Earned Media Definition: 38 Experts Weigh In

How Marketers and PR Professionals Define Earned Media

Can you keep a secret-earned media Earned media, while not a media platform in the conventional sense, is what marketers traditionally view as PR.

Whether it appears on social media, third party media, or curated media (search and review sites,) earned media gets other people talking about your company and/or brand – especially customers, influencers, and other media entities.

Earned media also includes mentions in everyday conversations as well as at events and conferences.

Ideally, earned media encourages prospects to become interested enough in your offering so that they’re at least willing to try it out. Translation: the impact of earned media is measurable.

While not paid promotion, earned media does require work and budget to achieve.

38 Earned media definitions

To help clarify what earned media is and how differently various marketing professionals characterize it, we asked experts for their earned media definition.  Can you keep a secret-earned media

1. Earned media is any content created about a marketer or brand that wasn’t directly created or commissioned by that marketer. (My perspective is that of a marketer at a creative agency.) David Berkowitz,
 MRY; Twitter: @dberkowitz

2. As the owner of a B2B digital marketing agency, we always appreciate the proverbial re-tweet as an unsolicited mention that contributes to sharing a link to content. Likewise, shares and mentions on other social channels are examples of earned media. Even comments on published articles/blog posts are a form of earned media because they create potential for authentic engagement. Bernie Borges, Find and Convert; Twitter: @BernieBorges

3. Earned media is defined by the  following 7 attributes.

  • Supports achieving your business objectives.
  • Involves building relationships.
  • Requires other people to mention you or your business.
  • Extends the 4 key types of media.
  • Leverages other people’s audiences.
  • Requires business resources.
  • Yields measurable and trackable results.

Heidi Cohen, Actionable Marketing Guide; twitter: @HeidiCohen

4. I’m a content marketer with a focus on search and social. I put a high value on earned media. Here’s how I define it:

  • Any positive mention of my brand, created by someone other than me, published somewhere other than my site.

This could be as short as a quote or as long as a in-depth write up, written by a neighborhood blogger or a big time journalist. I consider it “earned” because the writer had to be aware of something we did and impressed by it. Usually they mention something that we wrote on our blog.

The word “earned” is perfect since it indicates that it’s work. It’s hard work to create something worth mentioning and then make others aware of it. You’re not entitled to it.

I don’t make much of a distinction between influencer marketing, PR or earned media. They’re all about online networking Earned media

Do something really good and making it really visible to the right people.  Andy Crestodina, Orbit Media and author of Content Chemistry; Twitter: @Crestodina

5. I’m both a marketer and a software startup founder. I define earned media as “content organically created by third-party that mentions our product, company or content”.

Note that this definition as well as in my opinion, media shouldn’t be restricted to “media created by a media company” such as a newspaper or a TV network. While everybody dreams about getting a feature in The New York Times, a tweet from an important influencer in your market mentioning your brand can be highly valuable. It’s simple yet powerful. Guillaume Decugis, Scoop.It; Twitter: @GDecugis

6. I define earned media in two ways:

  • A mention of our company on another website in regards to our product, our research or another one of our assets (i.e. blog posts, ebook, webinar).
  • A byline or article authored by someone in our organization and placed on another website or blog.

These mentions/placements aren’t paid for, but instead cultivated due to press outreach and relationship building with other organizations. A good content marketing strategy includes using earned media to generate leads and act as an onramp to owned media properties. Pawan Deshpande, Curata; Twitter: @TweetsFromPawan

7. Earned media is what was traditionally referred to as media relations. Today earned media has expanded to include blogger relations, influencer relations and investor relations. Earned Media Defined In Context

Earned media is a critical element of the PESO model, paid, earned, shared, and owned. When you integrate two of the four media types, you gain certain advantages. But, combine all four, you gain authority, which is what every organization wants. Gini Dietrch, ArmentDietrich and author of Marketing in the Round and Spin Sucks; Twitter: @GiniDietrich

8. Earned media is exposure you gain for your brand without having to pay for it. Generally speaking, this happens when others find your content to be valuable enough that they want to share it with their audience, either by writing about it, talking about it, or sharing it.

Earned media does not mean that you are sitting back passively hoping that something will happen.

You can go out and try different campaigns to do something to, well, “earn” them. This can come in the form of publishing great content, announcing something impactful, or proactively engaging in interaction with third parties such as potential customers and influencers.

