By Joe Pulizzi published October 27, 2012

For Influential Content Marketing, Go Beyond Your Brand Fans

At most of the events I attend, I rarely get to see other people speak. Often, I’m shuttled in to do a keynote or workshop, and then quickly leave for the next event. Last week was different. I had the pleasure of seeing Scott Stratten (@unmarketing) speak at the 2012 DMA Annual Conference. Scott has it right: The first rule of speaking is to entertain… then you can try to cover all that educational stuff.

Based on his presentation alone, I bought his new book (and I rarely buy books) entitled The Book of Business Awesome. Frankly, I probably would have purchased the book based on the title alone (great title!).

Connecting with the “Third Circle”

In the book (which is more of a customer service book than a content marketing book), Stratten wrote a chapter that discusses the “Three Circles of Content Sharing.”

  • The First Circle: These are the connections that are closest to us — and the strongest. These are people who share our content simply because they know and trust us. You can think of these people as our “brand fans”.
  • The Second Circle: These are the friends of those in your first circle. They see our content on a regular basis because our first circle connections share it.
  • The Third Circle: These are the connections of your second circle — ultimately the most valuable if you are seeking maximum content reach.

According to the third circle theory, there are some rules to understand and live by:

  • Your first circle 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 is where most brands fall down with their content. Just one or two bad impressions of your content from those in your first circle, and you’ll lose them forever. This means that your content must be truly great to keep them interested. The second circle will initially look at your content solely based on their connection 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 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, they most likely have no prior connection to your brand in any way. If the third circle shares your content, they will do it solely because it is amazing information that they feel is worthy of being shared.

Three keys to making it to the third circle

  1. Focus on slow and steady progress: The big content hit (like Dollar Shave Club — see below) is extraordinarily rare. Normally, viral content hits happen after a slow, continuous stream of awesome content. For example, my Coca-Cola Content 2020 blog post has been seen by over 100,000 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 also published.
  2. Capture (and captivate) your first circle: So many brands worry about their followers on social networks like 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 of the blog. At a recent conference, DJ Waldow and I were discussing how many misconceptions exist about email and social sharing. Here’s the point: Social sharing often starts and ends with email. So first get them to sign up to your offer, and then continuously send them the best information for your niche on the planet.
  3. 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 that your content is epic, mind-altering content. I honestly 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.

Looking for more guidance influencer marketing? Download our toolkit, The Complete Guide to Influencer Marketing: Strategies, Templates & Tools, which walks you through a simple 10-step process and provides three customizable templates. 

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi is the Founder of Content Marketing Institute, a UBM company, the leading education and training organization for content marketing, which includes the largest in-person content marketing event in the world, Content Marketing World. Joe is the winner of the 2014 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Content Council. Joe’s the author of five books, including his latest, Killing Marketing. His third book, Epic Content Marketing was named one of “Five Must Read Business Books of 2013” by Fortune Magazine. If you ever see Joe in person, he’ll be wearing orange. Follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

Other posts by Joe Pulizzi

  • Chris Adams


    This article provides great insight on three circles of content marketing. Most of the times we
    are so much focused on first and second circles of sharing that we end of setting up KPIs around those two circles and completely ignore the third circle. This article should help all the folks just focusing on first and second circles of sharing. Any other tips on reaching the third circle? That would help us a lot.

    Thank you

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Chris…there are so many little things. Being authentic…being an active community member in influencer groups…public speaking…but really, it all comes down to epic content on a consistent basis. That’s the best way I know how.

      • Chris Adams

        Thank you

        • Therese Pope

          Yes, Joe!! Consistency is key! You need to provide engaging content on a regular basis. It’s all about keeping your circles interested and informed so they will pass along your content to others in their circles.

      • Nisha Salim

        Public speaking! 🙁

    • Therese Pope

      As Joe mentions (and I mentioned in my comment), it comes down to having a clear, focused message. Your content needs to solve your target audience’s problems. don’t talk at your circles — don’t sound preachy or go way over their heads with irrelevant content. Do your market research and study your circles – who are the followers of your followers? What makes them tick, likes, dislikes, etc.? Be very strategic and write content that will help, inform, educate, and entertain your circles. Another important tip — be consistent with your content and keep it flowing. The more engaging content you provide to your circles/audiences, the more you will capture their interest and keep them coming back for more and will share more with their followers/contacts. Hope that helps.

  • Therese Pope

    As a copywriter, this point made in the article is VERY important; “Why should your customers and prospects engage in your content? Because it solves their pain points in some way.” In order to break through to those circles, especially the third circle, you need to have a clear, concise message. As mentioned, “mediocre” content just won’t cut it anymore, especially on social media channels. You can blast and tweet all you want, but if your message/content is confusing and isn’t concise and doesn’t speak directly to your targeted audiences (circles), then you have big problems. That’s where a good copywriter can really help out businesses who struggle with their messaging and content. 🙂