I’ve heard “earned media” being discussed more than ever recently, with the term being bandied around as some sort of panacea to all failed digital campaigns, yet it seems many of the people talking about it still haven’t grasped what it actually is or how to attain it. I felt it was about time to give this buzzword some context and explain the role it can play in generating success.
Earned media is the exposure you achieve as a result of the value inherent in your message. It comes as a result of a high volume of mentions and actions about your content, or as a result of mentions or actions from an “influential” person, or group of influential people. These influential people could be journalists, bloggers, people with a high number of active and relevant followers online, a celebrity or similar. The high volume of mentions or actions, however, will only come as a by-product of either an already large and active audience (think of a brand or high-profile person’s Twitter account with a highly active following that gets re-tweeted to the masses) or as a result of intelligent targeting and paid media, involving seeding the message in the right channels, at the right time, and to the right people (think a sponsored Tweet, or a boosted Facebook post). Although there are exceptional cases where earned media is achieved gradually over a long period of time, it is usually only achieved through one, or a combination, of the above activities. It will never occur as a result of simply publishing a message online and expecting that the internet will do the rest for you. This may sound obvious to some, but I can assure you that I still regularly hear “we need earned media, there’s no budget”. Good luck with that.
Have a think about the last big successful campaign or piece of brand content that inspired you to take action. What was it? What action did you take and why? Was the content supported somewhere else in another channel? Why did it end up on your radar? Odds are, at some point it was a sponsored post, amplified by an influential person, or both. Even if it wasn’t, then you can guarantee the content you’re looking at cost a significant amount to produce, or at the very least is something so strikingly unique and interesting, fun or controversial, that this factor alone has led to its popularity. Moreover, it still most likely originated in a place with a large, already engaged following, or at some point got shared by an “influencer” to help it reach a tipping point of critical mass.
Earned media is certainly achievable, and the tactics involved in helping a piece of content reach a larger audience are fairly widely understood now. It still doesn’t mean “free” though, so let’s all help put that conversation behind us and get on with producing quality work that brings a bit of value to people’s lives. If the value is there, the exposure will come, but you’re most likely going to have to give it a little push in the right direction to begin with. So, unless you’re happy to play the long-game, you’re still going to need that marketing budget!
Remember: that salary you’re “earning” is money you’re paid because you bring value and you’re doing something to justify it. You’ve provided a reason for someone to pay you; you’re not getting it for free. The same is true for earned media: it’s not free but any expenditure must be justified by the end value it adds to the business. Now go and edit that campaign plan of yours and set yourself up for success. But first, grab yourself a coffee - you’ve earned it.
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