[Beginner – 101] What Is Earned Media and How Can It Be Used Wisely?

In today’s media-heavy world, differentiating between paid, owned, and earned media can be tricky. A quick guide: Customers learn of a business or product first by paid media, either through traditional offline advertising, or online with PPC (pay per click), banner or display ads, and even sponsored articles. Owned media is controlled by the business owner, such as a website, social media page, or blog, and helps to attract and reach potential customers.

But to really be noticed by customers, business leaders need earned media.

So what is earned media?

Here’s a perfect example of fabulous earned media: a wonderful story involving a 3-year-old girl who wrote a letter to Sainsbury’s about their spotted “Tiger” bread. She merely suggested it looked more like Giraffe Bread. The ensuing letter exchange went viral when the girl’s mom started a Facebook campaign to change the bread’s name. Sainsbury’s recognized a good thing and soon complied.

But earned media is more than mere social media. It can be good reviews or articles written about your brand in newspapers, professional blogs, review sites (i.e. yelp.com), etc. In the pre-internet days, we called earned media “referrals.” Where people once talked up the newest coffee shop in the grocery store or over the phone, they now “like” it on Facebook.

Earned media is great, being that it’s free – sort of. It is free, but without promotion, it won’t reach potential customers. You need to ask what earned media is doing for you.

How to use earned media to increase sales

Earned media needs to be distributed – and the more creative you can be, the better. Here are a few basic ideas to get you started.

  1. Quote customers or positive reviews in advertising for which you’re already paying.
  2. Share online in social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+. Understand, however, that there is a limited audience here, as the media will primarily reach your friends/followers.
  3. You’ll surely want to quote, paste, or otherwise share any praises, good feedback etc. about your business/product on your company website.
  4. Find a content delivery platform, such as Outbrain Amplify, which will get your earned media to a relevant audience by distributing links across the web.

How can you cultivate content?

This brings us back to content. The bottom line is to create great content that catches the interest of social media users. Using humor, fads, or controversy adapted to your product’s saleable qualities is a start.

Content marketing guru Jonah Berger suggests that “virality” is a science. Two of his suggested ways to craft viral content is to capitalize on the need for people to feel smart and to use triggers.

Try to put something in your content that makes people look smart if they’re the first to find the info and forward it on. Your product may utilize a new green technology, for example. Exploit that unique point.

A trigger is exemplified by the story of the Mars chocolate bar, sales of which increased while the Mars Rover was in the news. In reality, there’s no relationship here; however, it’s the perceived relationship that a trigger exploits.

Though there is something serendipitous about the Mars story, it demonstrates how finding a trigger – a relationship to something newsworthy or faddish in your product or business – is a prime example of how to use earned media to increase sales. If people are buzzing about a related subject, it carries over to your product.

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