Should You Pay for Content Distribution or Do It Yourself?

Should you pay for content distribution or do it yourself?

A common misconception among marketers, especially those in the early stages of their content creation journey, is that once you’ve written and optimized your content for SEO, you’re good to go. Content distribution often takes a back seat.

However, things are more complicated than that. Roughly six million blog posts are published everyday. So, the instant you set your article live on your content management system, you already have incredibly stiff competition.

If you have a B2B target audience and a high price-point product, getting your content in front of potential buyers is even harder. While many B2B decision makers search for information to make their decisions and may come across the content you publish, they tend to guard their time and delegate a lot of their research. So, you might have a harder time reaching them than other types of buyers.

To deal with this situation of a competitive space and hard-to-reach audience that might already feel overwhelmed with a surplus of information, some marketers try to get ahead of the curve by paying to distribute their content. This then begs the question, “should you pay for content distribution just because everyone else is doing it?”

We’ll take a deep dive into that inquiry and help you make a decision. However, before you dive into the world of content distribution in general, it is important to know and understand that content distribution can be thought of as a structure that’s supported by three pillars – paid, owned, and earned media.

The Three Pillars of Content Distribution: Paid, Earned, and Owned Media

Paid content distribution is a strategy that uses a variety of content and social networks to promote marketing material and make sure it reaches a target audience.

These three categories of paid content distribution are often used in advertising, especially with regards to the promotion of specific products and services. However, since you can consider the content you produce as an offering, similar to your regular product/service offering, these phrases apply to content marketing as well.

Let’s have a look at exactly what they mean within the context of content marketing:

1. Paid Media

Paid media refers to the platforms and networks that require you to pay to promote your content. In the world of digital marketing, paid media includes anything from social media adverts to PPC campaigns to sponsored newsletters. Paid media in traditional marketing comes in the form of TV ads, radio ads, and newspaper ads, among other ATL and BTL channels of advertising.

As long as you’re paying the platform or its management to help your content reach a wider target audience, it counts as paid media. Just a heads up, this is going to be one of the major areas of focus in this article. 

2. Earned Media

The line between earned media and paid media, especially in the areas of influencer marketing and digital PR, is a bit more blurry than you might expect. Earned media refers to places you don’t have control over, didn’t pay for, but promotes your content to an audience.

For example, whenever someone mentions you in a blog post on their site or someone shares a link to your article via their Twitter page, it counts as earned media. Increasing your earned media exposure largely relies on people finding your content valuable enough to mention it to someone else.

Of course, your content is great. However, you have limited control over whether or not people will mention it without a consistent effort to reach out to relevant sites and individuals that might benefit from promoting and linking to your content. There are new outreach tools to increase your earned media, such as Postaga, which automates the link-building process for your blog and other content channels.

The line between earned and paid media can be blurred because companies now pay for people to talk about them. Influencer marketing is built largely on this foundation, where influencers talk about you using their platforms in exchange for a fee. 

3. Owned Media

Owned media refers to content networks and platforms that you have direct control over. Besides the cost of acquiring the infrastructure itself, like the cost of purchasing your website’s domain name and hosting plan, you don’t have to spend a dime to post content here. Owned media includes the company’s social media channels, communities the company has access to, and the freedom to post blogs and articles on your own websites.

Ven Diagram of the three pillars of content distribution: Paid Media, Earned Media, and Owned media.
Most companies utilize a combination of content distribution strategies ranging from paid ad placement to SEO.

What is Paid Content Distribution and How is it Different from Paid Advertising?

Paid content distribution refers to the process of paying a third-party individual, organization, or platform to get your content in front of a larger audience than your owned media can provide. In comparison, paid advertising offers the ability to immediately target specific consumers with the intent of selling a product or service.

It’s important to make this clarification because when most marketers think about paid media, they think about paid advertising for products, services, and promotions. To most marketers, the point of content marketing is organic lead generation and paying for content distribution seems odd. While paid media serves the aforementioned functions, it can go beyond them and help improve traffic to your owned channels as well.

Paid advertising exists primarily to help get your target market to buy your products. Other benefits like brand awareness, demand generation, etc. are added to the mix. However, the objective is to get people to make a purchase.

Paid content distribution, on the other hand, primarily intends to get your content in front of the maximum number of relevant people. It could be a new webinar that you believe would be useful to your audience, or an ebook which serves as a part of a larger lead generation campaign. Whatever form the content takes, paid content distribution significantly augments your overall distribution efforts.

