What Is Earned Media? A How-To Guide

You probably know that a good digital marketing strategy should include paid, owned, and earned media if it’s going to be really effective. But what do those terms really mean? And how can you make the most of each one?

In this piece, we’re going to focus on that final one—earned media—but before we dive in, let’s define each term and explain how those three elements work together.

Paid, owned, and earned media: What do they mean?

Paid media is fairly straightforward, right? It means media (or advertising) that you pay for—social ads, print advertising, paid partnerships, PPC campaigns, etc.

Owned media consists of the channels that your brand controls, like your brand’s social profiles, your website, your blog, etc.

The thing with both paid and owned media is that your brand is the one calling the shots.

You decide how much to spend on your social ads, for example, and you decide how to target them.

You create blog posts and share them across your social channels. You decide what information to share on your website.

With earned media, however, your brand isn’t in charge. Earned media is just that: earned. It’s what third parties, like media outlets, influencers, and your fans say about your brand—not because they’re paid to, but because they are so inspired or interested by it that they want to.

Now, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if your brand offers a quality product or service, and engages regularly with fans and other brands online, earned media will simply appear.

That’s possible—but unlikely. Earning that coverage takes work, and sometimes, a lot more work than your paid and owned coverage.

But here’s the good news.

There’s a lot you can do to boost your earned media and make the most of whatever earned media you attract.

Here’s our complete How-to Guide for Earned Media.

But first: why does earned media matter?

As we all know, social media changed everything when it came to advertising.

Instead of picture-perfect models in idyllic settings, consumers started wanting to see real people who really use the products and services brands are selling.

This is one of the hallmarks of the connected consumer. While they’re extremely idealistic when it comes to the brands they engage (they expect not only high-quality products and services but also high levels of authenticity), they’re also highly discriminating. They can spot an advertising plug from a mile away—and chances are, they’ll scroll right on past it.

While paid and owned media are still important pieces of your marketing strategy, earned media is essential because it doesn’t come from your brand—and connected consumers are therefore more likely to trust it.

There’s an SEO value to earned media, too. Since Google rewards fresh content, earned media from third parties—in other words, fresh content about your brand in the form of articles, tweets, reviews, etc.—can boost your “freshness” score and push your brand up higher in search rankings.

Creating a solid earned media strategy

Like any marketing effort, planning out a defined strategy will help you achieve your goals in a much more efficient and measurable manner.

Here’s what to do.

1. Define your goals. Are you trying to generate more brand awareness in general? Push a particular product or service? Reach a new target demographic?

2. Figure out who you’re targeting. If your goal is to reach a new demographic, then this step is largely done. However, if your goal is different, you’ll need to figure out who you want to reach.

3. Research the content that is performing the best with your target audience. You want to really spend some time learning what kind of content your audience is consuming. Tools like BuzzSumo can help with this, although some simple Google searching can work as well.

4. Research the outlets and influencers you want to connect with. Remember, if you’re paying someone to write about your brand, it’s not earned media. Instead, you want to find publications, review sites, influencers, and fans who would be likely to partner with you because they actually like your brand—perhaps they align with your brand values or have a need for your company’s expertise.

5. Reach out to those outlets and influencers with pitches. When you know what outlets and influencers you want to target, you can craft pitches that are designed specifically for them. Specificity is important—you don’t want to pitch a science and tech magazine a profile story on your CEO.

6. Share your earned media on your own social channels. Once you’ve achieved that earned media coverage, make sure you capitalize on it by sharing it across your social channels, with employees, investors, and others who have a stake in your business.

Ways to generate more earned media

There are several ways you can start generating more earned media.

Identify brand ambassadors on your social channels, and up your engagement with them

Brand ambassadors are simply fans who genuinely love your brand—and who, most importantly, are vocal about that online.

Facebook fans who regularly like and share your posts with their own audiences, Twitter followers who retweet you, bloggers who’ve mentioned your products in their posts—these are all potential brand ambassadors.

To help cultivate these fans, make sure you engage with them regularly. Thank them for their support. Find out if they have a blog or website of their own. Do what you can to show your appreciation for them, whether that means sending them a coupon, or sharing one of their own posts on your brand’s social channel.

Get in touch with journalists

Reporters and journalists always need quotes from industry experts. Search for reporters who cover topics that your brand’s leadership can speak to, and pitch them a story idea. Another good tool is HARO, or Help a Reporter—this site connects sources with journalists who need their expertise.

Cultivate influencers

Influencer marketing requires ongoing efforts, as effective influencer campaigns have to be built around a mutually beneficial relationship with your brand.

If you’re reaching out to someone you’ve never contacted before, make sure to do your research beforehand. Figure out what kind of content they typically produce, what their followers respond to, and what topics are important to them. Then, send them a pitch that reflects that knowledge and familiarity. The easier it is for them to say yes to a partnership without having to make lots of changes, the better.

And don’t forget to cultivate your existing influencer relationships, as well. Show your appreciation for influencers whom you’ve partnered with in the past by actively engaging with their content and sharing it with your audience when appropriate. The best way to think, when it comes to influencer marketing, is long-term.

Participate in conferences and industry trade shows

While so much of marketing happens online these days, it’s important not to neglect offline opportunities to network.

Face-to-face meetings with fellow brands, as well as bloggers, journalists, and industry experts who attend conferences and trade shows, can be highly effective in securing earned media. This is especially true because so many events now encourage real-time social media coverage from attendees, creating unique hashtags for participants to use on all their posts.

It’s the perfect opportunity to earn a few social media mentions from colleagues, and give a few to brands you admire, as well.

Create events and experiences for your fans

Experiential marketing—or marketing campaigns that are driven by an event, gathering, or experience shared by customers and a brand—is an incredibly effective way to connect with your audience and boost your earned media.

According to research by EventTrack, 65 percent of consumers say experiential marketing helps them have a better understanding of a product or a service, while 70 percent of consumers say they become regular customers after attending an experiential marketing event.

What’s more, great branded events often earn coverage by traditional media outlets, like newspapers and magazines, as well as online outlets like blogs and localized websites (like Eater or Thrillist).

You can also encourage attendees to share posts and images of your event with their own social networks by creating an event-specific hashtag, and making sure your social media manager retweets, likes, and shares attendee posts.

Getting the most mileage out of your earned media

Don’t forget that earned media is something you can reuse and repurpose throughout your owned media channels.

Create a blog post roundup of some of the best tweets or Instagram posts about your recent event.

Include fan testimonials in your next webinar.

Distribute influencer quotes about your product to review sites.

There are plenty of possibilities.

Want to learn more about upping your earned media game? Read “How We Earned Dippin’ Dots More Coverage Than a Super Bowl Ad…Without Spending a Dime on Paid Advertising.”


She is the founder & CEO of Zen Media. She has been named the “Zen Master of Marketing” by Entrepreneur Magazine and the “Millennial Master of the Universe” by FastCompany.com. Forbes, Businessweek, and Inc have all recognized her as one of the Top 30 under 30 entrepreneurs in the field of marketing. Shama has built a global audience and is known for helping brands succeed in the digital age. She is a bestselling author, an international keynote speaker, and has been named one of LinkedIn’s Top 10 Voices in Marketing for four years in a row.



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