As for my perspective, I am CEO of a digital agency. Eric Enge, Stone Temple Consulting and author of The Art of SEO; Twitter: @stonetemple

9. As a business owner, earned media are the channels through which I can reach my clients and potential clients without having to pay for them.

Actually I don’t make a distinction between owned and earned media because, even in my “owned” channels (like my blog and my website), I still have to work hard to “earn” the traffic I get there. My blog is earned media, my Facebook page is earned media, my Twitter account is earned media, etc.

I’ve “earned” the traffic and visibility by being helpful and bringing insights and value to my audience. Emeric Ernoult, Agorapulse; Twitter: @EErnoult

10. I am currently the CMO of a large, global media agency. My definition of “earned media” would be any content, press coverage or advertising not controlled by an advertiser but that promotes that advertiser’s products or services as a by-product of a company’s active or passive activities. Stephanie Fierman, MediaCom Worldwide; Twitter: @StephFierman

11. For me, earned media is media that you haven’t paid for or created yourself. As a social media marketer, earned media is the sprinkles on top of your other social media marketing. Peg Fitzpatrick, author of The Art of Social Media; Twitter: @PegFitzpatrick

12. As a content marketer, I define earned media as any mention of you, your company or its products and services on a website other than your own.  It typically includes mentions on news websites, blogs and Google!

To a much lesser extend, I include social media shares as long they’re from accounts other than you’re own. If you guest blog or write for a news website that counts as earned media because you’ve had to earn the opportunity to write for them. Adam Franklin, Bluewire Media and author of Web Marketing That Works; Twitter: @Franklin_Adam

13. Earned media is publicity you don’t pay for or own. It’s rave reviews from brand advocates, and Twitter tirades by unhappy customers. Kerry O’Shea Gorgone, MarketingProfs; Twitter: @KerryGorgone

14. From the perspective of a Content Marketer, earned media is “uncontrolled” media. You don’t pay for it. You don’t create it. You don’t publish it.

Earned media is when others choose to create content around your product or service. It’s also often perceived as the most authentic.

While press coverage is one traditional form, earned media now also takes the form of individual social media posts, likes, blogger coverage, links, rants — you name it. Typically, it’s organic coverage and not over-orchestrated. Deana Goldasich, Well Planned Web, LLC; Twitter: @Goldasich

15. It’s not about the job. It’s about the function. In an economy where attention is at a premium, earned media is the ability to not just earn attention but have others share your messageSarah Hofstetter, 360i; Twitter: @Pezmeister1

16. I view earned media as referrals for your business. As a marketer for startups I see it as by far the most important type of media.

With global consumers placing the highest amount in trust in earned media, what friends and co-workers term ‘cool, must-use, helpful, fun or effective’ is paramount to getting a new service launched and seen.

Companies are just starting to scratch the surface in terms of creating an environment and a supporting structure to allow customers and brand fans to more easily play a role in creating, co-creating and distributing content.

If I were launching a startup today, my efforts would focus 100% on giving people a reason to love, write share, like, post and tweet about us.  Kelly Hungerford, Paper.li; Twitter: @KDHungerford

17. I’m a CMO at an insights and ad tech company, whose customers are leading consumer brand marketers.

Earned media are media impressions achieved that aren’t created by a brand’s owned media channels, or paid for in an exchange with a publisher. They could be impressions created by social sharing, word of mouth, or news media coverage, or analyst coverage. Max Kalehoff, Social Code; Twitter: @ MaxKalehoff

18. As a B2B content marketer, I define earned media as any time someone out there talks about your brand without being paid to do so.

At Velocity, we find that a lot of our best content distribution (either for Velocity or for our clients) often comes from earned media: getting a pie shared by people with big followings, or even embedded in their blogs (one of the ultimate forms of earned media). Doug Kessler, Velocity; Twitter: @DougKessler

19. From a content marketing perspective, I consider earned media the “word of mouth” of the Internet and a new means of PR. It’s extra promotion and publicity that you get without paying a cent, and usually it happens organically.

Say you create a piece of content that lives on your website (your piece of owned media). You share it through your respective promotional channels. It gains momentum in the form of lots of social shares and maybe even gets distributed on third party sites.

