Just a few years ago, content marketing was the cool new kid on the block. The term had only recently become a buzzword, and the companies that knew what it was -- let alone how to use it -- left competitors in the dust.

Today, content marketing is everywhere. Companies in every industry are committing to content marketing because they recognize that it's the best way to establish authority, increase brand visibility, and build a following of positive brand advocates.

That's all well and good, and as the leader of a content marketing agency (and a content consumer myself), I'm obviously happy to hear that. But honestly, great content itself isn't worth much if it doesn't reach your target audience.

Most companies see social media as a natural outlet for sharing their content. But I've seen too many marketers make the mistake of thinking that posting content amounts to a solid social media distribution strategy -- and content distribution requires a lot more thought and creativity than that.

Your Guide to Directly Accessing (and Growing) Your Audience on Social

If you've built a social following, you have direct access to your audience. But if you nurture that following, you can cut out the middleman of earned media and speak directly to your audience. That's not to say that earned media isn't important; it certainly has its place in your content marketing strategy.

But direct access to your audience is a gift, one that can be nurtured and multiplied if you get social right. The more dynamic and reciprocal your relationship with your followers, the more likely they'll be to read, share, and promote your content.

Here's how to build that rapport:

1. Develop -- and stick to -- your brand voice.

Establish brand guidelines, and tailor them to your social accounts. The tone of your writing, the words you choose, whether you're more conversational like me or more formal like other leaders -- these are all decisions you need to carefully make.

They reflect your personality and communicate authenticity, so find your voice and stick to it. If you exhibit a consistent presence, you'll find that your social followers engage as much for your wit and insights as they do for information on your products.

Someone with a consistent presence who automatically comes to mind for me is Seth Godin. He's an impressive social influencer who's written 18 insightful books, so it's safe to say this guy is an expert storyteller with a solid, consistent voice.

His audience trusts him, and they know what to expect when they engage with him, whether they're cracking open one of his books, reading his blog, or checking out his social feeds. Build similar trust with your followers by sticking to your own authentic voice.

2. Customize for different platforms.

Using a consistent voice isn't synonymous with posting the same content. You want your audience to recognize your brand -- no matter where they find your content -- but you've also got to customize your content for different platforms.

A one-size-fits-all approach to social media won't yield results. You have to consider what your followers expect from each experience. For example, Snapchat lends itself well to short, memorable bursts of visual content. Its Stories feature works well for how-tos and behind-the-scenes shares.

Facebook Live, on the other hand, gives followers front-row seats to events or a chance at a real-time chat with your executive team. Just because they're both video-based doesn't mean you can post the exact same content on them. Figure out which platforms your audience prefers, then provide high-quality content experiences tailored to each one.

3. Use hashtags to connect with influencers.

Campaigns and movements like #BlackLivesMatter, #YesAllWomen, and #BringBackOurGirls are pretty powerful examples of how hashtags bring attention to issues and expand message distribution. But hashtags can help you in other ways, too; in fact, they're great for helping you find people who care about your industry or ideas.

By clicking on and searching hashtags, you can identify influencers in your space who may be interested in (and willing to share) your content. This allows you to become part of the conversation, generate new content ideas, and reach new audiences. Most importantly, it gives your target audience another means of finding and following your work.

4. Measure the right metrics.

Believe me, I know how tempting it is to rely on metrics like number of likes or followers to gauge your success. Those numbers are easy to point to, and it's always nice when you start earning more attention on social -- but those vanity metrics aren't the only measure of success.

Much of the proof of your success lies in the feedback from your content community. Are other leaders and influencers reaching out and commenting on your content? What are people saying about your company? Have you established the right brand perception? These are far better indicators of your content's success.

Creating great, engaging content is important, but it's only the first step. You then need to get it in front of the people who matter most to you. Distribution plays a pivotal role in content marketing, and social is your best bet for direct access to your audience -- so make sure you're investing as much in it as you are in content creation.