As a marketer, you have many options when it comes to getting the word out about a brand. Some of those options involve paying to spread the word. Some involve promoting your brand in places that you have full control over. And some involve getting other people to take notice of your brand and promote it for you. Consider the three forms of media (paid, owned, & earned) as parts of a whole. Still, many people value earned media above all else. Here’s why earned media is so important and how your brand can go about getting it.

Paid, Owned, and Earned Media: What’s the Difference

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of earned media, it’s important to understand what earned, paid, and owned media are and how each one differs from the next.

Paid, Owned & Earned Media

Paid Media

As Forrester puts it, this is content your brand pays for. Common examples of paid media include commercials, print ads, online ads, sponsored blog posts, and sponsored social media posts. The trouble with paid media is that it is typically the least trusted form of marketing. For example, Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising found that half of respondents or fewer trusted ads they saw online, whether on videos, in search engine results or on social media.

Owned Media

Owned media is anything that your company has full control over and full ownership of. According to McKinsey, owned media includes your brand’s website, email newsletter, social media profiles, and catalogs.

Earned Media

Forrester defines earned media as “when customers become the channel.” Your brand earns media when people start talking about you (usually in a good way). According to Nielsen, earned media is the most trusted form of advertising out there.

Types of Earned Media

Just like paid media and owned media, earned media can take several forms. Here are a few of the different types of earned media:

blog owned media

A blogger decides to review your product.

When brands pay bloggers or offer products for free in exchange for reviews, that counts as a form of paid media. But if a blogger loves whatever your brand makes so much that he or she decides to write up or create a video review of it, without compensation, that’s a type of earned media.

Social media followers share an influencer or brand’s post.

Hiring an influencer to participate in a campaign or promote a product isn’t a type of earned media (it’s paid). But any shares, likes, comments or retweets that post gets are a type of earned media. Shares and retweets are ideal, since people are seeing your content and what your brand has to offer and are willing to promote it to their own friends.

Press mentions

Let’s kick it old school for a bit. Anytime a reporter or journalist mentions your brand in a news story, magazine article, or on TV or the radio, it’s a type of earned media.  According to Nielsen, this type of earned media (editorial content) is the third most trusted.

Organic search result ranking

Ranking high in search results on Google (or Bing, if your customers roll that way) is another way to earn media. For it to count as earned media, the content needs to earn that ranking organically, meaning you can’t have paid for prominent placement.

Why Your Brand Wants Earned Media

One of the main reasons why your brand should care about (and want) earned media has to do with trust. Nielsen’s study found that about 83 percent of people completely trust recommendations they get from family and friends.

In the age of social media, the definition of “friend” has become ever more flexible and malleable. People also trust the opinions of others online, such as reviews on blogs or Yelp, even if they don’t know those people in real life.

Another reason to strive for earned media is that it has a higher conversions, and ultimately, a higher return on investment. AdAge reported that paid media typically had conversion rates below 1 percent. Earned media, in contrast, often has conversion rates over 5 percent.

win earned media

Remember, your brand doesn’t pay for earned media. That means you’re not paying to get any of the new customers or sales you gain from it.

The Tricky Thing About Earned Media

Nothing’s perfect, and that’s true of earned media. The big drawback of it is that it’s the type of media your brand has the least amount of control over. When you publish content on your brand’s own website or social media profile, you have full say over what the content looks like and what it says. The same is true for paid media. You might, however, need more constraints such as limits on length, size or what you can and can’t say.

But earned media can be a bit like the Wild West. Sure, people might have great things to say about your brand. But there will always be those wild cards out there, such as the bloggers who give your products bad reviews, the social media user who shares your content with a disgruntled or snarky comment, or the press disasters that make your company look bad.

One way to make sure the earned media your company receives is always as positive as possible is to focus on managing and controlling the message you put out through owned and paid media channels. Offer products or services that excite people, instead of frustrate or annoy.

How to Get Earned Media

Earned media doesn’t just happen. Your brand has to do something to, well, earn it. What that something is can take many forms and usually involves leveraging your company’s paid and owned media in some way. Here are a few examples of how you can earn media:

hands-typing earned media

Use SEO

SEO, or search engine optimization, is always evolving, because search engine algorithms are always evolving. Make sure to optimize your brand’s owned media so you end up at the top of organic search results.

Work with Influencers

Influencer marketing, on its own, is paid media. But, one of the goals of it should be to have people share the content created by influencers, transforming it into earned media, as Forbes.com points out. Partner with influencers who have high engagement. Find ones who fit with your brand. And engage with those who care about what your company does. Doing so helps excite people about your brand.

Create shareable, engaging content

Focus on producing content that people will want to share with others on your brand’s owned channels. That can mean writing blog posts that offer useful tips and how-to advice, creating funny videos or informative video tutorials, or creating fun quizzes or polls that people can share on social media.

Connect with journalists

Interviews in magazines, whether in print or on the web, or press stories about your company count as earned media. But journalists are picky about who they write stories about, so it’s important to develop a rapport. That means more than just sending out press releases. It also means writing friendly emails and messages and going above and beyond to get a writer’s attention.

Sometimes, putting in the extra effort to get people on your team is well worth it. Keep earned media in mind when your brand is focusing on developing paid and owned media. Ideally, leveraging paid or owned media results in earned media.