Content distribution is important, but most marketers struggle to understand how to distribute content effectively and efficiently. They create, publish, and push content out only to move onto the next piece before promoting and distributing the last one.
Today’s guest is Sarah Colley, a content marketer. She shares how to get started with distributing content or improve your current content distribution practice. It's time to start making distribution a real part of content strategy from the beginning.
Ben: Hey, Sarah. How's it going this morning?
Sarah: Good. How are you?
Ben: I can't complain. I'm really excited because we're going to talk about content distribution, which seems like a really basic topic until you start to actually dive into it, and then it becomes a complex topic. It's also one that I feel just personally, in my own view, I feel like I hear more about content distribution than what I actually see in terms of practical advice on how to do it.
There's all this hype, while this is something you have to do. It's something that people don't do enough. But then when you actually want to know how to do it, it's either behind the paywall or it's not there. The fact that people charge what they do for this advice, I think, just means it's really valuable to put that out there.
To open things up, what exactly is content distribution? The reason why I asked, I don't really love spending too much time on definitions, but I feel like when you say content distribution, people take that term to mean so many different things. I think in order for this conversation to really be useful, we should probably set some parameters for what we mean by content distribution, just for the context of this episode.
Sarah: Absolutely. I think, actually, how we got started talking about it was about repurposing and how that seems to be everybody's standard definition of content distribution. That's usually the thing they go to first. I definitely agree, it's because that's the easiest thing to go to. It's the easiest thing to put into a system.
For me, content distribution goes a little farther to not just sharing the same kind of content, but actually putting it in front of the customers that really matter, the target audience that you're trying to nail. So I think it really starts with content strategy in itself, and I think distribution should be built into that strategy. Oftentimes, it isn't.
To me, distribution is really putting into the strategy and understanding where your customers are, and trying to reach new ones and build relationships with them, rather than just sharing your content and more spaces. I think it's about building conversations around content. It looks a lot different. It's harder to implement. But when you do it right, it really works. I've definitely seen it work for my own content and for a lot of the people that I work with.
Ben: I think that's a great breakdown. I think it's what we actually mean when we say content distribution. Why does content distribution matter? How did this come to be a topic that, as marketers, we all discuss as much as what we do?
Sarah: Obviously, it matters because if you don't have distribution, you really don't get your content out there. It's not like Noah's Ark. You don't build it and people come. It just doesn't work that way. There are a million Noah's Arks out there. They just don't know which one to go to.
You have to say, okay, this one's specifically for you. I built this one for these specific people. We have all these amenities. It's really about getting your voice out there to the right people. I think a lot of people focus on distribution in terms of traffic and getting seen by as many people as possible. I totally disagree. I think it should be focused specifically on those people.
If you only have 1000 people in your target audience, then you should be targeting only those 1000 people. They're the only people that matter. In terms of distribution and why it matters, it's just about getting seen by the right people. If you're not focused enough, you might build traffic with the completely wrong audience.
I've seen it a million times. They're building traffic and they get lots and lots of traffic, but none of them are converting because they're the wrong people for the audience. It usually starts and this is why I think content distribution should be built into strategies because they're not focusing on the right topics for that distribution. So it really starts with selecting the right topics. I think that's why it matters, because if you're not thinking about who's consuming it from the very start, you're just basically wasting a bunch of money and time.
Ben: If we can all agree that content distribution is important, no one really disputes that. I don't think that anyone disputes either that it's something that companies tend to struggle with and something that companies don't invest in enough. My question, then, if content distribution is this thing that seems to get a lot of hype, and there are lots of discussion around it, this point kind of tends to come up somewhat frequently, that everyone's creating tons of content, most people are not doing enough to distribute it, what leads to that underinvestment?
How does something get discussed so much and yet remain something that is just underutilized or not overlooked? It certainly gets discussed, but how can that be? I struggled to wrap my head around how something can be highly talked about and yet largely underinvested in?
