What is Earned Media? Improve Your Content Marketing Strategy

Content and media marketing is a key element of every business’ marketing strategy (or, at least, it should be!). Not only can strong content from and about your business have a huge impact on your SEO and overall ranking in search results, but positive media about your business can help define your business’ brand, build credibility, grow your audience, and generally have a positive effect on your online reputation. What’s more, content marketing is showing itself as a superior advertising strategy – content marketing gets three times more leads than paid search advertising.

More and more, people are looking online to find out more about businesses, and what they find will inevitably impact whether or not they choose to engage with your business. But when it comes to online media, and what people are saying about your business – not to mention, what you say about your business – there’s a lot to keep track of. What is earned media? Paid? Owned?

To develop a strong online media marketing strategy, you need to know how it all fits together, and what it can really do for you. Here, we’ll define the three kinds of marketing media, when and how to use them, and where to start.

Different Types of Media and Impact on SEO

There are three primary categories of online media: owned, sponsored, and earned.

Forrester Research | Types of Media

Although each category has its own benefits and obstacles, an effective content marketing strategy will utilize all three. Owned media allows you to define your brand and establish your business as an expert in your industry. Sponsored media increases brand visibility and awareness. Earned media increases your business’ credibility and trustworthiness, and can increase conversation around your brand. Together, these forms of media can help define your business’ brand, increase visibility, and help you reach your target audience and grow your customer base.

Content marketing also can have a significant impact on your SEO efforts:

Content is king in SEO. Whether owned, sponsored, or earned, content published about your business will have a positive impact on your website’s overall ranking in results. Not only does high-quality content have a much higher chance of ranking, but content that provides information to or answers questions from your target audience is more likely to receive engagement from that audience.

          1. Fresh content is rewarded in Google Search results. Ever since Google’s 2011 Freshness Update, how recent or up-to-date content is has an impact on where it will rank in results. Featuring new content on your website andsharing it on social media platforms can increase the positive impact of new content.

          2. More content means more to share. Social media is a key element of most businesses’ SEO strategy, and a regular stream of new content means you have more to share on these platforms. Sharing content won’t only keep your social media profiles active, but will give that content a boost and increase its traffic.

          3. Content hosted on different sites will improve your website’s backlink variety. Another key factor that influences your ranking in Google Search results is the variety and quality of backlinks to your site. The more content you  place on sites with high domain authority – or that those sites organically post about you – the stronger your website will become in search results.

To learn more about the different types of media and how to best use them in your content marketing strategy, we have created a guide to define each category of media, how it can positively impact your business’ online reputation, and how to best make use of each type of media for your business.

Owned Media

What is owned media?

Owned media or content is any content that you create and publish on a property that you own. This can include your website, blog, email newsletters, social media channels, etc.

What are the benefits of owned media?

Owned media should be the foundation of your online content marketing strategy. The more owned media you have, the greater its impact. Owned media can increase your visibility online, define your brand and brand voice, strengthen your website and social profiles, and establish your business as a thought leader and expert in your industry.

When it comes to using owned media to its full advantage, you want to consider volume and quality. Publish high-quality, informative content regularly, and share your content on your social media channels. Ensure that your content is not overly self-promotional, but is still relevant to your business offerings and brand message.

To learn more about developing an effective owned media strategy, read our guide on producing impactful content.

Sponsored (or Paid) Media

What is sponsored media?

Sponsored media – also referred to as “paid media” or “sponsored content” – is any content that you pay for. It is promotional media that is paid for by a business but shared (and sometimes created) by another entity, usually another brand, publication, influencer, etc.

A notable element of sponsored content is that it fits in with the other content on the platform that it is published on, making it more subtle and less invasive than a traditional advertisement.

Types of Sponsored Media

Sponsored media can take many forms, and it’s likely you’ve run into several different forms of sponsored content online. Types of sponsored media include:

  • Sponsored posts or articles
  • Videos about a product or service, or with mentions of it at some point in the video
  • Social media posts, often by influencers, or people who have an audience that overlaps with your business’ target audience
  • Sponsored social media posts that look like other posts on the platform
  • Features or shoutouts in podcast episodes, web series, etc.
  • Sponsorships of events, limited-time products, or partnerships with nonprofits or other organizations

Is sponsored media different from native advertising?

