Making Sense of Social Media Sponsorships and Partnerships

January 28, 2019 | 3 minute read
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Just a few years ago, a top brand or company might have talked about “sponsoring” a top social media influencer or thought leader. Now, however, the discussion has shifted away from “sponsorship” towards much more of a collaborative “partnership,” in which there is expected to be much greater alignment and collaboration between the two parties. That might sound like a scary new world for top social media influencers, filled with terms like return on investment (ROI) and key performance indicators (KPIs), but it can also be very liberating.

The Changing Dimensions of the Social Media World

So why has the thinking changed? One big reason has to do with the “growing up” of the social media sector. At one time, throwing money at a top blogger or social media influencer was considered par for the course, and nothing much was really expected of the relationship, other than perhaps greater brand visibility and new access to a coveted demographic. But brands didn’t do a lot of thinking about the actual ROI of the sponsorship. In fact, they viewed the sponsorship of a blogger much more along the lines of a charitable donation, where they were really just looking to support a worthy cause and maybe get some positive PR along the way.

But something very dramatic has happened over the past few years – the social media influencer game has become such big business, and so much money is being thrown around these days, that bloggers and thought leaders and social media influencers are actually expected to help drive product, boost sales, or increase total audience in tangible ways. If you’re “sponsoring” a top fashion blogger, for example, you want to make sure that you’re doing more than just giving a lot of free samples away.

The New World of Partnerships and Collaboration

As a result, the discussion has shifted much more in the “partnership” direction, as brands actively seek out thought leaders and influencers who can help to advance key business priorities. There is expected to be much greater alignment in goals and strategy, as well as much more “give and take” about what steps need to happen next. 

In the past, for example, sponsorships were basically what folks in the biz called “untethered funds” – once a blogger got the funds, he or she could spend it however they wanted. Those days are over, as evidenced by all the negative PR about Instagram influencers that document their lavish lifestyles online without actually producing any real results.

How to Win Social Media Partnerships

Going forward, then, it’s important to pay attention to this shifting dynamic. When you approach a company or organization, frame the discussion in terms of a “partnership” rather than a pure-play “sponsorship.” Be prepared to bring facts about the ways that you can help build audience, extend a brand into a new demographic, or create online events that are tied into specific causes near and dear to the sponsor. It might sound like a cheesy cliché, but here it goes: you need to be aiming for a “win-win” situation where both you and the sponsor benefit.

Just remember – it takes time to build up trust and support. It’s no longer just about touting your tens of thousands of followers, or your impressive list of viral hits online – it’s also about showing how your supporters are very similar to those customers a company might be attempting to court, and how your approach and philosophy are a very natural fit for the message or mission of a partnering organization.

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Chris Zilles

As the Founder and CEO of Social Media Headquarters (HQ), Chris manages an online community of marketers, students, entrepreneurs and digital enthusiasts. One of his goals is to help others grow professionally with the help of the latest tips and trends in social and digital marketing. You can follow up on Twitter @SocialMediaHQ.

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