Sarah: It all comes down to time, really. I think most teams are really short-staffed, especially in marketing, especially these years. It's always been a problem. It doesn't matter if we're short-staffed. It's just that marketing teams have notoriously been small and sometimes even down to one person that's focusing on content.
It really becomes this thing of we're spread too thin and distribution that's done correctly. It takes a lot of time. I am a freelancer and I still want to hire a distribution strategist. That's the thing, it doesn't really exist. It's something that you have to create.
Honestly, I think it's a position that should exist in every company. It doesn't and nobody thinks about it because most people think, oh, well, it's just sharing. I can share, I can repurpose, and that's not a job we need to hire for. But if you actually implement distribution properly, it is a full-time job. It really is. I know this because I've done it. I've done it for my clients where I spent 5–8 hours even just a week just distributing past articles. That wasn't even a full distribution. I barely scraped the surface of all the distribution that I could do just because I had other work to do.
I find that I don't really have time to distribute my own stuff the way I want to because I'm so busy with other client work. I think that every company kind of ends up in that same position where you're doing too many things that you can't properly institute those things like distributions. I really think that teams would benefit from slowing down with their production and focusing on creating just a few pieces per month, making them really, really, really strong pieces, and then focusing on strong distribution for those pieces.
It's really hard. It's hard to convince executives that you need a distribution strategist because they won't see value. You can't prove the value until you do the distribution. Then of course, nobody has time for that.
So it just kind of ends up being a cycle where nobody can prove it and nobody really understands the power of it because they can't do it. So it's just a cycle of, we don't have time and we don't have money. You can do a lot of distribution for free, completely free, but it just comes down to time.
Ben: It seems like it's possible to do enough without much effort to tell yourself you're doing distribution, but it's much, much, much more difficult to do it thoughtfully, strategically, and effectively.
Sarah: This is why I built it into my strategies, too, because it makes it a lot easier to follow a formula. If you say from the beginning, we're going to put this article, like I have a core distribution channel, these are the places that will always share it, and then here are the places that this specific article should also be shared.
If you say that from the beginning and you have this roadmap for this article ahead of time, then you can say, okay, if it's this part of the social media aspect, I can have the social media strategist do this part of distribution. But if you don't do that ahead of time, it's really, really hard to plan out.
You can't just sit there for each article if you're producing four pieces of blog content per month. You're not going to sit there after each article and figure out where it needs to go because you don't have time. But if you build that into the strategy and you have a full quarter planned out, you make value there.
Ben: Absolutely. I think what you mentioned about having a formula or a framework to follow and just how that can make things easier, that is true across so many areas of marketing. I love that you've brought that into the discussion with what that means for content distribution.
If listeners want to start improving their content distribution, like they just want to begin with what they've got where they're at, which we can safely assume they don't have much but if they at least want to begin, how would you recommend that they start? Would you recommend that they start thinking about the process? Should they just start choosing some simple tactics? I feel like there are so many different directions you could go. If it were you, how would you advise someone to start?
Sarah: I'll give two different sets of advice. First, if you're just a one-person content show, and you've already laid out your content strategy, and you're just trying to add one or two things that will improve your distribution, I'd say one of the best things you can do that you don't have to continually, because there are certain things that need continual promotion, and that's why it takes so much time, because if you're going to do things like social listening, that's a continuous publication strategy.
There are things that you can do like joining HARO or help a B2B writer, where you'll just get questions in your email that you can answer, and then add one of your articles to have it linked. It doesn't always work. You're not always going to be picked, but it is something where you can say, okay, every morning, I'm going to answer at least one email from HARO, and you might get a few backlinks in there. That can help boost your content.
Another thing you can do is you can just start building better relationships. If you just talk to people that you want to work with, it's something that I do. I'm obviously a one person show and I work for quite a few clients doing a lot of their own content. I generally don't have a lot of time for my own, which is something I'm really hoping to work on in the new year.
I'd say building relationships has helped me incredibly, obviously. It's gotten me on this podcast. Just connecting with people through comments. If you spend one time a month, if you dedicate one day a month to speak with somebody new in your network, that can be really instrumental to spread your content.
