The Content Distribution Handbook [Part 1/3] — Channels

Ryan Byrne
Smart Marketing for the Lean Startup
10 min readFeb 25, 2019

Part 1 in a 3-part series where the expert marketers at GenM show you how to amplify your content with a deep dive of the ins and outs of content distribution.

So you’ve written your first piece of content. You've poured your heart and soul into it. Obsessing over every word. Fixated on balancing value for your customers while remaining relevant to your brand. It’s perfect. It’s your baby and you’re ready to send it out into the world…but now what?

Do you just post it to your blog and wait for the views to come in? No — it deserves better than that. It deserves to be seen for the embodiment of knowledge and expertise that you know it is. Praised and passed around. Your followers chomping at the bit for a prompt follow-up. But the question is, how?

Content marketing is huge in 2019 and is only projected to get bigger. It’s no wonder — studies show that content marketing produces 3x more leads per dollar compared to paid search. But an often overlooked and arguably more important aspect to content marketing is distribution — how you get eyes on your content.

In this 3-part series, the marketing experts at GenM will teach all you need to know about content distribution. From a deep dive into each channel to creating your first distribution strategy to common pitfalls beginners and experts alike need to look out for.

In this week’s article, we look at the difference between owned/earned/and paid channels and then break them down looking at the pros and cons of each.

Owned/Earned/Paid Content Distribution

Owned Media

As the name suggests, owned media is just that — media that you own. Content on the web that you control and is unique to your brand. This can range websites, blogs, newsletters, and social media channels like Facebook and Instagram (we know you probably don’t own Facebook or Instagram, and if you do, hey Mark, but think of them as extensions of your website.)

The big advantage of owned media is that you have full control over them. With earned, and even paid media, it’s not always within your control what people are saying about you, but with owned you always control the message.

It’s also the cheapest and most reliable of the three, costing almost nothing but your time and energy. But unless you are starting out with a solid base of followers earned media takes time to build up, meaning you might not get the most reach on them right off the bat.

Earned Media

With the rise of social networks and internet content becoming increasingly shareable, the potential for viral content and word of mouth referrals becomes more prevalent. This type of distribution we can consider to be ‘earned’ and usually comes from delivering quality, engaging content. Things like — shares, retweets, word of mouth, mentions on others owned media — think of it as the customers becoming the channel.

Earned media has the potential to have extreme reach (I’m sure we are all guilty of sharing a viral video at one point or another) but it’s also very unreliable. There’s no guarantee that your content will go viral and even though you can give it a good chance by creating something great, it’s often a game of chance.

Earned media is inherently engaging and leverages established trust. When looking for product recommendations, friends rank #1 in terms of trustworthiness with 56% of consumers actively looking for product recommendations from friends.

There’s one huge downside to earned media — control. As we mentioned earlier, owned media lets you control every aspect of the message. With earned media, once the content is off your site, there’s no controlling what others are saying about your brand and whether or not they’re sharing it for the reasons you want them to.

Paid Media

Ever wonder how sites like Facebook and Instagram make their money? It’s all thanks to paid media. Rather than wait for your customers to start following your owned channels or hope that your content gets picked up and shared through earned media, you can get eyes on your content right away — as long as you’re willing to pay up.

Naturally, anytime you have to pay to have your content distributed we can consider this to be paid media. Paid social ads, Google Adwords, influencer campaigns, and content distribution networks like Outbrain would all fall into this category.

Paid media is great for getting your content in front of a lot of eyes in a short amount of time, and allows you to target niche audiences who may not have heard about your brand (as long as you know what you’re doing). You also have a lot of control over when/where the content goes out, who is viewing it, and what they are saying about it — but it can be costly, and consumers are often distrustful of ads.

If your goal is earned media, combining it with paid media can be a great start. Putting a little money behind your content can often be enough of a seed to get it in front of enough people to have them start sharing.

Channel Breakdown


An essential piece of any marketing toolkit, the website is often your primary channel for sales and communication with your customers. People often expect most websites to have a blog section where they can find content relevant to your brand. It’s not just a great way of getting content out there but it also helps build trust and authority in your brand and gets customers checking your site on a regular basis.


  • Cost-effective
  • Engages customers and attracts prospects
  • Improves SEO
  • Builds authority and trust
  • Promotes recurring visits
  • Gets viewers engaged with your website without needing to click through
  • Easy to track KPIs


  • Involves a larger brand strategy to create an overall engaging website
  • Requires users to manually check the website for new content
  • Can be difficult to manage multiple authors
  • May require developer resources
  • No potential for earned media on the platform

Social Media

Arguably the most pervasive aspects of life in the digital age is social media. What started as a simple way for friends to connect, has grown to a powerful tool that brands can leverage to generate personal interactions with their customers and reach highly targeted audiences

Social media is not without its downsides. It can take a lot of time to build up a serious following, and even when you do the pay-to-play nature of the platform when it comes to businesses can mean that your content isn’t always reaching everyone following you.

