3 types of content distribution (paid, owned and earned)

content distribution methodsCreating excellent content is just the start – effective content distribution helps your content get found, read and shared again, increasing the amount of people you reach and the overall impact of your content.

Here we’re looking at the three main ways of distributing your content – via your own channels (owned), paying to distribute it (paid) and other people voluntarily distributing it for you (earned). Let’s go into more detail on each of these…

Paid content

Paid content distribution is the most straightforward to define: it’s where that you’ve paid for your content to reach more people. There’s an ever-growing number of ways you could do this, including:

  • Social media advertising.
  • Paid traffic through content discovery tools such as Outbrain.
  • Native advertising, like this paid-for article on Buzzfeed from Cancer Research.
  • Sponsored content or promoted posts on blogs.
  • Display advertising and adwords.

Pros: Good level of control. Paid content can help achieve good reach.

Cons: Paying for content distribution is expensive. Paid content often has less credibility.

Owned content

Content that’s distributed through your own channels is known as owned content. This could include:

  • Your website.
  • Your blog and RSS feed.
  • Your email marketing list.

There’s also several grey areas, like social media and SEO, that sit on the edge of owned. Brand social media channels are sometimes described as “owned”, but in reality the platform – and with it all your following – could easily be seriously altered. A recent example is the decision by Facebook to restrict how many fans see updates, leading to a situation where brands need to pay to reach their own followers.

In the case of SEO, although you own the pages and can influence on-page ranking factors, you are never in control of your search rankings and you’re always at the mercy of earned factors, such as the number and quality of inbound links.

Pros: Maximum control.

Cons: Least reach – you can only reach people who are already following your owned channels.

Earned content

You can also earn content distribution, when others voluntarily share your content for you. Earned content includes:

  • Social media shares by others.
  • Reviews
  • PR
  • Non-sponsored blog posts.

Pros: Earned content is highly credible as it comes from external sources.

Cons: The hardest to get. You have no control – earned content can be negative as well as positive.

The best strategy: Use a mix of distribution channels

In reality there is lots of overlap between the three types. You may have heard a fourth type of content distribution mentioned – converged content. Converged content is increasingly being used to describe areas of content overlap, where two or more types of content distribution converge. This happens frequently, a piece of native advertising may get voluntarily shared by an influencer on social, for example, or a brand may pay to promote a piece of earned content on an external blog.

For a truly successful content distribution strategy, use a mix of all three. This balances the pros and cons, allowing for maximum impact without excessive cost or loss of control.