I've done this with others in my network, where they aren't necessarily my target audience, but they take an interest in my content. Either they are my target audience or they're just another writer supporting me and I do the same for them. We just connect once in a while and we say, hey, how's it going, what do you do, and get to know each other.
Every now and then I'll reach out to one of them and say, hey, I have this article and I think it's great, but I don't really know, do you want to take a look at it? They could take a look at it and say, this is awesome or you could just talk about it and say, I'm working on this article and it's a rant. I had done that with somebody, with Amber Ashley. I had told her I was working on this really long piece, and it's really a rant, and she's like, now I'm more interested. Then she ended up sharing the content and getting more eyes on it.
I think that's a really simple strategy you can do, just connecting with people and getting their eyes on your content as an individual, and then they can share it as well. The more relationships that you have like that, the easier it is to share your content.
Those are really simple strategies that you can implement here where it doesn't need to be a continuous thing, but you do have to continually build relationships, which is something you should be doing anyway. I think companies can do that perfectly fine.
Take Dually for example. Everybody in Dually has their own profile on social and they all do amazing work building their own audiences. They go on podcasts. They develop their own relationships and they talk to people. I think every company should be able to do that, have an audience built, and build their own personal connections as well as company connections. Those are really simple strategies, just building relationships.
If you're trying to make a huge overhaul, where you really want to just change your distribution strategy, and you really want to improve distribution across the board, you really need to start from the beginning. You need to look at everything.
Honestly when I build content strategies for my clients, I start with distribution. While I'm looking at the audience research while I'm diving in, I look at theirs and I make them give me a list of people they specifically want to work with or that they're already working with. I look at the channels that they're paying attention to. I see their engagement on these channels and I see what kind of content they're sharing, what publications they trust, that kind of thing. I build a list of all those places, and all of those topics, and those questions they're talking about, all the topics they're talking about.
To me, those are places automatically that you should be focused on. Those are the ways that you're saying, hey, this person listens to the New York Times all the time. That's the publication they trust. That might mean that you need to get an article into those sections of the New York Times. It really just depends on your specific audience.
If you're doing a good-enough research into your audience, then you understand where they already are, where they're hanging out, what things they trust, and what they pay attention to and engage with. Right there and then you can say, those are my distribution channels. You can build a core list of, say, we're going to share it on these social channels every time. We're going to send it to our newsletter, our email lists, and blah-blah-blah. That's your core distribution.
Then for each article, as you build it out, you should have a brief and you should have a distribution spreadsheet that says, okay, we're going to mention these brands in this article, so let's reach out to these brands. You let them know that we're talking about them. I've done this with other brands and they've shared the content on their social media. That's a simple-enough distribution strategy. It just takes an email or a message on social.
You can say there's this weekly roundup of articles on this topic. When you have that secondary list for each article from the beginning, then you can say, okay, somebody is going to do these tasks. Probably, if you really want to, you can hire somebody on Fiverr to share it and just give them a template to follow.
I do know that some people do that. They just hire people on Fiverr to share it in a certain format. They give them everything they need. If they have that set up from the start, it's just that formula building.
It can be really easy if you know what you're doing from the start, but creating a long-term distribution strategy can be very difficult if you don't know how to do it from the beginning. If you're waiting till the end, it's just not going to do distribution.
Ben: Yeah, it's too late at that point or at the very least just much, much more difficult because at that point, you're on to the next thing. I wonder if maybe that's how marketers get on this hamster wheel of always to the next thing without promoting the last thing.
Once marketers have grasped the basics, they've started doing some of these really simple things that they can do—getting on HARO is a great example—how can they take content distribution to the next level? What are some of the more advanced tactics they can implement to mature their content distribution practice?
Sarah: I would definitely say, if you're trying to make it that high-level distribution, it definitely needs to go beyond an email list and repurposing. My most advanced tactic is relationships, actually. I know I've mentioned that already. If you can develop relationships with influencers, people that already have a following and those that following is your target audience, you don't have to develop as much of your own.
