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Content Distribution: Your Everything Guide, From Psychology to Strategy

Without a solid distribution strategy, even the best creative can get lost in this vast universe of content. Here's everything you need to know about building yours.

Jun 13, 2024 15 min readContent Marketing
Photo of Tyler Hakes
Tyler Hakes

Strategy Director & Principal at Optimist

Content distribution is critical in getting your hard work in front of the right people, driving brand awareness and engagement.

Why isn’t it just about developing awe-inspiring content anymore?

Creators worldwide publish about 500 minutes of video to YouTube, 116 blog posts, 1,099 Instagram posts, and six new websites per second.

And don’t even get me started on TikTok (with an estimated 34 million videos posted every. single. day).

Without a solid distribution strategy, even the best creative can get lost in this vast universe of content, failing to make an impact and costing you dearly without generating the intended ROI (return on investment).

How do I know? 

Since 2016, I’ve been the strategy director and principal at Optimist, a growth-focused content marketing agency. In my time helping everyone from startups to corporate clients achieve growth through strategic content marketing and SEO, I’ve seen a lot of content. I’ve witnessed many successes, and some flops.

But, most importantly, I’ve learned plenty about what it takes to build an effective content distribution strategy. Want to know what I’ve learned? I’m going to show you — right now.

Key takeaways

  • Shareable content is emotional content. Know your audience and create the kind of copy they can’t help but share.
  • Use a variety of content distribution channels where your audience already is to maximize reach. Look beyond major social networks to communities, like Indie Hackers.
  • Optimize your content for each platform and channel. This may require using a different tone of voice, resizing your images, or tweaking the copy.
  • Repurpose existing content. This tactic can save you time, expand your reach, and help you convey the right message to different audiences. 
  • Iteration is the name of the game. Track your performance on each platform. Analyze the results to see what works, what doesn’t, and where you should focus your efforts. 

What is content distribution?

Content distribution is the practice of publishing, sharing, and promoting your content to your target audience.

This marketing strategy relies on online channels like social media, newsletters, and pay-per-click (PPC) ads. However, you can also leverage offline distribution channels, such as magazines, newspapers, workshops, or trade shows. An example would be the print edition of Forbes or Entrepreneur.

From photos and videos to case studies, you can distribute just about any type of content. What matters most is to "package" it in a way that resonates with your customers — and share it on those platforms where they spend their time.

The psychology of shareable content

Even the highest-quality content sometimes bombs. 

So, what gives? What motivates users to share content with others?

A possible answer comes from The Psychology of Sharing, a study conducted by The New York Times on 2,500 internet users. Most participants said they share content online to:

  • Define themselves to others
  • Build and foster connections
  • Make a difference (e.g., change someone's opinion)
  • Feel more involved in what's happening around them
  • Raise awareness of the causes they care about
  • Inform others about the products they love

For instance, 68 percent of respondents said they share content to express their true selves. About 73 percent saw it as a way to connect with others who shared their interests.

Content shared online brings people together. It also gives them a sense of self-fulfillment and makes them feel like they are part of something bigger.

A good example is Dove's Real Beauty Sketches campaign, which revolved around a video aimed at instilling self-confidence in women. At the time of this writing, the video has been viewed almost 180 million times.

Consumers worldwide shared the video. It was their way of saying something about themselves, as well as the difference they wanted to make in the world. Dove’s content gave them a voice and an opportunity to inspire others — making it irresistibly sharable. 

Looking at this example, it's easy to understand that shareable content has an emotional component to it. As a small business owner, you may not have the same budget as Dove or other big brands, but you can craft content that clicks with your audience.

Types of content distribution channels

Content distribution channels fall into three main categories: owned, earned, and paid. Here's what each entails and how it fits into your strategy.

Owned channels

Owned channels include the platforms you fully control, such as your website and blog. It also extends to the marketing lists you build to send email newsletters, physical mailers, etc. as well as the social media channels you’ve set up. 

Owned channels are where you can most closely track and iterate on the success of your content distribution plan. For example, it’s much easier to know if people are reading emails you’ve sent than it is to understand engagement when you’re featured as a guest on another brand’s email list, blog etc.

Additionally, owned channels allow for the most creative freedom.

Think about Tesla founder and X (formerly Twitter) owner, Elon Musk. Many of his posts are controversial, to say the least, but that’s something he can get away with on his own platform — and it certainly generates a lot of attention. 

