Welcome to the Age of Distributed Content

For years, marketers’ cardinal rule has been “go where your audience is”; encouraging brands to invest in social media channels rather than creating massive owned media channels. This rule has proven successful to brands and as a result it turned social platforms like Facebook and Twitter into vital platforms for any integrated marketing plan. Recognizing the significance of this rule, social platforms have pushed the envelope in a way that has fundamentally changed the way brands think about their own content strategy.

Over the past year, social platforms have been experimenting with a new model called “Distributed Content”. Initially reserved for journalists and publishers, distributed content is a process by which media outlets create and publish content specifically for a social network rather than it’s own website. Using this model allows publishers to meet their audience in unique and engaging ways in exchange for giving up control of the platform that their content appears on.

With their rich targeting capabilities, social platforms have encouraged brands to embrace Distributed Content strategies as a cost-efficient, engaging way to reach their audiences. While initially cautious about giving up too much control away, media outlets have started to embrace the model, generating much better ad revenues than their traditional websites. After months of anticipation, social platforms and even publishers like Buzzfeed are opening up their distributed content models to brands.

Website discovery is evolving – more often than not; we’re finding and consuming content on the social platforms we already visit all the time (Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter etc). Recently, we’ve seen popular digital media outlets like NowThis and Obsessee omit a proper brand website entirely, opting to embrace the Distributed Content model by generating content specifically tailored for multiple social platforms. This shift in channel strategy for Now This has been hugely successful, accounting for one billion monthly video views this past January.

Source: NowThis

Source: NowThis

Curious how Distributed Content works in the wild? Here’s a breakdown of the major platforms disrupting how we think about content strategy.


Following the recent success of Instant Articles, Facebook has launched a new immersive mobile ad feature called Canvas. When a user clicks a Canvas-enabled ad, the content expands to the full screen of their phone with a rich-media page all embedded within the Facebook platform. Canvas content includes a lot of rich media elements and interactivity that allow them to explore content before being directed to a brand web page. Early results from Facebook have shown this type of ad format has been successful; 53% of users that click on a Canvas ad view at least half of the content driving 30-50% lower cost-per-conversions. Given that mobile ads generated 80% of the company’s $5.6 billion ad revenue in Q4 of 2015, it’s fair to assume that Facebook will continue to evolve interesting new mobile ad features for brands.


As the premiere platform for real-time engagement, Twitter has launched a “native ad format” with a select group of brands called “Promoted Moments”. This ad format aggregates a selection of tweets, photos and videos around trending or branded content. Similar to Facebook, Promoted Moments keeps branded content within the Twitter platform by pulling in content from multiple sources that weave together a story. Brands like Tesco that have experimented with Promoted Moments have reported success despite initial rumors that the price tag for this ad feature cost $1 million.


While Buzzfeed has been selling branded content ads on their own website for a long time, CMO Frank Cooper recently announced at SXSW a new cross-platform marketing product dubbed “Swarm”. This ad product is designed to have your content live across all of BuzzFeed’s social and web properties including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, YouTube, and Tumblr. The reason? To take advantage of their extremely large social footprint and generate some ad dollars beyond what they’re able to monetize on their own website. BuzzFeed believes that traffic on their website only makes up 1/5th of their overall audience, so it makes perfect sense that they would want to sell content on other platforms where the majority of their audience actually is.

While Swarm will cost a premium and there is little in the way of case studies since it’s brand new, there’s no doubt that if you’re a brand trying to make a splash and reach this audience then this is a very attractive way to do so.


When Snapchat first burst onto the scene, many thought it would be little more than an app that allowed teenagers to send pictures to each other that would then disappear seconds later. Then something funny happened: it became a company with a $16 million valuation and a legitimate source of news with a feature called Discover that opened up the platform to a host of big name publishers including Vice, Buzzfeed, Mashable, and ESPN. All of these publishers curate daily content for Snapchat specifically, and users are able to pick and choose the content they want to read. Unlike standard snaps, users can view this content for as long as they like. The pickup has been huge, with Cosmo reporting 3 millions users daily on Discover as of October 2015. These numbers are significant if brands are wary of the type of reach Snapchat has.

All of this good news for Discover does come with caveats. While Snapchat is undoubtedly a great way to reach a millennial audience (Snapchat promotes that more than 60% of 13 to 34 year-old are Snapchatters), ad formats and targeting capabilities are still limited for brands wanting to use this platform. As of now, the only ad unit available is a 10 second vertical video interstitial that can be skipped by a user. Analytics and performance metrics are also light, although that might change with Nielsen recently partnering with Snapchat to become the standard measurement offering for all ad campaigns on the platform. Snapchat is also in talks with several ad tech partners and DSPs for more granular targeting, although that might come until later in 2016.

Apple News

From it’s inception, Apple News was designed to be a one-stop shop for all your news content, aggregating and personalizing stories that you like to read into one handy app, but so far it hasn’t quite taken off. That might change soon, with news surfacing that Apple will be launching an ad campaign promoting the app in an effort to gain more readers, and eventually monetize those readers with ads. The company also announced some new tools for publishers, including enhanced analytics that will give deeper insight into what people are reading. Apple News will also begin including content from local newspapers and independent publishers, further expanding its content.

Ad capabilities on Apple News are still in infancy. Publishers offer banner and interstitial units while reading and swiping through stories, and some publishers also allow for sponsorships of their content at more of a premium cost. Apple recently announced they would add ComScore tags to this app, which will finally allow publishers to better quantify the readership on the platform. If you’re a brand, it makes sense to see if traffic improves over the coming months before investing a lot of your budget into this platform. If it does take off, and I wouldn’t count out Apple, then this will become yet another unique way to reach your audience and give your campaign even more of a surround-sound feel.

Key Takeaways for Brands and Advertisers

  1. Embrace the lack of control. Social platforms offering Distributed Content have unparalleled targeting capabilities to get in front of your target audience in a way that isn’t possible with owned media content.
  2. Consider re-evaluating your content strategy and determine the role of your brand’s website. In an age of Distributed Content, your brand website will certainly have fewer visitors but that shouldn’t mean it’s time to give up on it just yet.
  3. These platforms are a creative way to get around ad blocking. Ad blockers are not as popular on mobile devices, which is where most of these platforms shine.
  4. Utilize distributed content for branding and awareness, not necessarily direct-response campaigns.
  5. Social platforms are still experimenting with cost structures for Distributed Content so it’s too soon to provide an accurate estimate for this type of advertising. Some platforms will be more expensive than others. When determining budget, consider what the goal of your advertising is to help define the right content platform for your campaign.
  6. Set you and your clients up for success; recognize that metrics for these campaigns will be much different than your standard traditional metrics. If web traffic is your ultimate goal, then this might not be the best fit for you.
  7. Measurement & analytics are still a work in progress. Don’t expect to get the same detail you’d have on your own web properties.
  8. Have a different strategy for each platform. What works for Snapchat is not necessarily going to work for Twitter. Brands must be wary of creative specs and speak to each platform’s unique audience to really make discovered content work.