The twenty-first century has brought about a digital age in which every consumer has a voice and a means by which to make it heard. Social media has fueled the fire that has allowed opinionated leaders to become global influencers with higher levels of trust than many traditional media outlets of the past. The social influencer paradigm has shifted—brands no longer have the power and trust to single-handedly shape the opinions of the consumer masses. Now, this power is held by individuals.

The rise of earned media

In an age where brand perceptions and purchase decisions are becoming increasingly influenced by consumers and less by brands, earned media has quickly become the most trusted source of consumer information. Earned media is the result of consumers, influencers and publishers speaking about a brand through their own communication channels. And of course, as the value of earned media has risen, brands have been hot on its trail in pursuit.

Recognizing earned media

There are three types of media as defined by Forrester: owned, paid and earned. All the branded content you consume falls into one of those three buckets. As a regular consumer of branded content (we all are… you can’t help it), how can you recognize earned media when it’s splashed in front of your face? It could come in the form of news coverage from a reliable media outlet, it could be seen as an editorial column on a publication, or perhaps even something as simple as a single tweet. But how can you tell what’s earned media and what’s not?

Here are three questions you can ask to determine if what you’re viewing is earned media:

1. Is there a denotation claiming the content as “sponsored” or “promoted”?

This one is pretty straightforward. If this is the case, then someone (or some brand) has paid for you to be viewing the content. The FTC requires that advertising must be truthful and non-deceptive, according to truth-in-advertising laws, so publishers must respect those rules by fully disclosing advertising content as such.


2. Are you consuming the content on a channel owned by the producer of the content?

Many brands have multiple channels (RSS feeds, social accounts, email, etc.) by which they broadcast content or information to audiences that have opted into interactions with them in the past. If you are consuming content about a brand through a channel controlled by that brand, then that media is owned and not earned.

3. If the content has been shared without the influence of intentional outreach efforts, isn’t it shared media and not earned media?

Organic brand mentions by consumers and influencers in the social space are a tricky subject. Some folks in the industry believe that there is a fourth media type known as shared, which is simply the result of engagement and amplification across consumers’ social networks free of the influence of PR efforts. However, we believe that shared media is a subgroup of earned. As a general rule of thumb, media is classified as earned if a brand has earned the right to have their content viewed by you, regardless of whether it comes as a result of PR efforts or by creating content that is worthy of being shared.

The future is earned

As social metrics become increasingly more important for success and consumers build a more powerful collective voice, brands will learn to rely more heavily on earned media for driving marketing strategies. To learn more about earned media and its differences from owned and paid, check out the Inbound Marketer’s Guide to Earned Media.

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