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No, Content Marketing is Not Like Field of Dreams

Date published: June 17, 2014
Last updated: June 17, 2014

A phrase originally coined by Google’s PR team has been spreading across the Internet like a virus: “Just create great content.” Google and other Internet advertising giants have been persistently trying to make content marketers believe that the key to Internet marketing success is “just” creating great content. They’ve been carefully leading us to believe in a marketing utopia where search algorithms and social influencers automatically recognize great content and share it from the Hilltops.

But despite what Google wants us to believe, the Internet just isn’t that good. Content marketing is not like Field of Dreams, in which a delusional farmer built a special baseball field to summon the ghosts of baseball greats for a supernatural ball game. In the real field of content marketing, if you build it, they—your target audience—will not “just” come. To drive serious inbound traffic, community growth and sales, great content must be paired with great promotion. It’s not an option. This is no secret to viral marketers; they’ve always known it’s easier to start a fire with aircraft fuel than two damp twigs.

Who wins the content marketing game?

So, why are the masters of the Internet going to great lengths to perpetuate this untruth? Simple: just follow the money. Advertising giants like Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter want to control the promotion levers for content marketing success, and they want companies to pay for it. Their hope is that most companies never learn how to effectively promote their content in non-paid channels, so they have no choice but to pay-to-play.

Promoting content to non-paid channels such as online press outlets, communities, blogs and social influencers that cover topics related to your business is the best and cheapest way to plug their audiences into your content. It’s also the best way to drive top organic search engine rankings because paid promotion does not directly influence organic search. These channels command the attention of your target audience and are always looking for great content to cover, but they must first know that it even exists.

Getting to first base with digital PR

The practice of promoting content to these robust online communities has been labeled by many as digital PR and earned media. Earning media has been a staple of the PR industry for many years, but the tactics and strategies are changing rapidly to fit the digital content marketing ecosystem. One of the biggest changes is that traditional earned media is often more focused on promoting brands directly, while digital PR is more focused on a promoting a brand’s unique content. recently featured an article that referenced and linked to an ebook, written by HCC Medical, about international student financial aid. HCC Medical isn’t mentioned in the article, but the link drives large quantities of targeted traffic from to to download the ebook. And although the ebook doesn’t promote HCC Medical’s services directly, it’s genuine thought leadership that raises the brand’s trust and authority with their target market of international students looking for short-term medical insurance. These types of content, residing high in the marketing funnel, are easy to promote to popular media outlets because they solve a real problem and don’t directly promote a brand.

Digital PR typically follows a three-phase pattern that begins with promoting content to popular online press a target audience frequents. During the second phase, social influencers and bots share and syndicate the content in their networks and blogs. And third, search engines pick up on the inbound links and social signals and further promote the content. The inbound traffic from this earned media drives conversions, online community growth and brand trust and authority. It also accomplishes the all-important content marketing goal of getting content read and shared. Many know the pain of producing great content that doesn’t get widely read because it was ineffectively promoted.

This article is not meant to disparage paid promotion in any way. Pairing paid promotion with digital PR can be highly effective at sharing and spreading content. The types of problem-solving content that can be promoted with digital PR are also some of the best sponsored social content. Social media users are not overly receptive to interruptive ads appearing in their news feeds, but often digest and share sponsored problem solving content. A good rule of thumb is that if the popular online media outlets won’t share your content for free, it likely won’t fair well as sponsored content, either.

To learn more about effective Digital PR strategies you can implement to promote your content, please download our free eBook, the Inbound Marketer’s Guide to Earned Media.

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