When talking about sponsored media, the term “native advertising” often comes up. Native advertising is paid advertising where the ad matches the feel and style of the platform where it is published. Native advertising is a more general or open-ended term than sponsored media, and sponsored media is considered a type of native advertising.

The idea behind native advertising – as well as sponsored media – is that these forms of promotion are meant to not be as disruptive as a traditional advertisement. Studies show that it’s not so much that consumers don’t like advertising at all, but that they don’t like intrusive ads, or advertisements that disrupt their experience on a website.

For example, here is a sponsored post on Reddit designed to look like organic posts:

Reddit Sponsored Media | Status Labs

This advertisement was shared on this particular subreddit likely because the users on that subreddit are overlap with the target audience of the advertiser (in this case, Amazon), and the presentation of the advertisement as a post will likely result in users interacting with it in some capacity before realizing that it is an ad.

Native advertising is generally less content-oriented than sponsored media and more about subtle ad design. The six types of native advertising are:

  1. In-feed ads
  2. Paid search
  3. Recommendation widgets
  4. Promoted listings
  5. In-ad with native element units
  6. Custom ads

What sets sponsored media apart from editorial content?

Sponsored media is media that a business has paid for a publication, influencer, or other entity to post on their behalf. Editorial content is published content that is not meant to sell something, but is intended to inform or educate in some way.

While the format of sponsored content can be helpful to reach prospective customers – and bypass some of consumers’ skepticism when it comes to more traditional advertising – a study in 2015 revealed that consumers often could not tell the difference between sponsored and editorial media.

While consumers should know when they’re viewing an advertisement, brands should be able to partner with publications and individuals to create sponsored content. As a result, the FTC required that sponsored posts must disclose that they are sponsored. These disclosures must be clear, close to the advertisement, and not hidden in any way.

If you scroll back to the Reddit ad we showed earlier, you’ll see “Promoted” in bright blue in the upper left-hand corner of the post. Similarly, you’ll often see the hashtag #ad or #sponsored on paid social media posts.

All that said, research suggests that sponsored media that is direct about the fact that it is sponsored can receive little to no backlash from consumers, particularly if the content is informative and not overly promotional.

How to Create Sponsored Media

When establishing your sponsored media strategy, there are a few key factors to consider:

  • Pick a content creator who aligns with your target audience. Not only will this give you the most bang for your buck, but your sponsored content will be less conspicuous or out-of-place to the audience, and their audience will likely find the sponsored content more trustworthy.
  • Do not over-promote in sponsored content. Sponsored content that is overly promotional or promotes your business too quickly or early on is likely to turn people off in the same way traditional or intrusive advertisements do. As with any high-quality content, you should identify a pain point that your business can help with and maintain a focus there.
  • Use different mediums. Content doesn’t just mean written posts. In fact, video content has risen to be the #1 form of media online, ahead of written content, images, and infographics. Written content is very valuable online, but don’t forget social media, video, podcasts, etc. when developing your sponsored media strategy.
  • Get creative. Not all sponsored content should look the same, and the less it looks like an ad, the better. Consider the platform you’re advertising on and use it to its full advantage. If your product can be used in a routine or tutorial, consider that presentation over a quick plug. Find podcasts that cover topics related to your industry and expertise. Jokes or humor can play will in sponsored content as well (depending on your business, of course).

What are the benefits of sponsored media?

Sponsored content can help a business increase its exposure, visibility, and number of backlinks to its website while reaching its target audience. By placing informative articles that are relevant to your business and industry that blend into the publishing website, you are able to advertise your business without alienating or pushing away consumers. In fact, consumers spend roughly 2.5 minutes reading sponsored articles on average, which is about the same amount of time they spend reading editorial – or non-sponsored – pieces. Even further, research has shown that consumers remember branded content twice as long as they remember a traditional advertisement.