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  • Personal nature of social media builds brand loyalty
  • Ability to reach highly targeted audiences
  • Increased accessibility to your brand
  • Fosters real-time engagement
  • High potential for reach via earned media
  • Low-cost


  • Takes time/effort to generate a large following
  • Organic reach can be low, even among established followers
  • The potential for earned media means you lose control over the conversation
  • Requires consistent attention/content


Email is a great way to re-engage your audience and maintain relationships with prospective and current customers alike. Sending out a weekly or monthly newsletter can be a great way to provide value rather than constantly spamming your list with pushy sales emails. A consistent and helpful email newsletter can keep people thinking about your brand and increase authority by delivering content that matters to them. Keep in mind that you have to be careful of how often you are sending emails out. Too many and your list may feel like they are being spammed and unsubscribe.


  • Cost-effective
  • Ability to personalize content
  • Ability to segment list
  • Excellent for KPI tracking/testing
  • Gives you complete control over the message
  • Helps guide prospects down the sales funnel
  • Reengages existing/former customers


  • Takes time to build an email list as people must opt-in
  • Potential to annoy list with ‘spammy’ content
  • Saturated channel means emails often are ignored
  • Emails can sometimes get caught in a spam filter

Blogging Platforms

An alternative to posting content on your website, blogging platforms like Medium come with their own advantages and disadvantages when compared to hosting on your brand’s website. One of the downsides is that the nature of the content being hosted off-site means that viewers will have to click-through to visit your website and make a purchase. The upside of these platforms is that they often act as a form of social network where users can like, comment, and follow your work — allowing you to amass a group of people who will be notified when the next piece of content they have been eagerly awaiting comes out.


  • Ability for people to follow
  • Ability for people to engage with your content
  • Potential for your content to be featured on the website’s main page or content category pages
  • Easy to use formatting tools can make your content look beautiful with little effort


  • Need for viewers to click-through to access your website
  • Tools for tracking KPIs can be lacking
  • Customizability is lacking compared to a skilled designer hosting on their own website


If you’re not reaching out to others to have them share your content, you’re missing out thousands of potential viewers. Reaching out to your network to let them know you have a new piece of content you think their followers would benefit from can go a long way not only in getting eyes on your work, but also maintain these relationships by letting your network know that you’re thinking about them.

But it’s not just your network you should be reaching out to. If you mentioned a person or brand in your content, try reaching out to them to let them know. They may appreciate the shout out and share with their followers.

If you’re having trouble getting in touch, try using to scrape a site for emails.


  • Cost-effective
  • Potential for many impressions
  • Maintains relationships with network


  • No guarantee contacts will share
  • Difficult to track KPIs
  • No control over the conversation
  • Asking network to share content too frequently can damage the relationship
  • Audience content is being shared with may be outside your niche

Paid Social

All the benefits of social — amplified. Paid social allows you to reach users that didn’t know they wanted your content until now. With the ability to target extremely niche groups, build lookalike audiences to find users similar to your most loyal, and give your chances of earned media a boost paid social is a channel not to be ignored. However it does come with a price, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, that price might not be worth it.


  • Highly targeted
  • Potential for earned media
  • Real-time engagement
  • High level of control
  • Easy to track KPIs


  • Can be costly
  • Requires some technical knowledge to set up Facebook Pixel and LAAs

Paid Search:

If your SEO efforts aren’t going the way you wanted, you can always change that by spending a little money. Paid search allows those searching certain keywords to always see your content before the organic results. It’s extremely targeted, allowing you to control for things beyond keywords like time of day, weather, device, geographic location, etc.

The downside is that pay-per-click and those clicks can get expensive fast as you’re often competing with others for the word which can lead to bidding wars.


  • Highly targeted
  • Easy to track KPIs
  • Allows for A/B testing
  • Access to keyword data (which can be used for SEO)


  • Costly
  • No staying power
  • Requires planning and strategy for good results
  • Lots of competition which can increase prices and start bidding wars

Influencers/Sponsored Content

If you’ve read our article last month, then you’re already an expert when it comes to influencers. Influencers are a powerful ally when it comes to content distribution. They can target extremely niche audiences, are cost-effective, and have a pre-established trust with their audience.

Finding the right influencer can take some work however and since the content isn’t on an owned channel, you have no control over the conversation.


  • Ability to target niche audiences
  • Established trust between influencer & audience
  • Often cost-effective


  • No control over the conversation
  • Takes time to research/negotiate with influencer
  • Some influencers can be expensive
  • Potential for human error beyond your control

Native Advertising Platforms

If nobody is viewing content on your website, why not try reaching them where they are viewing content — other’s websites. Platforms like Outbrain and Taboola allow you to have your content featured on other publisher’s websites and display it in the same format as original content from their site.

The platform pays the publisher to feature your sponsored content, and you pay every time someone clicks on your content. Despite coming at a cost, these platforms have powerful algorithms that display content relevant to each user, meaning that your content is getting in front of those who are most likely to be engaged with it.


  • Your content is featured in each websites native format, leveraging established trust
  • Powerful algorithms mean your content is being shown to those most likely to click
  • Allows you to have your content featured on sites with much higher traffic
  • Built-in KPI tracking tools


  • Pay-per-click can add up quickly
  • Consumers are becoming savvy towards native advertising
  • Content may be filtered out by ad-blockers

In next week’s article, you will learn how to apply this knowledge and create your first content distribution strategy. Later in the month, we’ll show you common pitfalls when it comes to content distribution and what you can do to avoid them.

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