Most content marketers will tell you must wait 3 – 9 months for content to generate any kind of positive return on the investment it took to write it.
Your content can make you money the day you publish it if you crack how to distribute it.
And that’s the problem. Most content marketers are writers at heart. They write and share posts on a Twitter account with 83 followers and figure they’ve done their job.
There’s a better way.
I talk a lot about how you can validate an idea to market and build & grow your business using paid ads to find brand positioning. I’ve used this process 13 times to launch companies from $0 to $2MM in annual revenue.
But what if I didn’t do that? What if I put my money where my mouth is and show how distribution can answer many of the same questions?
I set myself a challenge in the latter half of last year to tackle a different approach to validating go-to-market for my own agency. For 6 months, starting in October of ‘21, I would limit myself to social media distribution in one channel to grow my business. My goal was to grow from $250k ARR to $1MM in ARR using just this channel over the next 6 months.
No paid ads. No retargeting funnels. No classic “agency frameworks” with a cheap book or online course to drive break-even prospects into a funnel to upsell from a $20 book to a $10,000 consulting contract. Just listen to communities, answer questions, and see if that’s a tactic that can grow a business.
Spoiler alert: yes. Yes, it is.
What is “social media distribution”?
In its essence, social media distribution requires you to find an audience of people on a social media channel who are looking for answers to questions that your business provides. You’re going to take advantage of the fact that someone needs help with a topic that you’re an expert on and use that to try and bring people over to your website. It’s important to note that you need to answer their question thoroughly and for free.
There are two parts to social media distribution: listening and answering. Being bad at either part will ruin the whole gig for you, so make sure you set things up right to start.
Finding your tribe
In order to listen for the right question, you need to find a place where people who fit your ideal customer profile are already hanging out. That exact location will vary based on your ICP. Facebook Groups? Reddit? Quora?
You need to understand your brand, who you are selling to, and what they want to hear from you before you can answer that well. Until you know that, distributing your content to people who don’t want to hear from you won’t do much to move the needle.
It’s important to note that no one wants a member of their tribe who’s endlessly shilling their own product. If you’re That Guy, you won’t be part of any tribe for long. You want to be creating content that doesn’t sell your product, service, or business. You want to sell the idea that you’re an expert who understands what your tribe is looking for.
Listening to your tribe
Once you know who you want to talk to and what they want to hear, you need to find ways to be a part of the conversation when it’s relevant. The channels that my tribe most often talks on are Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook groups. There are some social listening tools out there that are quite hood, but I can also heartily recommend the one I’ve developed in partnership with my friends at Xray: the elan.to social listening software, as it lets me listen to all 3 of those areas, plus a few more.
What you need to do is learn what your potential customer asks about while they’re in the discovery phase. One of the best ways to do this is to go look at Reddit.
Let’s pick a niche out of a hat and analyze it: dog owners. I don’t own a dog and have never worked with a pet shop client, so I know nothing about this space as I write this sentence.
Let me find a niche investigation for space–dog products.
I start by just looking for conversations on Reddit that talk about that topic and start to note trends. Lots of people want to know what’s a good toy for dogs who can chew the heck out of their toys, and there are also a few interesting image results
Google also gives me some very interesting related topics:
I’d also estimate the weekly volume of related queries on Reddit by limiting the timeframe of the search results as well. It looks like this last week–a normal enough week where I can’t think there’d be a big influx of dog toy questions–there were over 130 questions about this posted on Reddit.
The next step is to look at the subreddits that show up as search results and see what shows up in the sidebar as common questions. Here’s /r/Puppy101, for example, where they sensibly say you should be mentioning your breed in your Reddit posts as well as your question.
If you really want to dive deep, check into the posting history of all of the mods themselves and see what answers you commonly see.
In 20 – 60 minutes you’ll already understand some common questions that these people have:
- My dog is a lot of work and tears everything up. What do I do?
- I’m afraid of hurting my dog because I love him or her. How can I be a good puppy parent?
- My dog has done
some bad thingand I want to train him or her out of it.
Are any of these questions good questions for you to answer? Let’s say you’re selling an organic dog shampoo–not directly related to any of these things but there are definitely some areas of interest that overlap.
Now’s the time to go beyond listening and leap into action by distributing your content.
Answering questions for fun & profit
In the above example, there are some obvious articles I can write that are answers to common questions.
- Unsual doggy training tactics to reduce
bad behavior& bond with your puppy
- Life hacks: get your dog to stop chewing your furniture with these 3 crazy tips
- Interview with 4 dog behaviorists to teach you what your dog’s body language means
- Bonding with your new puppy: how to head off bad behavior at the start
And a bunch more. In order to distribute your content, you’ll need to write it first. 🙂
Once you have a few good articles–and you only need 4 or 6, not a hundred–you’re equipped to start answering questions.
Set up your social listening tool and look for phrases that are relevant to you. Here we’re looking for terms like
doggy training ,
dog care and so on. Once you get a hit, it’s time to spring into action, because timeliness matters: if you’re one of the first people to answer a question that goes viral, you can expect tens of thousands of views of your answer. If you’re even 30 minutes late, you’ll get maybe 10% of that.
It’s important to remember: you’re not selling your product or your offer. You’re selling your expertise as someone who can solve problems for people who are in your target market.
Your answer to a question should follow one of two pretty predictable formats. These are written for Reddit, but you can adapt them to any social media platform.
Version 1 – 60% of the time
Hey, /u/name! I see this question a lot as someone who's been running a business that caters to dogs for the last 5 years. I see this question a lot as someone who's been running a business that caters to dogs for the last 5 years. If you `Restate the question`, then what I'd recommend is for you to 1. Do thing 1 2. Do thing 2 3. Do thing 3 I've had great results with that with my own dog and a bunch of my clients have also seen it works well for them. Good luck and let me know if you have any questions!
Version 2 – 40% of the time
Hey, /u/name I see this question a lot as someone who's been running a business that caters to dogs for the last 5 years. I wrote a blog post a while ago about this exact thing. If you Restate the question, then what I'd recommend is for you to 1.
Do thing 1
2. Do thing 2
3. Do thing 3You can read the whole blog post here if you'd like to get more info: website.com/blogpost Good luck & let me know if you have any questions!
You’ll note that I’m not even linking back to my own website most of the time. Lead with value and don’t be obviously spammy and you’ll be much more welcome in a community. This does mean that you need to be doing this enough where you’re driving traffic to your even though most of your answers aren’t linking back to you.
In my experience, getting an answer on a thread that goes even modestly viral will get you between 50 – 500 site visits if you dropped a link to your blog post.
Now, in this imaginary dog shampoo business, it’s probably not cost-effective to answer 2 – 4 questions to get a few hundred visits to your website and maybe an e-Commerce purchase or two. If you’re selling something with a higher ACV, it can work out directly quite well for you.
I wrote last month about how my content marketing has generated more than $250,000 off social media distribution. As I mentioned at the start of this article, I deliberately limited myself to one channel–Facebook Groups–and then spent 80% of my time in one particular Facebook group for my lead generation.
That’s a modestly achievable ARR boost in one single social media distribution channel done 2 – 4 hours a week. If you have someone who specializes in that as a member of your team, you should expect 5x that in direct revenue and a further boost in brand visibility in the communities that ends up being quite hard to measure.
Speaking anecdotally, I find that in some of the communities I’m in now I get some of my content shared around without me even being the one to distribute it. You know you’re making an impression in a community when people who don’t know are advocating for you. 🙂