What are the most reliable content channels to connect with customers?

content channels

I recently had a chance to hear entrepreneur and author Joe Pulizzi speak about his wonderful new book Content Inc and my mind was buzzing over some of the interesting new ideas he presented. One of these topics was a discussion on the most reliable ways to deliver your content.

With organic reach on Facebook declining for most businesses and content saturation occurring for many industry verticals, this is certainly a vital topic.

Today I’d like to connect the dots on a few ideas about the most reliable content channels to reach customers.

The goal of reliable reach

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post describing the importance of attaining “reliable reach,” a concept first coined by author and consultant Jay Baer. When you first start publishing content, it might feel like you are simply tossing it into the wind. Is anybody reading it? Does anybody care?

But if you persist and deliver helpful, insightful and quality content over time, something magical happens. People subscribe. They sign up. They opt-in. And this is a great thing because now you have some chance to actually know you are reaching these people. They have sort of raised their hand in a virtual way and said “market to me.”

The best content channels for reliable reach

So, when we attain that magical level, what are the very best ways to reliably reach those customers?

In Joe’s fine speech, he provided his view on the channels most likely to actually reach your customers, from best to worst:

  1. eMail subscribers
  2. Print subscribers
  3. LinkedIn connections
  4. Twitter subscribers
  5. iTunes (podcast) subscribers
  6. Medium/Tumblr/Instagram/Pinterest
  7. YouTube subscribers
  8. Facebook fans

So for example, Joe is stating that email is the very best way to deliver reliable reach while Facebook is the worst.

In terms of the very best and the very worst … Joe and I agree. But what comes in the middle, well it’s probably up for debate. So here’s my ranking with a short explanation of the logic:

  1. eMail
  2. Pinterest
  3. Blog and video communities
  4. Podcast subscribers
  5. Print subscribers
  6. LinkedIn connections
  7. Streaming video
  8. Instagram
  9. Facebook

1. eMail subscribers

Yup, I agree with Joe. “Open rates” vary by topic and industry but this a reliable way to reach your customers and also have a pretty good idea of who is actually seeing your content. I consider email marketing as the “glue” connecting your social media content.

2. Pinterest

This one may surprise you. Research shows that Pinterest drives more web traffic — and more purchases — than any other social media channel. It is a sleeper in some ways because many people view content on Pinterest and then go to the actual website to buy or learn more. So Pinterest does not always get the credit it deserves for driving actual customer behavior.

The other thing I like about Pinterest is the fact that for relatively little effort — you’re curating photographic content — you can build tremendous loyalty. It’s not for everybody but it is undeniably an effective way to build a loyal following.

3. Blog and video communities

Joe sort of mashes together Tumblr/Medium/Instagram and Pinterest but I think the connection to a blog or YouTube community is distinct, important, and powerful for this reason: this is your most actionable audience because this is where the emotional connection resides.

How many people read my blog every day? Who knows. Tweets do not equal page views. Page views do not equate to people actually reading a post. What is the open rate on an RSS feed? How many people print the thing out and send it around the office? You can only take a guess on how many people read your blog each day.

While actual daily connection might be difficult to calculate, I believe a blog or video community is your most actionable audience because that is the place you can grow real emotional connection and loyalty — and in business, loyalty trumps everything.

Just look at how many people are making millions off of personal YouTube channels. That is a powerful indication of reliable reach translating into money.

While there is certainly pressure on both blogs and video channels from Facebook (and to some extent LinkedIn), I still place high value in building your own community, your own conversation.

4. Podcast subscribers

If analytics on reach are poor for text and video, the situation is even worse for podcasts. But that’s the only reason your podcast audience is not right up there with blogs and video. The second ding against podcasting is lack of connection and feedback. No comments.

So, it’s difficult to know what is going on with a podcast audience. However … let me tell one little story that shows podcasts are on the rise.

Every year I go to the giant SXSW conference in Austin. As I walk down the bustling hallways, people often stop me to tell me how much they love my blog or my books. Except this year. Every person — without exception — stopped me and told me how much they loved my podcast, The Marketing Companion, which I create with my friend Tom Webster. I think that means something … even if I don’t have the data to go along with it!

5. Print subscribers

This was high on Joe’s list, lower on mine. If you are going to the trouble of printing a publication, certainly this is a reliable way to reach people, since they have likely asked for the subscription. The problem is, of course, it is difficult to opt-out (so is your list reliable?), there are no metrics on “open rate,” and once you spend the money on the print edition, it probably goes in the trash, often before it is read, with no opportunity reach people forever like a digital edition.

6. LinkedIn connections

Joe and I concur on the relative importance of LinkedIn. I don’t have a lot of data on the reach of LinkedIn posts, but the platform is certainly growing dramatically as a publishing tool. This is especially significant for new businesses or new websites with low site authority. Not reaching any readers? Why not tap into the millions on LinkedIn each day?

7. Streaming video

I am not usually an early adopter of technology — I’m far too busy to be testing things all the time, so I let others figure it out! But in the last 10 years there have been three platforms I recognized immediately as powerful — Twitter, Instagram … and Blab.

Haven’t heard of Blab? It’s a combination of Periscope, Google Hangouts on Air, and Twitter. I love it because it’s simple and fun. It’s like sitting around the dinner table conversing with friends.

How “sticky” is the streaming video audience? Too soon to tell, but I think this is a very encouraging development. In a year, Blab (or something like it) could be higher up on this list.

The other advantage of this technology is when you complete a discussion, you get a free audio and video file you can use as a podcast or YouTube video so the content you create through your discussion LASTS. Your content can potentially connect with new people for years.

8. Instagram

Instagram is HUGE, by some estimates the second-biggest social network behind Facebook. The advantage of Instagram is that it reaches a large demographic (because who doesn’t love photos?) and it is “unedited” by its parent company Facebook.

The problem is that the content is Twitter-like in that the impact is fleeting. You are also quite limited in your ability to link or promote, which of course is the strength of the site. Snapchat is even worse. Your content essentially disappears in moments. Powerful, growing … but difficult for many businesses.

9. Facebook

Joe and I are aligned in our view that Facebook is a difficult and unreliable way to connect with customers for MOST businesses.

Year by year, Facebook has made it more and more difficult to connect with followers on a consistent basis. Why? Simply put … Content Shock. There is just too much stuff, too much competition for attention, so the cost of Facebook connection has become astronomical for many companies.

A Facebook customer now could see nearly 2,000 stories in their news feed each day … far too much. So Facebook has no choice but to ratchet back on the reach, beginning with our businesses.

If you’re not high in the conversation hierarchy (a sports team, a university, a celebrity), it is going to take a tremendous investment in branding, content, and promotion to cut through and connect. And even then, Facebook is rewarding content pasted to their site, not links, which will have a profound impact on the classic inbound strategy.

Google+ fans may howl that neither Joe nor I included their favorite platform on our lists. I’m sure there are some wonderful case studies out there but should G+ be a priority for reliable reach with customers? Not in my estimation. SEO value? Yes. But that is not the focus of this post.

So that’s my take on it. The fun thing about the web is that there are so many exceptions and other opinions. What’s your take on achieving reliable reach with your audience?

Disclosure: Book link is an affiliate link. I was provided with a free copy of Content Inc.In the last two years, I have received compensation for my work on various projects from both Jay Baer and Joe Pulizzi.

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