With digital marketing, you have the power to plan, execute, and measure a campaign’s success at every step, validating your return on investment (ROI) and the effectiveness and value of marketing efforts.
But when it comes to earned media, determining value is a less exact science. Earned media relies on the less predictable forces of third-party media outlets, journalists/influencers and the overall news cycle to earn coverage, gain impressions and boost awareness of your brand or product. Still, don’t let the lack of control fool you – earned media can deliver a massive impact from an ROI perspective if you know how to calculate it.
What Is Earned Media?
Earned media is published content in third-party media outlets featuring your brand which did not require direct paid placement. While it offers less control than other marketing tactics, earned media delivers something no other marketing tactic can provide: credibility. To consumers, an endorsement from a third-party media outlet is a lot more credible and authentic than a paid advertisement or even “owned media” channels like social platforms or websites.
Earned media cannot be “bought,” it can only be earned through your actions or those of a public relations agency. It’s also not content that you create – earned media requires carefully positioning your brand or product as part of a larger public news angle, such as a trend or activity.
In the traditional sense, earned media is a news segment or written article about a brand or a consumer product. But in today’s marketing landscape where people consume media differently, earned media can also be a digitally hosted article, social media, video content, podcast or a blog post.
Some examples of earned media include:
- Coverage on TV news
- News, magazine and blog articles
- Podcast interviews and YouTube content
- Social media mentions or shares
- Influencer posts and stories
What earned media doesn’t include is publicity you pay for or promote on your owned channels. For example, if you pay a publication to write an article about you, that’s not earned media – it’s paid or sponsored content. Similarly, if you write an article about your newest product and publish it in your own branded publication, that’s not an earned placement – it’s owned media.
The most successful brands utilize an integrated marketing approach, which incorporates marketing tactics across paid, earned, shared, and owned media channels. Here’s how they look working together in the PESO model:
What Is Earned Media Value?
Earned media value (EMV) is a metric that measures the monetary value of earned media content on third-party sites. It essentially equates a dollar amount to the engagement you’ve “gained” through these channels, revealing what you would have paid if you were to invest in the same engagement through owned or paid channels.
How Is Earned Media Value Calculated?
There’s no standard method for calculating EMV. It’s not a standalone metric but one of many that are interpreted in context to reach conclusions and gain insights.
That said, the standard earned media value formula is:
(Impressions) * (Cost per 1,000 Impressions (CPM)) * (Adjustment Factor)
CPM is the only variable that has a stable metric, which is used in pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. Adjustment factor can be ambiguous, but it’s used to adjust the value for accuracy.
When you’re calculating EMV, it’s important to look at all the metrics and KPIs comprehensively. Consider the number of impressions, engagement metrics, and how posts affect media mentions on various media channels. Social listening platforms also help to identify the customer attitude and sentiment online.
Why Is Earned Media Value So Important?
Tracking earned media value is mission-critical for your brand. These are some of the key benefits:
No matter how much great content you put out, there will still be a limit on how much trust it brings from the public. Consumers inherently know that you have an interest in presenting your brand or products in a positive light, and they understand there’s an inherent bias with owned channels and paid campaigns. Branded content and campaigns also come across as less genuine and more polished and produced – they lack credibility.
This is where earned media has an edge. Because it comes from third parties that lack any affiliation with the brand, earned media is seen as an authentic, trustworthy representation of your brand. Media outlets represent the interests of the public first and foremost – not brands. For this reason, when a media outlet shares a story featuring a brand or product, it’s considered genuine and trustworthy to the public. Consumers will ‘fast-forward’ through commercial advertisements and ‘exit’ digital advertisements, but they’ll pay attention to TV news segments or online news articles, even if these prominently feature brands. Why? Authenticity.
Paid and owned channels offer a lot of reach within your existing customer base, but the reach is limited with new audiences. If someone doesn’t follow your brand or tune into the exact media where you advertise, you can’t always rely on paid and owned channels to get in front of potential new customers.
Earned media offers key opportunities to connect with your target audiences in new engaging ways. More importantly, earned media coverage is sharable content, which gets people talking, expanding the audience even further. While paid and owned channels are effective in promoting a direct call-to-action or driving sales, earned media is best at driving awareness.
Paid campaigns can be expensive and they need to be highly targeted to really move the needle and be effective. If you’re a small brand, you may not have the resources to compete with enterprise businesses that have massive advertising budgets. On some channels, the potential return may not even be worth the investment to launch a paid media campaign.