You’ve just gained way more attention for your content and your website than you would’ve on your own. Of course, the content you create has to be worthwhile to gain so much traction and result in earned media in the first place, so this is where proper content strategy and planning come into play before pressing publish. Arnie Kuenn, Vertical Measures and author of Content Marketing Works; Twitter: @ArnieK

20. As a digital marketer with a Madison Avenue heritage, I define any form of earned media as visibility, positive mention or coverage where the firm did not pay for the exposure.  More specifically, I include in online earned media SEO, social media (unamplified), blog mentions, online press mentions, mentions within online video/podcasts/webinars. Kevin Lee, Didit and author of  Search Engine Advertising; Twitter: @Kevin_Lee_QED

21. Earned media is getting people to talk about you/your product/your brand. In digital, this encompasses PR and social media platforms. Rebecca Lieb,  author of Content Marketing; Twitter: @Lieblink

22. As a PR person, I can say this: earned media is a fancy word for public relations. It’s any publicity you get through a third party that’s unpaid; you supposedly earn it, don’t pay for it. That means media outlets, blogs, and influencers.Wendy Marx, Marx Communications; Twitter: @WendyMarx

23. As the CEO of a marketing firm, with 19 years of experience in marketing, I believe earned media is the result of integrated marketing versus straight media relations.

Defining earned media as press coverage driven solely by PR efforts is a narrow view. I believe that earned media is the end result of coordinated, multi-channel efforts. But regardless of the campaign, strong earned media is preceded by disciplined product development and strategically designed go-to-market strategies.

When a full marketing plan comes together, earned media comes from all channels including press coverage and social distribution and sharing; and should be ultimately judged by the impact on leads and/or sales. Erin (Mack) McKelvey, SalientMG; Twitter:  @MackMcKelvey

24. As a marketer I define earned media quite simply as any mentions, shares, posts or link backs generated by your own content along with recommendations, reviews and/ or press that is unpaid. It’s a pretty broad definition, but I think it should be since it can come in so many different forms. Jason Miller, LinkedIn and author of Welcome To The Funnel; Twitter: @JasonMillerCA

25. As a marketer, I look at earned media as the fruits of creating ideal conditions that generate value for your clients value or cause your content to be shared and amplified. Advocates are willing to spread news of your clients value, while others see it as an opportunity to capitalize on your value or virality. Either can be considered a win.” Kevin Mullet, MarketSnare; Twitter: @KMullett

26. Earned media – the coverage resulting from engagment with current and potential customers – is the sweet spot in C2C, B2C and B2B marketing. It helps to enhance reputation in a way no paid or company-owned media can do.

However, earned media is not a standalone strategy. It has to be integrated into paid and owned media to create credibility and establish brand authority.  B.L. Ochman, Maximum-Plus.com; Twitter: WhatsNext

27. Earned media is a valuable piece of press coverage that sheds a favorable light on a brand or individual. My team makes the argument that earned media never has had a persuasion problem but rather a distribution problem. What good is great press if no one sees it? Larry Otsuka, Outbrain; Twitter: @LOtsuka197

28. Earned media to me is exposure you received for doing anything incredible or above and beyond. For example, I’ve received a lot of links and press from university newspapers for my detailed online marketing guides. If I didn’t focus on creating valuable information, I would have not received the press. Neil Patel, Crazy Egg; Twitter: @NeilPatel

29. Earned media anything that isn’t outright owned by the company or brand itself such as a blog, landing page, Twitter handle, LinkedIn account or Facebook page; or paid for, such as display ads and sponsored editorial.

Earned media generally takes the form of editorial content written by independent, third party influencers like trade or business reporters or editors, or industry analysts. But, today’s media landscape offers more ‘earned media’ opportunities than ever before.

Word of mouth also constitutes a form of earned media. If you read something about a brand in a newspaper and tell a friend about it, that’s also earned media. The same is true of someone tweeting about your brand, sharing your Facebook page post on their own page and with friends, posting earned media links to internal enterprise social networks like Yammer or on their LinkedIn pages, etc.  Joel Richman, SHIFT Communications; Twitter: @xylem

30. As a marketing strategist, I look at earned media as the coverage I get based on the quality of my content versus the price I paid. In other words, it’s the sharing or coverage of my content that comes as a result of its quality, rather than my direct expense in placing it.  Robert Rose, Content Marketing Institute and author of Managing Content Marketing; Twitter: @Robert_Rose 

31. As a public relations professional, it bothers me to see paid media (also called “sponsored content”) disguised as earned media. When media coverage is paid for, it’s advertising, not journalism.

