Mar 30, 2011

Earned Media: When 2 + 2 = 7

From the perspective of a marketer or PR person, there are three basic types of media: paid, earned and owned.  Paid media is simply exposure for which an organization pays. Advertising, search engine ads, and promoted Tweets are all examples of paid media. Owned media is that content your organization produces.  The company web site, white papers and articles you publish, infographics and presentations – all are examples of owned media that can be published by your brand.

Earned media is something else entirely. Traditionally, earned media has been defined as the visibility generated when an editor picks up and publishes your story in a news paper.  However, more opportunities for earning exposure exist today, in the social layer.  When a blogger includes mention of your product in a post, when a Facebook fan Likes a post you made to your company’s wall or when a follower on Twitter re-tweets one of your messages, you’ve earned exposure.  The common threads between media pick up and social interaction is the third party credibility these forms of earned media generate.

All media can be earned. It just needs to be useful and interesting. Defining these different types of media is easy. However, stopping there ignores the most interesting aspect – namely, the intersection of all three.  Today’s interactive, social web means that bought and owned media can readily be found, consumed and shared by your online audiences, creating the  type of credibility associated with earned media, and triggering additional visibility across social networks and search engines as a result.  In a nutshell, messages and content that start out as an ad on Facebook or an article on your web site can quickly morph into valuable, visible and credible earned media.

Julie Hamp, senior vice president of communications for PepsiCo, discussed this recently at SXSW, outlining why we all need to be thinking about being total media companies, and considering the opportunities for each piece of content we issue.

“It’s paid media, it’s earned and owned,” she noted. “It’s evolved content – a higher order level of co-curated content, and it’s the biggest content area for us to all look at next.”

The new potential for all messages brands issue

The evolved media phenomenon, and a blog post titled “The Five Dumbest Things PR Pros Do With Social Media” published earlier this month, got me thinking about the messages we produce and distribute on behalf of our organizations.  The blog post advises against pumping your status fields full of “boring press releases.”   I agree totally with that advice.  But it was the reference to the “boring press release” that got me thinking.

In this day and age, when everything a communications department produces has the chance of gaining earned media status and reaching exponentially further into social networks, and ultimately, being seen by a lot more people, I wonder why a writer wouldn’t really go for that golden ring.   Why would anyone let a boring press release (or any other boring content for that matter) out the door?

In reality, any content any organization publishes – press releases, blog posts, data sheets, backgrounders, white papers, etc. – turns into a de facto digital ambassador for your brand once released into the ether.

In today’s environment, bad content won’t generate results. It is ignored on Facebook, it garners no RTs on Twitter, journalists delete it from their inboxes and search engines bury it from view.  Creating boring content is a studied waste of time.

Information audiences find interesting and useful, on the other hand, can trigger a flurry of audience activity.  Good stuff gets shared over and over again.  A challenge for all communicators, then, is thinking beyond crossing one more item off the to-do list,  and instead, looking at the opportunities all the content we produce represents, and treating it accordingly.

Related reading:

Rules for effective writing- drawn from SEO and social media

Improve press release writing with story telling

Jargon isn’t just boring – overusing it reduces PR results

Has your organization overcome boring content syndrome?

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s VP social media.  She wrote a press release recently about pending county zoning changes that wasn’t boring.  (An editor said so.)

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