Content marketing has evolved considerably in the fifteen years I’ve been involved in it. There was a time when the gold standard for the success of website content was a high ranking on search (which quickly came to mean just Google.) Search engine optimization (SEO) consultants flourished (followed by Search Engine Marketing agencies when it became apparent that Google was going to make it very tough indeed for content to succeed absent paid placements.)
Then came social media and the success of website content came to also be measured by the flashier metrics of Shares and Likes for the posts promoting the content – with the pinnacle achievement of content “going viral.” Social media experts were very difficult to find when I ran FastCompany.com and Inc.com, starting in 2003 – we were lucky to have two of the best on staff. Fast forward to Facebook being one of the largest revenue producing companies on earth, and every year it becomes more difficult to promote marketing or editorial content without paying up. Some new companies succeeded almost entirely on the audience and customer base they built up with free social sharing of the Facebook platform. Then they crashed spectacularly as Facebook tweaked its algorithms to favor paying customers.
A Facebook page with one million followers used to create a post — and it went to 1 million followers. In 2017, that stat went to about 0.5 % to 1.5% “free” distribution to a page’s followers. (Of course, the cost of promoting a Facebook page to build a following isn’t free at all to the organizations paying social media staff or consultants to post for them.) And in 2018, with Facebook’s declaration that it would further adjust its algorithms to emphasize personal content shared between Facebook friends, that “free” distribution stat might drop even further.
Facebook Knows Your Customers
But content marketers continue to pay up – Facebook (together with Instagram) is currently the best platform in the world to micro-target and scale audiences. They know more about the massive customer base than anyone else because we all tell Facebook more about ourselves than we do any other website. Twitter and Snapchat don’t come close. And Facebook is also better than anyone at offering buyers tools to effectively discover and parse their audience.
In fact, the amount of Facebook customer data is so massive – and the tools for A/B/C testing creative so advanced – that at Buzzr we partner with outside vendors with advanced artificial intelligence software to assist us with running Facebook campaigns. Pricing, though, is climbing. An effective campaign or creative deliver a good ROI toward the beginning of the month, then become too expensive at the end of the month. New creatives need to be regularly tested – and buying strategies varied depending on a whole host of variables, from the time of the year, to the fluctuation in Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) set up on the buyer’s website.
Publisher Networks Are a Viable Distribution Channel, Too
Luckily, Facebook hasn’t yet eaten the entire content marketing promotional world. In the past two years, another distribution avenue has greatly matured – the paid promotion of content on editorial publishing websites, managed by third-party providers with enormous networks of publishers. Almost every media company with a digital presence signed on as a provider — including Conde Naste, Hearst, Time Inc., Meredith, ABC, CBS and NBC News, plus tens of thousands of smaller publishers. A close cousin of “native advertising,” networks like Taboola, Outbrain and RevContent allow publishers without the staff to create and sell in-house custom content to advertisers to still participate in the content marketing boom.
Paid content distribution on publisher websites started out as controversial in some circles because the line between editorial and paid content might appear blurry when the format and position of paid headline and image placement looks similar to that of editorial content from the publisher. But as labeling standards improved, consumers became more savvy, and publishers nearly universally signed on to participate, the controversy has abated. Revenue from paid content marketing now exceeds revenue from display advertising for even large publishers – and that’s because content marketers get better results with paid content than display. So the price of one is climbing, while the price of the other is declining.
The good news is that these platforms can work very well – and if handled carefully, at competitive or better cost than Facebook or Google. We’ve seen it first hand at Buzzr, whether the ultimate ROI is selling tickets or shoes or building brand awareness.
Yhe industry is still new enough that the skills required to do effective buying are scarce and in demand. It’s easy to overbid and under test. The stats and tools provided by vendors are very different – and require experience to make sense of. And it requires strategic thinking to set up a website or app so that the KPIs are measured instead of guessed at. The savvy content marketer will also integrate performance tracking by vendor with Google Analytics and build and update custom spreadsheets for tracking performance over time.
Just as on Facebook, the paid content distribution networks make it easy to spend as much money as you’d like – but ensuring you get a good ROI is up to you and far more difficult to measure and maintain.
Here’s how Buzzr handles paid content marketing distribution for clients:
And here’s an overview of our overall process:
In conclusion, the options available for paid content marketing are abundant – and are often far more reliable and scalable than organic social media promotion. Just be sure to set up a sound strategy and a means to measure KPIs before you start to spend your money.
Ed Sussman is the CEO of Buzzr.