Marketers use it extensively these days; often there’s not much visual difference between paid media and earned media. That’s a disservice to the public.

If it isn’t clear that editorial content was paid for, the reader gets the impression that the content was something the editorial staff thought was important or interesting enough to merit coverage, when actually the only reason it appeared was that someone paid for it to be there.

Marketers find paid media coverage attractive for this very reason: Many readers don’t understand the meaning of “sponsored content.” They don’t realize what they’re reading is paid promotion. That’s why it’s effective. I find this disturbing. Lucy Siegel, Bridge Global Strategies (a Didit Company); Twitter: @BridgeGlobalPR  

32. I consider earned media to be media that is gained as a result of PR efforts that influence editorial or spread through word of mouth. It’s not paying for media. Jennifer Smith, AriZona Beverages; Twitter:  @DrinkArizona

33. Earned media is editorial coverage you win by pitching rather than paying. I’m a marketer with roots in PR, newspaper and radio. George Stenitzer, Crystal Clear Communications; Twitter: @RiverWordGuy

34. I work in a world of digital analysts so I care very much about definitions.

  • The correct answer is: Earned media is whatever the client thinks it is, as long as they are consistent across all properties.
  • The generic answer is: Earned media is exposures or impressions achieved without paying cash.

Jim Sterne of eMetrics Summit and Digital Analytics Association. He’s also author of Email Marketing; Twitter:  @JimSterne

35. As a veteran public relations professional, I define earned media as media placements earned by the blood, sweat and tears of a media relations campaign.

Earned media includes bylined articles written for clients that are placed by public relations folks in media outlets as well as independent stories featuring clients that appear in online, print and broadcast channels that were cultivated by PR efforts. Nancy Tamosaitis-Thompson, Vorticom, Inc.; Twitter: @Vorticom

36. Earned media includes all posts generated from customers, prospects, and the community at large. These can be shares, reposts, reviews, mentions, and others, and is often confused with social media properties, which should be considered owned media.

The difference is the source of the material. Earned media is created by people outside your organization; owned media is produced by the company on its channels. As a social media manager, we love when campaigns are created that generate lots of engagement and earned media. Eric T. Tung, BMC Software; Twitter: @EricTTung

37. The power of PR has always been based on the ability to tell a good story. It must be original, credible, relevant, and engaging.

Then, you must get third party influencers, including the media, tastemakers, stakeholders and shareholders, to pick-up your story and share it verbatim, or adapted, without pay, with their friends, family and communities. This freely shared content, without compensation, is how I define earned media.

Earned media has the potential to move consumers up the brand ladder from awareness to acceptance and can be an awesome force in launching and building brands, businesses and organizations through authentic third-party testimonials.

Earned media is essential in the new social world of content marketing where friends and family, professors and journalists rank highest for trustworthiness in info-sharing. Deborah Weinstein, Strategic Objectives; Twitter: @DebWeinstein

38. Definitions around paid, owned and earned have grown even more confusing in recent years as large grey areas and overlaps have emerged, such as native advertising.

Earned media is also something of a misnomer, in that it doesn’t always have to be something directly ‘earned’; rather it’s an outcome of some activity the brand may have done.

I think of it as ‘everything that happens outside your own channels.’ This includes relevant mentions of your brand, campaign or products in the news, on forums, on social media or in any other medium that the brand does not have a tight influence over. Joel Windels, Brandwatch; Twitter: @LinkYeah

 

While marketers, PR professionals, SEO practitioners and social media experts differ as to their specific earned media definition, they all agree that it’s the ability to get other people to discuss or write about your company or product.

This means on any media platform that you don’t own. This includes social media, third party media and/or curated media (such as search and rating and review sites). It can also occur live via an event, conference or person-to-person.

What is your definition of earned media and what is the basis for your point of view?

Editor’s note: Actionable Marketing Guide has edited responses for grammar and formatting. Any change in meaning is totally our fault.

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen



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  • Heidi that is really interesting to hear how other marketing professionals define earned media. Thanks for getting all those insights!

  • Ryan Squire

    Heidi, thanks for brining this all together. I think it’s interesting that most people who mentioned reviews (and so few did) see the POSITIVE as earned media. I think that misses the point. By virtue of the experience with your product, you EARN the perception and review; and that can be positive or negative based on the experience you deliver. The positive OR negative is earned.