A No-B.S. Guide to Earned Media in 2021
Earned media is the best way to supplement your existing content marketing strategy.
Why? Because earned media is the most genuine testimonial you’ll ever receive, and it reaches far beyond a social proof quote on your website.
But something that sweet takes time to cultivate.
In this article, we’ll dive into exactly how to integrate earned media into your content marketing strategy so that you can boost brand engagement and become a thought leader in your space.
Integrating earned media into your content strategy
Earned media is an integral part of the content marketing mix. Incorporating earned media into your content strategy can help increase your brand’s authority and credibility.
How? Because unpaid third-party recognition provides social proof and helps you reach a wider, untapped audience.
It’s also good for your bottom line. Earned media increases word of mouth marketing, which leads to 5x more sales than paid media because 90% of consumers are more likely to trust recommendations from people they know.
Let’s examine how to integrate earned media into your content strategy.
Clearly define your objectives
What do you already do to reach your target audience? Do you focus on social media engagement, organic SEO driven content, paid advertising, video content, or something else?
For example, if you produce 2x blog posts a week for your business’s blog, one of your earned media goals may be to have an influencer link to your post in one of their own blogs. Or, to have an industry thought leader link to your post via their Twitter account.
No matter what your end goals are, earned media should align with your existing content marketing objectives and strategy, supplement your efforts and strengthen your results.
Utilize customer research and personas
Take a look at your customer personas and existing customer base to fuel earned media opportunities.
In other words, when speaking with customers and researching or revisiting your customer personas, dig deep into where and how they consume their information.
Start broad and then narrow your search. For example, if your typical buyer persona is SEO managers, they most likely consume their information online. However, if your target audience is made up of financial advisors, their preferred news sources may be magazine or newspaper publications.
From there, dig into the specifics. Which blogs, publications, or media outlets do they read the most? What influencers do they follow? What social media platforms or publications do they create content on and for?
Knowing this information will help you get your earned media in front of your target audience in the right place, at the right time.
The last thing you want to do is generate “free media” coverage that falls on deaf ears. The best way to avoid this is by nurturing relationships with influencers, journalists, other content creators and other brands in your target market who will promote your message where it will be heard.
Interact with your customers
The most tried and true way to discover exactly where your customers consume information is by talking to them.
From these conversations, you may discover that a segment of your target audience is part of a Facebook group where they ask for advice and product recommendations.
Join these communities and contribute to the conversation. Avoid talking about your business until you’ve integrated yourself as a “known name”. Once you’ve earned trust, post relevant and high-value content to build awareness and drive traffic to relevant resources or blog posts.
While much of earned media is “hoping people will mention you”, you should also take it into your own hands. Similar to adding a testimonial to your website or case study, self-promotion helps you gain even more authority in your target market.
Pro-tip: Bottom of funnel (BOFU) content is critical when it comes to building brand authority and becoming a thought leader. To learn more about how to create and distribute BOFU content, read our guide on how to use bottom of funnel content to drive traffic to your value proposition.
Form a solid distribution strategy
To further take control of your earned media efforts, have a presence on your biggest channels.
Say your target audience is in SEO managers. As they consume most of their information online and through social networks, you must have a strong social media presence if you want to capitalize on your earned media attention.
If you already have social media accounts but don’t post regularly, now is the time to focus more on your content marketing efforts in these channels. If you do post regularly but don’t engage with your audience very often, you should focus on increasing community engagement and building loyalty with your customer base.
This way, when you do receive earned media attention via social channels, your brand will already be positioned in a way that allows you to capitalize on the increased social media attention you’ll gain.
For example, if an SEO influencer or consultant like Aleyda Solis posts about your brand on Twitter, it would be a huge missed opportunity not to retweet that post.
Further, if the people who follow Aleyda Solis see earned media content about your brand on her page, they will flock to your social pages to learn more. Once there, if they see an active community, they’ll jump in and get involved. But if they see a mediocre online presence, they’ll most likely be put-off.
