Shopify’s Fadeke Adegbuyi: Find Existing Conversations to Supercharge Distribution

Content teams pour resources into creation, but spend comparatively little time on distribution. Fadeke Adegbuyi says that's a mistake.

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Content teams pour endless resources into creation. Strategists devote hours to keyword analysis. CMMs toil over research, writing, and redrafts. Designers elevate copy with artful illustration. But after publication, the process often grinds to a halt.

Perhaps a CMM shares a blog on LinkedIn. Maybe someone posts the link to a relevant subreddit. Possibly a strategist asks their team members to promote the piece to their networks. In many organizations, distribution is an afterthought, an ad hoc process bolted on after the ‘real’ work is over. 

“Content distribution is a problem facing all content marketers,” says Fadeke Adegbuyi, Lead Writer at Shopify and Doist alumni. It’s a challenge content teams must solve, because lackluster efforts undermine otherwise outstanding content marketing.

At Doist, Fadeke built a powerful distribution engine composed of diverse channels, including organic search, owned and earned newsletters, and social media. She saw how distribution made the difference between a smash hit and a disappointment.

I caught up with Fadeke to discuss how Doist succeeded in a brutally competitive niche and why marketers are better off joining existing conversations rather than starting their own.

Organization and productivity are fiercely competitive niches. How did Doist’s content help differentiate its products from competitors?

I worked at Doist for four years and co-led our content marketing efforts across our Ambition & Balance blog, Twist remote work guides, and Todoist productivity methods website.

We published one to three times per week. We focused on incredibly in-depth and longform writing about productivity, remote work, and asynchronous communication. With every article we wrote, our aim was to write the best article on the subject. That's how we approached it.

We wanted to go beyond surface-level information. We did extensive research and dove into things that would actually help the reader. We were also adamant that we wouldn’t write about anything that we didn’t personally do or hadn’t experimented with. This approach worked for search and we ranked for relevant keywords like “deep work,” “how to plan your day,” “organize your life,” and many more. 

Doist articles commonly run to 5,000 words. How did you promote such large assets to readers?

We were fortunate enough to have a few owned distribution channels. For example, I ran our social media strategy for three years. I created a social media strategy that tied into our content marketing strategy. They were very closely coupled together.

We had three brands and 10 social media channels under the Doist umbrella. For the most part, social distribution was organic. We experimented with ads briefly on Facebook, but they weren’t especially effective for content distribution.

Our pieces were occasionally featured on Hacker News, too. Hacker News is very resistant to marketers attempting to game the system! A few times, we tried to game Hacker News, but when we submitted a piece, it didn't work out. The funny thing is, when someone else linked the piece organically, it would quickly become our best performing post that month. But we learned that it wasn't a distribution channel we could control.

We had a syndication partnership with Fast Company. They would re-publish some of our pieces from the Ambition & Balance blog, either in full or truncated, and link back to the original driving some traffic to our site. 

We also experimented with hosting live workshops related to our content! For example, I wrote an in-depth guide on using Todoist to manage your team. My own manager, Brenna Loury, then hosted a workshop on the subject, referencing the piece in conversation and linking it for audience members. 

We also had our Ambition & Balance newsletter. It was a great way to build relationships with readers, distribute our content, and also resurface older content when it was relevant to the leading post of the week. We also cultivated a few relationships with newsletter writers who wrote curated newsletters related to productivity and remote work. We would send them our pieces (or sometimes they would simply organically pick them up) and distribute them through their channels.

How did you build relationships with newsletter authors?

I am an avid reader of newsletters. I'm subscribed to over 100 because I like to keep a beat on what people are writing about and including in their roundups. Newsletter writers would include our links organically. That gave me a hint that they were interested in our content.

After seeing something like that organically, I would often follow up with similar pieces and say, “Hey, thank you for including this piece. Your readers might find this other piece interesting.” We had to build each relationship.

You can do the same thing with backlink analysis. Using Ahrefs, you can check what sites are already linking to your blog posts and build a list of potential newsletters to reach out to.

It sounds like you looked for organic interest and doubled down. Why is it important to look for ongoing trends?

I’m always thinking about the topics that people are talking about. What are people interested in? It’s often better to find a way into existing conversations rather than kicking off a brand new conversation and hope people find you. Beyond keyword research, we can research a trend online and get an understanding of what people are talking about. We can work out how to insert ourselves into that conversation.

If distribution relies on tapping into existing conversations, does that put it at odds with category creation?

I see marketers trying to insert new terms and concepts into the lexicon every day. I find it interesting that category creation is like such a big topic when very few companies have been able to truly pull it off. Off the top of my head, I'm thinking of Drift (conversational marketing) and HubSpot (inbound marketing). 

Category creation success stories are from people who are already well-known. They already have a strong distribution system and have significance and gravitas in the industry. They have the sway to create a new category that a brand might lack. Even in a crowded category, it’s often more effective to contribute meaningfully to the conversation instead of starting your own.

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David is a former craft beer journalist turned writer and digital strategist. He now helps ambitious technology brands tell narrative-driven stories.

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