You're starting from scratch, say. Maybe you're not, but even then, consider that you are. Believe that you are. You don't have to start from scratch because other people have an audience. You can leverage their audience if you do it the right way. I'm not just talking about just reaching out to an influencer and pitching them. I'm talking about developing a long-term relationship with them by making it mutually beneficial.
I worked with Kaylee Moore before, and she has an audience that isn't my target audience right now, let’s say. But communicating with her regularly, she already recommends me to other people looking for a writer. I think that relationship is simple, but it takes a matter of talking, developing, networking, being consistent with your outreach, and being genuine with it, too.
You're not going to go into it with this idea that you're only using them for distribution because that just ruins it. But if you're there to have a discussion about something and you actually have some insights into something they're talking about, you can start there. You can say, hey, as we did, I just said, well, I have distribution strategies, you want to hear them basically? I wasn't expecting anything like this, but this is an outcome of just continuing conversations.
I think that's my highest level, and that's why it can take a lot of time and a lot of effort because you have to develop relationships. That's not always easy. It's not something that's like one message out and you've got a new client. It's something that you have to say every now and then, how are you doing, and pass people things that are good for them, too.
It's just leveraging people and their relationships, and understanding that you don't need something from them right away. If you go into understanding that aspect, that everybody has something to offer, it makes a huge difference. It really does in distribution, in your business, and in everything else that you do. It's just a positive thing to add to your business.
I know that can be hard for companies because you're a single person, you're an individual, and you're not representing a whole company, but in a way, you are. If a company leverages their own people and says, hey, you have power as an individual to develop relationships, and that can be for yourself, for your company, I think that can be pretty powerful. That's probably my best strategy is just developing relationships with people that have audiences and people that don't, people that may eventually have an audience.
In terms of making that an actionable thing, I'd say that the first place to start is to start building your audience on places like LinkedIn or places where your audience hangs out. Joining that conversation immediately saying that, okay, I might be a company that caters to you guys, but I'm part of this conversation.
Just being engaged with your audience is the most important aspect of distribution possible. If you don't build that kind of reputation, that you're somebody to listen to, that you're somebody to engage with, that you're somebody that's part of their world, how do you expect to sell to them if they have never seen you before in these conversations? I definitely say that's my highest level.
I'd say building that into your daily routine. For me every morning, I spend an hour just on social. I don't have a ton of time, but I do have enough time to say ‘hey’ every hour or every morning for an hour, and connect with people for a while. Then maybe at breaks throughout the day, I'd say 10 minutes here, 5 minutes here. That's simple enough. It's really simple.
Emails every morning with HARO, those kinds of things are really simple that you can add into your day. It might take time and you don't have a lot of time—I totally get it—but the less that you have on your plate. You can strike out a lot on your plate—you really can—just by saying, I'm going to limit myself to this and I'm going to delegate this, or just saying, we don't need to do all this, and making it as simple as possible. I think we like to overcomplicate things and it makes things less enjoyable for everybody.
If you publish one article per month and it's really high level, it's really amazing, it's actionable, it's packed with value, and you focus on distribution for that one single article, you're far better off doing that than you are with publishing for and doing minimal distribution on social. Take a look at what you're actually doing. Do an evaluation, an audit assessment, whatever you want to call it, of what you're doing now and determine really what's leading to any kind of value for your business because a lot of companies don't do this.
They don't realize that their blog isn't bringing anything in because they're not focusing on the right topics and not getting distribution. Whatever it may be, they're not looking at it because they just know we have to do content. Look at what you're doing now and determine if it's really worth it, if you’re really putting enough effort into it.
I think if you're doing a podcast, YouTube videos, content four times a week, and social media, and none of it is yielding as many results as it could be, I think it might be time to pare down. If you're feeling too spread out, if you're too thin in your schedule, then you might need to look at things that you can delegate to people on Fiverr, or to a new team member, or to somebody that's already existing. Are you doing too much?
