By Shelby Watson
Creating content-driven media to share across social channels is one of the most effective ways for a brand to reach their target audience today. However, there are so many different ways to create advertising content. How do you know which one is the most effective? Especially for brands that are looking to increase positive attitudes towards their product or service, understanding the techniques available and being able to decide which one will work the best for your purposes is incredibly important.
What are the major techniques used by companies on social media?
First, it will help to understand what techniques are available to you. Content marketing is a more traditional tool used by a brand, where hired social media coordinators will create original content for a brand, share that content, and try to increase brand reputation or sales. Typically, this form of content is heavily curated by the company producing it and is easy to control, which can allow a brand to create a cohesive image of itself.
Sponsored content is content that a company pays someone to post in order to promote the brand’s image or encourage sales of its products. Often, sponsored content is posted by influencers within a certain niche market or a well-known or respected celebrity. Sponsored content is almost always disclosed as such, so an audience is aware that the content they are seeing is marketing.
User-generated content is content that an individual posts on their own social media channels promoting a brand or product. Often, user-generated content does not disclose whether or not the poster was paid or otherwise compensated for promoting something. This kind of marketing can be riskier because a brand cannot always predict how an individual will talk about their products or services.
Which techniques are most effective at increasing positive brand attitude?
According to a study completed in 2019, there are significant differences in how audiences receive certain types of content. Sponsored content is generally received less favorably, likely because the disclosure that something is a paid #ad comes off as insincere to a targeted audience. For example, in November of 2021, Amazon teamed up with actor Terry Crews in hopes of improving attitudes towards the working conditions within the company’s fulfillment centers. In a TikTok posted to his channel, Crews visits an Amazon warehouse and acts like a kid in a candy store, excited about the work and employee benefits offered by Amazon (which the video says include paid college tuition and flexible working hours). The internet was quick to point out the insincerity within the video, noting that it does not accurately represent what working at a fulfillment center is like. Crews was also criticized for being willing to promote such an unrealistic video for money. In the end, Amazon’s brand attitude, as well as Crews’, took a hit because of the sponsored content.
On the other hand, content marketing and user-generated content are both better received by audiences because these forms of content are generally trusted more. It makes sense that user-generated content is more likely to read as sincere – if someone who doesn’t work for or with a company promotes a product or service, we are likely to believe they do actually enjoy it. For example, shopping has become a popular niche within TikTok and Instagram. #Amazonfinds on Instagram is filled with all kinds of items people are promoting from the website, and “Amazon Must Haves” videos like this one are incredibly popular across TikTok. Popular ways for brands to encourage positive user-generated content include challenges or giveaways that require users to post something in order to participate.
It is a little more surprising, however, that content marketing and user-generated content show little difference in how they influence audience brand attitudes. Audiences likely trust content marketing more than sponsored content because the connection between author and message is clearly established. We know that a brand is going to market goods or services to us, so we expect to see ads when we follow a brand on social media. However, when we follow a celebrity or influencer, we expect to see content about them and their lives, not necessarily ads. So, this form of marketing reads as trustworthy.
To continue with the example of Amazon, the company uses its Instagram (@amazon) as a way to reinforce its brand image and messaging. The company features humorous reviews of items from its website and uses symbols such as Amazon delivery trucks, the trademark Amazon smile, and the brand’s orange, black, and white color palette in order to support the brand image it has already built. Because we expect to see Amazon promoting itself and the items it sells on its own Instagram page, we are more likely to trust the content they are posting and in turn, may be more likely to purchase something through their platform.
How can this help me market my own brand on social media?
Understanding how your audience perceives different forms of content on social media can allow you to make informed decisions about how to improve brand attitudes. Depending on what your brand is looking to accomplish, you might determine that sponsored content is not the way to go or that you would prefer the control of content marketing over user-generated content. It’s always important to remember that these are general rules and that specific scenarios may call for specific kinds of content. However, using scientific research and recent case studies can help you make better decisions about your brand marketing in the future.
Christandla, F., & Müller, J. (July 2019). Content is king – But who is the king of kings? The effect of content marketing, sponsored content & user-generated content on brand responses. Computers in Human Behavior, 96, 46-55. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2019.02.006