8 Killer Tips for More, Better, Earned Media

Buzzword alert: Earned media is the attention and coverage your brand gets that fulfills two requirements: 1) you didn’t pay for it (that’s “paid media”), and 2) you didn’t do it yourself on your own branded web/social properties (that’s “owned media”). It might be the result of your deliberate promotional strategy, such as when you send out a press release and then get a story in a newspaper or magazine. Some people think of earned media as digital word of mouth: hard to get, impossible to buy.

For some marketers, even those with an earned media strategy, getting this digital ink seems like a lucky break. Some hit it big; others achieve average results or simply strike out. Developing a winning earned media strategy, however, is no more a game of luck than learning to play the piano. It takes diligent work, study, patience, and persistence. And the results are worth it.

Seventy-seven percent of people are more likely to purchase a product when they hear about it from a friend. In addition, 92 percent say they trust earned media, while only half trust paid ads. That trust goes a long way to helping convert tire-kickers into buyers, so earned media is very valuable. But how can you transform an average-performing earned media strategy into one that exceeds expectations? It starts by having a deeper understanding what earned media is – and what it is not.

Earned Media: What does it include?

The word “media” itself has many meanings; the main one that comes into play for this discussion is “a means of communication that reaches the general public.” It’s a channel (such as social media, broadcast TV, the Huffington Post). The “earned” means you did something to earn attention.

Remember that if you pay for something, it’s not earned media. It’s “paid media.” For example, LinkedIn’s sponsored updates and promoted tweets are both examples of paid media.

“Owned media” includes any space or channel that you control, such as your website and your social media channels. You can manage these to publish and disseminate your content, such as blog posts, case studies, white papers, newsletters, or other pieces of content that you created. But when other people share those assets on spaces or channels you don’t control, they become earned media.

Earned media does include any dissemination that you aren’t paying for or that is created by a third party. For example, when a customer tweets “Best software ever!” about your solution – that tweet is earned media. When a customer comments “Terrible customer service” on Yelp about your company – that is earned media. And when a top influencer includes your company in a roundup blog that features the top 10 apps of the year – that too, is earned media. Now that we understand what earned media looks like, let’s take a look at some companies that are getting some amazing results.

Companies Rocking Earned Media … and How

Some companies are creating earned media strategies that are generating amazing levels of engagement, revenue and lead generation. Here are a few strategies to inspire your next campaign.

1. The Coca-Cola “Share a Coke” Campaign

Two years ago, Coca-Cola decided to do something different. The company launched its “Share a Coke” campaign and printed people’s names on bottles and cans. This personalization campaign has been hugely successful, reversing a decade-long decline in Coke consumption and boosting its soft drink sales by 2 percent.

The campaign gave people an opportunity to express themselves through a bottle of Coke, and to share the experience with somebody else. Coca-Cola also received lots of media attention through this campaign, with coverage from major publications, including Ad Week and The Wall Street Journal. They’ve refreshed the campaign (pun intended, sorry) by moving on to printing labels with song lyrics that are meaningful to people, like “Lean on me.”

Key takeaway: Allow consumers to see themselves, or something else that feels very personal, in your product to generate more earned media.

2. Dove: The Truth about Beauty

Dove uncovered a startling statistic about how women view themselves. It found that only 4 percent of women worldwide consider themselves to be beautiful. (And that’s up from 2% in 2004.) Dove leveraged this information to launch campaigns that encourage women to view themselves more positively and also partnered with nonprofits to multiply their efforts. But perhaps most interesting (and widely shared) was their “Real Beauty Sketches.”

This three-minute video showcases an FBI-trained sketch artist drawing women – first based on their own descriptions, then based on the description of a stranger. The difference between sketches is shocking and further supports Dove’s findings about how women view themselves.

The video also clearly resonates with the company’s target audience, as it generated massive amounts of earned media with more than 114 million total views, making it among the most viral ad videos of all time. In addition, it was uploaded in 25 different languages and viewed in over 110 countries. People were so inspired, they wanted to share it with their friends.

Key takeaway: Create content so meaningful and good that people can’t wait to share it with their friends.

3. SalesForce: What is Cloud Computing?

SalesForce took a different approach to earned media by answering a simple (but widely asked question): What is Cloud Computing?

Salesforce created a video to answer a very simple but widely asked question: What is Cloud Computing?

The company was on to something because the three-minute explanation has earned over 1.8 million views and 3,706 likes with 570 comments.

Key takeaway: Don’t assume your audience has the time to be as sophisticated as you are in your own niche. Don’t overlook the basic and simple when pulling together your earned media strategy.

4. MarketingProfs: Blog Post

Last year, MarketingProfs wrote the article “Six Crucial Attributes of a Successful Business Blog.” The article addresses how a successful business blog fits into content marketing strategies, the attributes a business blog needs to succeed, and how to measure that success. The blog clearly resonated with the target audience, because it captured 4,712 views and over 1,400 social shares.

MarketingProfs wrote a blog,

At the end of the post, they include a call to action that leads to a gated resource, “Check out the Business Blogging Secrets Revealed eBook for additional data and findings …”

Here is an example of MarketingProfs using a CTA at the end of one of their blog posts.

This is a great example of how you can use earned media (in this case, lots of social shares) to piggyback lead generation.

Key takeaway: Tie your earned media strategies into lead generation for maximum impact.

5. Target: User-Generated Videos

Target created videos containing student reactions to the news that they were accepted to college. Viewers are given a front-row seat to the anticipation, excitement and joy that students feel in that moment. One of many in the series, the video below earned 16,000 views and was shared widely through social media.

But the videos also had a deeper purpose. They drew attention to Target’s pledge to education, rejuvenating perception of the company’s altruism. At the time of this campaign, Target committed to doubling its $500 million in donations to K-12 education causes in the coming years. They reached that goal; by the end of August, 2015, the company had given over a billion dollars.

Key takeaway: Tie earned media strategies to user-generated content to multiply sharing and coverage.

A Few More Tips

In addition to those strategies, here are a few more tips to help with getting more from your earned media campaigns:

  1. Create content worth sharing. All the examples listed above have one thing in common: The content was really great. People want to share content that is entertaining and inspiring or that they think others will benefit from. Third-party publications, such as Ad Week and The Wall Street Journal in the Coke example, also want to write about it.
  2. Use influencer marketing. Capture more earned media by identifying powerful influencers in your niche. For example, in the Target video above, you could feature a well-known influencer interviewing students after getting news of their college acceptance. Influencers will likely share the content, greatly expanding your reach. Find your best influencers.
  3. Publish earned media on owned media platforms. For example, if you’re featured in the “Best Apps of the Year” roundup on a popular blog, post excerpts of the article (with permission) on your blog to get more mileage from those mentions.

Earned media is slow and steady; it’s the tortoise in a race full of hares. Cultivation takes time, yet by using the examples above to inspire your efforts, you can create more effective campaigns that win your audience’s attention and motivate sharing. But the key is to test different strategies and measure what resonates best with your target audience.

Are you getting results from earned media? If so, please leave a comment and tell us how you did it.