The Branded Content Project, a partnership between the Local Media Association and the Local Media Consortium funded by the Facebook Journalism Project, has been working with 22 diverse local media companies as beta group participants.

It’s the perfect test group. Large print and broadcast companies, hyper-local digital publishers, international content teams and innovators with unique business models, all coming together to do one thing – grow their branded content revenue.

These organizations, each of which demonstrates a commitment to furthering best practices in branded content initiatives, received grant money to test and develop successful and sustainable branded content offerings and revenue streams. Now, the results from this impactful group are starting to roll in.

One of our early success stories comes from the team at TAPinto.

What is TAPinto?

TAPinto is a network of more than 85 franchised online local news sites in New Jersey, New York and Florida.  Each site is locally owned and operated and provides original daily local news coverage. TAPinto franchisees include individuals, hardcopy newspapers, nonprofits, and universities.

Many of their outlets are two-person owner/publisher teams in which one person is the journalist and the other is the salesperson.  Approximately 20% of the sites are one-person owner/publishers who handle both aspects of the business.

Branded content revenue

Mike Shapiro

We asked Mike Shapiro, founder and publisher of TAPinto, about the revenue streams for their franchisees, “Local owner/publishers have several revenue streams including branded content, sponsorship, email marketing, social media marketing, video advertising and traditional digital advertising.  We also provide robust DIY a la carte content and social media marketing directly through our site.”

Branded content is a large piece of the revenue pie for TAPinto. All of their site display advertising campaigns include publication of content submitted by their advertisers, which accounts for the lion share of their franchisees’ revenue.  TAPinto also has a robust DIY marketing platform through which businesses, nonprofits and others can submit and pay for content to be published and also to be posted on Facebook.

Branded content works well for TAPinto because of the trusted relationships between local media, advertisers and the community. Shapiro points out, “Local news sites provide a direct communication channel with residents in their town and have the trust and credibility in their local community. By engaging in branded content opportunities, local media is able to offer local and regional businesses and organizations high-quality advertising products that allow them to leverage the connections and relationships local news sites have built, to help them succeed.”


Tim LeCras, director of franchise development and training at TAPinto, agrees, “Our robust Do-It-Yourself content marketing platform offers local businesses, community organizations and members of the general public the ability to reach our readers and social media followers in a way never seen before. The content marketing packages we offer advertisers is often times the cherry-on-top to close advertising deals. However, branded content has also allowed us to reach small businesses and community organizations that don’t have large marketing budgets. The ability to appeal to businesses large and small with effective and affordable marketing packages has proven time and again to be a difference-maker for our franchisees compared to their competitors.”

Franchisee perspective

We also checked in with two of the franchise owners to get an idea of how branded content works for their advertisers and audience. Jackie Lieberman, franchise owner/publisher for TAPinto Westfield & NJ Flavor explained. “Branded content allows my advertisers to reach my audience in a meaningful way. Their ability to post themselves frees me up to work on other things. It’s also an extra source of income when non-advertisers who have very small budgets use it to affordably post press releases and event listings.”

Steve Lenox, franchise owner/publisher of TAPinto Paterson, Bayonne, Hoboken, Jersey City and Hamilton/Robbinsville agrees. “TAPinto’s content marketing opportunities allow publishers to work with advertising partners to develop and deliver strategic messages to our audiences, while also maintaining journalistic integrity and objectivity in news reporting. From branded stories to real estate listings, press releases to milestones, there are options for every sort of business and organization, and even individuals, to get a message out to the expansive audience we have developed.

“It is without question that the majority of advertising related discussions start with ‘how much for an ad on your site,’ but these quickly, at the savvy franchisee’s direction, turn to one of the value of our content marketing options. As marketing partners, especially smaller organizations that don’t have large advertising budgets, become more savvy, there is no doubt that content marketing is where the majority of revenue will be generated in the future.”

The beta test

“For the Beta group test, we enhanced our DIY marketing platform by adding the Facebook component, which now allows for businesses, nonprofits, and individuals to not only have their content published on TAPinto but also to pay a small additional fee for the link to the content published on TAPinto to be posted on the Facebook page for the TAPinto site(s) selected. This enables the submitter to not only have their content exposed to our readership and to rank highly on search engines but also to receive significant social media exposure via a credible thirty party’s Facebook page,” explained Shapiro.

The most interesting part about TAPinto’s DIY capabilities is the low lift on the publisher’s side and on the advertiser’s side. LeCras walks us through the process.

Advertiser process

“One of the great advantages of TAPinto is that everyone, including businesses, community organizations and the general public, has the ability to submit branded content to TAPinto. The process is extremely easy and only requires a free user account. Users then click a ‘Submit Content’ button which opens a pop-up menu of available branded content options. From there, the user completes a simply self-guided form to create their content. There are several add-on options within the form, including the ability to submit and pay for multiple towns, as well as a Sponsored Facebook post option. At the end of the form, the client is led to a payment portal,” LeCras explains.

Publisher process

“Our publishers have a simple process to approve user-submitted branded content. TAPinto’s content management system dashboard automatically displays user-submitted content waiting to be published. Publishers have two options to approve and publish the content. They have the ability to post the content straight from their dashboard or they can access an “Edit” screen which allows them to review and edit the content before approval. TAPinto publishers can also create and send paid Sponsored posts directly to their franchise’s Facebook page from our CMS portal,” said LeCras.

The results

The development work on the DIY platform wrapped up in April, just as COVID-19 began to impact advertising. But the timing did not slow down the positive results.

LeCras witnessed heightened support of branded content during the crisis,”We have seen tremendous support from the TAPinto community since we launched our Sponsored Facebook Post Beta project. Many businesses that have branded content included in their marketing contract with us have purchased add-on sponsored posts, which is revenue we would not have generated in the past. We have also been able to promote the Sponsored Facebook post with our Milestone program to help recognize college and high school graduates who did not have public graduation ceremonies due to COVID-19.”

And the support translated to revenue.

Shapiro shared preliminary test numbers that show year over year growth of over 45% from May 2019 to May 2020.

Lieberman believes the success is due to two factors, “TAPinto franchises are especially well-positioned for this transition for two reasons: the expansive nature of our network, and the growing functionality of the platform’s DIY tools.

Because of both, small business, non-profits, government agencies, and more can reach audiences in very targeted geographies, whether it be in one municipality or across dozens, without the hassle of seeking out media outlets in each. TAPinto truly is a one-stop-shop. Further, as readers and potential advertisers become more comfortable with our DIY functionality, the workload for submitting content will come off of the franchisees and rest with the partners themselves.”

The future of branded content

We asked both Shapiro and LeCras if they see branded content as a growing revenue stream for their company and it’s franchisees. Their responses were an overwhelming “YES!”

“Absolutely.  I think there are many more opportunities for branded content on TAPinto including video content and larger scale branded content opportunities on the site itself as well as increasing branded content on our social media channels,” said Shapiro.

“As we sit here today planning our 2021 media kit, the ideas related to expanding our branded content offerings are endless. Not only are we looking at options that will directly impact our franchisees, but we are also looking at corporate-centered offerings that will greatly increase branded content partners’ access to our more than 2 million monthly readers. This would not have been possible without the guidance of the Branded Content Beta Project,” said LeCras.

Interested in learning more about the TAPinto model?

Don’t miss this one! In our recent branded content lightning rounds, Mike Shapiro shared details on their unique DIY branded content tools and explained why it is so important to ask the tough questions when working on branded content with advertisers.