Editor’s Note: This post is based off of a presentation that award-winning author and speaker Andrew Davis, recently gave at Content Connections, Acrolinx’s online, virtual conference. Held in November 2015, the event attracted more than 2,000 content professionals from around the world.


If you think about it, we marketers are all addicts. We’re constantly looking to get high and have a serious addiction to spikes. You know what I mean. Every time you publish a piece of content, what’s the first thing you do? You jump into your analytics tool to see how it performed, hoping that it has gotten more traffic and created a bigger peak than your last piece did.

That’s because every time we see a spike, we get a rush. It’s like a hit of adrenaline and, before you know it, we’re taking screenshots of those peaks to share with everyone else in the office. Not only that, since we crave spikes so much, we usually do everything we can to try to make them happen. Usually that means promoting new pieces of content immediately with little, if any, thought to the distribution strategy behind it.

Unfortunately, a few days after most spikes things usually crash. And, when they do, we’re left wondering how we’re going to get the next spike and what we can do to make sure that it’s even bigger than the last.

It’s a classic cycle of addiction, and I’m here to tell you that we’ve got to break it. Consider this your intervention. In this post, I’m going to challenge many of the traditional ideas that most of you have about how to distribute content.

Getting High: What We Can Learn from WestJet

The first step to recovery is to show you what addiction really looks like. So let’s spend a minute talking about a Canadian airline company called WestJet, that’s been caught in a cycle of addiction for quite some time. They’re always chasing new highs.

If you look at their YouTube channel, you’ll see that they’ve made hundreds of videos. They’ve got April Fool’s videos and rap videos, Christmas videos and flash mob videos. Really anything you can think of to build their brand and connect with customers.

Some of their videos are really good and have led them to amazing highs. Their 2013 Christmas video, for example, has been viewed more than 40 million times. Pretty spectacular, right?

The problem is, after each high is over, their traffic just sinks back down to where it was before, rather than growing steadily over time. They’re not building their community or brand long-term, they’re just creating periodic spikes with their great videos. While I’m sure we’d all envy the success of some of those videos, I don’t think they’re taking the right approach by living from peak to peak.

Change Your Mindset for Longer-Lasting Success

The challenge that WestJet and so many others are facing isn’t a question of their content (again, in WestJet’s case it’s really good). Instead, it’s a distribution issue.

All too often, today’s content marketers use what I like to call a “puke everywhere” distribution strategy. In other words, they post their content anywhere and everywhere, all in one big pukefest, without stopping to consider if there might be a better way.

As marketers we spend so much time creating our content, and yet so little refining our distribution strategy. I think we need to make some changes. After all, is increasing the number of spikes that we get really the name of the game? I don’t think so.

If you want to be a great marketer, you shouldn’t be measuring your success by the height of your peaks, but rather by the depth of your valleys. This is what I like to refer to as the content marketing success paradox. You’ve got to stop worrying about spikes and instead strive to elevate your valleys. In other words, your goal should always be to make sure that your next valley isn’t as low as your last one was. That’s how you build an audience over time.

A More Strategic Approach to Content Distribution

To achieve higher valleys, you’ve got to be strategic. That means stop making noise and instead start building momentum. Once you do, you’ll find that you can get bigger, better results, even when you produce less content.

One company that has really mastered this is TripAdvisor. They publish a lot of content, the most notable of which is their annual Travelers’ Choice Awards, where they list off the best of all things related to travel. The best hotels and resorts, the best destinations and beaches — you get the idea.

Every year when the Travelers’ Choice Awards are announced, TripAdvisor e-mails the news to all of its subscribers. They post about it on social media. They buy ads and they write press releases.

Now at first glance their distribution might look a lot like the puke strategy I mentioned before, but it’s not. That’s because building momentum has very little to do with where you distribute your content and everything to do with when you do so.

TripAdvisor knows that the key to building social momentum is to promote your content over time, using one channel at a time. I like to think of it as following the social momentum curve, where you use one channel to grow, and then after you’ve reached a plateau and started to slow, you go on to the next. The chart below explains this really well.

The idea is that you start with one-to-one communication with the folks in your e-mail database. Those are your followers who are part of your loyalty loop. Once you grow, plateau, and slow, you move on to social media, which is one-to-a-few communication. After you grow, plateau, and slow you then move on to paid promotion, which is a few-to-new communication. Finally, once you grow, plateau, and slow there, it’s time for PR, which is new-to-news communication.

This is a strategic approach to delivering content over time. The whole idea behind it is to build momentum with one audience and then use that to fuel further momentum with the next. What this does is create social proof. If you’re not familiar with it, that’s the psychological term for when people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given social situation.

In the online world, social proof boils down to this: You’re much more likely to consume and share content that’s already been widely consumed and shared. So when you build momentum with one channel, before moving on to the next, you get a greater overall effect.

The Bottom Line

Content marketers expend enough energy creating content. It’s time we shift our attention to understanding how our content is consumed. I encourage you to spend less time worrying about where you distribute your content and more thinking about when your content is consumed and how.

Stop chasing the highs and start building momentum. Strive for valley elevation, not an endless stream of higher and higher peaks. You’ll get better results and won’t have to create nearly as much content to do so. That’s a win-win in my book.