The Case For Thinking Less Strategically About Social Media: The 3Rs Of Sharing Content Online

Back in my day…

In true internet grandma-style, let me settle into my digital rocking chair, straighten my lap blanket, and begin with a good ol’ “back in my day.”

When I started creating content online, there weren’t any proven strategies for promoting your content. No one was talking about building an email list or a social media audience.

It wasn’t that those things weren’t happening—they were.

It’s just that “strategy” didn’t consume us.

Instead, the way our content spread and our audiences grew was largely through “link love.” It was common practice to build your blog post off of 6 other great posts you read that week (or that day) and link to each of them.

We weren’t stingy with readers or clicks. We knew there was plenty to go around.

Today, the environment online is very, very different.

Ba hum bug.

We’ve gotten stingy.

Instead of seeing what we create online as one of many possible stops on a person’s virtual road trip, we imagine all roads leading to our latest blog post, free course, podcast episode, or video.

We don’t offer the traveler a bite to eat and a full tank of gas and then send them on their way with suggestions of where they might stop next. We try to turn our online home into a veritable Hotel California.

This has turned what were vibrant social boulevards into desolate highways littered with billboards begging you to click the “link in bio.”

And it’s all happened in the name of results.

Are you seeing results?

We’re so desperate to hold onto the attention that comes our way that we can’t imagine willingly directing visitors to another website from our own.

Similarly, we have a hard time conceiving of social media platforms as anything more than a channel for our promotional content.

Of course, we have countless more tools for building audiences and sharing ideas than we did 10 years ago.

But I think there’s a lot to learn from the early days of online networking and content marketing. And there’s a lot that can be forgotten about “how things are done” that we’ve picked up in recent years.

Why promoting your content doesn’t (often) work the way you think it should

The main social media platform I frequent these days is Instagram. Hopefully, you also have a point of reference here—and if you don’t, hang tight because I’ll explain.

Imagine how the average small business owner uses their Instagram account to market their business. Today, it’s probably some mixture of artfully posed photos, quotes, and announcements about new podcast episodes, videos, or blog posts.

It probably has a fairly predictable aesthetic and signals all sorts of things about who they are and why you might want to follow them.

It’s nice. And that’s fine.

Now, imagine some of the massively popular non-celebrity accounts on Instagram: The Nap Ministry, Anti-Racism Daily, Whitney Goodman, Sarah Jane Case, Achieve Fitness, etc…

These accounts are rich. They’re thick with engaging content. They innovate on the constraints of the medium. They are wildly inspiring to me.

You never get the feeling that they’re saving their best stuff for their website or email subscribers.

They’ve earned the attention they receive precisely by creating content that people actually want to appear in their feeds.

Promotional content just can’t hold a candle to that.

Strategically signaling your success with photo shoots or fabulous vacation pics doesn’t lend much reason to follow you.

Learn from my mistakes

I’m not sharing this from a position of someone who has always had this figured out, quietly observing while so many others are led astray.

Nope. I have crashed and burned on social media. I’ve filled my accounts with the digital equivalent of a status handbag. I’ve tried to reroute every ounce of attention that came my way back to my website.

And you know what? It didn’t work. Not really.

It was frustrating for me and off-putting to others.

Frankly, I burned out on this “strategy.” Eventually, I got back to my roots.

What’s worked for me is ignoring the “best practices” that got invented in the last 5 years and, instead, being as generous as I can with how I share my ideas and stories.

That means that I rarely promote my content today. Instead, I repurpose and redistribute my ideas to fit the form best-suited to wherever I’m sharing.

The 3Rs Sharing Content Online

So how do I approach sharing the content I create today? Simple:

  1. Respect the medium
  2. Respect the audience
  3. Redistribute the idea

Instead of trying to promote my content or drive traffic to my website, what works for me today is redistributing my ideas across different kinds of media and geared for different kinds of audiences.

In this way, I can create valuable pieces of content for each place my brand shows up online. Those pieces of content—unlike a promotional post—end up getting shared and engaged with. While any individual piece of content might not do much to get someone to listen to my podcast or sign up for my newsletter, the accumulation of interest in my content will move people to give it a try.

