Everyone loves a great piece of content, but very few organizations have figured out how to get it the attention that it deserves.

You know the content that I mean — you’ve been slaving over a hot brief for weeks, giving feedback, making edits, and finally, it’s time to push your baby out into the world, to let it fly free.

Then something unexpected happens — Nothing. Or, much less than you expected.

Somehow the Internet doesn’t immediately recognize the brilliance of your piece and make good on its promise of free and fast distribution. All of that hard work and time investment doesn’t seem to be paying off, and you’re left to return to your marketing plan, questioning whether the choice to invest in digital was the right one after all.

If this sounds familiar, know that you’re not alone. The most common block that I see holding brands back from creating high-quality content is not budget or ability, it’s the concern that if they were to put themselves out there, if they were to invest and create what they’re capable of, that it would fall on deaf ears.

The problem is not with the content. The problem is that many of us aren’t creating digital content with the same level of respect and professionalism that we put into every other part of our businesses.

When we host an event or speaker, we send out press releases, buy ads, create a landing page on our website, and email every one of our contacts to let them know.

When we launch a new product or service, we educate everyone in the organization and equip them to spread the word. We provide our partners with materials that they can share and put up signage in our retail space.

We know how to get the word out when we create something important, so why don’t we do the same thing when we publish digital content? That video/whitepaper/blog post is no different. You invested in creating it because you know that there is real value in getting people to consume it. You have goals that your content will help you to achieve, and achieving those will help you to hit your broader business objectives.

I believe that the reason more of us aren’t publishing the calibre of content that we’re capable of is not because we think we can’t, it’s because we know that we can, but we don’t know how to get people to pay attention.

The best content marketers are probably not better than you at creating content, but they’re a whole lot better at building and executing a distribution plan. As with everything else in a creative field like marketing, the perfect cocktail for your brand is going to be as unique as you are, but I’ll get you started by defining the three primary methods, and some of the most common tactics in each.

If you’re still working on your content ideas, check out our post on 5 steps to accomplish goals that matter with digital content.

3 Elements of Every Content Distribution Plan

Paid Media

This is the obvious one — someone else owns an audience’s attention, you give them cash and they sell you that attention. Paid media starts out very straightforward and gets much more interesting as you dig deeper.

The starting points are paid social, display advertising, and native advertising. Clicking “boost post” on Facebook is fine, but to take your paid media plan to the next step, consider who else has the eyes and ears of your audience. Podcasts have some of the most interesting ad units available right now, and co-created influencer content has multiple benefits. If you’re going to be attending an event or conference, can you get a valuable piece of content in front of the attendees?

Paid media is great because it’s a straight transaction that’s easy to quantify and even easier to execute, but the best paid media pays off in multiples because the content that it’s promoting can earn itself additional reach through shares and other earned media.

How to plan for Paid Media

  • Define your content marketing goals
  • Define what hitting those goals is worth to your business
  • Plan out how you could spend less than that amount to hit or exceed your goals
  • Make sure the content is interesting enough that it can earn itself additional reach

Earned Media

In the traditional model of marketing, earned media was simple: Put out a press release, get picked up, mark it as a win.

Now there are so many more opportunities for earned media. Think about what the words mean: All that we’re talking about is media that we earn by being interesting, or otherwise compelling enough that people want to talk about it.

Every retweet, share, email forward, and re-pin is earned media. What’s never changed is the fact that the better the quality, the more interesting or valuable the message, the more likely it will be able to earn additional media.

This is the virality part. It’s the promise that the marketing “gurus” made and the internet hasn’t been able to keep. They told us that the online revolution would be a source of cheap and easy eyeballs and that we’d be rewarded with audiences, traffic, and sales simply by hitting Publish (or paying them to publish). I’ll suggest to you that it’s not the Internet’s job to get us attention — it’s simply a very efficient vehicle to get an interesting message to spread. If you’re like me, you’d rather not rely on luck…

How to plan for Earned Media

  • Define your headline – why would anyone share this with their friends? What would they say about it?
  • Collaborate with as many people as possible on the content – partners, customers, suppliers, industry organizations. Think: Who else could benefit from spreading this message?
  • Create a contact list – when you hit publish, who can you rely on to comment/share/forward to all of their contacts? If your content is good enough, people will be happy to help out.
  • Develop a story – nearly every writer/creator/blogger has the same problem that you do: they need more content in less time. If you can hand them a legitimately interesting story that centers around your content, and if all they have to do is put their own spin on the photos, text, and links that you’ve provided, you may just earn yourself some very valuable media.
  • Have a clear ask – effective earned media, over time, has some significant owned media benefits in the form of SEO, email sign-ups, and social followers. Make sure that when you’re reaching out for earned media distribution, you are asking for the right links and calls to action.

Owned Media

The most valuable form of all media is the owned type. This is any place that we get to communicate to an audience freely, without asking for permission from anyone or paying for access. Traditionally, that would look like Patagonia’s print magazine, skate brands’ VHS tapes or retailers’ store windows. Few brands had powerful owned media because it was so difficult to create.

Now, anyone with a keyboard can create owned media in the form of a blog, an email, or a social media account. The challenge is no longer in creating the media, it’s in owning the audience. That’s why a lot of brands will use the first two categories, Paid and Earned, not to drive sales, but instead to create owned media because they know that over time, owning access to your audience may be even more valuable than a sale today. Consider the brands Red Bull, Glossier, and Fenty — each one is not only able to drive sales, but commands a significant premium on its valuation because of the owned media that it’s been able to accumulate.

Every one of us should have an owned media plan, and yours could range from a simple SEO strategy all the way up to a Red Bull-esque multi-platform strategy. Regardless of your scope, here’s what I suggest that you should be considering for your owned media.

How to plan for Owned Media

  • Define your owned Call To Action (CTA) – where will people sign up/follow/subscribe?
  • Make that single CTA clear in every place that people find your brand
  • Include a path to that CTA in all paid and earned media
  • Consistently deliver value
  • Ask that people who love your content refer their friends – make this part as easy and seamless as possible

My experience has been that by implementing the distribution plan above, not only will you get more attention to your content, but everyone in the organization will have more confidence in your content strategy. More confidence leads to more investment, and overall stronger support across the team which will inevitably lead to better content. The key is that you never leave something as important as content marketing to chance. Have a plan, create a ton of value for your audience, and deliver consistently.

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