Most businesses understand that publishing content is a smart strategy to generate leads, nurture existing customers, and ultimately earn customer loyalty.

But even though they get that producing content is helpful, many don't fully understand the implications of the opportunity it presents.

In his book The Content Trap, Harvard professor Bharat Anand helped put the opportunity in context:

After all, everyone today--a business person, an educator, a politician, a student, an artist, an entrepreneur--can reach and interact with others directly. In other words, everyone is a media company today.

Gary Vaynerchuk took the notion a step further in a 2013 blog post, noting that not only is embracing the role of media company important, it is irresponsible not to do so:

Whether you like it or not, every person is now a media company. The tools are easy, free, and everywhere. More importantly, producing content is now the baseline for all brands and companies. It literally doesn't matter what business you're in, what industry you operate in, if you're not producing content, you basically don't exist.

The promise of content marketing is backed by lots of great data to prove its benefits:

Realizing these kinds of results doesn't happen simply because you hit "Publish." The abundance of content your customers have to choose from means that what you produce has to work harder to stand out.

You need a clear strategy that enables your content to move from being invisible to being something your customers don't want to live without.

The good news is that Anand's research revealed that the key to being effective with content boils down to one thing: connections. He notes:

Connections ... are at the heart of what shapes any digitally touched business today and will for the foreseeable future. Being able to recognize, leverage, and manage connections separates companies that succeed from those that fail.

That focus on connections breaks down into three distinct areas.

1. Connections between users

Your content needs to allow for both communication and sharing. As you think about your strategy, and how to earn the benefits of the media you produce, invest time thinking about how you can engineer content that enables people to interact and engage with others.

Facebook is the behemoth it is because it's all about fostering and fueling connections among people using the platform.

The connections that exist between people are what ignite the spark that makes your content perform.

2. Connections between products

When thinking of your products and services, it can be easy to consider them in a vacuum. But when it comes to your customers and how they think and view what you produce, rarely are they considering things as a one-off.

So what product is the jelly to your peanut butter? Are there products that are ideal complements, natural precursors, or follow-ons to what you offer?

If so, there is great opportunity for you to create content that expands your value by addressing these connections in a way that is meaningful for your customers.

Once Apple started to think about music and apps as product connections that supported greater use of iPods and iPhones, it adjusted its strategy to ensure that accessing these important complements was as easy as possible.

3. Connections across an organization's activities

Oftentimes, businesses will view different parts of their business as silos. They think, "This is what we do online" and "This is what we do offline."

To effectively compete and stand out, you have to develop your strategy with an integrated big-picture view of what you're able to accomplish, so you can make the essential choices that will give you a competitive advantage.

When Netflix evolved into a streaming business, its choice to produce original content and release entire seasons at one time provided a very attractive offering for its user base. As its subscriber count grew, so did its negotiating power to acquire content from third parties.

By integrating and leveraging its choices with regard to content, it became a powerful force. You can too.

You are a media company. The sooner you embrace that fact, the sooner you can start identifying the essential connections that will enable you to become an indispensable part of your customers' world.