What is earned media? If we took a poll, I’m not sure any two answers would be exactly the same. Definitions are springing up left and right, some of which are straight up contradictory. Today, I’m going to present an in-depth look at earned media, as defined by ViralGains.

Earned Media: Any viewership that comes as a result of social behaviors (word-of-mouth advertising), driven by paid and/or owned media.

When it comes to owned media, figuring out earned media is pretty simple. Owned media is a channel a brand controls such as a website, mobile site, blog or Twitter account.

Let’s say a brand posts its marketing video on its blog. A reader comes along and watches this video. Because this video was distributed by the company on one of its owned channels, this view would not qualify as earned media. But, if this reader enjoyed the video and posted it on Facebook, any additional views generated by the social behavior would be considered earned media.

Paid and earned media’s relationship seems to be a bit more complicated, at least it’s debated over. Bob Knorpp, the host of The BeanCast Marketing Podcast and president of The Cool Beans Group, a marketing strategy consultancy based in New York City, published an article today on AdAge discussing his take on earned media. Titled “If You’re Paying for It, It’s Not Earned Media,” Knorpp’s article dismisses the notion that earned media can be tied to paid media.

He asserts that true, heartfelt brand advocacy cannot be derived from a paid media spend. We’ll look at this in terms of online video marketing. We use influencer marketing to reach socially active audiences that are more likely to organically engage with a brand. A blogger or other influencer will post a branded video on their site and viewers will share and interact with the content.

Knorpp states that these shares and interactions are not heartfelt endorsements—“it is nothing more than an audience supporting the endorser, not the brand.” In some cases, we believe this to be true. But in other cases, if the video content is good enough, it can create brand advocates and loyal fans.

Knorpp goes on to give his definition of earned media, “A truly valuable earned impression is when an individual or a group of individuals feel strongly about a product and thus feels led to endorse or glorify your brand. As soon as compensation is made, whether an endorser believes in the product or not, everything that stems from that endorsement becomes part of a paid effort and is tainted by this fact to some degree.”

Paid media does set off a domino effect, but we believe that subsequent views, shares and conversations are truly earned media. Imagine a brand placed a video on The New York Times website and paid for 1,000 views. Someone watches it, enjoys it and decides to share it on a social media site. If 100 people see the post and watch the video, those views are earned media. The brand isn’t paying for these views, even though they may have derived from an original payment.

Ultimately, we believe paid media is important in driving earned media. Generating earned media otherwise would be difficult if no one knew you or your content existed. Paid media fuels exposure and in turn, social engagement. We believe that the subsequent earned media can prompt true, heartfelt brand advocacy (even if it is due to initial compensation).