Do Sponsored Content Disclosures Affect Engagement?

Followers turn a blind eye to the sponsored versus non-sponsored content debate. What they really care about is the quality and genuine nature of the content.

Sponsored content proves to be a useful tool for brands looking to engage followers by integrating their products into the flow of daily content from social media influencers.

Recent talks about stricter enforcement of the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines–which require influencers to identify posts for which they’ve received compensation–have brands considering the future effectiveness of these types of marketing efforts.

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The sponsored post on top from nonprofit First Five CA and Markerly received more than 16,800 likes, while the non-sponsored post on the bottom received 9,308 likes.

Oftentimes brands lament, “But isn’t engagement most important? Who engages with these ads?” It’s important to ask ourselves what engagement looks like with traditional TV, print and digital efforts.

The truth is that influencer marketing, due to its relatable and genuine nature, is often more effective at engaging followers, even with disclosures. When done correctly, sponsored content can receive equal and, in some scenarios, more engagement than non-sponsored content.

People actually like sponsored content

While disclosures have been standard practice with bloggers for years, influencers on newer social platforms haven’t been as diligent about disclosures until recently. With the increasing amount of opportunities available to influencers on these platforms, they are beginning to understand the importance of being transparent about their affiliations with brands, going beyond Instagram and YouTube and even into Snapchat.

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The sponsored video on top from Markerly and Liquid Nails received more than 408,000 views, while the non-sponsored video on the bottom received 175,000 views.

Many brands have reservations about whether or not disclosing the fact that the post is an ad will minimize follower engagement, particularly since there is a stigma attached to these posts, claiming that followers don’t want to “read an ad.” Recent studies, including one of our own, have shown that engagement with sponsored content might be more surprising than you’d think.

Our data reveals that non-sponsored posts and sponsored posts have nearly identical like rates, meaning that followers may not be as off-put by sponsored content as advertisers may believe.

The study, which analyzed approximately 86,000 influencers, found that followers tend to engage more with sponsored content than non-sponsored content across most follower ranges.

In the 1,000 to 10,000 range, non-sponsored content performs slightly higher than sponsored content, but there is a clear switch in the 10,000 to 100,000 range and above, where sponsored content received greater engagement.


The reason for this is that sponsored content, when done correctly, evokes emotions and includes a call to action for followers to share their own stories. It also usually provides value to the audience through storytelling, discounts, tips on how to save money or have an unbelievable experience or a solution to a problem that many of the followers can relate to.

While the recent push for influencers to meet FTC guidelines and identify paid endorsements has some brands considering whether the value and genuine nature of these posts will be compromised, the data indicates that sponsored content identification has minimal to no impact on engagement.

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The sponsored content on top from Markerly and Beyond Meat received 42 comments and more than 6,000 pins, while the non-sponsored content on the bottom received 11 comments and 1,500 pins.

Quality is key for follower engagement with sponsored content

As it turns out, what drives us to engage with content is not whether a post is sponsored or non-sponsored, but rather the presence of specific features that followers are either very receptive to or that deter us.

After analyzing the posts in the sponsored content study, Markerly found that there were four content characteristics that fostered more engagement:

  • High-quality photography.
  • Unique content, featuring the influencer or their family within the post.
  • Natural product placement.
  • Text separate from photos.

First and foremost, one of the biggest differentiators between “good” sponsored content and “bad” sponsored content is quality. Social media is visually stimulating, particularly with platforms like Snapchat and Instagram. With these graphic-heavy platforms growing in use year after year, we’ve seen content quality increase in parallel. Followers have set the bar high for content requirements as they have become accustomed to images and videos that feature quality camera work and editing.

Also very important to keep in mind with the development of engaging influencer content is that followers want to see posts that look like they fit naturally into the content flow. Posts that are visually more organic and casually integrate a product into the influencer’s every day activity enhance the value and credibility, as it seems like the influencer does like the product, with or without compensation.

It’s important to note that if an influencer does not like the product, stipulate in your contract that they are to provide you with private feedback about their experience. Only work with influencers that genuinely like your product.

Finally, followers prefer simple content that is easy to follow, again enhancing the visual appeal and genuine feel of the post. While text is helpful to convey a brand message, it should remain a separate entity from the visual aspect of the post. For platforms like Instagram, which allow for separation of images and text, it’s important to utilize the the image as strictly for visual graphics and the text section specifically for text, creating two separate, simple pieces that don’t overwhelm the follower.

If you’re looking to work with a social media influencer for your next marketing campaign but seem hesitant about identifying sponsored content, remember that followers turn a blind eye to the sponsored versus non-sponsored content debate. What they really care about is the quality and genuine nature of the content–something any brand can do when paired with the right influencer. Weave your brand into their narrative, and you’ll have overwhelming success.

Sarah Ware is CEO of influencer marketing firm Markerly.