If driving awareness for a brand or product is the goal, earned media is a cost-effective marketing option that offers high returns. The media placements themselves don’t cost anything – the budget you allocate to earned media is spent on creating compelling ways to make your product or brand relevant and newsworthy to media outlets and influencers, and continually looking for new opportunities. It’s not “free advertising” but earned media is a lot less costly than most paid media campaigns, if general awareness is the primary objective.
Sticking with one marketing channel, even a lucrative one, is a huge risk. Simple changes to the algorithm on a social media channel like TikTok or Facebook can derail your previously high-performing campaign, not to mention the time lost as you regain your footing.
Having earned media in your marketing mix gives you more agility as the market shifts. If social media platforms change, you have other options to rely on to keep hitting your goals while you experiment on different channels.
How Do You Earn Media?
For some brands, earned media can seem like a scary proposition since they perceive the brand to have little influence on how it’s represented by a third-party outlet. That’s not entirely true. While you don’t have 100 percent control over earned media like you do with paid campaigns or owned media, you can help steer the conversation through strategic communications.
Make Your Brand or Product Newsworthy
As explained earlier, third party media outlets represent the public. They are interested in publishing stories and content that reflect what is already happening in the public. The best way to earn media placements is to tie your brand or product to existing news cycles or larger consumer trends. In fact, sharing a blatantly commercial pitch with a media outlet is a guaranteed way to not secure an earned media placement.
Your brand or product exists to serve a need, so focusing on engaging ways to feature your brand or product as the solution to a public problem or as forerunner of an upcoming trend is a better strategy for piquing the interest of third-party media and securing placements that aren’t overly commercial.
Create Content Worth Sharing
Sounds simple, right? It’s also true. Shareable web and social media content is more likely to be reposted and promoted organically among third-party influencers, your customers and their friends and family.
Most shareable content is either funny or informative and useful, though some brands can get away with controversial posts to gain traction. Usually, this content is in easy-to-digest formats like videos or listicles. Ultimately, shareable content needs to provide value to readers.
Nurture Customer Advocacy and Loyalty
Customers rarely become advocates the first time they interact with a brand or even after their first purchase. They have to be wowed by having their expectations exceeded and receiving the most positive experience possible, over and over again.
When a brand goes above and beyond with extra effort, customers notice. In return, they are more likely to talk about the brand’s products or services on social media, leave positive reviews, give referrals, and share testimonials. This also fosters brand loyalty, which generates long-term returns.
Boost Your Social Media Presence
No matter the company or industry, customers expect their favorite brands to have a social media presence. They want to interact with and feel closer to your brand, and that requires time and effort on your part.
You have other responsibilities besides social media, of course. Good news – you can maximize the time you spend with customers on social by utilizing social monitoring tools that keep an eye on conversations about your brand. Then, when needed, you can step in to provide information to customers.
Another great way to connect with customers on social is by engaging with them in posts or comments. Ask open-ended questions, share exciting news, and respond to comments to show customers that you’re interested in what they have to share.
Reach Out to Industry Publications
In nearly every industry, news coverage offers substantial earned media value. Consider relevant local or industry-specific media outlets that may be interested in your story for their audiences, no matter how niche your industry may be. Create a list of these outlets and their editors, and send them pitches for news releases, events, articles and other newsworthy content.
PR campaign examples may include product launches, event promotion, social responsibility campaigns, and even crisis management.
Get Active in Forums and Groups
Facebook and LinkedIn groups, Reddit forums, and platforms like Quora offer earned media opportunities. Join groups and forums that are relevant to your business or industry, then use the opportunity to share insights or information on discussions that relate to your brand.
For example, if you’re a dog behaviorist, join a dog training group and offer your expertise to help the members through advice and tips. This isn’t about directly promoting yourself or your brand but finding opportunities to build your credibility and nurture trust. You’re establishing yourself as a subject matter expert (SME) and by extension – your brand as well.
Combine Earned Media with Paid Media
As valuable as earned media is, it’s only one component of a robust marketing program. Earned media can’t support a marketing strategy on its own, so combining a strategic mix of earned media and paid media efforts results in the widest reach and best return on your investment.
Track Earned Media Value to Measure Your Success
With its inherent authenticity, earned media can generate incredible value for your brand. Though it’s not as straightforward to measure as paid media, you can monitor your performance with EMV to get a holistic picture of your brand’s standing and marketing efforts.