What Is Distributed Content? (and 5 Ways to Use It)

“Homepages are dead. I think we can probably agree on that.” – Cory Haik, Chief Content Strategy Officer at Mic, speaking on a panel at the Facebook F8 Conference

“Two significant things have already happened that we have not paid enough attention to: First, news publishers have lost control over distribution… Second, the inevitable outcome of this is the increase in power of social media companies.” – Emily Bell, writing for CJR

When Apple integrated the News app in their iOS 9 update last September, I was annoyed. It seemed useless – another aggregator of news that I would never read.

Fast forward a few months and with very little conscious thought I get much of my News briefs from the Apple News app, as well as from Facebook, Twitter, Amazon’s Alexa and (of course) Google. And there are literally millions of people whose media consumption habits have shifted (to some degree) from mobile websites to social platforms.

According to Pew 64 percent of U.S. adults have a smartphone, and 68 percent of those use their smartphone to get news – meaning that 44 percent of all U.S. adults use mobile to consume news. Of course this is disproportionate younger adults, which means that mobile content consumption is increasing as well. Media consumption is increasingly mobile and increasingly distributed via social platforms.

Young Adults are Especially Likely to Use Their Phone for Navigation – Either by Car, Public Transit, or Taxi

What this media consumption shift caused is a shift in how publishers view content marketing. Termed “distributed content” (a term coined by BuzzFeed), this is a strategy of content distribution that no longer relies on native websites to host and distribute content. Distributed content is consumed on Facebook through Instant Articles, on Twitter through Twitter Cards, on Snapchat through Stories, Google through Accelerated Mobile Pages and News (in a roundabout way), on LinkedIn through long-form posts, on Tumblr and others.

These platforms allow publishers to monetize content (sometimes), their products give publishers unprecedented load speed (sometimes) and an audience within the context of their platforms (potential audience, anyhow). For some perspective on the scale that we’re talking about, Snapchat Stories drive 10 billion video views per day.

Of course the downside to publishing on another platform is that you’re not hosting it. You don’t see the traffic, enjoy the search benefits of your archive, control your monetization, et cetera. It is antithetical to a lot of the past thought on content marketing and publishing. Ryan Brown, VP of Business Development at Gawker Media says of the pros and cons of distributed: “It just became apparent that we want to be where the audience is.”

After watching the F8 panel mentioned above, I took a look at Mic’s social presence to see how they were “all in” on distributed. They still have links back to content on Twitter and Facebook in addition to Twitter video cards, but Haik’s comment noted that homepages are “dead” because they generate very little traffic relative to other platforms.

On the same panel, Julie Hansen, President of Business Insider shared the success of their completely distributed product Insider which she says has been “seamless to implement” despite having no web presence whatsoever outside of external channels.

Let’s keep it 100 though: distributed content is geared towards bigger publishers, right? Of course! But so is publishing in general.

One of the coolest aspects of distributed content is that many social publishers are making their platforms available to everyone, and since communication is your desired end-state you need to know about the features these platforms offer and how to implement them. Just because bigger publishers are using these tools doesn’t mean that you cannot use them as communication channels as well.

Facebook Instant Articles

Introducing Instant Articles, a new tool for publishers to create fast, interactive articles on Facebook.

Posted by Facebook Media on Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Facebook Instant Articles let publishers distribute articles to the Facebook mobile app that load and display possibly 10 times faster than the mobile web.

Earlier this month, they opened the feature up to all publishers. You can publish Facebook Instant Articles by following three steps:

  • Sign up for Instant Articles – use the Instant Articles sign-up page and link it to your Facebook Page so you can get access to the IA toolkit.
  • Develop and submit your sample articles – you can use the technical support page to guide you through the set-up
  • Begin publishing Instant Articles

To make this easier, Facebook also has some strategic partnerships with different vendors (most notably WordPress and Drupal) to make publishing and measuring Instant Articles easier.

Probably of greatest interest for most content marketers, Facebook released an official Instant Article WordPress plugin (the folks at Buffer reviewed it favorably, although there are many third-party plug-ins that are higher-rated than the official plugin). So, there is some support to automate the process of publishing to Instant Articles.