So let’s dig into the 3Rs and how you can make it work for you.

1. Respect the medium

Each content distribution channel (i.e. your blog, your Instagram feed, your podcast, etc) is suited for a different content medium (i.e. essays or articles, images, audio, etc).

In order to get the most from the distribution channels we use, we need to make sure that what we’re sharing on those channels is in the medium best-suited for that channel. And we likely need to make adjustments to our content in order for it to work in that medium.

If I want to share the same content I put in my podcast on Instagram, I need to turn it into visual communication. If I want to share an article I wrote as a podcast episode, I need to turn it into a script that works for audio delivery.

It’s never as simple as copying and pasting.

But it doesn’t have to be difficult. Simply thinking about what kind of content you engage with on a particular channel will help you form guidelines for how to repurpose your content in that medium.

It’s also helpful to keep in mind that how a medium is used or engaged with changes over time. New trends pop up. Creators pioneer fresh formats.

I don’t think it’s necessary to constantly adjust what you share to match the latest trend. But it’s worth keeping an eye out for what intrigues you and give it a try.

Finally, respecting the medium also means being discerning about where you show up and what forms you’re creating in. I don’t have the time to rework every podcast episode into a YouTube video or LinkedIn article. So I don’t generally show up on those platforms.

2. Respect the audience

Obviously, you should be respectful. But that’s not really what I mean here!

In this case, “respecting the audience” means really taking into account who you’re talking to depending on how you’re distributing your content.

When you distribute content on a podcast, you’re overwhelmingly talking to an audience who is familiar enough with what you have to say that they’re willing to spend 30+ minutes with you.

When you distribute content on social media, there’s a very good chance that a significant portion of the people who come across that content have very little point of reference for who you are and what you’re about.

Depending on what kind of audience I’m creating a piece of content for (super familiar, kind of familiar, total stranger), I’ll make different choices in how I present that content. I might choose a different way to lead into an idea, explain a concept more thoroughly, or use different examples.

When you respect the audience for your content, you consider who they are and what they know right now depending on what channel they’re coming across your content in.

I’m most comfortable when I’m preaching to the choir. So one of my objectives is to take that natural inclination and challenge myself to rework an idea to appeal to “non-believers.”

One version can go on a platform where my people are, and the other can go on a platform where I’m more likely to encounter new-to-me folks—that’s key to building an audience.

3. Redistribute the idea

Redistributing your idea means actually sharing it across multiple distribution channels.

I’d say that repurposing content covers the first 2 Rs of sharing content. Which is awesome in & of itself! And redistributing takes repurposed content and actually publishes it in new places. Maybe that seems obvious—but it’s a step people are really reticent to take.

This is different from promoting the content.

When I redistribute an idea, my goal isn’t to get someone to go to a different app or website.

My goal is to get them to engage with a useful or insightful piece of content where they already are.

Instead of trying to steal their attention away from what they’re doing, I try to earn & hold their attention where it’s already at. That’s a much easier (and rewarding) prospect.

Yes, that might mean that I put the best idea from my podcast episode into a fresh piece of content for Instagram instead of just announcing the new episode. Or, it might mean that I create a Twitter thread with the best bits of a lengthy article instead of just tweeting out the link.

When I redistribute content, my ultimate goal is to create a remarkable, standalone piece of content for each channel I distribute it in.

Next Steps

Consider the last piece of quality content you created. It might have been a podcast episode, a great social media post, a video, or an article.

Most likely, you promoted that piece of content and got some eyeballs on it.

What would it look like to take that same idea and repurpose it into a new medium, for a different audience? Where else could you redistribute that idea?

Fight the urge to say “link in bio” or “check out the article for more.” Try to create something that stands on its own. Reimagine the idea in a way that can be satisfying on its own (even if the original was more in-depth or expansive).

And then give it a try!

See what happens when you share your best ideas instead of promoting them.

Cover of What Works book by Tara McMullin

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