Measure your efforts
As with all marketing activities, you should actively measure your earned media efforts. Considering that earned media is a part of your content distribution strategy, it should be analyzed as such.
Some earned media (such as word of mouth) can be difficult to measure. Unless a customer tells you that a friend told them about you, you’ll never know.
But many earned media efforts are measurable. Influencer marketing, link building, guest blogging and social media are all activities that are easy to track.
Measuring and reporting on your successes and failures will help you to optimize your earned media efforts moving forward.
How can you position yourself for earned media opportunities?
With your strategy taken care of, it’s time to get started on creating earned media opportunities. There are several ways to do this and we are going to outline six of them here.
1. Capturing a wider audience with Guest Blogging
Guest blogging is an effective activity at the intersection of PR and content marketing. It gives you an opportunity to create content and add value on the publications that matter to your audience.
This opportunity helps you to generate interest in your brand, drive more traffic to your website, capture new leads and establish authority in your target market.
It’s crucial that you understand the publication’s audience. Don’t create content that only your specific target audience will understand. Rather, write from a broader viewpoint in order to cast a wider net.
Even better, create content that helps to uniquely solve a problem in a way that hasn’t been addressed before.
We helped Seraph Science do just that. Using our guest blogging methodology, they generated a six-figure deal with an enterprise technology company and hit the #1 spot for a competitive keyword on Google.
We intentionally chose a topic regarding a challenge that many marketing managers, directors and CMOs face in which nobody else was creating content to help them overcome it.
From there, we distributed it to communities and relevant channels and within the first week, we generated 1,000 visits to the post.
To read more about how accomplished this and to grab some insights on how to do this for your own business, read our case study on how this niche marketing company used guest blogging to generate a 6-figure deal.
How to secure guest post placements
When securing guest post placements, many marketers fall at the first hurdle; they create something they hope editors will like and “shop it” to various publications.
Instead, here’s the approach we use to get content published and featured on a consistent basis:
- Find the right person: This is usually an editor or fellow content marketer. Don’t reach out to founders or senior marketing decision-makers, as they have little time to collaborate on content.
- Reach out and gauge interest: Your first email shouldn’t be a pitch. Simply ask if they’re accepting guest posts, and include a link to a relevant and high-quality piece of content you’ve already produced. This will act as proof you can deliver high-quality content.
- Suggest your ideas: If they’re accepting contributions and like the look of your work, suggest two-to-three topics you can write about. Include a brief description of what each topic will include and what readers will learn by reading.
By agreeing to the topic ahead, you’re creating something that editors already want. This means you’re writing something specifically for your target publication, avoiding wasted time shopping it around from publication to publication.
2. Using Digital PR to become a trusted name
Digital PR may be more relevant now than ever before.
Why? Because consumers are fatigued by traditional advertising and less likely to trust what brands are paying advertisers to sell them.
That’s not to say paid media, especially highly targeted ones like programmatic advertising, don’t have their place. It simply means that paid media is stronger when coupled with existing trust.
The best way to get picked up by leading publications and journalists is by creating valuable, share-worthy content.
You might have access to proprietary data that can be used to provide market insights, trends, or behavioral patterns. For example, Brian Dean recently published a study analyzing 11.8 million Google search results. The goal was to figure out what makes content rank on page one:
At time of writing, this study has generated nearly 14,000 social shares and has been picked up by Search Engine Journal, HubSpot and Entrepreneur.
Other ways you can provide journalists and bloggers with highly valuable insights are:
- Interview prominent figures, thought leaders and industry influencers
- Tell a unique story about your brand
- Share unique customer and client results
- Create infographics and other pieces of visual content
These activities will help you build strong relationships with journalists hungry for original sources.
3. Make friends with influencers and thought leaders
Paid influencer engagement is great and often returns a high ROI, but earned media influencer engagement is so much sweeter.
Making friends with other thought leaders in your space can lead to collaboration opportunities, and most importantly, access to a new audience.
So, how do you get the attention of influencers?
First, you need to identify who they are. This coincides with the customer research process that we discussed above and will follow a similar trajectory.
