Content Promotion vs. Content Distribution: What’s the Difference?

Content promotion and distribution have been hot topics in online marketing in 2014, and for good reason. Brands that have struggled to find success through content marketing initiatives are beginning to understand why—it’s usually less of a quality issue and more of an audience issue.

Savvy marketers know that even the greatest content may not get found organically; in these cases there must be targeted promotion strategies set in place for campaigns to succeed. But amidst all the buzz about the need for promotion and distribution, the two terms continue to be interchanged arbitrarily, muddying the content marketing waters. It’s time for a little clarification.

The rise of content distribution

Since 2013, the content promotion industry has grown substantially, semantics have evolved and consumers have chugged along in efforts to catch up. Most notably, content distribution has become the favorite buzzword of this burgeoning online marketplace, drawing the attention of most major brands and media outlets. But some details have remained relatively vague: what is content distribution, and how is it different from content promotion?

The content promotion umbrella

In August of 2013, Jordan Kasteler outlined a three-pronged approach to content promotion that falls nicely in line with Forrester’s definition of the three marketing media types: owned, paid and earned. As noted by Kasteler, content promotion can be divided into the same three sections. Each of these sections is synonymous with marketing strategy lingo you’ve likely heard before: broadcasting, distribution, and digital PR.

So, in answer to the question upon which this article title is hinged, distribution is simply the paid arm of content promotion. The diagram below shows a simple layout of the content promotion umbrella and its subgroups, and the following section dives deeper into the three prongs of content promotion and associated tactics.


Owned Content Promotion: Broadcasting

Broadcasting is the act of pushing content out from the original source through channels that are controlled by a brand. This is the type of content promotion that most brands are familiar with and execute on a regular basis. In most cases, the audience viewing the promoted content is already familiar with that brand because they are opt-in consumers of those channels. The following are examples of owned content promotion, or broadcasting:

  • Social media posts – a brand’s content posted to its social media feeds (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, Vine, YouTube, etc.)
  • RSS feeds – a brand’s content distributed to those who have requested to receive content regularly.
  • Email – a brand’s content distributed through personalized emails to contacts that have willingly opted into interaction with that brand in the past.

Paid Content Promotion: Distribution

Distribution is the act of paying to leverage media channels in order to reach new audiences with content offerings.  In the case of distribution, a brand does not own the channels on which it promotes its content. Therefore, a brand quite literally rents channels by paying to access them for a finite period of time or number of clicks. Many brands are now starting to warm up to this concept of content distribution—and some have seen extraordinary results. The following tactics are examples of paid content promotion, or distribution:

  • Sponsored Articles – an advertisement in the form of editorial content written in-house or by the publisher and featured on a media outlet. These days video content  works well as well.
  • Press Releases – an official statement issued to media outlets by a brand.
  • Sponsored Social Updates – a sponsored post within a social media channel’s news feed that is targeted at a new audience.
  • Sponsored Recommendations – a native, paid call-to-action to an existing piece of content that is distributed by a Content Amplification Network (think Outbrain or Taboola).
  • Native Newsletter – sponsored content within an independent third-party email newsletter.

Earned Content Promotion: Digital PR

Digital PR is the process of utilizing outreach efforts to convince a third party (whether it’s an individual in a target audience, publisher or influencer) to engage with content and share it through their own channels. Like with content distribution, the goal of digital PR is to reach a new audience with a content offer.

The result, earned media, is the most trusted source of information worldwide, according to a 2013 Nielsen study. Most returns from earned media can only be realized through trusted relationships that have been built over time by proving credibility and consistency—and valuable content certainly helps in the process. The following are examples of earned media outcomes that result from digital PR:

  • News Coverage – objective reporting on a brand’s content by an established media outlet.
  • Editorial Coverage – independent reporting on a brand’s content by a media outlet.
  • Influencer Advocacy – a brand’s content promoted by an industry influencer through his or her networks.
  • Bylined Column – a regular, ongoing publishing opportunity on a trusted media outlet.
  • Bylined Article – an occasional or unscheduled individual contribution to an outside publication.
  • Content Syndication – a brand’s content republished by another website.

If you want to dive deeper into earned promotion tactics, download the free Inbound Marketer’s Guide to Earned Media.

Combine earned, owned and paid promotion to maximize results

Content promotion is about getting content in front of the right audience—it’s that simple. Content that’s never seen by its intended audience is rendered impractical. In many cases, promotion is a must-have in order to drive notable results. Content marketers can no longer afford to forego promotion; great content is not guaranteed to be found organically.

As with most other goal-oriented strategies in marketing, there’s more than one way to skin a cat with content promotion—earned, owned, and paid promotion are each effective in their own ways. However, as Kasteler notes in his approach to content promotion, a combined strategy that uses all three will pack the largest punch when driving exposure, traffic and engagement.


To learn more about the aforementioned promotion tactics, as well as gain a broader perspective on how these efforts can revolutionize your content marketing campaigns, check out The Serious Content Marketer’s Content Promotion and Distribution Cheat Sheet.

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    1. Jasmin Skopljak says

      I feel like promotion has become a lost art. People seem to think that broadcast is enough and people will be attracted to them through a magical law of attraction.

      1. Eric Murphy says

        Jasmin, I would tend to agree with you. True promotion hinges on relationships, and relationships take significant time and effort to build to the point of mutual benefit. Paid distribution, on the other hand, is quick and easy, only requiring a monetary investment. From that perspective, it’s easy to see why promotion may be falling by the wayside. And you’re right – there are many people that think broadcasting from owned channels is enough. From a nurturing standpoint, this can be effective if executed properly, but it’s never the best strategy for growing an audience.

        1. Jasmin Skopljak says

          I think part of the problem is that we set the wrong metrics for most marketers. Since they can prove short term ROI very quickly through paid distribution (clicks, impressions, etc), most people default to things that make their bosses happy. It takes much more effort and time to prove the benefit of the incremental traffic you receive due to high quality/relevancy backlinks you get from organic promotion.

          1. Eric Murphy says

            100% agree. We work in an industry where it’s particularly easy to lose sight of the end goal, especially when there’s pressure to show immediate results.

    2. Sheena Dutta says

      Thank you, you described well. Keep posting Eric…

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    3. Tiago Otani Rocha says

      Good article, thanks! I recently posted the stack of online tools I use to manage my content promotion/distribution, all based on Free, Freemium or affordable platforms for SMBs. I hope it comes in handy!

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