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LinkedIn’s Nellie Chan outlines how thoughtfully created native content can develop long-lasting engagement on social media.

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LinkedIn’s Nellie Chan outlines how thoughtfully created native content can develop long-lasting engagement on social media.

In the age of shrinking attention spans, how do you reach your target market? The best way may well be native advertising.

If you are a small business, native ads are a near perfect rent-to-own strategy to build your audience. When done well, thoughtfully created, engaging content will grow through shares and likes on social media and through word-of-mouth for days, weeks or months after your initial ad goes live.

Consumers, especially millennials, value shared content.

When LinkedIn researched the millennial approach to financial services, we found that 53 percent of affluent millennials sought content from financial companies on social networks. 80 percent of affluent millennials used at least one social network to obtain peer opinions on approaches to finance. Social media is more than a space to connect with friends – it has also become a research tool.

Here in Hong Kong millennials are a quarter of the population. Globally, millennials make up half the workforce. Marketers need to connect with this demographic.

Native ads, which are built to be shared, are a great way to reach them. Native ads will achieve better results than traditional ads if you target your audience carefully and invest time into creating great content.

Through native ads, you can engage with your audience where they live and add to their online experience while telling your brand story. At their core, native ads are a way to connect meaningfully with your audience.

Think About Engaging Your Customers, Not Selling to Them

In today’s market, a high click rate isn’t as valuable as a high engagement rate. Native ads are built for engagement, since they’re a form of exchange between companies and consumers. You provide educational or insightful content that genuinely arouses your audience’s interest and they reward you with engagement, shares and, of course, clicks.

Engagement is more likely if your ads are placed on sites your audience already visits and enjoys.

Sam Rosen, vice president of marketing at The Atlantic, sums up the publisher’s view well: “Native, to us, is a sensibility, not a format. It all comes down to a matter of alignment, and whether any one piece of content is truly native to how we at The Atlantic serve and engage our readers.”

Choose where you place your ad thoughtfully. Assimilate your ad within the host site as well. Your audience enjoys the host site’s brand, so the content and visual design of your ad should fit seamlessly within the host brand’s parameters.

Native ads don’t interrupt the user’s experience; they enhance it through clever targeting. Choosing a host website is just the first step. The best native ads are also paired with the right stories to evoke emotion, drive engagement and reinforce your company’s message.

Remember, too, that text heavy ads are far outperformed by visual ads. Visuals, like infographics and data visualization, usually generate 30 times more traffic than pure text.

Understand the context of the ads that succeed. Watch who comments on and shares your content and why. Keep track of when engagement peaks and use your data to learn the optimum time to publish. Follow what kinds of narratives have the most appeal.

Native ads perform best when the target audience is online and receptive, so don’t be afraid to promote your ad multiple times. Doing so allows you to take advantage of different time zones and to maximize audience reach.

Finally, don’t expect to succeed in engaging your audience with native advertising you don’t invest in. Native advertising that succeeds does so because the company behind it did their research.

Speak your audience’s language and know what they care about. Effective native content contains a compelling narrative and is tailor-made for those it would benefit most.

Learn From the Experience of Others

Many brands experiment with native advertising, so learn from campaigns that worked.

Global IT giant Lenovo executed a successful native campaign this year on social media. It aimed to drive brand and product awareness and to ignite conversations with different audiences.

The company consistently published content throughout May and June 2015 on four themes: brand, thought leadership, products and external trends. They asked their audience to define the qualities of a leader and how to differentiate a manager from a leader. They provided tips on traveling from their executives. By paying close attention to their target audience and their responses, Lenovo was able to optimize their content and drive further engagement.

By the end of the campaign, the company’s brand favorability increased by 17 percent and post-level engagement rates were four times higher when compared to engagement through display advertising averages.

This is dynamic native advertising – producing content that promotes the brand message and provokes engagement without a hard sell.

Discussing leadership qualities with their audience echoed Lenovo’s emerging role as a leader in the PC+ market without mentioning the company’s message explicitly.

Through creative content, Lenovo connected with more than technology enthusiasts and increased engagement with existing and future customers for their Think branded business and corporate products.

Go Native to Connect With, and Grow Your Audience

Attention spans are shrinking just as the competition for that attention grows.

Anyone trying to get their message heard knows it’s a crowded field. So it’s time for companies and marketers to open their eyes to the real value of native advertising: connection.

High-click rates won’t sell anyone on your brand, but your message will. Native ads are the perfect venue for sharing your company’s story and messages. If you put heart into your brand and invest wisely in the native ad format, you’ll find that your audience is eager to hear more.

*Image via Shutterstock