Content Distribution, The Real King

content is king

‘Content is King’ has long been the mantra of content marketers and marketing agencies. Clients believed it and invested in content–oodles and oodles of content, mostly marginal and SEO-focused, and at first it might have moved the needle, but over time it seems to be losing its effect.

Why is this?

Assuming that you’re producing quality content and effectively measuring your contents contribution to your business and lead generation objectives, the most likely culprit is a lack of content distribution.

As the web becomes increasingly competitive and content marketing grows as the preferred digital marketing strategy (by consumers, corporate marketers, and search engines), we’re all going to have to become increasingly clever and effective at distributing content to our audience.

“If you build it, they will come” is no longer a viable strategy.

Understand the Web and People on the Web

Now we have to figure out what the heck content distribution even is in order to build a process that is going to yield significant traffic and subsequently leads and sales. This is going to take a little research and curiosity on your part, but I’ll get you started with a little high-level thinking on this topic.

Let’s start by analyzing how the web works.

In the early days, the web was simply a vast and growing network of hyperlinked web pages. In that model, distribution was about acquiring hyperlinks from directories (anyone remember Yahoo! as Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web) or other popular places people went seeking information, which people would then follow–by clicking–to your website. Your content distribution was getting those links so people had a discovery path to your content.

Then there was the dawn of the Search Engine Era. This model grew and came to dominate by leveraging the existing network that was built by the hyperlinking model. Not only did it allow them to efficiently find and index the content in their search engines, it also helped them determine quality–by the number of links to specific pieces of content. Your content distribution was now getting more of those links and adjusting your content strategy based on the variety of ways that the search engines matured their quality/ranking algorithms.

Today, the web is going through another evolution in content distribution, largely driven by technology and consumer behavior, equally.

On the technology front, the accelerating ubiquity of easy-to-use content management systems (e.g., WordPress) and the increasing proliferation of sharing and aggregating technologies makes it quick and easy to publish and distribute content into a variety of channels.

Meanwhile on the behavior front, consumers are increasingly leveraging curation and aggregation platforms, (e.g., Twitter and Facebook), as well as traditional publishers, (e.g., Yahoo!, Forbes.com), that are adopting a curation and aggregation news model to fuel their increasingly insatiable appetite for content.

All of this lands content marketers in a world that is shifting from ‘publish-and-pull the audience’ to a ‘publish-and-push to the audience’ content distribution model.

You’ve Got to Have Clear Objectives

This emerging publish-and-push model increases the complexity, which is going to necessitate greater clarity in your planning.

No longer can you rely on Google to organize your content and send you the appropriate, relevant, and interested people. Instead, each piece of content needs to be developed with a clear understanding of where it might be placed and how it should be designed for effectiveness. Assuming you get that part right and people start paying attention to your content, what do you want them to do?

I see so many examples of content that people are positioning, promoting, and, for which, they’re buying traffic–but that has no apparent purpose! This is a guaranteed way to kill the credibility of your content marketing program.

As a content marketer, you should clearly develop every piece of content with a clear vision of what you want the reader to do next. Do you want them to sign up for your email list, register as a user, share the experience with a friend, or some other action? Whatever it is you want them to do, it should be clear in your mind and ultimately in the mind of every visitor that sees your content.

By the way, when I say, “clear”, I mean just that–crystal clear. Don’t be clever or sly about your calls to action. Tell your audience exactly what you want them to do and why. And tell them three times. Maybe even tell them in three different ways.

Anything less and they will totally miss it.

Research Increases Your Probability of Success

Clear objectives are critical, but you’re unlikely to hit them unless you’re willing to put in the work researching your distribution channels.

Dive deep into each of the channels you think holds your audience. During this exercise, you really need to get in and understand the ecosystem and how it works.

This is how growth hackers make their living. Each little ecosystem is a mix of technologies and behaviors–game it just right and you can create repeatable viral wins. I don’t have the room to go in-depth into exactly how this works, but you can grab my Growth Hacking eBook for a little more on that topic.

However, I can give you a peek into how I might analyze a couple of channels I regularly use. Here’s a sample of a content plan that might come out of my research:

If I’m going to run a campaign for a law firm handling issues pertaining to small business, I might want to create content that helps startups and small businesses get their venture off on the right foot.

After a bit of analysis, I determine that these sorts of folks search YouTube, write and read on Medium.com, use LinkedIn to network, and get raw and often pithy advice from Reddit.com. Each of these channels are very different and any content that I push into them needs to be developed with that in mind.

On YouTube, I would probably want to create a fast-moving (according to my testing, I only have about 30-40 seconds of effective time), motion graphics explanation of the top three things most people get wrong in setting up their business. (No talking head views full of dry, legal-speak!)

On Medium.com, a place where good writers hang out and pontificate on the deeper meaning of starting up a venture, I’m going to need to discard everything I learned in law school about writing. In contrast to my normal style, I’m probably going to create something that is a bit more essay-like, with a healthy dose of philosophy and the harrowing drama of painfully misstepping entrepreneurs.