A potential drawback of using owned media channels is that it takes time to build an audience. Plus, you have to create and share content regularly to drive engagement and stay relevant.

Earned channels

Earned media includes user-generated content (UGC), media coverage, social media shares, as well as PR and guest posts your brand pushes out. The most important thing to remember is that earned media channels will always belong to third parties, such as bloggers, news websites, and review platforms, so ultimately, you have little to no control over them.

For example, the reviews left by travelers on TripAdvisor are considered earned media for the businesses being reviewed. 

The great news is consumers tend to trust these content distribution channels.

In a 2024 survey, 36 percent of consumers said they check at least two review websites or apps before reaching out to a local business. Another 25 percent admitted to visiting at least three sites to form an opinion.

Earned channels can drive brand awareness and boost your reputation. In some cases, they may also increase traffic to your site or blog.

The downside is that any brand mentions on these platforms are controlled by other parties. Therefore, they may come in the form of negative, inaccurate, or offensive messages.

The best thing you can do to combat this is to diligently reply to any content you can on earned channels. After all, the same study found that 88 percent of consumers actually prefer businesses that reply to all of the reviews left for them.

Paid media includes PPC ads, sponsored posts, and influencer marketing, which is most often conducted on social media and search engine channels.

The gist of paid channels is that you have to, well, pay to share and promote your content.

For instance, luxury fashion house Coach paid actress Selena Gomez to promote a biker jacket and a bag on Instagram:

Paid channels allow you to reach customers who might not have otherwise heard of your products or services. Plus, you have control over the content shared.

One drawback is that paid channels tend to be seen as less credible than earned or owned media. While nearly 90 percent of people trust personal recommendations, 80 percent trust brand sponsorships, 78 percent TV ads, 71 percent influencers, and just 64 percent said they had any faith in ads featured on social media. 

How to choose the right distribution channels

Owned channels offer the most flexibility and control but also require a significant time investment.

Paid channels can generate instant exposure, but of course, you have to pay for it

 Earned channels can help you build trust and credibility, but they are out of your control.

So, which channels should you prioritize?

You probably already saw this coming — the answer depends on your budget, target audience, and type of content.

To help you decide, start by using analytics tools to see where your website's visitors are coming from. Then, focus on those channels that generate the most traffic and conversions.

It's also a good idea to experiment with different distribution channels. Test one or two at a time and monitor the results for four weeks or so.

Go one step further and analyze your competitors' content marketing efforts. This will allow you to identify their top-performing content and distribution channels — and uncover gaps in your strategy.

Consider your marketing goals, too. For instance, it may be worth investing extra money in paid distribution when running a sale.

Also, remember the old adage: "Don't put all your eggs in one basket."

If you focus on just one or two channels and something goes wrong, you could lose your audience overnight. Just look at Google’s March 2024 update, which affected millions of websites. 

Content types for distribution

Would you share a technical report on Facebook or a funny cartoon on LinkedIn? Probably not.

Some types of content perform better than others on certain channels. That's why you should consider both your audience on various channels as well as the context when crafting and eventually distributing content. 

Blog posts, photos, and videos are obvious content types for most brands. To set your business apart, use a variety of content formats. These may include:

  • Interviews
  • Podcasts
  • Checklists
  • Cheatsheets
  • Templates
  • Ultimate guides
  • In-house research
  • Customer success stories
  • Interactive content
  • AR/VR experiences
  • Email newsletters

For example, Airbnb leverages interactive content to drive engagement and personalize the user experience. Travelers can take a Design Personality quiz or use interactive maps to find the perfect accommodation.

Post this type of content on owned channels, such as your website and social media pages. You can also link to it from your emails, blog comments, or guest posts to encourage user participation.

Another more eye-catching and cutting-edge strategy is to create and share AR/VR experiences, such as virtual tours.

Sotheby's International Realty uses this tactic to promote luxury properties. Its website features an interactive map, plus videos and VR tours of high-end homes.

Now, let's see how you can distribute this kind of content:

  • Embed virtual tours on landing pages
  • Share snippets or highlights of the tour on social media
  • Upload them to video-sharing platforms, such as YouTube and Vimeo
  • Run ad campaigns to promote AR/VR experiences to specific demographics
  • Share VR tours and similar experiences on virtual event platforms, like vFairs, Hoppier, or SpatialChat

Look beyond traditional content distribution channels, especially if you're in a niche market.

