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Content Distribution From A to Z: Owned, Earned, and Paid Channels

Content Distribution From A to Z: Owned, Earned, and Paid Channels

If a tree falls in a forest, and nobody is around to hear, does it make a clamor? Let me put it differently: if you publish an article on your website without telling anybody, will it get read? Read this blog post to discover how to build a content distribution strategy to not let your content end up like a tree in the forest.

There is a reason why content marketing has the word marketing in it. If you create content without distributing it, it’s just content. Not content marketing. 

Successful blogs don’t get built on tons of content. Instead, they get built on a strategy that answers the question of how to get content into the hands of the right audience, at the right time, and in the right way. In other words, content needs a distribution strategy.

To distribute content, you need to turn it into something people want to share and promote it to your audience. Your success depends on two things:

  1. How effectively you can choose distribution channels
  2. How well you can distribute your content assets

And here is where it starts to get complicated. To better understand content distribution channels, you can put them into three baskets: owned, earned, and paid channels.

Owned, earned, and paid channels

Owned channels 

These are the channels that belong to you: your website, blog, and email newsletters. You may also add your social media profiles and communities to your owned channels, but to be fair, they are more rented than owned. Owned channels include anything that you've created and have full control over. And since you don't control the experience and data on social networks, they aren't your owned channels.  

Let's see a few examples.

My owned channels are a website, blog, and newsletter. My YouTube channel, a page on Instagram, a channel on Telegram, and my Medium account are my rented content distribution channels.

Sephora and Nike are great examples of consumer brands that have built their own communities around beauty and running hosted on their websites. By offering a way for people to exchange their experiences and connect with others, Sephora and Nike create value for their customers beyond the products they sell.

What type of content can you share on your owned channels?

  1. Blog posts
  2. Case studies
  3. eBooks
  4. Whitepapers
  5. Courses
  6. Templates
  7. Checklists
  8. Infographics
  9. Webinars
  10. Videos
  11. Podcasts

Anything you want! Owned channels are your main content marketing assets, and you need to prioritize them in your strategy. By developing your owned channels, you can increase traffic, build brand awareness, and convert your audience into customers. It’s more work to develop your own channels than to buy ads on Google, but the rewards can ultimately be much higher. 

The pros of owned media include:

Pros: 

  • Easy to track and measure
  • Works as long as your channel works
  • Very cost-effective if done right
  • Brings great results

Cons:

  • Hard to create
  • Even harder to run consistently
  • Doesn’t provide immediate results 
  • Expensive
  • Requires SEO
  • Doesn’t provide any guarantees

While owned channels are your property and you certainly need to invest in them, it's pretty hard to attract the audience – especially at the start – without going out there to get exposure on the earned and paid channels.

Earned channels 

Earned channels refer to public relations and word-of-mouth. These channels don't belong to you. You “earn” them by writing guest posts, asking bloggers for product reviews, building relationships with your social connections, sharing content with influencers, figuring out content cross-promotion tactics, and getting in touch with journalists for press coverage. 

The types of content spread on earned channels include:

  • Mentions
  • Shares
  • Reposts
  • Reviews
  • Recommendations
  • Guest posts

To earn unpaid publicity, you need to do 2 things:

  1. Create content that people want to share. 
  2. Reach out to the right people to increase your chances of gaining organic visibility.

Here are a few strategies you can try:

  • Create "link roundups." Curate some content that you find useful and share it with your audience on your blog or social media. Once your roundup post is published, make sure you reach out to anyone you linked to in your “roundup” so they link to you or share your post on social media.
  • Do expert interviews. Find some influencers and industry experts and reach out to them with thought-provoking questions. You can publish their replies in the form of an interview, an expert roundup, or an article with quotes from industry experts. Don't forget to ask these experts to share your post with their followers once you publish it.
  • Get yourself interviewed. You can find podcasts and sites that publish interviews and ask if they would like to interview you. You can also make a list of conferences in your industry and try to become a speaker there. 
  • Create a “product hunt” with industry-specific valuable content. Product Hunt is a place to discover new products. Content is also a product. You can create a curated list of resources, tools, and products, or even package your piece of content into a book and promote it on Product Hunt.
  • Create a microsite or a side project focused on a specific idea and geared towards your target audience. Here are a few examples of what it might look like: How Much to Make an App is a mobile app cost calculator built by a digital product studio; Blog Topic Generator is a Hubspot's tool that helps find ideas for blog post headlines; My Creative Type is a short questionnaire made by Adobe to determine your “creative personality." You should try it out, it's amazing. If building a microsite is too much, you can create pages with useful resources on your website. For example, I have the Good Stuff section on my website with sensory words, power words, simple words, transition words, and a content mapping template. These are free resources for writers they can bookmark and use in their work. 
  • Write guest posts. Make a list of blogs that accept content from contributors and reach out to them with some ideas for blog posts. Guest blogging is not only a way to increase your brand awareness, but also to get backlinks to your website.

Since I've mentioned backlinks, you might be wondering:

How does content distribution differ from link building?