Examples of Paid Content Distribution Strategies

Paid content distribution strategies include a wide array of techniques including advertising on social media, sponsored blog posts, advertising in targeted email newsletters, PPC advertising, and display ads on industry-specific content networks. Despite the overarching themes across all of these approaches, they each have unique requirements, offer vastly different potential ROI, and require different budgets to see a real impact from any single campaign. The good news is that most of what is developed for one strategy can be transferred to other strategies when it comes to visual assets, audience research, and messaging.

While this isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, here are some examples of paid content distribution strategies:

1. Content Distribution Services

Those familiar with content distribution already know and implement the regular channels and tactics – social media, SEO, video sharing platforms, etc. However, there are several SaaS platforms that offer the often neglected component of a sophisticated marketing plan – content distribution services. 

One example is Quuu Promote

Quuu Promote is a content distribution platform
Quuu Promote is a content distribution platform that matches writers with readers.

It’s a content marketing tool that enables users to promote their content to several types of readers on a monthly basis. Here’s a brief rundown on how it works:

Quuu Promote already has its own community of dedicated readers. These are individuals across multiple professions who are looking for excellent content that appeals to them in more ways than one. Now, the company recognizes that finding great content in a world of six million blog posts per month is a tad difficult. So, it solves the problem by recommending content to its readers daily, according to their specific interests.

If this sounds familiar to you, it’s because the concept already exists. Medium does the same thing, and Mozilla’s Pocket app does something similar by recommending articles alongside your previously saved pieces. However, services like Quuu Promote offer a degree of curation not offered by the larger, and more general platforms.

The primary advantage of Quuu Promote is that it doesn’t pull random articles across the web for its users based on its pre-programmed algorithms. Instead, it charges content marketers and writers looking to promote their content a small fee per month. Then, depending on relevance, it matches the content of each writer to readers who have similar interests. Simply put, it connects content marketers who have articles with readers who want to read articles about specific topics.

Another content distribution platform is StoryChief. This platform helps marketers distribute their content across multiple channels including social and blogging platforms. This takes a lot of the work out of re-formatting for specific channels and remembering to post across all of your social accounts.

StoryChief helps you distribute content across all channels
StoryChief helps you distribute content across all channels.

2. Social Media Advertisement

Most companies use social media ads to promote products, services, and/or promotional offers. Those trying to be less salesy but still want some form of brand reinforcement might use it to promote visual and creative assets made for holidays or special events. None of these are bad ways to use social media advertisements. However, content distribution using social ads takes a slightly different approach.

Instead of promoting posts to get people directly interested in a purchase, paid content distribution via social media advertising primarily wants people to consume a piece of content. 

This area of paid content distribution takes several forms, each unique to its owned media. For example, if you spend a fair bit of time on Instagram, depending on the accounts you follow and your interests, you should come across an advert promoting an ebook, webinar, or a podcast, among others. Usually, these promotions have links that lead to landing pages where you have to input your email to get the material. This means the promotion is part of a larger lead generation campaign.

Facebook and Twitter work in similar ways. LinkedIn takes a slightly different approach through its direct message advertising. If you’re active on the platform, you’ve likely been targeted through direct message advertising from LinkedIn itself, a university, or any other organization that considers you a member of their target audience. It should look a little like the screenshot below.

Example of LinkedIn direct message advertising.
Example of LinkedIn direct message advertising.

It’s worth noting that this method isn’t often used for content distribution. However, it’s a possibility that can be explored when your target audience is extremely niche and you know exactly who would benefit from your content. This could be a valuable piece of a very tight account based marketing (ABM) campaign where you are targeting a very small number of potential customers.

Closely related to social media advertising is search engine marketing. This is already commonly used for product and company promotions. But, it can be used to get your content ahead of your competitors for specific key phrases on Google. An overview of how PPC and content marketing can be used in tandem can be found here: PPC and Content Marketing: The Perfect Combo for Immediate ROI

3. Paid Guest Posting

Guest posting is a very well-known and effective strategy for content distribution. Many platforms and websites offer you this option completely free of charge, or for a backlink or guest post in exchange. However, the price of doing this is baked in to how much outreach and research you’ll need to perform to find a suitable platform willing to publish your content for free.

However, some others have monetized the process. An excellent example is the Entrepreneur Leadership Network.

The Entrepreneur Leadership Network is an example of a paid guest posting platform.
The Entrepreneur Leadership Network is an example of a paid guest posting platform.

If you consume a lot of content online, you have probably come across Entrepreneur. The publication has millions of views per month and several hundred thousand dedicated readers. It covers many business-related topics and is specifically interested in content that would be useful to its target audience – entrepreneurs.

