Your customers are here, there, and everywhere, scrolling social media, searching Google, and shopping on mobile apps. As a marketer, you have more opportunities than ever to engage audiences, but the trick is to deliver your messages on the content distribution channels they most frequently use.
This guide offers clarity around the content channels you can choose from, with examples of how other brands are leveraging these platforms. We’ll explore how to choose channels to share your content and ways to track performance to build a robust brand presence. To wrap up, we’ll peek into the crystal ball to see what the future of content distribution might look like.
The Essence of Content Distribution Channels
If you’re producing high-quality content, you’re on your way to building brand awareness, nurturing leads, and closing sales. However, you still need to nail down your distribution strategy to get that content in front of potential customers.
If you feel it’s hard to find and connect with your audience, you’re not alone — there’s a lot of competition for their attention. Consider what happens in a single minute on the internet:
- Emails sent: 241 million
- Terms searched on Google: 6.3 million
- WhatsApp messages sent: 41.6 million
- Facebook posts liked: 4.0 million
- X (Twitter) posts sent: 360,000
- Years of streaming content watched: 43
- Global hours spent online: 25.1 million
With all this digital commotion, taking a measured approach to content distribution helps cut through the noise. By assessing the effectiveness of potential channels, you should come closer to your goals.
As you continue through this guide, remember: Content channels overlap. Your social profiles send traffic to your blog; your website promotes your latest posts, and paid ads funnel traffic to your landing pages. Your content distribution strategy needs to work cohesively to engage customers and guide them through your marketing funnel.
Types of Content Distribution Channels
Content distribution channels are the various platforms and media you use to promote and share content with your target audiences. They’re divided into three categories: owned, earned, and paid.
1. Owned channels
Owned content distribution channels are properties you manage or control. You can distribute content on your schedule and customize it to suit your branding and messaging goals. Some examples of owned channels include:
A website is the foundation of your digital presence, containing official information about your company’s products and services and generating and converting leads. Visitors from search engines, social media platforms, paid ads, and newsletters often land on your website.
Since you have autonomy over user experience and functionality, you can publish an array of web content and get creative with engagement tools.
Blogs are an extension of your website. By delivering helpful content to your audience, blogs position your business as an authority in your field. You have the flexibility to plan and distribute content for different audiences and stages of the buyer’s journey.
IBM, for example, has a comprehensive blog with topic clusters that demonstrate their depth of knowledge. Users can navigate to subjects such as artificial intelligence, security and identity, and business automation.
Social media accounts
Your social media accounts let you connect with online customers wherever they hang out. Even if they don’t follow you, they can discover you through a hashtag. To leverage social channels effectively, you’ll need an in-depth understanding of which platforms your audience uses.
You can use social media to tease content on your blog or deliver content on the platform. Lululemon’s Instagram reel, for example, promotes a New York pop-up event.
Newsletters let you reach your customers directly in their inbox. You can set your distribution frequency and customize the content of your mailings to link to blog posts, promote new products, and offer discounts.
The beauty of newsletters is you can segment recipients by audience, personalizing content based on customer demographics, interests, and behaviors. Want to reach out to customers who haven’t purchased in a while? Tailor content based on what they ordered previously to reignite their interest.
At Crowd Content, we opt for both written and video newsletters.
Customers reach for mobile apps when shopping and ordering food, but forward-thinking brands are using them to keep audiences engaged.
Check out Nike’s group of mobile apps, focused on interests such as shopping, workouts, running, and new product drops. Nike Training Club, for example, is dedicated to wellness and distributes content such as yoga videos and healthy eating tips.
2. Earned channels
Earned or shared channels are organic, unpaid avenues owned by third parties. Snagging a mention on these channels can give you exposure to a wider audience, but you do have to earn the opportunity by:
- Generating interest or loyalty in your brand, which inspires users to recommend or promote your company
- Demonstrating credibility so a third party feels confident associating with your business
A highly coveted earned distribution channel is media coverage. A profile in a reputable publication or industry blog can amplify your brand and send users flowing to your website. Audiences view these channels as especially trustworthy because you can’t control your placement or pay for it.
It might be hard to land a mention on a site like Wirecutter or authoritative sources for your industry, but you can sometimes coax similar results through press releases and some savvy PR. Just make sure you have a newsworthy reason for reaching out.
