Once upon a time a young maiden started a career in the world of content marketing and thought that strolling through a meadow with a basket full of SEO tips seemed like the beginning, middle, and end of a beautiful fairytale. Things were simple back in the day – and then reality struck. One day the maiden realized that she was up to her not-so-princessy ears in what she thought was “great” content, but not a soul had read any of it. What good are musings on wine rating systems or a new recipe for wild mushroom risotto if no one ever reads them? That’s when she realized that good content is nothing without even better distribution.
Earned media is visibility gained through word of mouth and, basically, coverage thanks to other people with their own audiences. Ever been featured on someone else’s blog or got a product review in an industry publication? That’s earned media – reputation and branding have earned those mentions and in turn that moment in the Internet sun because of the quality, relevance, or interesting nature of a business and its content. This form of distribution can be the most rewarding as a business is reaping rewards thanks to the effort of others but it also offers the least control – on paper a business is Papa Bear, the head of the family, the Content King, but when it comes down to it the content department only find out what people are talking about once Teenage Daughter Bear has already left for the dance and Mama Bear has long-since maxed out the credit cards.
Owned media is just what it sounds like – these are the distribution channels a business owns and has complete control over. Have a blog? That’s owned media, and so are social media profiles, websites, and any email lists or newsletter systems that are set up. Owned media is the Mama Bear in the analogy, because this is the channel that’s easiest to use when nurturing content. Potentially one can control everything from the birth of the newest blog idea to the moment the fully-grown content baby is sent out into the big scary world of syndication. This kind of ultimate control can be awesome, but it can also cause more than a few gray hairs – after all, everything with owned media is solely in a business’s hands, which means that growth potential is ultimately limited to that business’s own existing network, abilities, and know-how.
If a business is dishing out dough in exchange for exposure, then they’re involved with paid distribution. Banner ads and pay-per-click advertising are great examples, but sponsoring an event in return for prominent logo placement or promoting owned posts as part of a social media advertising strategy are types of paid media distribution, too. In many ways this is the Baby Bear of distribution channels because it’s the easiest to do, it doesn’t require too much knowledge in order to get started, and the methodology evolves as the user learns, grows, and adapts.
So here’s the tricky part: None of these distribution channels are “just right,” at least not in the one-size-fits-all kind of way many people might expect. Everyone has their own needs that require an individualized approach to content marketing and distribution – yet another reason why having an expert in social media advertising as part of a content team is an absolute essential – but even more than that those needs are constantly changing. Those bowls of porridge have to be taste tested on a regular basis because palates change as often as marketing needs do. In the end, all three bears have to be present and in harmony in order for there to be happiness in the cottage, so to speak, but finding the combination that’s “just right” takes time.