For individuals that are fortunate (and patient) enough to build up a social media following, it can be tempting to accept sponsored messages that bring in some quick cash. But is trading off a piece of your audience's attention really a good idea?
For one, I am not so sure it ever is.
My regular readers probably aren't surprised that I'm taking this view. It isn't that I have anything against making money, of course, just that I think passing along sponsored content in social isn't necessarily the best way to do it. It might even be one step below the low-quality content that has gotten me so worked up lately.
To understand why, here are a few reasons I prefer to stay away from sponsored content:
1. It can lose hard-won viewers.
Think of the time, effort, and creativity it takes for you to build up the kind of social following that is valuable to advertisers. Can you afford to turn your listeners away? Having someone unfollow you or stop paying attention would be terrible.
2. Your reputation and credibility are on the line.
Even if you have final approval over social content that goes out on your account, you don't really have control over messages you're being paid to advertise. That means that, if another company says something you don't agree with, it's going to put you in a fairly uncomfortable position.
3. You might not refer that same sponsor for free.
If you really believe in something, why not recommend it to your audience for free? While it's true that you might be leaving an income opportunity on the table, it's also true that your followers will be able to tell that you're putting their interests first and offering unbiased opinions.
4. Nobody pays attention anyway.
If you mark your sponsored social content as such, and you should (FTC Disclosure Rules), then you're giving the impression that you're saying what you are because you're being paid to. And, if you aren't denoting your sponsored content in some way, not only are you skirting consumer laws, there's a good chance that your social contacts will pick up on it anyway and tune it out.
5. You become the entertainment.
There's a reason Vegas performers book multiple month (and year) contracts with 7 days per week performances: people expect performers to be "on" when they are. Take a day off to rest up and you'll certainly hear about it. Not only are expectations greater, but the hecklers can start making guest appearances.
6. There are better uses for your social profiles.
Ultimately, your social accounts are valuable to 'you'. Not everybody is an actual entertainer, so use the limited amount of space and attention you earn online to present your business' knowledge, services, and great ideas that help your audience solve their challenges rather that spending precious time moving someone else's agenda forward.
In the end the choice is always going to be yours. But just think for a moment about why those sponsors aren't doing the work of building up networks themselves. Likely it's because building an audience is not easy, nor quick. Are you willing to put your credibility and audience on the line for their cash?