BrightLocal publishes data-filled reports that are frequently cited. Shout About Us published an entire article summarizing one of their reports, providing BrightLocal with unpaid promotion and authority-building backlinks.
With guest blogging, you contribute content to third-party sites. This practice is a win-win for both sides. You’re introducing your brand to potential new customers, and the partnering site benefits from your expertise and content. Make sure the site you’re contributing to has the same target audience as your brand, and make the most of the opportunity with exceptional content to emphasize your credibility.
Littledata, an e-commerce data platform, authored a guest article on Smile.io, a loyalty app. Both businesses target online retailers. The piece delivers useful information to readers, but more importantly, it highlights the Littledata brand with links to Littledata’s X account, white paper landing page, and free GA4 order checker tool.
User-generated content (UGC) is influential word-of-mouth information created by your customers and fans. UGC comes in many forms: images of new purchases, fun unboxing videos, beauty product tutorials, reviews, and testimonials. UGC carries significant weight with audiences because it tends to feel genuine.
Instagram user charlesjpgs tagged RockCreek Seafood & Spirits during a recent dining experience, providing the restaurant with potential exposure to nearly 50,000 followers. On a larger scale, GoPro promotes UGC by giving their users a tool to share their video adventures to social media.
Keep an eye on social media review sites for user-generated content around your brand, and interact with posts by liking, sharing, and commenting. It helps if you’ve built a community of engaged followers — you can create your own hashtag and invite customers to share their experiences.
3. Paid channels
Paid content channels help you tap into a targeted audience, providing significant exposure to customers you don’t normally reach through other channels.
Digital ads are also known as pay-per-click (PPC) because you only pay when someone clicks the link. They’re found throughout the internet in different forms:
- Search engine marketing ads appear on search results pages above the organic snippets.
- Social media ads appear in the feeds of users who match the ad’s target audience.
- Display ads include banners and other clickable ads on websites and apps.
You can zero in on the audience you want to reach based on their demographics, location, device, interests, search terms, and other targeting options. Customize your ads with text, images, or video, and support them with a well-crafted landing page to convert clicks.
Influencers have an audience of followers who look to them for niche recommendations. These content creators can give your brand a sizable boost by talking about or using your product, offering discount codes to their followers, or running contests and giveaways. If their audience matches your target demographic, you’ve got an opportunity to connect with a fresh segment of customers.
Influencers typically create content in their own style for authenticity. KitchenAid’s most high-profile partnership may be with actor Jennifer Garner, who uses the mixer to whip up recipes in her “Pretend Cooking Show” posts. However, the brand has many online ambassadors promoting its products.
With sponsored content, you pay a third-party site to distribute your content to their audience. It’s similar in concept to guest blogging, but you’re paying for the exposure.
Software company Accelo has a sponsored post on the Search Engine Journal site about mitigating agency churn. It’s created in the form of a blog post, delivering expertise on a topic while also promoting their client work management platform. The piece ends with a link to a free trial to generate leads. Search Engine Journal does identify sponsored posts to distinguish them from their regular content.
Evaluating Content Distribution Channels
So many channels, so little time. How do you choose between them? To begin, each type of channel has advantages and limitations that you’ll have to weigh:
- Earned channels carry a lot of credibility but can be hard to secure. You can work toward these organic endorsements by cultivating relationships, but don’t rely on them solely for promoting your brand.
- Paid channels generate quick results, helping you reach a specific demographic in a short period. But on the flip side, they can be costly to maintain long-term and you lose visibility when ads stop running.
- Owned channels give you complete control over messaging, style, and branding, and you can update content whenever you wish. These properties help you build a strong online presence but take time and resources to build and manage.
The channel, combination of channels, and investment for each channel you choose greatly impacts the results you’ll get. Here’s where research, trial, analytics, and adjustments come into play.
Perform due diligence
Picking content distribution channels is a bit like matchmaking: You’ve got to make sure the channel is compatible with your goals and target audience. What you shouldn’t do is randomly push out content on different channels in the hopes that somewhere, something clicks.
You can make purposeful and informed decisions when you:
- Research your audience: Conduct market research to understand where your target customers go for information and their preferences for consuming content. If they’re not on Pinterest, you don’t need to be either.
- Identify your business goals: Look at your short- and long-term goals. Determine which channels are best, whether you’re focused on product launches, customer acquisition, lead generation, or customer retention.