In fact, some of the techniques I've just listed for getting earned publicity, are also used by link builders to get backlinks to their websites and increase search rankings. The difference between link building and content distribution is that link builders measure the number of backlinks and their quality, and content distribution experts measure referral traffic, direct traffic, social traffic, reach, and shares. That's the whole difference. Also, link builders often have to pay to publish guest posts with do-follow links. 

Pros of earned media:

  • Credible
  • Transparent
  • Increases brand awareness
  • Free

Cons:

  • Earned media is hard to earn
  • Doesn’t deliver immediate returns
  • Referral traffic is usually low
  • Hard to measure
  • Can be negative
  • No control
  • Almost impossible to plan
  • Not scalable 

Paid channels 

Finally, paid channels include:

  • Search engine ads
  • Social media ads
  • Native ads 
  • Sponsored content in online publications
  • Paid influencers who are ready to speak about your brand.  

Unlike owned and earned channels, on paid channels you can get a quick and measurable result in the form of conversions, downloads, referrals, and impressions.

Pros:

  • Easy to measure
  • A/B testable
  • Easy to create
  • Immediate results
  • Scalable

Cons:

  • Often junk
  • Often ineffective
  • Expensive 
  • Not credible

If you decide to use paid channels, you need to remember that not all content formats fit these channels. For example, a how-to guide that drives a lot of organic traffic won’t necessarily bring you as many leads if you link to it from a paid ad. A PPC landing page where visitors land after they click on a PPC ad, on the other hand, can convert more customers because these people are ready to buy. You need to take the funnel stage into account to decide on your paid promotion tactics. And this brings us to the question:

How do you build a content distribution strategy?

It's a pretty complex question that deserves a separate video, but let's talk about it really briefly, in 7 steps: 

Step 1:

Learn more about your audience to know where they can be reached most effectively.

Step 2:

Research the channels where your audience consumes content and define content types and formats that can be shared on these platforms.

Step 3:

Make a list of all channels that you can use to promote your content.

Step 4:

Look at your existing content and see if it can be repurposed to share on other platforms.

Step 5:

Create a new content plan where you specify where each content idea should go: website, blog, Slack, Facebook, Quora, Reddit, Medium, or a third-party blog. 

Remember that you can distribute one piece of content on several platforms, but you also need to respect the platform meaning you need to repurpose your content to fit the expectations of the audience there.

Step 6:

Decide on the KPIs to track. For example, metrics for the content shared on your owned channels can include traffic, rankings, downloads, and conversion rates; on your earned channels you can track likes, shares, referrals, and the number of backlinks to your website; and paid channel metrics can include cost per click, conversion rate, referral traffic, and impressions. 

Step 7:

See how your content is performing to define which pieces and channels are driving the most traffic to your website and attracting the most leads. Tweak your strategy based on this data.

10 popular content distribution platforms

Finally, let's review some platforms where you can distribute your content. 

Social media 

Content that you publish on your owned channels can be shared on social media. But because people expect different things from different social media platforms, you should repurpose your content based on these expectations. 

For example:

  • Instagram is a visual platform where people come to relax and have fun. Don't overcomplicate the images that you post to Instagram, make them interesting and fun. 
  • Twitter’s character limit can be really restrictive, but you can repurpose your content into a Twitter thread. This format allows you to expand on a point and get into some storytelling. A step-by-step guide, for example, can easily translate into a one-step-per-tweet thread. You can also share the most important points of your video, podcast, or blog post via Twitter threads.
  • LinkedIn’s audience is less receptive to the whimsy of Facebook or Instagram. People come to LinkedIn to either discover content relevant to their careers or to make themselves visible to potential business partners, employers, or employees. Content that works on LinkedIn includes work opportunities, career advice, and business inspiration.
  • Facebook is a versatile platform where you can share images, videos, and short-form textual content. I would recommend using Facebook groups to distribute valuable content and Facebook ads to boost your posts. The average organic Facebook Page post sees only 0.07% engagement. 

Q&A platforms 

Quora – you can use Quora to search for questions related to your industry, answer them, and also post your own questions. A pro tip would be to use tools like Ahrefs to search for Quora questions ranked at the top of Google search so that people could find your answers not only on Quora but also on Google.

Reddit – you can find the most relevant subreddits related to your niche and actively participate in Reddit discussions trying to promote your content there.

Blogging platforms

Medium - you can create your own Medium publication as an addition to your blog, or submit your content to popular publications in your niche.

Substack – you can start an email newsletter that makes money from subscriptions using this platform.

Communities

Slack List is a collection of Slack communities across different industries. You can use it to find chat groups related to your niche to participate in group discussions and share relevant pieces of content. Check out more Slack communities here

Product Hunt is a place to share new products. As I've already said, content is also a product. For example, you can package your long-form content into a book and promote it on Product Hunt.

Watch it instead:

Every week I share my ideas and tips on content marketing with writers, B2B marketers, and business owners. Subscribe to my YouTube channel.

So there you have it. Here are a few content distribution highlights to remember:

  • Focus on creating valuable content 
  • Prioritize owned channels in your content strategy
  • Be active on the platforms where your audience can be reached most effectively
  • Experiment with paid channels to see which ones bring results
  • Always be on the lookout for new content distribution channels
  • Don't be afraid to share stuff – the more you give, the more you get.

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