I think it's time to start making distribution a real part of the strategy from the beginning. I think it just comes down to planning for it. If you're building out your distribution strategy, especially for the new year, in the new year, you're looking at your strategy for the next quarter. I think everybody should plan their content for three months in time, a quarter at a time.
When you do, and you really deep dive into audience research, and you see where they are, then you understand distribution a lot better. You know that you can only focus on these channels. That makes it easier to limit where you're doing, too, because then you say, everything else isn't important, we only need to focus here, because these are where our people are. I think it's just about limiting yourself, and knowing what works for you, and choosing a few strategies that really, really, you can implement on a consistent basis and that you can do for you. I think it'd be as simple as that.
Ben: That's excellent advice to end with everything you have to say with relationship building. It's much, much, much more difficult than that, but sometimes the things that are hard are the things that are most important to be doing. One last question I'll throw your way to leave our listeners with. It's something really simple. How can people present themselves on social media, or do outreach, or do any of the things associated with relationship building in a way that is actually authentic?
The reason why I ask is because just from what I see, people kind of get stuck between two things. One, they know that they need to generate leads, drive traffic. They need to influence some sort of profitable action in a way that they can concretely measure because they have stakeholders that they have to show a dashboard or report and say like, I took action A and I got outcome B.
With a lot of things with relationship building you're describing, it's really, really difficult to trace. Where did that first interaction happen, when did someone take even the first step towards a purchase? I think that that leads people to do all kinds of things that are very transparently disingenuous. They'll send you a cold message. They'll be like, hey, I saw you had a question about this, let me solve it for you. Like, how about you go away? [00:40:22] talk to me again.
People are actually honest and I feel like most people do not allow themselves that level of transparency on social because there are a lot of professional risks associated with actually saying what you think sometimes, but you can guarantee. If you come at somebody that way, that's what they're thinking because that's a weird way to come at somebody.
How do you balance those things? Obviously, everybody's got a goal in mind even when they go on social, but I guess really, what the question is is, how do you balance the relational and transactional sides of relationship building in a B2B business and marketing context?
Sarah: I'd say content marketers have one of the hardest jobs in proving their value. Consistently through companies, they really are about numbers. Marketing is one of those things that's incredibly hard to measure for anything that isn't paid. I'd say there are ways to measure even content. Without fully going into it, I could definitely go into that for another podcast. I've done it with full articles. I had full articles on measuring the ROI of content.
You can do it with things like HubSpot or even with a simple tool like Google Analytics if you just have the right conversion goals and thank you pages set up. If you have everything set up correctly, you can look at the value of a conversion and your content in Google Analytics. Through the model comparison tool, you can see that people read your articles before converting over a period of three months. Without getting too far into that, on social media, for clients, I have measured that engagement with UTM tags or with things like Bitly. You can track your bit.ly links and see the engagement on those, but that's solely for sharing content and looking at the clicks on that content.
As far as developing relationships, you can't measure that. You can only measure that in the outcomes. You can only measure that in things that actually happen. You can't measure the time that you spent on that relationship, and do you really even want to? I'd say no. To be genuine, it has to be unmeasured. It has to be something that's just understood as a benefit to your company. That's really, really hard to do if you have people that don't understand marketing, especially at higher ups. They generally don't see that social media can be really beneficial, but I built my entire business on social media.
Yes, I have a blog, but do you know how hard it is to compete against all the giant blogs on marketing that there are? It's really difficult. So I leverage social media as part of my own business. I leverage my relationships with people. I leverage targeting specific people and specific groups of people through the right distribution channels.
The only way that I can do it positively is if I went into this thinking that this isn't going to work. If I went into this thinking this is just me putting myself out there, and putting my content out there, and putting it in front of the right people, and just talking to people because obviously I'm alone, I'm working for myself, and being the only person that I'm accountable to, I have a little more leverage because I can do whatever I want, obviously.
To get it measurable, there's no way to measure it. There really isn't. To be genuine, it's all about mindset. It really is. I don't know any other way to put it other than you can't be genuine if you're literally not genuine. If you're going into this thinking that there's only an outcome for it, then that's just not going to work.
