion in 2018. Native advertising is a form of paid media where the ad experience follows the natural form and function of the user experience in which it is placed, as defined by Sharethrough. But is it effective? Trust is a top concern when it comes to native advertising and sponsored content. Let's discuss how marketers can avoid making readers feel deceived or misled, while also guaranteeing that a brand won't lose its credibility.

Ensure disclosures are specific to each social platform.
Different types of content require different forms of disclosures. Let's start with short-form content. This type includes tweets, Pinterest pins, Facebook posts, Instagram posts and Vine videos. Any short-form post sponsored by a brand should include a disclosure at the beginning such as #ad, (ad), #sponsored, (sponsored) and so on. This goes for Twitter parties as well, where even hosts are required to use #ad in their tweets.

Longer-form content like blog posts should contain a written disclosure at the top of the actual blog content. If you are working with more than one influencer, this is also an awesome place to include a campaign hashtag, which not only highlights the content as part of a bigger marketing campaign, but can also lead interested readers to similar content. As for longer videos, the influencers should both verbally and visually disclose any brand relations at the beginning of the video. As the Federal Trace Commission (FTC) puts it, "any clarifying information necessary to prevent deception must be disclosed clearly and prominently to overcome any misleading impression."

Have a dedicated resource to monitor the content for quality and FTC guidelines.
All sponsored content, including any piece created by a social influencer, requires a disclosure. Social influencers are typically hired first and foremost for their authenticity, so trying to "hide" that a post is sponsored simply won't float with their audience or the FTC. Whether the influencer is just attending an event in your name or you're forging on a year-long partnership, it is the brand's responsibility to ensure the correct disclosure directions are given. Why is that? Because the brand will be the entity ultimately held responsible for liability issues. National retailer Lord & Taylor just made headlines for having to settle with FTC for charges of deceiving customers by paying for native ads without any form of disclosures. Video network Machinima also just settled charges stemming from reports that they paid YouTubers to include footage of the Xbox in their reviews. The Youtubers were allegedly told to claim the footage as personal opinions, and to not to disclose the payments.

The same FTC guidelines go for employees at brands and agencies working for those brands. Last year, the FTC brought charges against Sony when an ad agency working with them on a PlayStation Vita campaign had its employees tweet about the gaming console's features without disclosing any connection to the brand.

Having a dedicated resource at your brand or through an influencer marketing company to monitor all sponsored content for both quality and adherence to FTC guidelines will save you from legal (or trust) issues down the line. Being upfront about professional relationships will be the first key to retaining consumer trust.

Work with influencers that actually fit your brand. (No, really.)
According to Forbes, 43 percent of Millennials rank authenticity over content. To ensure authenticity in your sponsored content, your influencer partnerships should be with people who are a lifestyle fit and possess a content style that's in line with your brand's values. For example, say a pharmaceutical company enlists a fashion blogger that never touches on health-related subjects to create content for their brand. The blogger's audience will smell the forced messaging from a mile away.

Do your research. Resources are available for marketers to learn how to keep content authentic. Also, delve into the content and passions of each influencer you're considering or have an influencer marketing company do the research for you. The result will be meaningful relationships between both your brand and the influencer, and your brand and their audience.

Final note: Sponsored content is showing no signs of slowing down but consumers' acceptance of it certainly could. If you take the necessary measures to follow legal guidelines while still allowing influencers to show their true selves in their content, both consumers and the FTC will be satisfied.