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What Is Earned Media? [FAQs]

Remember when people used to learn about things like upcoming events, the latest trends, and cool new products pretty much exclusively from magazines, newspapers, and TV shows?

These publications and broadcasts are where brands used to get all their earned media.

What Is Earned Media?

Earned media is any publicity you haven't paid for that's owned and created by a third party. Earned media is now that customer tweet about "the best brunch EVER!" at a particular restaurant that got several retweets and favorites. It's also that horrible Yelp review. And it's that technology blogger's "Top 10 Apps of The Year" roundup that was viewed and shared by thousands. And it's still traditional media sources like magazines and newspapers, although those audiences have been steadily declining

What earned media isn't: Publicity you pay for or own. When a company pays a publication to write a glowing article about them, for example, that's not an example of paying for earned media -- that's just paid media. And when you write a blog post for your company blog about your latest product release, that's not earned media -- that's owned media. The distinctions are fairly clear between these camps, but they're important for any marketer to know.

With the advent of digital marketing and social media, earned media has evolved -- and departments other than public relations, like marketing and customer support, now share a chunk of the responsibility.

To make sure you're caught up on this "Web 2.0" version of an old-school term, let's dive into what earned media means today and how you can use it in your marketing.

What Differentiates Earned Media From Paid and Owned Media?

You may have heard of earned media as compared with paid media and owned media. Here's the difference between the three.

Paid media refers to the advertising your company pays for. This includes paid social media (like Facebook ads and promoted tweets), paid influencers, pay-per-click (PPC), retargeting, affiliates, and native advertising. 

The lines between earned and paid media can blur at times. Take viral videos, for example. A video doesn't just go viral by accident -- most of the time, there is a lot of careful planning involved to kick start the video's exposure with paid media, and at some point the paid media stops once earned media picks up.

Owned media means the channels your brand controls, such as your website, mobile site, blog, email, and social channels.

Lines often get blurred between earned and owned media as well. A blog post you write about original industry research, for example, could get picked up by other bloggers and media outlets. So while earned media isn't always a direct result of owned media, owned media can help you get more attention from third parties.

The key to understanding the difference between the three is this: Unlike paid and owned media, earned media isn't controlled by brands, which makes it less biased and more trusted. 

How Effective Is It?

In short, very. Today's consumers are influenced greatly by family, friends, and what they read and see online. People no longer share the good, the bad, and the ugly of brands exclusively at the water cooler -- they share it with everyone they're connected with online, which can include hundreds, thousands, or maybe even millions of people.

And a lot of those people listen and use those stories to make buying decisions. In fact, according to inPowered and Nielsen85% of consumers regularly or occasionally seek out trusted expert content (credible, third-party articles, and reviews) when considering a purchase. 

How Can I Get Earned Media?

Because earned media is owned by third parties, it may seem like it's out of your hands -- but that's actually not true. Marketers have the tools to influence some (not all) conversations about their brands. Here are three of the best ways to do just that:

1) Create content worth sharing.

Get people to want to share your content with one another by ... drum roll please ... creating awesome content worth sharing! Shareable content tends to be either really useful or really funny, and in the form of a list, infographic, or video. There's even a science to what makes content shareable. Also, make it easy for people to actually share your content by placing social share buttons where appropriate.

2) Invest plenty of time in interacting on social media.

Without social media, you and your potential customers are basically strangers. That's the really cool thing about social media: It brings you so much closer to consumers. To have an impact on them and to encourage them to talk about your brand, you should spend plenty of time and energy interacting with them individually online.

Set up filters in your social monitoring tools to help monitor conversations about your brand, and jump in when you can add something to the conversations. Ask your followers questions about their daily lives or about their experiences with your brand. Give your biggest fans a shout out from your account. Your willingness to show people you care enough about them, about their experience, and about your own business to respond to their posts can elicit positive emotions about your brand, and those positive emotions are shareworthy.

3) Make your customers really, really happy.

All customers don't automatically become brand promoters -- you have to put the work in to not only meet their expectations, but exceed them. When you go above and beyond for your customers, you become a lovable brand. And when customers love you, they are more likely to give referrals, share good things about you on social media, give testimonials, and remain loyal to your brand for a long time.

A 2014 study by researchers at University of California, Yale, and Facebook found that moods can spread virally through social media sites like Facebook -- and that positive vibes spread faster than negative ones. Create cool content, interact with people, and delight your customers -- and you can bet they'll spread the word.

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