Additionally, one of the biggest benefits of Instant Articles is the monetization option:

1. Monetize through Facebook Ad.

2. Place your own ads within the article.

3. Native advertise through a third-party.

Summary: Facebook offers speed, audience, third-party support and monetization for content published to their platform.

Google Accelerated Mobile Pages


Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages project isn’t a platform-specific initiative (Twitter and WordPress are also contributors to this), but it is decidedly mobile-focused. AMP is a series of open-source recommendations for website code that optimize the site’s mobile speed. The AMP team notes that an AMP page must have all of the optimizations identified within the project. For a less exhaustive synopsis, Ryan Chenkie summarizes these optimizations in five bullets:

  • No developer-written or third-party JavaScript
  • No input elements of any kind, including standard input and textarea
  • No external style sheets and only one style tag in the document head
  • No inline styles
  • Style rules must be at or below 50kb

Implementation of AMP may be challenging (there are a lot of restrictions that take away key features of WordPress), but Google News has started to feature AMP sites more prominently and Google’s search algorithm may as well. There are a lot of WordPress plugins claiming to integrate AMP rules into a site (though with various degrees of success), and there is an official WordPress plugin as well.

Summary: AMP will make your mobile site load really fast, and Google will look favorably upon you.

Apple News
apple-news

“If publishers should be having an “existential crisis” over Facebook Instant articles, Apple News could be even more life-threatening.” – Owen Williams writing for TNW

It makes sense that a company that controls roughly 40 percent of mobile devices in the U.S. should be able to influence how you consume media on them. Apple of course has done this effectively with the iTunes Store and now is doing the same with third-party content in the News app. The set-up for the user is pretty simple: choose the publishers that you want to receive updates from and voilà, you get pushed updates of the latest news to your mobile device.

Apple allows anyone to sign-up to be a publisher here. You can opt to simply publish using your RSS feed or in the News Publisher Format. And despite that the format is a little less familiar than standard HTML, there are WordPress and Drupal plugins that can help to convert your website to the Apple News Publisher Format.

Apple has monetization options for publishers as well.

Summary: Apple created an entire new publishing platform on its mobile devices. It is less intuitive than HTML but has monetization and third-party support options to keep the learning curve manageable.

Twitter Cards

I’ve written quite a few times about the benefits of integrating Twitter cards into your website, but there’s one card that seems to be most popular with publishers that have embraced distributed content: the Player Card. The Player Card allows a fully embedded video to be played entirely within the Twitter platform (you’ll note that publishers use this judiciously presumably because of monetization concerns).

The process for validating a Player Card (or any Twitter Card) is the same, but requires some additional information for approval as detailed here.

Summary: You can publish full length video content direct to Twitter using the Player Card, but you probably cannot monetize it. Like this:

LinkedIn Long-form Posts

If you’re looking for a place to publish non-monetized written content, LinkedIn long-form posts may be an option.

LinkedIn long-posts are WordPress or Blogger-style posts (with a similar interface) that are posted to the LinkedIn platform and published to your timeline as well as publicly available and search-indexed. In addition, long-form posts are eligible for promotion to the LinkedIn Pulse section of the site.

Summary: LinkedIn Long-form Posts are probably the most straightforward of all of the distributed options, but probably has the smallest potential audience and monetization options.

Conclusion

“Social media and platform companies took over what publishers couldn’t have built even if they wanted to.” – Emily Bell, writing for CJR

The quote above perfectly captures the conundrum of self-hosted content at nearly any scale. Facebook, Google, Apple, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat and on-and-on down the long chain of popular products have a better delivery mechanism for content than anyone could possible build on their own. There is a place for self-hosted content, but distributed content is the future of content publishing, and it’s pretty shocking to understand the extent that most major publishers have accepted this as reality.

Driven in large part by Facebook, there are a lot of opportunities for smaller publishers to leverage distributed for their communication and marketing. Hopefully you’ve seen an opportunity to expand your content audience using these tools.

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Images via Pixabay: 1, 2