No matter how much time and care you put into building your strategy, outlining your editorial plans and processes, or crafting persuasive, engaging, high-quality copy, your brand’s potential for success often lives or dies by your distribution and promotion choices.
Though a lot of work must happen before you reach this point, the distribution phase is ground zero for your content marketing program – the point where your goals, audience insights, tactical choices, and creative executions get put to the test. And remember, with so many media channels and platforms to choose from and so many messages competing for your audience’s attention, you also need to promote what you publish (through social media or other paid and unpaid techniques) to fulfill its marketing promise.
Ready to set the stage for optimal content discovery, engagement, and performance? Read on for a handy tutorial on the essentials, along with resources to help you hit the ground running.
Before you proceed: If you aren’t confident you have the right foundation to support your distribution and promotion – or just need a quick refresher on a topic – review our previous Road Map to Success guides:
Practical view of content distribution
There are three main components in the process for enabling your brand to build (and grow) communities of loyal, engaged consumers around your content:
- Evaluate your distribution options.
- Develop and document your channel plan.
- Promote your content and amplify its impact.
1. Evaluate your distribution options
Many brands mistakenly assume they need to post their content anywhere and everywhere to increase their chances of achieving the desired results. But the problem with the spray-and-pray approach to content distribution is that it holds little regard for whether the right people are being reached, whether those communities are receptive to your messages, or whether the audience relationships built there make a meaningful impact on your business.
Because your team’s ability to produce, track, and measure content gets exponentially more complicated with each outpost you add to your marketing matrix, it’s important to gauge the relative value of each publishing platform and channel before you share your content there.
Explore your media platform options
Content distribution opportunities typically fall into one of three platform categories:
- Owned media: Your brand owns and controls these content and distribution channels, such as your websites, email, newsletters, and (to a degree) social media accounts. However, it can be challenging to condition audiences to go out of their way to visit these outposts regularly.
- Shared media: Social media channels have opened up a host of opportunities for marketers to post original content – both on a schedule or in response to relevant consumer conversations happening in the community. However, your activities on these platforms are ultimately controlled by the business decisions of a third party, which can change its policies and procedures – or cease operations altogether – at a moment’s notice.
- Paid media: I dig into this category more when I discuss promotion (in Part 3 below), but from a general standpoint, these opportunities enable your business to share any messages it wants and control the environment in which they appear at a cost.
Establish your primary distribution media model
Most brands eventually need to distribute content effectively across a mix of platforms to stay competitive and grow their influence. However, when starting your program (or launching a new initiative under an existing program), it may be helpful to start with a single channel on one owned-media platform – like a company blog or a podcast on your business website.
Not only is it easier to control the flow of information on a channel that you own, it also can serve as a home base for the flow of traffic your content generates. Once you build a strong audience of engaged followers, you can expand to other channels to drive more traffic your way and extend and enhance the audience’s experience with your brand.
Make smart channel choices
Whether you are a content marketing novice looking to start small, an experienced practitioner looking to refresh a flagging initiative, or a seasoned expert wanting to make the biggest splash possible with a massive, multi-platform content launch, you need to decide which channels make the most sense for distribution. Some channels are more appropriate for your content than others, so you want a clear understanding of the unique value proposition of each, and how strongly those benefits align with your audience, brand voice, and goals.
Here are some factors to consider:
- Audience characteristics: What audience are you most likely to reach on this channel? Does it align with any of your content personas? Will this audience find value in what you have to offer?
- Rules of engagement: How often would this audience be open to hearing from you? Are certain topics off limits? Would it be acceptable to share lengthy, text-based content here or would photos or videos be a better fit?
- Communication style: Will your brand’s content tone, voice, and style be a good fit for this community? Are there conversations of a sensitive nature that might put your brand at risk?
- Brand resources and capabilities: Do you have the right resources to consistently engage here? Are you prepared to listen to, respond to, and participate in existing discussions in addition to starting conversations of your own?
Deepen your understanding
Need more help selecting the best distribution media, formats, and channels for your business? Start your journey of discovery with these key resources:
2. Develop and document your distribution plan
Determining your most valuable distribution venues is a core step in the content distribution process. But it’s equally (if not more) important to document your channel plan (or use case) so everybody on your team knows what is expected and can move in the same direction.
Plan for purposeful channel usage
Once you’ve generated a short list of the most viable channel options, building an actionable distribution plan is straightforward. Kick things off by looking at how each channel you want to use matches with the audience, goals, and priorities outlined in your content marketing strategy, and the team resources and content types established under your editorial plan. If a channel doesn’t line up for any reason, consider keeping it off your plan (you can always go back and add it later).
Don’t have a documented content marketing strategy or editorial plan in place? You can use this list of considerations to build a quick framework for distribution:
- Your audience: What persona(s) is most active/engaged on this channel?
- Target goals/benefits: What will this channel help you accomplish? Do unique opportunities exist that you can’t achieve elsewhere?
- Featured topics: Specify subject areas/conversations likely to resonate with this community.
- Target velocity: How often and what time of day should you post on this channel? How much should be spent listening vs. contributing to relevant conversations?
- Formats: What content types will you use here? What formats could give you a competitive advantage in this space?
- Tone and rules of engagement: What conversation style and voice work best? What are special criteria or considerations to follow?
- Team resources: Who is the team member in charge of communication on this channel? Will other personnel be authorized to post on company’s behalf? Who will be notified if questions arise or issues escalate?