- Review past performance: Analyze the channels you’ve used previously, and look at the costs and results. You may decide to continue distributing content on some channels or, based on audience research, move on to others.
- Stay competitive: What are your competitors doing? Monitor your industry to see where brands are finding their customers. If competitors are having success engaging audiences on another channel, you may want to test it out, too.
- Optimize resources: Track data to understand the best return on investment, and adjust your strategies accordingly. We’ll explore this in more detail a little further down.
Diversify your channels
As you develop your content distribution strategy, aim to make it sustainable. If any of your channels lose traction, you should have others in place to pick up the slack. We recommend a mix of owned, earned, and paid distribution channels so you enjoy stability and growth.
“Marketers need to look at their different channels as an investment portfolio in terms of diversification and return,” suggests Carlos Meza, President and CEO of Crowd Content. “Double down on your winners, invest in other channels to mitigate risk, and make some bets on high-potential channels.”
Here are some examples of what a content channel portfolio might look like in practice:
- Double down on your winners: Is your website making progress in generating organic search traffic? Direct more resources to the channel to accelerate growth.
- Invest in other channels: While you’re reaping the benefits of your proven assets, strengthen other channels. You might focus on growing your newsletter mailing list to safeguard leads in case your search rankings take a hit.
- Bet on high-potential channels: Based on your market research, test out promising new avenues for content distribution. Maybe you can check out TikTok or try your hand at digital PR.
Avoid having all your eggs in one particular channel, as it can leave you exposed. You may be one Google algorithm update away from having your traffic, engagement, and inbound leads vanish overnight.Carlos Meza
Measuring and Analyzing Performance
Your content distribution strategy may be sound in theory, but you can’t always predict customer behavior or the impact of external factors.
Set benchmarks so you can compare performance after specific campaigns and on a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis. Regular tracking gives you the data you need to guide decisions and refine strategies. You may want to test messaging and timing, for example, to see if any adjustments impact performance.
Select your metrics and tools
There are many metrics you can measure, but focus on ones that deliver meaningful data. They should be tied to the content channel and the goals you’ve set so you can measure your progress. We’ve listed below some common metrics for various channels, along with tools you can use to gather insight.
Sample website metrics
- Organic traffic
- Unique visitors
- Page views
- Time spent on page
- Bounce rate
- Time spent on site
- Conversion rate (for desired actions, such as white paper downloads or free trials)
How to track website metrics: Google Analytics, Google Search Console, Semrush, Ahrefs
Sample PPC metrics
- Click-through rate
- Cost per click
- Return on investment
How to track PPC metrics: Google Ads and individual social media platforms
Sample social media metrics
- Engagement (followers, likes, shares, comments, views)
- Click-through rate
- Conversion rate
How to track social media metrics: Analytics features on individual platforms or dashboards such as Hootsuite and Rival IQ
Sample newsletter marketing metrics
- Open rates
- Click-through rates
- Conversion rates
- Subscriber growth
How to track newsletter marketing metrics: Email marketing tools, such as HubSpot, Mailchimp, and Constant Contact
Future Trends in Content Distribution
The playing field for content distribution is ever-changing. Competition is ramping up, new channels are vying for attention, and audience preferences change. Here are some content distribution trends we’re keeping an eye on:
- The role of content intelligence: This AI-driven technology processes existing content, behavioral data, and market research to provide in-depth audience insights. Watch for marketers to lean on content intelligence platforms to choose content types, formats, and distribution channels.
- Data-driven personalization: There’s more data than ever to analyze, and the focus will be on harnessing information to deliver hyper-personal experiences. Marketers can use proprietary data, third-party data, and AI technologies to build a better understanding of how people move through channels. Based on these patterns, they can deliver precise content.
- Holistic content distribution: Instead of having SEO, social media, and digital ad teams working in silos, brands will begin to unify content across touchpoints to provide a seamless experience.
- Renewed emphasis on owned channels: With so many changes in the distribution landscape, marketers will focus on properties they have control over to ride out any rough patches. This may include strengthening brand websites as a trusted source of information, creating loyalty through memberships, and building first-party mailing lists.
Trying to balance the pieces of your content strategy? Our experts can help with your content production or distribution needs. Contact us today for a free consultation about how to maximize your content marketing to keep in step with your customers, no matter where they’re spending their time online.