Start by figuring out where your target audience consumes their information and then decipher what influencers they follow, cite, retweet, discuss amongst their peers, and so on.
Once you’ve identified these influencers, become familiar with their work. Read their blogs and social media posts, watch their videos and see how they interact with their followers.
Now that you’re familiar with who the influencers are and what they care about, it’s time to engage with them.
At this stage, many marketers are tempted to go in with the “ask”. But influencers are busy, plus they have no idea who you are. Why should they help you?
There are several ways to seed your influencer relationships. For example, getting them involved in your guest blogging efforts is a great way to add mutual value. You’re helping them get in front of a wider audience and amplifying their own profile.
You could also celebrate them on social media. One example of this is to create social content that highlights what they do well. For example, our founder, Tom, recently shared an email notification SparkToro sent out before billing the company card:
The goal was to simply share an idea with his followers. But this ended up getting retweeted by Rand Fishkin, who happens to be the founder of SparkToro, generating a tremendous amount of engagement:
The fundamental principle is this: Build relationships by being truly valuable, and by treating influencers like humans. They’re trying to build their network, overcome challenges and succeed just like you. How can you help them do that?
4. Generating high-quality backlinks
Link building is still one of the most important aspects of SEO. According to the same Backlinko study we celebrated earlier, “the #1 result in Google has an average of 3.8x more backlinks than positions #2-#10”.
The best way to earn links is by creating content that people want to reference. The more valuable and solutions-driven, the more share-worthy content tends to be.
Earning links helps to drive organic traffic to your content, generate social shares, increase brand awareness and make Google see your content as more trustworthy.
There are several link building methods we use in our arsenal, but one of our favorites is through partnerships. We team up with other content creators in our client’s industries, and partner to help make content better for all parties involved.
For example, if we see that there’s an opportunity to create a new sub-section within existing content, we’ll happily write it out and provide it for them. We’ll even provide the data as to why it will help improve the performance of that content.
What if they want a backlink in return? Reciprocal links are a no-no, but there are other ways you can help:
- Introduce them to someone else in your network
- Get them involved in your guest blogging efforts
These mutually beneficial partnerships will go a long way. Ultimately, by forming relationships with other content creators, you can amplify each other’s content and open up a dialog for long-term collaboration.
It all leads back to taking the necessary time to research, build and nurture relationships with other content creators. The more time you spend understanding and talking to influencers and content creators in your space, the better chance you’ll have of making influential connections that drive organic growth.
5. Partnering with other brands using co-marketing campaigns
Similar to link building, creating content with other brands rests on building mutually beneficial relationships. These brands often live within your target market and share a similar audience, but don’t fall into the competitor category.
For example, if you’re growing a project management SaaS company, you may be interested in partnering with a coworking space. While you aren’t direct competitors, you may share an audience of entrepreneurs who work remotely.
In this scenario, you’d want to create a mutually beneficial marketing campaign. In exchange for promoting their coworking space to your target audience, they will promote your project management SaaS tool to their members.
Once launched, it’s simply a matter of promoting to your respective audiences. If your partner has a larger audience than you, offer to create the content from end-to-end in order to alleviate the burden. In turn, you get access to a new audience and your partner has a fresh piece of content.
Other co-marketing efforts can include exclusive offers for your partner’s audience or bundles with other brands that sell complementary products.
6. Injecting earned media into your owned content
This point brings us full circle. After doing the necessary work to gain earned media, give it a boost by injecting it back into your owned content.
A great place to do this in your blog posts, throughout case studies, in testimonials on your website, on social media channels via retweets and post shares and through interviews.
Referencing earned media within your own content helps you solidify social proof and become an even stronger authority in your space. You are essentially doubling down on your earned media efforts and consistently pointing back to the organic, earned mentions you’ve gained.
Earned media content must align with your existing content strategy and distribution goals. The best way to guarantee earned media efforts won’t go to waste is by keeping your business’s existing content marketing processes top of mind.
Gaining earned media is all about building and capitalizing on meaningful partnerships with the people and brands that your target audience already trusts and positioning your earned content in front of them.