What is Earned Media?

Earned media and paid media are two very different things. Yet, in today’s marketing world, the line between the two can get blurry rather quickly. By definition, earned media is “publicity gained through promotional efforts other than paid media advertising”. That means that earned media isn’t created by “owned media”, making it different than any attempt to brand a business. While earned media is good for branding, it’s created and published by a third party, which separates it from a traditional branding effort.

Things start to get fuzzier when you take into account that there are marketers in the world who help you “achieve” earned media. The question is raised, then, “Does paying for a marketer to help create earned media still result in earned media?”

Answering this question requires you to look at what earned media, before social media, looked like. Even just a decade or two ago, earned media was given exclusively by the press (magazines, TV shows, newspapers). By mentioning you, your brand, or your business, this type of “earned” media was typically given out of goodwill or in an effort to keep consumers current and informed.

It’s sometimes helpful to think of earned media today as publicity that isn’t paid for. Or, in other words, it’s the difference between an “organic” result and a paid advertisement, whether online or in print.

One of the biggest ways earned media has changed in the last several years is that now consumers play a big role themselves, having the power to tweet, post, hashtag, and mention your brand. These mentions, in order to fall under the category of “earned media”, need to be unpaid and, arguably, non-coerced. While you can hand money under the table for a rave review to be published under the guise of “earned media”, the reality is that savvy consumers can 100% tell the difference.

While there is a time and place for creating a variety of media types (earned and unearned, organic and owned), it’s important to keep in mind the power of real, earned media. Authentic earned media proves to yourself and your customers that you’re on the right track, that you’re taking the right actions and they’re paying off. Real earned media almost always (if not, always) pays off in terms of sales and revenue. In fact, according to most research available, more than half of consumers in the United States use what they hear from friends and family (i.e. “earned media”) when deciding what to buy and which new product or brand to try.

Earned media has always been and will continue to be powerful. Because of its influence, it has the power to make or break businesses. Of course, in order for it to be that effective, it needs to continue being earned, even when more and more opportunities present themselves to manipulate its authenticity.

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