Ever since we started seeing sponsored content pop up on social media and digital publishing platforms, a stigma has existed that consumers generally prefer not to engage with these types of posts because they know that they are ads. A particularly pertinent line from this 2013 Forbes piece on advertising tells the story: “Stop with the sponsored posts – consumers are not buying it. They see right through it as another attempt to sell them something.”

Is that statement a general consensus of the entirety of the consumer audience that exists on this planet? Of course not. While this sentiment is shared by some, the fact remains that sponsored content (whether a social post, a blog, or a video) is engaged with equally in comparison to non-sponsored content when done the right way.

We recently ran a data comparison on Instagram to take a deeper look at sponsored content vs. non-sponsored content engagement rates, including likes and comments, and broke it down by follower count. What we found is interesting, and bucks the stigma that many tried to portray when sponsored content was in its’ early days – consumers are not scared away by sponsored content.

Consumers “Like” Sponsored Content

Markerly Blog PostOne of the biggest takeaways from our data was that the average likes on a sponsored post were actually greater than the average likes on a non-sponsored post. If you look at the chart bellow, you’ll see a fairly even like rate for both types of content for follower counts between 10K and 250K, but then the numbers skew significantly toward sponsored content as follower counts get higher.

Here are the exact numbers. You’ll see there is an intersection somewhere around the 10K to 100K follower mark. While some of the larger follower counts generate more likes for sponsored content, the overall average of likes between sponsored content and non-sponsored content are pretty equal. People like sponsored content!

Bucket Avg. likes sponsored Avg. likes non-sponsored
1k-10k 80.9 154.71
10k-100k 466 505.64
100k-250k 2359.34 2192.4
250k-500k 6078.8 4719.9
500k-1M 12787.3 9227.5
1M+ 56123.5 35000.37

 

“No Comment” on Sponsored Content 

Markerly Blog Post 4 but actually 2The other really interesting finding from our data was the engagement rate of those leaving comments on sponsored content vs. non-sponsored content. Again, there is an intersection somewhere around the 10K follower mark where engagement is equal, but as follower counts grow, comment rates for sponsored content declines by about 59%.

This decline seemed rather high, so we dug a little deeper into why comment rates for sponsored content were so much lower than for non-sponsored content.

Avg. comments sponsored Avg. comments non-sponsored
4.2 8.11
10.32 20.45
45.22 83.49
44.54 184.9
88.1 331.5
384.06 1187.71

 

The top three reasons that sponsored content performs poorly and receives lower comment rates are:

  • Text on photos
  • Unnatural product placement
  • Poor photography
Screenshot (263) Screenshot (262)
Good sponsored content Bad sponsored content

 

When the sponsored content that is created is not quality content, comment rates decline significantly. This takes us back to the statement from the Forbes article. When a consumer sees content that is poor quality and just feels like an ad, they are less likely to engage with it. But when the content is placed properly, doesn’t include too many tags, has sharp photography and feels organic and natural, consumers are equally interested in engaging with the content.

The takeaway? Brands need to be cognizant as to how their sponsored content appears when viewed by a consumer. If done correctly, sponsored content can be a valuable tool for brand marketing initiatives.