STUDY: Influencers Know the ‘Sponsored Social’ Game Better Than Marketers



IZEA, the self-described “pioneer of social sponsorship”, knows a bit about connecting clients with popular social media users in the interest of increased exposure and, of course, sales.

Last week saw the release of the company’s fifth annual “State of Sponsored Social” report created in collaboration with research firm Halverson Group in order to reveal trends in that rapidly growing digital niche.

The big finding: sponsored social is now the second most common digital marketing tool behind only the trusted display ad.


  • A majority of marketers (52 percent) have a separate budget for paid social promos.
  • Most don’t pay via the old “free product samples”…they use cold cash.
  • The amount of money involved is increasing: “influencers” on the whole reportedly derive 63 percent of their income from sponsorships

In short, this isn’t your classic PR model. We asked IZEA Founder/CEO Ted Murphy for his take on the report.

But first, a few more findings:

  • Most social “creators” name paid sponsorships as their main source of income (“Mom and Dad” notwithstanding)
  • 80 percent say they create at least one sponsored post per month, and 40 percent do it once or more each week
  • They want to increase the value of their skills: 53 percent have attended some sort of educational event designed for “social media creators/influencers”

Another key takeway: influencers are smart…and picky. 63 percent claim to be “aware of” related FTC guidelines on promotional content, while only 10 percent of marketers can say the same. And the most important factors they weigh when deciding whether to work with a sponsor are clear:

  • Content must be relevant to their fans
  • They must be “proud to represent” the brand

They’re also generous: “72 percent share additional posts about sponsors, for free, outside of their contractual obligations.”

Here’s Murphy’s take:

How can influencers be strategically chosen, and how can their relative value to a client be measured?

Brands use a variety of standards to choose influencers; they survey past content, evaluate the influencer’s social following, and note the influencer’s audience. However, brands will often overlook the most important statistic: engagement.

Some influencers have hundreds of thousands of followers who never interact with them, but another influencer might have fifty thousand followers and have better interaction, making him/her more valuable. Brands should also take the time to look at a wide variety of influencer types and the platforms on which they engage. The value in a campaign will lie in the amount of engagement you receive across multiple platforms.

How can one determine ROI based on the scale of the individual influencer’s following?

Return on investment can be measured multiple ways, but it’s really up to the brand to decide what is most important for their campaign. Sponsored Social can create broad marketing value for things ranging from product launches to cause marketing. It can be used to build a brand, tell a story, distribute a message or increase share of voice — and that is why it’s such a dynamic and effective medium.

The ROI on this tactic becomes more about what the client is trying to accomplish with the new audience that you’re reaching. Are they looking to cast a wide net? In that case, an influencer with a wide and diverse reach may be the best option. Do they want more engagement? Then they’d want to talk to an influencer who has an active community within their industry.

How can one determine the value of a sponsored relationship with an influencer who has a very focused (but small) group of followers??

By observing the value in both online AND offline word-of-mouth benefits. In many situations, the focused group of followers is more likely to be aware of and engage with the brand once the campaign is over. They’re interested in the topic and will want to continue the conversation with the brand by way of the dialog formed with the influencer. They’ll often invite their friends to the conversation as well.

According to our 2014 State of Sponsored Social Survey, 88% of creators will also tell their friends about the brands that sponsor them. This creates and even larger network for a brand. A large audience of disparate followers will always move on to the next thing, never lingering when they’re not getting something out of it.

How does spend relate to value/ROI across different platforms and influencers?

If you are looking to reach a niche audience, a blogger with an established presence and affinity for that subject can create a substantial ROI. On the other end of the spectrum, if you are trying to reach a mass market, a celebrity or musician will cost more to engage online but will reach significantly more people.

When evaluating preferred platforms, brands should utilize a mix of influencers for a single campaign rather than using one person for one place. These one-off efforts are widely utilized, but aren’t as effective as campaigns that leverage multiple influencers. Just like any strategic communications efforts, the influencer you choose has to map back to the goals you are trying to achieve.

Anything in this report surprise us?