A successful content marketing program requires more than, well, content. Obviously, it’s important to put resources into creating something entertaining and informative. But without an engaged audience, you might as well be shouting into the void. It’s a proposition that’s unappealing to individuals and brands alike.
An audience can, and should, be more than passive onlookers, though. If you take steps to foster engagement and community, your audience will actually work for you by creating earned media.
Before we show you how to woo your audience into working for you, let’s first dig into what earned media is and why it’s important.
What is earned media?
Like a successful financial portfolio, your content should also be diversified. For the most part, there are three media avenues for you to pursue: earned, owned and paid. Using them in harmony is integral to getting your brand in front of potential audience members.
In fact, PowerPost advocates investing heavily in owned content, or content you create. That could include your website, blog posts, eBooks, email, etc. They’re all designed to make connections with your audience and to provide value continuously. These pieces of content also offer you the most control over your messaging.
Paid media is pretty self-explanatory. It’s any content for which you’ve paid to have its reach extended. It’s effective in amplifying your owned and earned media to increase exposure. There are a number of options for paid media including paid social, sponsored blog posts, pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns and paid influencers. Considering the continuing decline in organic traffic, most brands and marketers have become well acquainted with paid media.
That brings us to earned media. Each of the three is important, yet earned media can easily become an afterthought.
Without knowing it, you’ve probably created earned media yourself at some point. Essentially, it’s any media or promotion from a third party that a brand hasn’t paid for. You could also think of it as word-of-mouth exposure.
This could include a variety of things such as shares on social media, reviews, recommendations, traditional media placement and influencer or industry mentions. Anything that channels people back to your website or original content counts. Unlike owned or paid media, you have much less control over earned media.
Because of this, sometimes, you have to take the bad with the good. For instance, if you’re a restaurant, a glowing (literally) Instagram from your weekend brunch service is earned media. However, so is that unnecessarily cruel Yelp review.
So what makes earned media worth the investment?
Why is it important?
The pervasiveness of online advertising, which in some cases, can almost feel like stalking, has put people on guard. They’re tired of seeing 1,000 ads for something they looked at once on Amazon a week ago. The great thing about earned media is that it cuts through people’s hesitance and annoyance.
You instantly gain a measure of credibility because a third party is vouching for your product or service. Consumers take reviews and recommendations seriously, especially when weighing a potential purchase. According to a report by inPowered and Nielsen, consumers are more likely to trust a third-party source. The report found:
- 50 percent of consumers said they wouldn’t trust a product’s branded website for an unbiased assessment of the product.
- 61 percent of consumers were less likely to trust product reviews paid for by the company selling the product.
- Expert content was found to be more effective than branded content at lifting the three stages of the purchase cycle: familiarity, affinity and purchase.
This trend is notably strong among younger consumers. CrowdTap and Ipsos surveyed more than 800 Millennials about user-generated content and found that it was more trusted, more memorable and a deciding factor in many major purchases.
- 35 percent said user-generated content is more memorable than other media.
- 50 percent said it was more trusted than other media.
- User-generated content was 20 percent more influential than other media when it comes to purchasing.
- 59 percent of Millennials surveyed use user-generated content as guidance on major electronics purchases, 54 percent on cars purchases, 53 percent on major appliances, 46 percent on mobile phones, 45 percent on hotels and 40 percent on travel plans.
Additionally, earned media has the capacity to reach a larger, more diverse audience. Social media and the internet allow people to preach the gospel of your product or service to everyone they’re connected to online—not just their close circle of friends and family like the old days.
Certainly, working hard on your owned content and a detailed paid media strategy will help you get results, but earned media will do the work for you. Here’s how to harness the power of earned media and an engaged audience:
No one is going to share your content if it’s garbage. Quality content is the first building block of earned media. People should be excited to share what you’ve produced because it’s so compelling.
Intelligent, entertaining content is shareable, and it also creates an opportunity for discussion with your audience. If you’re not sure how to make something “shareable,” here are a few examples most marketing departments can handle.
Once you’ve caught the attention of someone, your content will continue to nurture a connection and will aid customer retention. Your work doesn’t end with shares and more blog posts, though. Once people are spreading the word, it’s your job to capitalize on it.
Engage Your Audience
If people are eagerly sharing and commenting on your posts, don’t leave them unread. People who are interacting with your brand want to hear back from you. Showing that you’re willing to take the time to reach out—that you care—will go a long way when it comes to establishing a dedicated audience.
Comments sections can sometimes be a free-for-all—the digital equivalent of the Mos Eisley Cantina—but often they’re just people seeking a connection or an answer to a question. This is why it’s important to actually respond to blog comments and social media comments.
Even a short a short “thank you” message shows that you value your audience members’ time. It makes your current audience and any newcomers feel at home, too. It’s also an opportunity to start a conversation, which will drive more comments.
