When marketing professionals speak of media channels, they often divide them into three groups: owned media, paid media and earned media.
The first group is self-explanatory; it refers to the media channels you control directly, such as your blog, home page, press releases and landing pages. If your site has a moderated forum or chat feature, that would fall under the aegis of owned media as well. Owned media is an excellent vehicle for getting your message out uninterrupted, but it may lack the wide distribution of other avenues. Even if you buy content online to publish yourself, it still counts as owned media and not as paid media.
Paid media, by contrast, includes any publicity that costs you money and is outside of your direct control. When you buy advertising space, place banner ads or pay off-site bloggers for sponsored posts, you’re using paid media. Your reach via paid media can be extensive, but you have only limited control of how your message is perceived. Your banner ad might appear on a competitor’s website, for example.
The third category, earned media, used to go by a different name: free media. Before the sweeping changes social media wrought, free media included word-of-mouth advertising, unsolicited reviews and informational articles that cited a particular business or individual as an authoritative source. “Earned media” is a more accurate term for the current social media climate, though, because companies really have to work to earn their share of their customers’ increasingly fractured attention. Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter and every other social media platform embodies earned media. If you don’t provide something worth sharing, you don’t earn buzz. For social media, buzz is everything.
It’s a truism of content creation that you can’t intentionally create viral content. Companies that try it typically wind up getting the wrong kind of earned media buzz. Starlets may say that “no publicity is bad publicity,” but that doesn’t hold true for companies that want to earn the trust of their customers.
You can’t choose what goes viral; you can, however, publish something good enough to be worth going viral and cross your fingers. One excellent example is Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” that features a series of compelling videos. In one recent clip, women describe themselves to a sketch artist, then have another person deliver a similar description. When the women featured saw their own critical views alongside the far kinder and lovelier view that others had of them, they were moved – and so were viewers.
Part of why the Real Beauty campaign works so well is that it has a core of truth to it. People want to share that video because it spoke to something many people, including Dove users, hear often: “You’re too hard on yourself.” It’s a compelling message to hear and equally important to share. Unilever has earned the attention the Dove ads have garnered by presenting a truth in a surprising way. Your content creation strategy can take a page from the company’s book by offering your customers surprising truths or enlightening facts about your industry, too.
Earning by Giving
To earn anything of value, you usually have to make an initial investment of some kind – time, money or effort, for example. In earned media, the same principle applies. You earn positive press when you contribute meaningfully to social media streams or participate in ongoing conversations. To gain your customers’ approval, listen to them and respond to them. Offering something conversation-worthy is another smart way to feed your earned media buzz. A white paper or e-book gives people something to talk about and generates traffic without a dime in advertising money. Given the increasing importance of earned media, being generous with knowledge is a wise investment of your resources.
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