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

Date published: March 22, 2022
Last updated: March 22, 2022

Content promotion and distribution have been hot topics in growth marketing, and for good reason. Brands that have struggled to find success through content marketing initiatives are beginning to understand why they need more than a favorite social media channel. A struggling content distribution strategy is usually less of a quality content or platform issue and more of an audience issue.

Savvy marketers know that a target audience might not find even the greatest blog post, social media post, paid channel, or other content organically. In these cases, the experienced content marketer knows that there must be targeted promotion strategies set in place for campaigns to succeed and find an audience.

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. Email marketing, social media marketing, influencer marketing, and other content distribution channels have all grown exponentially. Whether it's a Facebook group, Google Ads, a social media platform, or other distribution channel, consumers have chugged along in an effort to catch up.

Most notably, content distribution has become the favorite buzzword of this burgeoning online marketplace. The need for a revised distribution strategy to raise brand awareness now draws the attention of most major brands and media outlets.

However, some details of putting together a content distribution strategy 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. This definition falls nicely in line with Forrester's definition of the three marketing media types: owned, paid, and earned.

As noted by Kasteler, we can divide content promotion into the same three sections. Each of these sections of your content distribution strategy is synonymous with marketing strategy lingo you've likely heard before: broadcasting, distribution, and digital PR.

So, in answer to the question upon which I've hinged this article, distribution is simply the paid arm of content promotion.

Owned Content Promotion: Broadcasting

Broadcasting is the act of pushing content out from the original source through owned 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, often through social media or another controlled channel.

In most cases, the audience viewing the promoted content is already familiar with that brand and its default content type. This is the case because they are opt-in consumers of those digital marketing channels. The following are examples of owned content promotion or using broadcasting as your distribution platform.

  • Social Media Posts: A brand's content is posted to its social media feeds, i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube, etc.
  • RSS Feeds: A brand distributes its existing content to those who have asked to receive content regularly.
  • Email: A brand's content is 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 paid content distribution, a brand does not own the channels on which it promotes its content. Therefore, a brand quite literally rents channels for its content types 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 in a media outlet. These days video content works well, also.
  • 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. These ads generally target a new audience.
  • Sponsored Recommendations: A Content Amplification Network distributes native, paid call-to-action to an existing piece of content. 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. It doesn't matter whether it's an individual in a target audience, social media celebrity, publisher, or influencer. Anyone can engage with content and share that content piece through their own social media 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 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 via reliable content distribution channels. 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 channel.
  • Editorial Coverage: Independent reporting on a brand's content by a media outlet channel.
  • Influencer Advocacy: An industry influencer promotes a brand's content through his or her channel or other networks.
  • Bylined Column: A regular, ongoing publishing opportunity on a trusted channel or media outlet.
  • Bylined Article: An occasional or unscheduled individual contribution to an outside publication.
  • Content Syndication: A brand's content republished by another website or other marketing channel.

If you want to dive deeper into earned content distribution, content distribution tools, or content creation tactics, you'll want to learn more about what it takes to construct an inbound marketer's guide to earned media.

Combine Earned, Owned, and Paid Promotion to Maximize Results

The days of issuing a press release and calling it done are long gone. Social media has exploded and provided marketers with manifold content distribution channels. Any brand awareness message must find its way onto a content distribution channel that matches audience preferences. Content promotion is all about getting content in front of the right audience. It's that simple.

If your target audience does not find your content, it's useless.

It's impractical and a waste of time. In many cases, promotion is a must-have in order to drive notable results. Content marketers can no longer afford to forego promotion. There is no guarantee that any audience will find great content 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 promotions are each effective content marketing distribution tactics in their own ways.

However, as Kasteler notes in his approach to content promotion, a combined content distribution platform 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, contact a Relevance strategist.

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