If you’ve spent any time on social media or blogs in the past few years, you’ve most likely seen branded or sponsored content. Maybe there are sponsored stories that pop up in your Facebook news feed or Twitter stream or you’ve read blog posts that were sponsored by large companies. These types of content are both effective and lucrative, which means that they aren’t going away any time soon. Take note of the following best practices for using branded and sponsored content so that you keep your followers interested and engaged. Earn your followers legitimately Companies want to advertise with successful blogs and social media accounts with hundreds, if not thousands, of followers. However, you must build your numbers organically. Do not pay for followers. Developing a substantial organic following takes time, but it is worth it in the long run to quantify your credibility. Cater to your followers’ interests The content should fit with the nature of the blog or channel. Why are people reading your blog? What do Facebook or Twitter followers gain from your feed? Study your audience and think about what interests them. Maximize demographics information on Facebook, Twitter, or Google analytics to tailor both content and ads. Say that you author a widely read food blog catered to stay-at-home moms looking for quick and affordable lunch and dinner ideas. This audience is most likely interested in readily accessible products that they can purchase at the grocery stories that they already frequent. They do not want information about expensive food products that don’t fit into their current shopping and menu routines. Be authentic Even though you are getting paid or receiving some sort of compensation (i.e., free products) in exchange for writing a blog post or running a sponsored ad on your feed, you must take a genuine interest in the product or service at hand. Don’t review or promote something simply for the compensation. Readers and followers can see right through that and will not stick around for long. Seek out your own opportunities When you have a highly frequented popular online outlet, you’re likely to have companies contact you directly, wanting a chance to advertise with you. There is nothing wrong with taking offers that are of genuine interest that fit with your channel. (Sound familiar?) However, you shouldn’t be afraid to make your own opportunities as well. If there is a brand that you have always wanted to work with that hasn’t contacted you, take the initiative to send the first message. The role of video The increasing interest in content marketing has encouraged advertisers to look for placement opportunities in digital video, television shows, and movies. This brand integration must be as natural as possible or the effectiveness of the campaign will tank astronomically. Typically, incorporating products into the content that viewers are there to watch is more effective and less irritating than interrupting their content with commercials.