On LinkedIn, I would be a bit more motivational and have a liberating tone. I want to appeal to folks that are looking for a way out of the drudgery–that is, their current employment–and have dreamed of personally defining and delivering their success.

Finally, on Reddit.com, I would opt for a completely irreverent and potentially self-deprecating list or prose on all the dumb things people (or lawyers) will tell you when starting a business. Something like this list from Guy Kawasaki would work.

Create a Process to Ensure Consistency

Content marketing isn’t an ‘individual event’ sport. Rarely will a single piece of content produce resounding results. To the contrary, content marketing requires reaching a critical mass and density to gain credibility. It also requires a predictable frequency and consistency in order to condition a sustainable audience.

Of course, that is all easier said than done, unless, of course, you develop a few solid content marketing processes.

This begins and ends with a good editorial calendar. Personally, I use an editorial spreadsheet that provides a complete content workflow and indicative deadlines from idea generation and goal-setting through creation and distribution. This approach gives everyone in the content process complete visibility into:

  • Why we’re creating the content,
  • All of the elements that need to be created,
  • The context in which it will be published,
  • How we intend to distribute it and,
  • Typical deadlines for each step in the workflow

A simple spreadsheet can go a long way towards making sure your content marketing plan executes logically, with consistency, and begins to produce predictable results.

Continually Measure and Adjust

Heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson famously said, “Everyone has a plan ‘til they get punched in the mouth.” The same idea holds true for most digital marketing plans.

People on the web do crazy and unpredictable things. So, the best of plans will probably begin to unravel just as soon as it’s launched into the wild. This is why having clear objectives and taking diligent measurements are so important.

When I set up key metrics for a campaign, I try to keep the following in mind:

  • Keep all of my measurements in context of my campaign objectives
  • Try to identify dependencies in the data that I can leverage and adjust
  • Make sure the data I’m analyzing has reached a sufficient volume to be analyzed
  • Try to test one dependency at a time and then be patient
  • Occasionally, be willing to ignore the previous plan and blow things up entirely

I never ‘set-and-forget’ anything. Testing and adjusting is the secret to achieving real success. However, the internet is a living system; it will shift, sometimes with little or no warning. As it does, even your best strategies will, over time, begin to sag and require an evolution.

Where Should I Distribute My Content?

Determining where to distribute your content is a central part of any effective content marketing plan. It’s also probably going to be one of the more dynamic elements of your plan.

Like I said a few sentences ago, “the internet is a living system.”

Channels and communities are always changing on the web–sometimes gracefully, other times, radically. The people and the technology (platforms) change, which affects how content is received and reacted to in the various distribution channels.

Therefore, you’re going to have to continually evaluate where and how you distribute content. It also depends on your objectives and who you represent. A developer might be successful in Hacker News and Reddit, but heaven help a real estate agent or mortgage broker that tries to “leverage” these same channels. One size, most certainly, does not fit all.

My point with that example is to explain why giving you a laundry list of distribution channels is most probably going to walk you into a hornet’s nest of backlash. Regulars in these channels often act as self-appointed hall monitors, and can be very intolerant of newbies who display an ignorance of appropriate “netiquette”, or, more harshly stated, who are perceived as being “carpet baggers”–trying to game their beloved channel.

Instead, I’ll give you a bit of a checklist to help you:

  • Look in channels you’re already interested in and feel comfortable with,
  • Survey friends and colleagues in your industry on where they get their content,
  • Watch where people and businesses you respect distribute their content,
  • Watch where your competitors distribute content and,
  • Survey your existing customers. (Where do they get content? How did they find you?)

Once you run through this checklist, you’ll have a handful of channels to try. My next recommendation is to get into these channels and closely observe what is happening in the community. Study it like a sociologist. What are the norms? What activities bring positive reactions? What activities invite the wrath of the community?

Having now carefully studied your channels, narrow the list to a couple. These should be a couple that you feel the most natural engaging. The faster that you can comfortably immerse yourself in the channels you want to use for content distribution, the faster you will be able to effectively test and optimize for the channel.

Be careful not to choose too many channels and spread yourself thin–you need to immerse yourself as completely as possible to figure out how to hack these distribution channels for their potentially massive results.

You’re Going to Have to Be a Salesman

No content distribution plan is complete without a bit of secret sauce. That secret is nothing less than good, old-fashioned, personal relationships. Yes, you need to be part salesman.

Find any successful growth hacker and you’ll find an extensive network and database of influential people and publishers. That’s why I encourage any content marketer to build friendships, networks, and make personal calls to maximize the distribution and visibility of the content you create.

Content Distribution is Increasingly the Key to Content Marketing

Content marketing has evolved into a powerfully effective digital marketing strategy.

However, the strategy only performs if you couple it with a methodical and consistent content distribution process. If you practice, hone, and optimize these skills, your marketing program will thank you in the form of major results.