So, if you’re a B2B content manager or occupy a similar role, you might find this platform useful. To publish your guest posts, they require you to subscribe to the Entrepreneur Leadership Network for about $1,000/year at the time of writing this post. The editing and approval process is rigorous and it cannot be overly salesy and shouldn’t be copy-pasted from your website to theirs. 

Should You Pay for Content Distribution?

It’s clear that paid content distribution is a viable option for many marketing teams. However, the expected ROI for many paid distribution strategies may not be suitable for every product, message, and team. Some approaches require a sizable budget to make it worth it, while others will completely miss the mark due to a misaligned audience.

It’s well known that even small companies need significant advertising budgets to generate meaningful brand awareness and demand for their products and services. As such, most companies’ marketing budgets are already stretched pretty thin. Those that have content distribution campaigns running across multiple digital channels are often companies that have planned several months ahead or simply have quite a bit of money to spare.

You shouldn’t imitate those that pay for content distribution without understanding the intricacies of your own company. So, if you are investigating whether or not paid content distribution is a viable solution for your company, you should keep a few things in mind first.

A Few Factors You Should Consider Before Opting for Paid Content Distribution

1. Your Marketing Budget

The hard truth of the vast majority of marketing efforts, especially for small and medium size businesses, is that they are under-funded and under-staffed. Unlike PPC and paid social ads, there are many marketing efforts that are primarily aimed at creating demand and brand awareness that have difficult-to-measure ROIs.

Before you bring an extensive list of paid content distribution strategies to your CMO, it’s important to understand which strategies will require significant resources to have a measurable effect. It’s also critical to make sure you have a good understanding of how to create a marketing budget in the first place. There are a number of heuristics you can use to estimate how large your marketing budget should be. It may not be worth engaging in a paid social content distribution strategy if you only have a few hundred dollars to spend each month. That budget might be better spent on a sponsored post or newsletter where there is a better chance to reach an engaged audience.

Before you bring an extensive list of paid content distribution strategies to your CMO, it's important to understand which strategies will require significant resources to have a measurable effect.

2. Suitability of the Channel

The most important thing to consider when choosing a content distribution channel is whether or not your audience is there. If you’re a content marketer in an agency that serves huge tech companies and enterprise-size businesses, it’s not very likely that your buyers are lounging around on Instagram, casually scrolling through their feed for cute videos of cats and your content. In that case, you might want to rule out Instagram as a channel.

This same level of analysis should be put into every other channel before you decide to use it. Would your audience find LinkedIn direct message advertising intrusive? Would they be on Twitter, waiting for your content to appear on their timeline with the “sponsored” tag? Ask yourself all these before you invest in paid content distribution. If your honest answers are mostly positive, go for it.

3. Sustainability

The goal of every spend in business and marketing is to get a return on investment of some sort. Some marketers argue that it’s not their job to sell, but the ability for sales and marketing to work in tandem is a promising recipe. Since many marketing actions are difficult to measure, such as the success of brand awareness campaigns, it’s always useful to be able to tie a metric-driven approach to the more “soft” objectives like demand generation and brand building.

In reality, many business leaders and C-level executives expect the marketing budget to pay for itself. So, if you do not see anyway in which the paid content distribution might help with that expectation, you might want to find a composite strategy that contains measurable results that support the value of paid content distribution.

A New Partner to Paid Content Distribution: AI-Assisted Content Generation

Paid content distribution has the potential to generate leads, brand awareness, and revenue. However, it can also be budget-consuming, might require extra tracking and reporting, and might not be suitable for everyone. Designing a sustainable content creation pipeline for your paid distribution channels is critical, especially when many marketing campaigns require a number of assets in different formats with their own objectives.

AI content generation platforms can help you produce assets for your content distribution campaigns at scale. The ability to quickly iterate on messaging and formats allows you to A/B test across platforms and strategies. For example, you can repurpose your webinar to produce sponsored content for a relevant publication.

Automata’s AI powered content generation platform allows you to repurpose your content in only a few steps and helps marketers fuel their content distribution platforms. You can export content for your email subject lines, landing page headlines, as well Twitter and LinkedIn posts. That way, you can distribute your content to as many channels in less time and with more flexibility.

Final Thoughts

Paid distribution is a great way to get your content in front of your target audience. Many articles, videos, social media posts go live every day, so it’s only natural to look for ways to amplify your efforts along any dimension you can. This includes more volume, more variability, and better consistency. Understanding the budgets required to be able to justify and measure the outcomes of paid content distribution is critical to learning if paid content distribution is suitable for you. Nevertheless, creating content without a distribution plan is like creating a product without a go-to-market plan. Whether you take a paid, earned, or owned approach, it’s critical to make sure you get your content in front of the right audience.