Digging deeper into distribution
Ever since the first time I mentioned the forgotten side of content marketing – distribution – I’ve been slammed with questions about distribution networks and distribution channels. (Briefly, if you missed my last column on AGBeat, we talked about how content marketing places emphasis on the content rather than the marketing, under the mistaken assumption that great content markets itself.)
Great content is 90% easier to market, but you still have to do some work to make sure your content gets seen by the right people, at the right time, and produces the right results. For some, the work is simple, because they
- have distribution networks in place,
- have access to distribution channels within each network to spark momentum and
- have taken extreme care to make sure the flood of attention they get won’t go to waste.
Distribution networks are the easy part…
Any of us can join social media sites and make sure we have content hosted on sites we own and control, so that our content posted to those sites leads safely back to us.
Distribution channels are harder. A distribution channel is an already gathered group of active people who are highly interested in either you, your company or a topic closely related to your product or service. If you’re thinking community, you’re close. What you want are the top members of that community with the most respect, admiration or passion for what you’re attempting to achieve, who are the most vocal.
It’s not necessarily the most influential people – there are often connections we don’t easily perceive online that make the passionate more important than the influential. They may be people the influential listen to, or hang around, that are at the margins of two groups. Sometimes they may share something that is of marginal interest to them, but highly interesting to an influential friend, who jumps all over the trend.
Looking only at the influencers can be limiting, so watch out.
So how and why does one gather these powerful connections?
The why is easy. Spontaneous group action generates the starter momentum that helps you get to the next stage of wide exposure. You don’t need to go viral to be successful, though this may help. And if you do go viral, you want it to be among people who deeply care, not merely the curious tire-kickers.
Having access to a group of people who are interested, but don’t feel obligated to take action such as sharing when your content comes out, will help your best content spread faster. And since it won’t be in a predictable pattern, you can constantly reach new people as long as you continue to grow your channel.
Repeat audiences you’re not directly connected to can also come across your content from a trusted entity enough times to convert.
How do you create your own distribution channel?
You’re probably started this already.
First, you find the passionate community related to your product or service. Don’t let the idea that what you do isn’t sexy enough be an excuse. Cell phones used to be purely functional. Now there are virtual wars between people who love iPhones vs … I think everyone else?
(I want my phones less smart and my tablets smarter, so I’ve lost track.)
Second, don’t just become part of that community. Gather them to you and provide them with something they’re missing on a consistent basis.
Third, find a way to stay in touch with them, and make it as much of a two-way street as you can. It could be a snail-mail mailing list, an email newsletter, a forum you host just for them, a membership site you build, your YouTube channel.
The defining ingredient: velocity
You’ve heard most of this before – but are you still doing it with the same verve, and velocity you were when you first became excited about email marketing, social media or video? If so, these next steps are for you. If not, start.
Step four is to single out the people who are your top fans, the most influential, have the most charisma, lead the most discussion, ask the most questions, provide the most answers. These are not necessarily the same groups of people and may actually be different folks.
Then you want to build one on one relationships with those you vibe with among those folks. If you sell toasters and they like bread but hate your company, they are people to learn from, but maybe not link with for now. Extend an olive branch – if they take it, find out how they’ll make what you do better. They’re very likely to be brutally honest, which is valuable.
If they don’t take it, continue to listen but ease up on the bonding for the time being.
You have the people, now what?
Now, you’ve got all these people. You love them – they love your products. Treat them like they’re special because they are. Special discounts, special status in the community, free beta products, whatever you can do to reward them in advance for whatever you’d like them to do in the future.
That being step five, step six is to ask for their help – and monitor the response. Of course, that’s not so you can drop people who don’t help you the first time. There are all kinds of reasons why people who love your brand won’t do what you ask them the first time, or even the fourth time.
You’re not creating predictable patterns of group re-shares from people who kinda-sorta care.
You’re prompting spontaneous group action. This is what will help you get the first 50 of those 250 Facebook likes. This will help you figure out what topics you create content about that drive your most enthusiastic audience wild, and what made them go “ho-hum. This again.”
Therefore, what you want to do is make sure you’re keeping priority communication lines open to people who are helping you, and see what you can do to help them as well.
The secret (and not so final) step
This next step isn’t a final one, as part of this has to be cyclical – you want to keep going back through these steps so that you can continue to grow a larger and larger distribution channel, and have them ready to go and loving you before you ever, ever need something from them.
It’s an important step however: give to the whole community again.
In fact, I prefer to give at least six to ten times, then ask, and repeat the process this way. I find this whole process works much better when I’m open to giving most of the time, and receiving just at pivotal points. Strangely, I tend to get a lot more help without even asking too.
I’m not sure why that is, but my theory is that I’ve gathered people to me who are like me – and don’t wait around to be asked to take action when they’re moved by something. So instead, I focus on doing what I can to have a positive impact and stop every now and then to be very specific about what I need the most.
What if your content is already created and you don’t have time to put together a distribution channel? I’ll be back to talk about that another time. Or you can always call my office if your issue is urgent.