Whether we like it or not, social media has become another platform for customer service. When someone has an issue, responding in a timely manner makes a huge difference. According to Convince and Convert, 42 percent of consumers expect a response within an hour. This underscores the value of a skilled community manager/community management team.
Commenters among your owned media aren’t the only people you should be engaging. Share and interact with advocates and other brands in your industry. If you’re using a media monitoring tool, make a list of fans/advocates. That way, you’ll know right away when someone has tagged or shared your content. Return the favor by sharing their content, as well. It will keep your feeds from looking too self-promotional and strengthen your standing in the community.
Comments and shares are good and necessary, but people will really get excited if they’re involved in the content creation process.
Every time a much-anticipated blockbuster comes to theaters, the internet is flooded with fan-made posters (especially when it’s a superhero movie) that are often better than the official poster.
This is an example of user-generated content. Fans took the time to create original pieces of art, which simultaneously promoted the movie. But your audience doesn’t need to be full of graphic design pros to create user-generated content.
For example, on Facebook or Instagram, you could invite people to submit unique photos featuring your product. Make it a contest with a dedicated hashtag, nominal prize and a chance to be spotlighted on your account. Soon you’ll be flooded with great photos promoting your brand.
There are other ways to get people involved, too. At PowerPost, we had a client solicit funny, industry-related stories from their audience. After submissions were made in the comment section, we illustrated the best ones and posted them for a week straight! Here a few other ideas:
- Host a Facebook Live Q&A and invite people to submit questions. This will create a dialogue with your audience, and Live videos tend to average more engagement than non-live videos, anyway.
- Create a weekly “mailbag” blog post where you answer reader questions.
- Poll your audience about what topics they’re interested in hearing about.
You might be surprised how willing people are to contribute when they feel invested and heard. Furthermore, as we mentioned earlier, user-generated content is trustworthy and memorable to younger consumers, among a host of other benefits.
Focus on Alternative Distribution
We touched on advocates earlier, but the best kind is industry influencers. In the past, brands relied almost exclusively on famous actors, athletes and musicians to vouch for them. The advent of the internet allowed creators, entrepreneurs and industry pros to cultivate dedicated followings in more niche areas. They’re not Michael Jordan advertising Gatorade, but they do possess a tremendous amount of influence.
Influencers are the business of connections, so they hear a lot of sales pitches. Research the kind of content they produce and start interacting with it—an introduction of sorts. Then, personalize your pitch with a deep understanding of who this influencer is, and demonstrate how your content is perfect for their audience. If you can strike up a relationship, you’ve just scored some very valuable earned media. Not to mention, their audience could become your audience if your work resonates.
You don’t have to land an influencer to diversify your distribution network, though. Your fellow employees are actually an under-utilized way to spread your content. They all have their own personal social networks, which are probably more diverse than your target demographics. Encourage them to promote your content on their personal accounts whenever possible to extend your reach.
Make your life easier with AI
You’ve probably heard it 1,000 times already, but artificial intelligence is the next big thing in marketing. Companies are using AI in a variety of useful areas, including earned media. A white paper produced by Cision even predicts that AI will usher in an earned media measurement revolution this year.
Cision notes that people disproportionately trust earned media more than paid media. However, companies in all industries continue to funnel money toward paid media. As the white paper points out starkly, “They feel confident investing in paid media because it’s easy to measure, easy to manage and easy to see when it’s generating ROI.”
But when marketing departments can use hard data to show that earned media is positively affecting business goals, the tide will turn.
Cision is using the power of AI and cloud technology to help companies connect the dots with their customers. The Cision Communications Cloud can help marketers see exactly who engages with their content and who actually follows through on a purchase. It also uses third-party data to trace back sales to earned media coverage.
Cision says you will be “…able to see how effectively your campaigns are in generating media coverage, increasing your share of voice and driving sales.”
Another example is ClearView. Last year, the company debuted a new feature that allows AI-driven tagging for earned media values (EMV). So what does that mean, exactly? Well, EMV is converting earned media to a dollar amount. ClearView explains is thusly:
“So, for example, if your employee shares an article promoting your company and it gets 50 clicks on their networks, if those same 50 clicks would have cost $250 advertising on Google or through Facebook ads, then the EMV for that article is $250.”
ClearView folded Amazon Comprehend, an AI engine that can read a passage of text and understand what it’s about, into its article parser. When you add an article into a queue, the AI will automatically pick out some keywords designed to get the most EMV.
Stick with it
Building a loyal audience will take time. There will be moments at the beginning where it feels like you’re performing to an empty theater. Remember, this a long-term goal that will benefit your brand for years to come if you take the proper steps at the start. Don’t give up.
How do you incorporate earned media into your strategy? Find out what else you can do to become a Power Publisher by downloading our eBook The Brand Publishing Road Map.