You have to have that relationship with your marketing team and with your company, that they understand that there are things that you're going to do that are going to benefit your company. We don't necessarily know how. We don't necessarily know what kind of outcomes you can generate. You can't put a metric on it. You can't say, okay, I'm going to engage 15 times this month and we're going to get X number of relationships, we're going to get X number of mentions. You can't do that. But you do have to say, okay, we're going to dedicate this amount of time to social. We don't know the outcomes, but we know that it'll be beneficial in the end.
You can measure the outcomes later on, sure. You can measure (say), I did this, and we built this relationship, and it's led to these kinds of things. It led to a collaboration on an ebook. It led to a co-hosted podcast. It's led to this.
I perfectly believe that you can measure blog content, and outcomes and conversions with that, over a three month period. I would definitely say that if you have the right mechanisms set up where you say, as new clients or customers come in, you can ask them how they first started their relationship with you and look back what caught their attention, what led them to becoming a customer. If you have that built into the questionnaire, then you can understand a little more about how social media and content plays into those outcomes.
I’d definitely say that in those initial reactions and in terms of relationship building, you can't measure it and you can't go into it thinking it. It's just understanding, hey, relationships mean a lot in everything—they really do—and just having that basic understanding of genuine relationships and genuine connection, and genuinely just sharing what you know, I'd say that's probably the biggest tip.
If you're genuinely a thought leader on a topic and you have something to add to the conversation, that's so much more valuable. You're not just saying, hey, I agree with you. It's not just a relationship of agreeing and saying good job on this post. It's a relationship of adding to that conversation and saying, yeah, and I also know this one thing and I find that this happens with ours. Those kinds of genuine comments of just being a person looking to interact and share your knowledge, that's where it becomes genuine, just being a person.
If you build that kind of understanding with your team and with your executives, then that's all you can do. If they want a metric, you can give them metrics later. If they make you build that into your budget monthly, don't build it into your monthly budget. Don't say anything about it at all. Just know that your schedule is going to have that engagement, and then you can prove things later.
Don't try and say social media is going to be this, unless it's a paid channel. If you're going to put paid stuff on there, okay, add it. Otherwise, don't mention it. Just do it on your own. I honestly think that asking for forgiveness on that, and I wouldn't say you have to ask for forgiveness, I think your time is your time. If you're trusted to do your job, then it will lead to the outcomes and that is that.
Ben: That's great. I think, ultimately, what stakeholders genuinely care about is the result. They care about metrics, tracking time, and just knowing where your effort is going.
Sarah: Which is pretty ridiculous. It can't happen in marketing.
Ben: No, not with everything, but what they're getting at is the outcome, what happened as a result. As long as you can show those things, then a lot of those other things just don't quite matter as much.
Sarah, this has been fantastic. Before I let you go, if people want to find you online and want to get in touch, where's the best place for them to go?
Sarah: I engage the most on LinkedIn. There are probably a lot of [...], but you might be able to link that in your posts or with just tagging me and that'll probably be enough for people to find me in the post. If you look me up on LinkedIn with my name, you might be able to find me with the writedestination, too.
I also have my own blog where I have 8000-word posts on content distribution, which is very helpful if you just want to see all the strategies and also the tactics that I implement. That is on my website called the writedestinationagency.com. I'm also on Twitter, but I don't engage there as much as I do on LinkedIn.
Ben: Cool. Sounds great. Sarah, thanks so much for taking the time to come on the show.
Sarah: Absolutely. You can count on me.
Ben: Absolutely. I have a feeling that this will resonate with our audience.
Sarah: I hope so. I talk about a lot of distribution on my channel, too. If you need more stuff on it, there's stuff.
Ben was the Inbound Marketing Director at CoSchedule. His specialties include content strategy, SEO, copywriting, and more. When he's not hard at work helping people do better marketing, he can be found cross-country skiing with his wife and their dog.