There is no shortage of information in the digital age. Anyone can publish anything online, so the difficulty lies not in finding relevant content, but in identifying what is credible and meaningful. When researching a product online, we often seek out viewpoints offered by objective third parties, such as journalists or bloggers who are not in the brand’s employ. Mentions of a brand outside of a company’s owned media (such as its website or Twitter account) or paid media programs—like advertising or sponsorships—is called earned media, and good earned media can play a huge role in a brand’s success.
Why is earned media so important to a brand achieving its objectives? First, people trust independent writers. According to a 2014 Nielsen study, earned media was 80% more effective than branded content at influencing consumers who were considering a purchase.1
Second, the number of special-interest publications and websites has increased, and consumers are reading them. “From tracking how your favorite NHL hockey team is going to deal with the new salary cap (Capgeek.com) to covering government transparency in addressing violent crime (Homicidewatch.com), single-subject websites are serving the passionate, niche news consumers looking for more information than mainstream outlets can provide,” the Columbia Journalism School reports.2 According to The New York Times, “Niche magazines continue to retain and attract loyal followings, making them a bright spot in an otherwise dim outlook for print periodicals.”3 These publications employ fewer journalists, but each writer engages their passionate, focused and active readers more frequently through blog posts and social media. And this “multi-channel publishing” model can work to your advantage: if your story is in more channels, there are more opportunities for it to be found.
Third, earned media can greatly affect search engine results. Search engine algorithms now place more weight on “implied links,” which means that a company’s SERP (search engine results page) ranking can be affected each time it’s merely mentioned in a story that is relevant to that company’s products or solutions, even if the mention does not link directly to the company’s website.
To develop a great brand story with successful earned media outreach, companies must do three things:
Use press releases, blogs and social media to deliver content that engages journalists and consumers and sparks them to share it.
Consider the timing of any message carefully, and share it as soon as the company is ready, without necessarily waiting for a major press conference.
Create content that not only shares news, but also amplifies the greater brand message. Infographics, for example, are great vehicles for sharing relevant statistics integrated with thought leadership and a storyline that’s crafted with your brand story in mind.
Five keys to creating engaging content to attract earned media
Include compelling visuals. Make your story stand out and build deeper connections with your audiences by promoting multimedia content – videos, photos, infographics and audio clips – proven to increase views by 1.4X with images and 2.8X with videos.* Journalists need relevant, unbranded visual content to share in their stories and posts; delivering those images greatly increases the likelihood that they’ll publish your content.
Appeal to several audiences. Social Radar’s press release featured clearly written technical information that appealed to technology writers, but it also included bullet points under the subhead, “How People Use Social Radar.” As a result, the release also appealed to average consumers, who shared the content.
Include a call to action. In January 2014, Social Radar issued a press release promoting its new iPhone app, which gives users real-time information about the people around them.4 In the second paragraph of the release, Social Radar included an App Store link and invited people to try the new app for free. The link spurred readers to further interact with the Social Radar brand and generated qualified leads for the company.
Put the story before the brand. Credit card fraud topped the news in early 2014 as Target and other large retailers suffered security breaches. SecureState, one of 11 companies allowed to investigate card fraud, wasn’t involved in these cases but still garnered considerable media attention via clever PR. It issued a news release titled, “Is Chip and Pin the Answer to Retail Security? SecureState Offers Advice for Industry.” Rather than emphasize the SecureState brand, the release highlighted a part of the story no one was discussing, which gave editors a fresh story angle. As a result, SecureState officials were interviewed on TV and became go-to experts for media.5
Remember, timing Is everything. News today moves like wildfire across the modern media landscape, leaving little or no time for keeping secrets for a big press conference “reveal.”
Instead, smart companies rely on a series of releases or social media posts to build buzz around a product leading up to a big launch. Prior to the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show, LG Electronics issued releases, including images, to promote its new OLED TV technology.6 The releases helped boost traffic at the trade show and inspired more media to investigate the new product during the conference.
Boost brand awareness by injecting your voice into the conversation that surrounds breaking news. When retailers suffered breaches in credit card security, SecureState’s public relations director booked his CEO on ABC News, the Los Angeles Times and PBS NewsHour. SecureState employees wrote blog posts on the subject, and news media picked up quotes for expert opinions in stories.
Drive Earned Media With the Content Journalists Need
Earned media may be more difficult to get, but it can be the most valuable. Build alliances with the journalists who influence consumers by delivering the story angles, compelling images and expert perspectives that help them meet the increased demand for unique content. Follow these five steps to deliver that content at the right time, and you can speak to a large, relevant audience who will share the messages to boost sales and brand awareness.
ABOUT THE EXPERT: LAURIE SMITH
Laurie Smith is CNW’s Senior Director, Strategic Communications, Media and Audience Relations, and she tweets the corporate voice @CNWGroup.
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1. Ragan.com, “Earned media still most influential to consumers,” April 9. 2014
2. Columbia Journalism School, “The Rise of The Single Subject Platform,” August 28, 2013
3. The New York Times, “Loyal Subscribers Keep Hobby Magazines Afloat,” December 27, 2013
4. PR Newswire, “Content We Love: Writing Content from an Audience Perspective,” January 31, 2014
5. PR Newswire, “How One PR Pro Used Common Tools to Execute a Newsjack & Win Huge Media Coverage,” January 16, 2014
6. PR Newswire, “Tactics for Maximizing the Results of Your Press Releases,”February 26, 2014
* PR Newswire analysis of 2015 press releases.