According to content creation expert Joe Pulizzi, the key to successful social distribution is in reaching the third circle of followers online.

Editor’s note: This is a guest contribution from Joe Pulizzi. Joe and Brafton have been buds for years – we’re in the business of content marketing, and he coined the term. Joe’s written multiple books about content marketing (which can be found in Brafton’s office library). Along with Betty White, he’s one of the hottest things in Cleveland. Joe’s sharing on social marketing for brand reach. All opinions are his own.​

So often, organizations think only of the databases they own to distribute their content. Today, the power of social media gives us an opportunity to leverage others’ databases to further distribute our messages. You know your network, whether through email, mailing lists or your social media connections. But the growth of media properties such as Mashable and Huffington Post have come on the back of social sharing. This is a strategy you need to consider for your business.

In The Book of Business Awesome, Scott Stratten wrote a chapter that discusses the “Three Circles of Content Sharing.”

The first circle1st circle

These are the connections that are closest to you – and strongest. These are people who share your content simply because they know and trust you. You can think of these people as your “brand fans.”

Your first-circle connections will share anything because they are blinded by their love for you, so you can’t put a lot of weight into what this group shares.

The second circle

These are the friends of those in your first circle. They see your content on a regular basis because your first-circle connections share it.Second circle

The second circle is where most brands fall down with their content. If second-circle connections get just one or two bad impressions of your content from those in your first circle, you’ll lose them forever. This means that your content must be truly epic to keep them interested.

The second circle will initially look at your content solely based on their connections with the people in your first circle. Once you get them to open the content, it’s up to you to keep them engaged.

The third circle

These are the connections of your second circle – they are ultimately the most valuable if you are seeking maximum content reach.

3rd circleThe Holy Grail lies in the third circle. According to Stratten, “This is the group you need to be thinking about when you’re creating content.” If you reach the third circle, people there most likely have no prior connection to your brand in any way. If people in the third circle share your content, they will do it solely because it is amazing information that they feel is worthy of being shared.

There are three keys to making it to the third circle:

  • Focus on slow and steady progress

    The big content hit is extraordinarily rare. One such example is Dollar Shave Club; as of March 2014, the brand’s viral video has approximately 13 million views. Normally, viral content hits happen after a slow, continuous stream of awesome insights. For example, I developed a blog post on Coca-Cola Content 2020 that has been seen by over 200,000 unique visitors (lots of sharing by the third circle), but it wasn’t immediate. This success happened after over 500 pieces of regularly scheduled content were published first.

  • Capture (and captivate) your first circle

    Many brands worry about their followers on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. Of course, those are great, but reaching the third circle should start with email.

    I’m amazed by the number of blogs and pieces of web content that don’t have “getting the email address” as a primary purpose. Social sharing often starts and ends with email. This does not mean gating the content, where readers have no chance of seeing it without giving their information. You can ask for the email address in multiple ways, but still give them free access. So first get them to opt-in and subscribe to newsletters, and then continuously send them the best information for your niche on the planet.

  • Become the leading information provider for your niche

    When I give a speech to brand marketers, I often ask this: “Who here has the goal of being the leading information provider for your buyers?” Rarely do hands go up, and this is a big problem. Why should your customers and prospects engage in your content? Because it solves their pain points in some way.

    There are simply too many choices out there where they can avoid your content altogether, so you have to set up the processes and talent internally and externally to make sure your content is epic, mind-altering content. I really think most brands feel that mediocre content that can fill the social gaps is just fine. 

“Just fine” will never get you beyond the first circle. Third-circle content requires industry domination. At a minimum, set this as your goal, and then set out to make it happen.

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Joe Pulizzi considers himself the poster boy for content marketing. Founder of the Content Marketing Institute, Joe evangelizes content marketing around the world through keynotes, articles, tweets and his books. For more on Joe, check out​ ​the CMI ​website or follow him on Twitter​ - ​@JoePulizzi