Sponsored content gives your business more exposure to your target audience than traditional advertising, which can have a positive impact on brand visibility, reputation, website traffic, leads, and new customers. What’s more, your target audience will nearly always interact with sponsored content through a channel that they are already familiar with or trust, which will increase your brand’s credibility. With paid media, you have complete control of the content – title, keywords, backlinks, etc. – and you can put the best foot forward for your business.

As we stated earlier, leveraging sponsored content can also have a huge impact on your business’ SEO, sending more signals and traffic to your website and increasing the relevant keywords that your business ranks for in results.

Finally, sponsored media is a key stepping stone to securing more earned media. Sponsored media helps you increase your business’ exposure – and that visibility can improve your chances of receiving editorial content or public conversations about your business online. You have to be relevant in order to get published on high-ranking publications, and businesses with little to no content about them online will rarely make the cut – but, with enough paid media, your business will have an easier time receiving earned media.

Earned Media

What is earned media?

Earned media – also referred to as “earned content” – is any organic media, publicity, or public conversation about your brand or business. Earned media is not paid for by the business that it is about, and is instead created and published entirely by third parties.

Earned media can be press or news coverage, customer reviews and testimonials, mentions on social media, shares and retweets, blog posts that reference your company, word-of-mouth mentions or recommendations, name drops in videos or on podcasts, etc.

Although by nature earned media is media that you do not own or influence, there are ways to position your business to receive earned media coverage.

What are the benefits of earned media?

Earned media can have a huge impact on your business’ SEO and online reputation. All of the benefits of paid media are present with earned media – quality backlinks, audience exposure, etc. However, sponsored media can sometimes be considered too promotional or inauthentic by consumers, causing them to gloss over it just like they would a more traditional advertisement.

Earned media doesn’t have this problem. To put it simply: people just trust earned media more. A Nielsen study reported that over 65% of consumers trust online editorial content from newspapers and magazines, and that 67% of consumers stated that an unbiased endorsement of a product would make them more likely to purchase it. Earned media can also result in a bit of a snowball effect. If you receive earned media coverage from one publisher, it is likely that other publishers will cover your business as well.

Earned media also goes far beyond publications. With the rise of social media and review platforms online – both in user count and prominence – people are able to voice their opinions on any product or business and others will listen. 79% of users report trusting online reviews as much as personal recommendations from friends or family, and 87% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses in 2020. This was a 6% increase from 2019, and a 20% increase from 2010.

The conversation around your business online can have a huge impact on your reputation. Positive reviews or discussions around your business on social media and forums can have a massive impact on sales and outranking your competitors.

How to Get Earned Media

Although earned media is inherently not yours to create and post, there are things you can do to influence the likelihood of receiving earned media coverage:

  • Be consistent with owned media. Establishing your business as a thought leader in your industry will not only help your customers and improve your ranking in search results over time, but will help to build your reputation. Produce high-quality, well-researched content on themes relevant to your business and industry, and do so consistently. Share this content online, via your social media channels, newsletters, etc.
  • Utilize industry-specific influencers and publications for sponsored media. Identifying relevant players in your industry and collaborating with them will help establish you and create a network in your industry. These collaborations can go both ways – feature relevant influencers, writers, and industry partners on your site or in your owned content as well.
  • Keep social media active. Beyond just posting regularly and sharing your content, make sure you engage in conversations relevant to your business and industry. Share other peoples’ work and perspectives if it is relevant to you or would be helpful to your audience. Engage with your audience as well – more and more social media users report that brands’ social media presences influence whether or not they want to do business with those brands.
  • Do something worth writing about. Perhaps one of the best ways to appear in the news is to do something newsworthy. Partnerships with nonprofits, fundraisers, or huge strides in your industry can all be newsworthy moments. Release owned content about these events as well and share them on your social channels.
  • Reach out to journalists. Many journalists write stories that require features from particular industries or with specific backgrounds. Utilizing social media or tools like Help a Reporter Out (HARO) can help you identify relevant stories where you could comment. Check back on these often and make sure to be responsive, as most journalists are on a tight timeline when it comes to specific article topics.

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