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distributed content and social strategy

Social media is changing. Or so say those studying the most recent models of “distributed content.” In the past, the chief goal of social media was to drive users to web content, but increasingly the online strategy is shifting to a more siloed approach: each platform exists somewhat independently, content is optimized for that particular channel’s capabilities and publishers develop and foster individual communities for each channel. This focus allows the data (success, failures, engagement rates and follower growth) to dictate, to a certain extent, what is published and promoted. While big data was previously seen as invaluable primarily to content marketers, it’s becoming a requisite in the editorial world, where stakes are high and profit margins are thin.

Capitalization on digital audiences isn’t new – magazines have included social followings as part of their media kits’ “multi-platform audience” for years, as another way to publicize reach and gain advertisers. Tweets are essentially sold by bloggers who accept sponsorship for digital content, and advertorial in the digital space (the much-ballyhooed “native” advertising) has exploded with platforms like Forbes Brandvoice and Buzzfeed Advertise.

The traditional social media style certainly continues, but more and more new platforms are emerging publishing content that lives exclusively within their environment. Instagram is notoriously bad for driving traffic, so brands and publishers have strategized in channel-specific ways to build that audience and engagement. (Of course, on Instagram, photos and videos from other content channels can be reused.) By contrast, Snapchat (like Meerkat and Periscope), requires new and unique content that can then be shared across other channels, should the user choose to do so. Users can’t upload video or photos from their phone to Snapchat. They need to create it within the Snapchat ecosystem – hence, the “distributed content” concept. Even Snapchat Discover requires unique content creation – all Discover stories are built to be consumed in portrait orientation, for example, so it needs to be uniquely designed.

So How Do I Win Social Media?

By working with a distributed content strategy, publishers and brands are able to optimize their content for each channel, which means they are able to capitalize on that content and audience. When content is customized for the channel in both format and topic (remember that valuable big data?), there’s a better chance of viewership, engagement and virality.

Even when content from the web is going to be shared across social platforms, optimizing the social promotions will pay off. Just as using the same copy across social media platforms (or simply linking social accounts) was considered poor form three years ago, failing to write for a platform is poor form today. Twitter has a character limit, so it requires concision and close attention to hashtags and @ mentions. On Instagram, it’s all about the imagery, so you better have an excellent photo to catch people’s attention or it won’t matter how engaging your caption is. On Facebook, there’s room to play – try using line breaks to avoid an intimidating chunk of text.

If you’re sharing video, it’s worth uploading it individually to each social media site (Facebook, for one, gives better visibility to native videos). Instagram only allows 15 second videos and Twitter allows 30, so be concise. On Facebook, there’s more freedom with length, but seriously consider the content. If you’re promoting a half-hour YouTube video, you’d be better to upload short, sharable clips to Facebook throughout the appropriate timeframe to best capture people’s attention. Perhaps you want to do that before the full post is published as a way to create buzz and interest. (Vox did a great job of this for its Obama interview.)

To distribute content is to increase ROI. Though driving traffic is still important for most brands and publishers (as that’s usually where digital revenue is originated), optimizing your content across each platform will pay off. It’s worth the time investment to use the data, prioritize best practices across channels and get the most out of your digital content.