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  • Writer's pictureLiz Hayes

How to get started in commerce content

If you missed this month's Big Branded Call that highlighted how local media outlets can create new revenue streams through affiliate marketing - don't worry (presentation deck here)! We're going to recap what we learned from our special guests, Trackonomics by's Vice President of Publisher Innovation Bryce Widelitz and Michael Bruno, VP of Content, Commerce for CNN Underscored.

What is commerce content and how big is the opportunity? Commerce content (also called affiliate content, affiliate commerce, content partnerships or mass media partnerships) is essentially editorialized content that publishers produce about a product or a service that appears native for a publication. It can include: product reviews, listicles, gift guides, comparison articles, how-tos, sales and deal curation and more.

Consumers are spending more money online than ever before, and according to Widelitz, 90% of online shoppers read reviews before making a purchase. Because you have a trusted, brand-safe publication, readers and consumers would be likely influenced by your editorial team's non-biased product and service recommendations.

Before getting started, it's crucial to make decisions about what products or services you'll write about based on whatever criteria you come up with.

“One thing you have to understand is when you do it independently, if it’s under the CNN banner we have certain standards we live up to in terms of objectivity," Bruno said.

Widelitz and Bruno recommend working with editorial on a commerce content calendar that has the following criteria:

How do editorial organizations approach commerce content? Typically, Bruno says, there's an editorial team and a business team. The editorial team writes the reviews or commerce content articles independently focusing on topics and products they feel would resonate best with their audience. Meanwhile, the business team is creating the partnerships and negotiating commission rates with brands and advertisers. The articles should not navigate from best practices that have been predetermined by the media organization.

"The example I give is at CNN there was a group called Standards and Practices, and I never wanted to get a call from them," he said.

The idea is because the commerce content is editorially driven by objective writers, consumers are more likely to be engaged than if a brand was promoting its own products or services.

Editorial then creates a calendar based off of its criteria and seasonal relevance, and can add in sweeteners like exclusive access to a product and discounts.

"You really have to think about aligning with your values. You have to make sure that's both in terms of an ethos and reader affinity," Bruno said. "We think about conscious shopping as a brand at CNN and that's important to the audience as well."

The articles should be true, vetted and fact-based, he said. Look at what your audience is interested in and then bring in subject experts if you can. Decide which products and categories you'll be comfortable with and which you won't touch.

Think about the different seasons and traffic patterns you typically have at certain times of the year to determine what topics are likely to be engaging to your audience. Also consider how you can provide exclusive access or promotions within the content.

"We have our own day of deals aligned with our brands that our audiences love and engage with. Get some exclusive codes and deals," Bruno said.

Finally, try to stay ahead of what's trendy or the next big thing so you can optimize your chance of virality. You can also track the brands that tend to go viral and create content around things that are trending.

You want to make sure you have commerce content everywhere and understand that it can be created at every stage of the consumer purchase funnel.

But how does a smaller organization get started with commerce content?

"What I've learned is that even small publishers think it's a lot more complicated than it is," Widelitz said. "The first step is, where do you host the content?"

He says the easiest option is to leverage your existing site, or you can create a subdomain. Look at your audience demographics and build the editorial calendar with seasonal trends. You can use an existing editor to create new content, hire a team, or syndicate content from others.

"Go to where your audience is. If you have a massive newsletter audience, promote your commerce content in your newsletter. If you are a radio station and you have a small website, promote in your broadcast that you have this type of content on your radio station. If you're TV, use a QR code," Widelitz said.

To monetize and optimize, go directly to brands and/or use a sub-affiliate model. You can then increase commission rates and perhaps even hire a team to continue to grow your affiliate marketing initiative.

There's no universal right or wrong way to set up your commerce content strategy. Decide what your standards are, build something your audience finds valuable and you're on your way to creating a new revenue stream for your news organization!

The presentation deck from this call can be accessed here. Want to make sure you're invited to the next Big Branded Call? Sign up here!


The Meta Branded Content Project is designed through a strategic partnership between the Meta Journalism Project, Local Media Association and the Local Media Consortium to help facilitate additional growth, engagement, and revenue success for more publishers of all shapes and sizes.

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