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From the Trenches

Content Distribution: Should You Pay to Play?

Right Source | December 10, 2015
Content Distribution_Should You Pay to Play

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? The question has been pondered by the probing minds of notable philosophers like George Berkeley, the Bishop of Cloyne, who initially posed it in the 18th century, and the modern era’s most notable thinkers (read: Lisa Simpson).

What’s content got to do with it, you ask?  No one wants to think of their lovingly crafted content as that lonesome falling tree. As content marketers, we do everything we can to avoid playing to an empty house. We spend time carefully planning our content marketing effort, creating a detailed editorial plan, and then drive traffic to that content by promoting it with “surround sound” — tweets, Facebook and LinkedIn posts, e-newsletters, paid search ads, and more. And we publish the stickiest content we can.

But “sticky” in the traditional sense — engaging, thought-provoking, and well-sourced — may not be enough to edge out the competition in today’s noisy content landscape.

What can help amplify the impact of your content? Paid distribution should be considered part of a holistic content distribution strategy. While paying to reach a specific audience may have been a tactic reserved only for the big guys even just a year ago, the reality is that today’s content clutter makes it important for every content marketer to consider paid distribution as part of a fully formed content marketing plan. Here are four reasons why it makes sense and some ideas for getting your paid distribution initiative going.

Because social platforms are ever more pay-to-play

Much has cropped up over the last few years about the decline, even the “death,” of organic reach, particularly on Facebook. And you’ve likely experienced it in trying to grow your own brand’s likes or followers, even if you haven’t heard of “reachpocalypse.” It’s not news: Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest have complex algorithms that curate what appears on an individual’s news feed. These algorithms rely on the behavior patterns and data captured about subscribers when they are using these platforms. In all, over 100,000 different factors are used to determine what content rises to the top of feeds and what falls away. . . including (increasingly) whether the author paid to have the content “boosted” or not. Platforms know that as users encounter more content, businesses will pay to get it to center stage with a paid investment — and they’re taking it to the bank.

Because your ability to target and gain audience insights will improve

The previously mentioned treasure troves of data gathered by the social platforms and search engines can be sliced and diced to surgically target your desired audience by filtering these users in with more qualifications you can dream up. Their promise is that you can aim squarely and singularly at interested targets, never paying for those that will fail to bite. And though it may sound obvious, it’s worth stating anyway: the exercise of paying to promote your content is only cost-effective if you know who to target. And even though these platforms can serve up a captive audience based on your qualifications, the onus of determining what those qualifications are is on you. Once you’ve got a sweet spot staked out, however, much can be learned by testing paid content campaigns on these (hopefully) good prospects.

Because some paid distribution platforms may have bulk buying power you don’t

Paid distribution platforms like Outbrain and Taboola offer businesses a way to purchase distribution packages that promise to get your content published on big outlets — Outbrain’s Amplify product boasts relationships with CNN, ESPN, Fortune, and People; Taboola has a foothold in USA Today, Time, and the Huffington Post. Based on a cost-per-click pay model, they promise to push your content out to sites with tons of traffic, most often for less than 50 cents per individual click. But be warned: If the primary objective of your paid distribution program is to reach micro-targeted audiences, these platforms may fall short of the precision targeting options offered via social media platforms.

Because audiences are getting better at ignoring traditional advertising

Think about it: by bombarding the Internet with advertisements large and small, static and animated, banner-width or sidebar-style, we’ve created a somewhat jaded digital consumer expert at tuning out commercial messaging — or becoming so frustrated by it that they avoid sites with aggressive ad presences altogether. The 2015 Digital News Report published by the Reuters Institute found that nearly one-third of U.S. respondents said they ignore ads or “actively avoid sites” with too much banner advertising.

This means that in order for sponsored content to be effective, it must be relevant enough to blend with the page it lives on and/or for readers to ignore the fact that it’s labeled as such. Proof of just how valuable well-camouflaged paid content can be? Big outlets like Buzzfeed, The Washington Post, and The New York Times have built out dedicated teams of writers to produce this revenue-generating content on their properties.

So . . .  what now?

We’ve said it before: there is no magic bullet for “hacking” the content marketing game. You still have to bring the goods, and bring them consistently over time, even if you’re paying a little to play. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that paying for eyeballs on your material absolves you of the need for that material to be worthwhile to your readers. In fact, it could be useful to view the opposite as being true: content you’re paying to distribute should be the best it possibly can be because you’re paying for it and because, theoretically, more “guaranteed” people will see it.

Paid crummy content is still crummy – paying to distribute crummy content will not suddenly make it remarkable, or get you remarkable results. Do that, and you’ll not only flush your money down the drain, but also alienate your readers and prospects. Our recommendation: swirl some paid distribution testing into your 2016 content marketing plan – just don’t bet the farm on it.

Learn more about content development and the types of distribution that can generate attention for your business by downloading our eBook, “How to Grow Your Business with Content Marketing,” or by contacting Right Source today.

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About Right Source:

The Marketing Trenches blog provides thought leadership from actual marketing practitioners, not from professional thought leaders. Designed to help business leaders make more educated marketing decisions, our insights come directly from our experience in the trenches. You can find more from Right Source on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and LinkedIn.