The Free Ride Is Over

This month is all about the trends that are shaping the future of the content marketing world. This week, we’re focusing on the growing need for paid promotion.

Raise your hand if you remember the early days of blogging and social media.

Now, if you just raised your hand, let me know if this sounds familiar: “Who needs an advertising budget? Who needs to spend money to get your brand out there? Start a blog! Post on Facebook! Start a podcast! It’s all freeeeeeeeeeee!”

Yeah, the content universe was a great place for marketers … until all the marketers showed up.

Or as I like to illustrate it in my presentations, this is what the content marketer’s world looked like a few years ago:

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(Photo Credit:Ricky Leong via Compfight cc)

This is what it looks like now:

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(Photo Credit: Kaeru via Compfight cc)

And here’s what it’ll look like a few years from now:

Bishwa Iztema 2013 Phase II on train 01 by Mayeenul Islam

(Photo source: Wikipedia)

The reality is that we live in a crowded world where millions of our marketing brethren are competing for attention. The free channels of blogs and social media are pretty much saturated.

So how do we enable our content to stand out above the fray? We do what not all of our competitors are willing to do: we pay to promote it.

Paying to Play

Yes, we — and I include myself — roll our eyes every time Facebook releases a new update that makes it harder for us to get that all-important organic reach. But think about it. Open Facebook right now and look at how many Pages you follow. If you saw every post that every Page published, there would be zero room for updates from your friends and family, no?

With so many brands competing for attention on free channels, there has to be a differentiator, and that differentiator is willingness to pay for eyeballs on our content.

Marketers Are Opening Their Wallets

According to a recent study by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and PR Newswire, 65 percent of respondents use at least one paid method to promote their content. What are the odds that some of your competitors are in that group?

The good news is that most paid promotion methods have sophisticated targeting features that helps us ensure our promos will get in front of precisely the right audience.

The bad news is, well, we have to pay for it.

How to Get Started

The easiest and most cost-effective way to dip your toe into the paid promotion pool is through promoted posts on Facebook and Twitter. Pick a post or tweet to promote, choose your target audience, set a budget, and let ‘er rip. I’ve gotten good results from both and usually wind up paying well under $1 per click.

You’ll notice I didn’t mention LinkedIn in the above list. Yes, LinkedIn also offers promoted posts, but there it’s quite a bit more expensive: When I promoted last month’s webinar, I paid over $6 per click. If you’re a diehard B2B marketer, you might find it worth experimenting with — just make sure to set aside a bigger chunk of your budget.

Search Engine Marketing

Google Adwords is a bit of a mixed bag — for some folks it’s a gold mine, but for others, meh. My own results tended towards meh, but it’s definitely worth experimenting with. Just make sure that whatever you’re promoting is an asset that’s worth the click: an e-book, white paper, audio resource, etc. Probably not the best method for promoting your run-of-the-mill blog post.

Yes, we’ve all hears about banner blindness, and online advertising doesn’t work like it used to (what does?), but targeted advertising can still be effective.

The key here is choosing the right location for your ads. Pick a site that serves the same target audience and that has a solid reputation among the people you serve.

Whatever method you choose, make sure to track your results — not just clicks, but also conversions — and stick with the tactics that perform best. With a little experimentation, you can put together a paid promotion plan that grows your audience, grows your reach, and elevates your content marketing results to a whole new level.

OK, your turn! How are you using paid promotion to broaden the reach of your content marketing? Leave us a note in the comments — we’d love to hear from you!