For instance, you could share your work on community boards, niche forums, or industry-specific networks. Another example is Clubhouse, an audio-based social media app. Or join a decentralized content-sharing platform like Stemmit or LBRY. 

Don't forget about Substack, Patreon, beehiiv, and other paid newsletter platforms. With any of these options, you can share and monetize your content while tapping into new audiences.

How to build a content distribution strategy

While it's still always important to create high-quality content, your reach depends on what you do afterward.

Simply put, you need a well-planned content distribution strategy to attract, engage, and convert your ideal customers.

“Don't neglect the opportunity to leverage partners and fellow brands in your content distribution plan,” advises Ashley Levesque, VP of Marketing at Banzai.

“Swap distribution opportunities with a brand that has a similar ICP to yours — offer to share their lead magnet in your newsletter and vice versa. This opens you up to a new audience while also strengthening your relationship with the other organization. If you have affiliates, formal resellers, or co-marketing partners, be sure they are on your distribution list. Ask them to leverage your content far and wide, and be sure to reciprocate the ask.”

Want to follow Ashley’s example and break into successful content distribution?Here's how to get started.

Research your audience

As a business owner, you already know who you’re targeting. But when it comes to content marketing, you'll want to dig deeper into your audience's preferences.

Use surveys, polls, and analytics data to answer the following:

  • Where does your audience hang out online?
  • What types of content do they prefer?
  • How much do they know about your products or services?
  • Why would they want to read your content? What are their immediate needs and pain points?

If you're selling to B2B customers, you can leverage account-based marketing to identify high-value prospects. After that, create and distribute content that addresses their needs.

Choose a primary distribution channel

As discussed earlier, it's best to diversify your content distribution channels.

But if you're just getting started, choose a primary distribution platform — and take it from there. This could be your website, blog, email, or other owned channels.

In a HubSpot survey, nearly 60 percent of marketers said their blog is "the most valuable" channel. Over 90 percent agreed that owned media was "important" or "very important" to their content marketing strategy.

Review your content

What are you going to share first? 

Audit your content to see what’s ready to go. You’re looking for top-performing content, and pieces that are already optimized for your audience. Then, you can determine where to share them for maximum impact. It's also a good idea at this stage to notate content that’s almost there, but can be expanded upon or updated in the future to be more shareable. 

Next, repurpose the content you’ve chosen so you can share it in different ways on different platforms and channels.

For example, you could turn a blog post into a press release, newsletter, or infographic. Another option is to break it down into social media posts or convert it into a video.

With this approach, you can see how your content performs on different platforms. Analyze the results before jumping into creating fresh content.

Create an editorial calendar

Determine how often you want to share content on each channel — and then create an editorial calendar.

For instance, TikTok recommends posting up to four times per day. Similarly, LinkedIn says it's best to post content daily. If you're active on Instagram, share one or two stories daily and several in-feed posts throughout the week.

These numbers are not set in stone, though. The ideal posting frequency depends on your business size, industry, resources, and target audience. Your best bet is to focus on quality, consistency, and what the metrics tell you (more on that soon).

Remember to set time aside for responding to comments and participating in conversations. These activities are essential for driving engagement.

Share your content with the world

Use a social media management tool to easily plan and share your content on social media. If you're short on time, consider hiring a virtual assistant to post on your site, Q&A platforms, and other channels.

For example, you'll want to set up Google Alerts for some of the topics covered in your posts. This can be a good way to stay up-to-date with the latest blog posts and online conversations related to that topic — and promote your content where appropriate.

Content distribution metrics to track your results

Your content's performance will vary from one channel to the next. It also depends on the time of day when you post and other factors, such as current trends or events.

With that in mind, define your key performance indicators (KPIs) for each channel so you can monitor and analyze the results. These metrics should align with your goals.

If, say, you want to drive engagement, then you should track the following:

  • Website traffic
  • Page views
  • Session duration
  • Bounce rate
  • Scroll depth
  • Referral sources
  • Social media interactions

Now, let's assume you want to increase sales. In this case, focus on conversions and related KPIs, like:

  • Cost per acquisition
  • Customer lifetime value (CLV)
  • Return on investment (ROI)
  • Lead quality

How you'll track these metrics depends on the platform where you share your content.

For example, you may use Google Analytics or paid tools like Semrush to analyze your website's content. But you'll turn to Facebook Audience Insights, Pinterest Analytics, and similar tools to track content performance on each respective platform.

