Aquent Aquent

Hey! Look at This! How to Spread the Word about Your Content

by Matthew T. Grant

Hey! Look at This! How to Spread the Word about Your Content

Content marketing is here to stay. And marketers (or, “marketeers,” as some would have it) are producing more and more content every week.

Still, as many content marketers have found, producing content is the easy part. Making people aware of your great content, on the other hand, can be challenging.

To address this problem, and share what we and others have done when it comes to content promotion, I recently gave a talk at the Digital Marketing Live conference in Amsterdam entitled, “Hey! Look at This! How to Spread the Word about Your Content.”

For those who weren’t able to make it, I offer the following synopsis. (And, if you have never been to Amsterdam, I strongly encourage you to go. It’s gezellig!)

Simple Lesson #1: Tell People about Your Content

I realize this might seem like a no-brainer, but if you want to get the word out about your content, you should start by telling people about your content!

Here’s what I mean. A few years back, I created a podcast for MarketingProfs called Marketing Smarts. After a year-and-a-half, the podcast had seen over 200,000 total downloads of individual episodes.

Someone asked me how we did that and I said that it was fairly simple. MarketingProfs had, at the time, over 400,000 registered members (the number is now over 600,000) and every week when a new episode appeared, we would tell them about it in our daily newsletter.

Add to this the social reach of MarketingProfs (@MarketingProfs on Twitter boasts close to 250,000 followers), and getting what amounted to 15,000(ish) downloads a month wasn’t that difficult.

Simple Lesson #2: Build an Audience Interested in Your Content

In a sense, this second lesson is the real lesson behind the first lesson: If telling people about your content is the best way to spread the word about your content, then you really need an audience that wants to hear about it in the first place.

In the case of MarketingProfs, an online publisher, building audience for their content is what they have done since the outset. But, even if you aren’t a publisher, you may already have an audience for your content and not even realize it!

Consider the case of our online school, Aquent Gymnasium. Gymnasium offers courses on things like Coding for Designers, Responsive Web Design, and Javascript Foundations. We launched back in 2013. Since then over 37,000 students have registered and we’ve seen over 43,000 enrollments in our courses (which means that some students are signing up for more than one course—a good indicator that our content has some appeal).

How did we get here? Well, we’re a staffing firm that has been in business for going on 30 years. This means that we have a database of hundreds of thousands of people we know to be interested in digital design and digital technologies. How do we know? Because we’ve either sourced them ourselves or they have applied for jobs through us.

Thus, we have been able to drive interest in our content primarily by marketing to this “audience," an audience we grew in the course of doing business.

Simple Lesson #3: Go Where the Audience Is

“But, Matt,” I hear you saying, “what if we haven’t been in business for 30 years and don’t already have an audience numbering in the hundreds of thousands?”

That’s a fair question. It’s also something that we’ve thought about because, frankly, we have been hoping to grow our talent pipeline through Aquent Gymnasium and marketing to people we already know doesn’t exactly accomplish that (though we have been able to attract “net new” people even with our current strategy).

So, where is the audience? Well, first of all, they are on social media. For this reason we promote our courses fairly aggressively through social media channels (Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook), and ask our employees to share new courses with their networks, as well.

Beyond social media, though, we have sought to get in front of audiences in two other ways: via events and off-site publication.

We actually began our promotion of Gymnasium at Internet Week New York 2013 a few weeks prior to launch. There, instructor Jim Webb gave a live preview of a class on web typography that was part of his Coding for Designers course.

We returned to Internet Week New York in 2014 with a class on project management and another on responsive web design. Later that year, we presented at Microsoft Design Days in France on using Gymnasium as a recruiting tool, and have spoken at numerous events (like Digital Marketing Live and the Social Media Strategies Summit) on Gymnasium as an effective example of content marketing.

Don’t Forget about PR!

Finally, we worked with our PR firm to uncover opportunities for earned mentions or contributed articles. Since Gymnasium relies on a massive open online course (MOOC) model, and 2012 had already been declared “year of the MOOC,” there was a fairly sizable conversation happening about MOOCs throughout 2013.

We were able to get in on that conversation, particularly when it involved MOOCs in the private sector and as a way of addressing the skills gap. This resulted in mentions on FOX Business, Forbes, Inc., and Fast Company. It also allowed us to share our opinions on MOOCs, as well as weigh-in on the topics covered by our courses, on Wired,, HOW, and elsewhere.

In other words, you need to recall that, even if you haven’t yet aggregated a huge audience interested in your content, someone else probably has. Provide these folks with valuable content, and they will gladly share it.

Simple Lesson #4: Sometimes You Have to Pay

You will have to pay a PR firm to help you get in front of journalists or into the pages of targeted publications, but you won’t have to pay for the mentions and placements themselves.

Nevertheless, paying for promotion can help. Such promotion might include PPC ads as well as banners in newsletters with very well-defined audiences (we advertised, with some success, in Responsive Design Weeklyfor example).

To promote some of our blog content (not related to Gymnasium), and to indirectly reach potential buyers that we could not contact directly, we also experimented with sponsored posts on LinkedIn. Specifically, we provided LinkedIn with criteria defining the people we wanted to reach on the platform, and then selected a number of posts that LinkedIn would insert as “sponsored” posts in their news feeds.

We initially tried promoting posts we had written on building talent pipelines (research had indicated that a number of our clients were interested in this) but those didn’t perform that well. When we switched to topics with a broader appeal—how to conduct better interviews; how to write more effective job posts—we did see a lot of engagement (hundreds of thousands of impressions, thousands of clicks, hundreds of shares).

Be forewarned, though. Pay-per-click rates on LinkedIn can be high. And, while we did get our content in front of a lot of people, we weren’t able to connect the dots solidly enough to justify continuing this program.

That being said, your results may vary. PJA Advertising and Marketing, an agency based in Cambridge, MA, has shown that paid promotion can result in what they call an “earned premium.” That is, they have seen upwards of a 30% increase in organic reach of content by boosting it with some paid promotion.

In other words, even when you pay, thanks to the mechanics of sharing, you may see lift in engagement beyond what you paid for. 

Simple Lesson #5: Your Content Has to Be Good

So, yes, you can promote your content by telling people about it, whether those people belong to an audience that you have grown yourself or to an audience someone else has cultivated. And you can even pay to promote it.

But no amount of telling or promoting is going to matter if your content isn’t any good.

What makes content good? Well, while everyone would love to crack that code, there is no formula for “good content.” At the same time, however, it can be said that good content is either informative, useful, or entertaining.

If you are the New York Times (or American Banker or Mashable or whatever), you are going for “informative.” With Gymnasium, obviously, we’ve gone for “useful”—when people have finished our courses, they should be able to do something they couldn’t do before that will help them advance their careers.

You can also try your hand at entertaining, though that one can be tricky. For an example of entertaining content that seemed to hit it’s mark, check out the series of videos that PJA made for Novell in which they had hipsters do dramatic readings of cloud security blog posts. (Against all odds, that worked!)

In the end, though, if you really want to create good content, you need to listen to your audience. They will tell you what’s good by sharing and engaging with it. And, tell you what’s not good by ignoring it.

In Conclusion

By now, most companies have figured out how to produce decent content. Some have even figured out how to produce great content.

What many continue to struggle with is how to get that content out there and in front of the right people. We’ve found, as I’ve described here, that the way to do the latter is to tell your audience about your content and, if you don’t have an audience ready-made, go where the audience is (whether you have to pay for the privilege or not).

And, at the end of the day, if the content your telling people about is any good, they'll tell you by telling other people!

Image Source: Public Domain.


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