Jan 29, 2019

Earned Media: The Holy Grail of Content Marketing

In the digital landscape, your content marketing plan is your lifeline to help you move your business forward. And diversifying your media exposure is important because it extends your reach and deepens your brand by promoting you in different avenues.

Paid and owned media are important, of course, but earned media is essential. What is the difference between these and why is earned media so important? You must understand how each of these works because they are integrated and leverage each other in a number of ways.

What Is Paid Marketing?

Let’s start with paid marketing. It’s pretty much just like it sounds: marketing and advertising that you pay for! It includes exposure through paid advertising, pay per click, social media ads, paid content, paid influencers, retargeting, paid channel advertising, and more.

One of the benefits of this kind of marketing is that it is easily measurable so that you can most easily quantify the effectiveness of your campaign and the return on investment (ROI). It’s also an effective way to really focus on a specific niche or target market.

One of the drawbacks is that it ultimately is ‘rented’. Once your payment for the campaign, ad, or whatever you are using runs out, that paid marketing no longer exists. Your mileage out of these marketing dollars is a bit limited in that sense.

What Is Owned Marketing?

Owned marketing is media that you’ve built and that you own, whether it is your company or your brand. It includes things such as your website, mobile site, your social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and so on), blogs, podcasts, or other content.

Some of the benefits of this type of marketing are that it is low-cost and versatile. It also can go a long way to deepen relationships with your customers. It is a little harder to apply metrics to this type of marketing, however, making it more challenging to determine ROI.

What Is Earned Marketing?

Earned marketing is the promotion of your brand or company that you earn through the endorsement or sharing of others. Earned media includes exposure through things such as reviews, shares, mentions, replies, and so on from influencers and customers.

Why is this so important? In earned marketing, your customers or influencers become a distribution channel for your brand. That is key because the earned marketing is authentic, uniquely credible, relevant, and directed in a compelling way because of the implied endorsement from the customer or influencer. It’s a very effective way of increasing sales.

Think of it this way. If your owned marketing (say your website) is the intended destination for your target market (for conversion, purchase, lead generation, and so on), your earned marketing is the avenue to drive the traffic to your owned marketing.

The only real drawback with earned marketing is that you can’t control it. You could just as easily suffer negative brand promotion from dissatisfied customers through the same channels that give you positive reviews and shares from your happy customers. Similarly, it is hard to measure. You know when it is working, but it is hard to map out the process of success.

How Earned, Owned, and Paid Media Work Together

Certainly, the best marketing plans are comprehensive because they cover all of your bases. With earned, owned, and paid media, there is a bit of a complementary relationship. They work together to leverage each other. They overlap. For example, when you are successful with your paid media, you are able to increase the likelihood of shares and promotion via earned media marketing, simply because of the volume and the effectiveness of the campaign. When you successfully engage your influencers via earned media, you, in turn, increase the success of your owned media because you increase traffic and take advantage of SEO and brand awareness. Similarly, paid media can help with your owned media by driving traffic with SEO and PPC.

Why Is It So Important?

As the digital marketplace has evolved, we’ve benefitted by being able to access information more easily and more quickly than ever before. The problem, though, is with this access and convenience comes a boost in volume. And not all the information reaching your audience is necessarily important. Influencers and the fans of your brand can help by acting like a filter for your audience. In the eyes of your target market, they’ve already vetted you.

Additionally, earned media broadens your ability to reach a wider audience. You aren’t only contacting your customers directly but all of their friends, families, and followers as well.

How to Generate Earned Media

Because you rely so heavily on the decisions of others to drive your earned marketing strategy, take steps to influence those decisions. This takes a little extra work and extra planning, but the benefits are definitely worth it. You can have great content, but if you aren’t harnessing the power of sharing that content with others via an earned media marketing strategy, you are missing out.

So how do you generate this earned media?

To start, you need to establish relationships with those valuable influencers. In much the same way that you wouldn’t just throw a wide net over the whole marketplace in hopes of catching some potential customers or clients, you can’t just randomly target your influencers. You need a concerted, targeted effort based on data and research. You have to sell not only your product or service but also the synergy of your product or service with their interests or niche. Research potential influencers by following their social media accounts; note how they interact with followers, what sort of topics they cover, and what kind of content they create. Is it a natural match with what you offer?

Having an idea of how an influencer operates and how you can add value is a great way to start a dialogue and make your pitch.

Make sure that you participate in and are highly visible at trade shows. Having the opportunity for your audience and potential influencers see you in action is invaluable. Make the most of your space at the tradeshow, with compelling content and messaging that is distributed across a number of platforms. The key here is creating buzz at every opportunity, with an emphasis on storytelling across channels to capture your audience’s interest and imagination, doing enough to the point that they want to jump on your bandwagon as influencers. Focus on presentations and handouts that direct your audience back to your social media and website. Make a point of connecting with other attendees at the event via social media.

Create Content for Sharing

When you are developing content, whether video, audio, blogs or any other platform, make sure that you are not only creating content that supports your brand but that is also ‘share-worthy’. That means that your writing needs to be sharp, visuals need to be rich, and video needs to be polished. Use the old adage of ‘show, don’t tell’. Don’t just tell your influencers that your company is great. Show them it is with great content that is exciting and thought-provoking. The greatness of your brand is implied when your content is superior. You also need to supply value to your influencers in terms of the shareability. It doesn’t help their brand or their following to share sub-par content.

Keep an eye on who is talking about your brand and sharing your information across their social media channels. Connect directly with them to offer your thanks and start the conversation that will hopefully evolve into part of your earned media marketing strategy.

Extend these relationship-building skills in your everyday practice via social media. Identify potential influencers and make a list of them. Monitor their social media activity and be sure to reach out when they share your brand. This kind of personal connection helps to build the authenticity around an earned media marketing nod.

Solicit feedback from your list of influencers. What did they find most interesting about your content that they shared? Incorporate information from your advocates back into your own social media feeds and include it on your owned media (such as your blog or web content). Wherever possible, incorporate positive reviews and testimonials into your marketing collateral and make them part of the pitch for your sales teams and sales process. If your industry is award-driven, increase your chances of winning an award (which will give your brand an extra boost) by including your earned media as part of your award application process.

One word of caution when reproducing or sharing your earned media: ensure that you have the proper permissions, copyrights, and licenses in place or you may find yourself in legal hot water. Not only is that pricey, but you are also working against your goal of increasing earned media when you damage relationships.

When cultivating earned media, pay attention to details and to strive to add a personal element to your relationships with influencers, in addition to supplying a steady stream of meaningful content around your brand for your earned media contacts to share. As your earned media campaign gathers steam, you’ll begin to see marked results in your own company’s brand awareness, as well as boosting efforts of your other media marketing efforts.

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