See content distribution in action

To drive home the effectiveness of following the above steps to create a content distribution strategy that moves the needle, I’ve gathered several examples where the Optimist team has had success with various approaches to thoughtful content distribution.

For former client Neighbor, the Optimist team ideated, designed, and ran two studies. We then analyzed the results to create two robust pieces of content, and worked in collaboration with the client and their PR team in order to optimize distribution efforts. 

The finished content — The 2022 Most Neighborly Cities in America and More Than Half of Americans Say It’s OK to Keep Holiday Decorations Up Past Jan. 1 — garnered hundreds of backlinks from various domains, with some of the most recognizable coming from travelandleisure.com, apartmenttherapy.com, today.com, and southernliving.com. 

Co-promotion to raise awareness 

CrazyEgg is a popular A/B testing platform that also publishes reviews on various SaaS solutions — some of which are direct competitors of a former Optimist client, Datanyze. 

Equipped with this knowledge, we emailed the content marketing team at CrazyEgg and proposed a co-promotion campaign. 

In exchange for our promotion efforts, they agreed to publish a Datanyze review. Not only did it help raise brand awareness, the review also provided the client site some referral traffic. 

Thinking outside the box drums up engagement

When we created Motivating Software Engineers 101, we already had a plan to distribute it where the ideal audience was — Reddit

That meant we had to get a little creative to gain traction. So we crafted the content as thought leadership with a somewhat contrarian twist, to spark dialogue and website visits. The strategy worked, and we saw great engagement with hundreds of upvotes and comments rolling in. 

Pro tip when you post to a community like this: It’s incredibly important that you follow all the guidelines and remain respectful of the community where you’re interacting. 

Guest blogging reaches more readers

The thing about creating owned content is that it takes time for traffic to pick up. 

Rather than devoting all your efforts to a website with no readers (yet!), you can publish on another website instead — ideally, one that already generates a steady stream of monthly traffic in your niche.

In this example, we published a guest post on Qualtrics, which is an experience management software platform that generates a nice 1.4 million monthly web visitors. By publishing a guest post on their website, we were able to tap into their massive reader base to promote our client’s brand.

Utilizing communities creatively strikes a chord

As I’ve already shown, promoting content through online communities, like social media groups, forums, Q&A sites, and publications, is a perfect way to reach the right people.

 For example, Indie Hackers is a community of software developers, marketers, startup founders, and other B2B professionals. You can tap into this audience by sharing unique and valuable insights that the community can benefit from, like this featured article all about improving your cold outreach game.

Content distribution tools

Content distribution can be largely automated, depending on the target platforms.

Take Buffer, for example. More than 140,000 people use our online tool to schedule and publish their content across social networks.

Buffer also doubles as a content calendar, making it easier to stick to a publishing schedule. Plus, it offers the tools you need to tailor your posts for each channel.

Consider the following options, too:

  • PR Newswire: Distribute your press releases to over 200,000 newsrooms, 8,000+ websites, and other platforms
  • Buffer: Plan, create, and share social media content from a single dashboard
  • Outbrain: Leverage native advertising to get your content in front of your target audience
  • Help a Reporter Out (HARO): Share your expertise with reporters and journalists to gain earned media
  • Relatyo: Convert your PDFs, MP4 files, and images into other types of content, and then share them with your audience

Content distribution FAQs

How does content distribution benefit my business?

Content distribution can generate exposure for your brand and help you reach a wider audience. It's also an effective way to establish your authority, build trust, and engage your target audience.

Should I create content for each platform?

Not necessarily. Many times, it's enough to tweak your content for each platform or channel.

For example, you can repurpose blog content into LinkedIn posts, webinars, podcasts, or Quora answers. Another option is to turn it into a series of videos, each covering a subtopic.

How can I get more people to share my content?

Most people will share content they find interesting, helpful, or original. That's why it's crucial to research your audience and write with their needs in mind. Consider their age, knowledge level, and pain points.

Also, take the time to answer their questions and comments. This can encourage further interaction and increase post reach. Plus, it's an opportunity to connect with your followers on a more personal level, which can drive loyalty and engagement.

Treat the elements of content distribution as interlinked

Ready to take your content distribution to the next level?

It’s helpful to think of the core elements of a successful content marketing strategy as the points on a triangle — all three integral to its shape and integrity. 

There’s the creativity behind generating great content, the tools behind sharing that great content, and finally, the strategy behind distributing content that resonates with the right people at the right time to stand out and provide added value to your audience.

Happy distributing!

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