- Calls to action: What owned media/conversion points should traffic be driven to?
- Key performance indicators (KPIs): What metrics will gauge content performance against your goals?
Document your decisions
The final step is to document the pertinent details of your distribution decisions, so the information can be referenced easily, updated as necessary, and shared throughout your organization.
One method is to build a detailed matrix of key information for each of your chosen distribution channels. If you take a look at the sample template below – in which the information has been filled in for a single channel (Facebook) – you can get an idea of how this might look once you are finished.
Editor’s note: While we used CMI as a reference for this template, the sample data shown does not represent our actual channel plan.
Put all the pieces in place
Looking for additional tools and templates for building your distribution plan? These resources might help:
3. Promote your content and amplify its impact
Simply posting your content and waiting for your ideal audience to magically discover it just doesn’t cut it. You need to do a little marketing legwork for your efforts to get found and consumed by the right audiences (at the right times and places), deliver on their expectations, and enable them to spread your brand influence further – no matter where you decide to publish.
Optimize your content for organic search
How you position your assets largely determines whether they make it into the hands of the consumers you are looking to engage. With search playing such a powerful role in content discovery, it’s vital your content be optimized for search engines to easily discover, categorize, and feature it prominently when your target audience runs queries relevant to your business.
Consider these factors when setting up your content for greater search success – and stronger performance overall:
- Metadata: Metadata is a broad category that covers a range of ways you can ascribe meaning and context to your content assets – including categories, tags, page titles, and URLs – so search engines can effectively rank and display your content.
- Keywords/key phrases: Keywords are a type of metadata tag – they tell search engines what your content is about, so they can let your audience know when you have the information they seek. Make sure the ones you choose are descriptive and clear, but also hit the sweet spot between search volume and level of competition.
- Link building: Earning referral traffic via backlinks to your content from authoritative, well-respected publications, relevant social media influencers, prominent industry thought leaders, and other high-profile communities is the currency that SEO successes trade on.
- Calls to action: These are the “little statements that could,” as they both signal to users you want them to do something after engaging with your content and to put them on your designated path toward that conversion.
With organic reach on social media in sharp decline, and search trends and algorithm changes continually complicating the playing field, if you want your content to help further your business purpose, you should consider amplifying its power with paid promotion.
Most marketers should be familiar with paid advertising techniques – like banner ads, sponsorship deals, paid product placement, and the like – and you can certainly use these techniques to promote your content just as you would a product or service. But content marketers can also take advantage of more strategic, subtle, and authentic means of getting their high-quality content efforts in front of the right consumers, such as:
- Native advertising: Rather than disrupting the reader’s editorial experience, the content in native advertising and other sponsored content campaigns is designed to align with the tone, format, and topical focus of the articles a reader would expect to find on that publisher’s site.
- Paid search: This technique involves purchasing pay-per-click ads or other sponsored listings that appear near the top of search engine results pages (SERP) when consumers search for information relevant to your content.
- Influencer marketing: Influencer marketing programs enlist the assistance of strong voices in your industry – i.e., people who have the ear of your target audience – to help bring your content to their attention.
- Paid social media promotion: You should be distributing your content on your audience’s favorite social channels, and organically promoting it by encouraging your fans and followers to share it among their networks. But you can boost your content’s reach much further, and do so much faster, by building paid promotional campaigns around your strongest content assets and special features.
Recycle high-performing assets into evergreen classics
Above and beyond paid and organic promotion, you can extend the reach and impact of your top-performing assets by periodically reusing and resurfacing them. By amplifying content pieces already resonating and driving strong results, you reinforce your brand’s value in the mind of your audience, while increasing the odds that your best work will get discovered by audiences that may have missed it the first time around.
The following recycling techniques – used alone or in combination – can help you extend the value of your older assets, place your best information in a fresh context, or add something new and useful to a popular conversation:
- Republish it: If an asset’s value hasn’t diminished since its publication but its performance has started to slip, simply republish it (making sure to replace any outdated information) so it makes its way back into readers’ feeds and onto their radar.
- Repackage it: This involves deconstructing your long-form content – like blog posts, white papers, and e-books – into smaller, modular assets. Those assets can be combined with other relevant information on the topic to form a new piece that might be more attractive to different audiences.
- Repurpose it: Like repackaging, repurposing involves deconstructing your original assets; but rather than combining them with other content pieces, the individual pieces become a new form of conversation. The message itself remains mostly intact – it’s just tailored to suit a different purpose or to fit a different platform.
- Syndicate it: You can partner with news sites, trade media, and other like-minded mass media outlets that might be interested in republishing your content on an ongoing basis. Syndication deals can take several forms (both paid and unpaid), but regardless of how you structure the agreement, you’ll likely get some added link juice in the deal.
Pack more power into your promotion plans
Want to explore your amplification options in more detail? Here are some of our favorite guides to this part of the content marketing process:
With all the opportunities available to help you spread your brand’s value far and wide, there’s no excuse for letting your best assets wither and die in obscurity. Distribute your content wisely and promote it conscientiously, and your brand will enjoy enhanced performance from every piece of content you create.
Map your plans to travel to Cleveland, Ohio, Sept. 4-7 for Content Marketing World, and expand your content marketing knowledge and skills. Use the code BLOG100 to save $100 when you register.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute