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The digital transformation of the media landscape has changed the way brands connect with consumers. Whereas audiences were previously limited to a handful of newspapers and streaming outlets, users can now choose from dozens of traditional and digital publications, social media channels, blogs, and vlogs.
At the same time, brand teams benefit from having many more options to reach current and potential users. Some of those channels allow companies to connect directly with their users without the need for a journalist or editor in the middle.
There is no doubt that the digital transformation of the media has transformed brand communication. Yet despite the drastic changes, a key element of communication between brands and consumers remains the same. That element is the need to establish trust and build credibility. Earned media coverage is one of the most powerful tools for brands to build consumer trust and credibility.
Related: Why Earned Media Is The Best Way To Earn Your Reputation
What is earned media?
Simply put, most brand communications reach consumers through one of three channels. These channels are earned, purchased, and owned media. Distinguishing between them is relatively easy.
Owned media refers to anything published directly by the brand, for example, on the company blog or social media channels. Purchased media includes digital and analog advertising, including social media, newspapers, and even billboards. Earned media refers to media coverage filtered through a third party, such as a journalist, blogger, or consumer.
Successful media strategies optimize their tactics on all three. By doing that, the company can take advantage of the respective strengths while covering the possible disadvantages.
The power of earned media
Of the three pillars of media, earned media builds the most trust between a brand and its audience. The fact that the brand message was leaked through a third party immediately raises its credibility.
A pre-pandemic survey by YouGov showed that more than nine in ten consumers trusted earned media. By comparison, only about 50% of those surveyed believed in the content of paid ads. Just a few years ago, reaching consumers through earned media meant creating a strong public relations (PR) strategy and reaching out to newspapers, radio and TV stations.
In the digital age, the importance of a well-constructed public relations strategy remains the same. But public relations professionals have at their disposal a much broader selection of possible means of communication. As a result, this industry is projected to grow globally from $88 billion in revenue in 2020 to $129 billion in 2025. In the United States, growth was also reported by public relations agencies despite the effects of the coronavirus on the economy in general.
Combined with high levels of consumer confidence, the growth of the public relations industry shows that earned media continues to create outstanding brand equity.
Related: 6 Strategies to Maximize Earned Media for Your Brand
From getting noticed to establishing thought leadership
Previously, the success of public relations campaigns depended on strong relationships with established media outlets and intense promotion to a limited number of journalists. Today, the PR campaigns of most brands have a different scope. PR professionals connect with journalists in the classic sense of the word and reach out to bloggers and other brand-relevant influencers.
Just like classic newspaper or magazine coverage is earned in the media, so is a mention in a highly read personal blog or on an influencer’s social media channel. The same goes for content shared by users. Coverage has been won in each case, and the brand message has been leaked by a third party. As a result, the message has been given greater credibility.
Invitations to guest blog on a third-party channel or appear on another person’s or organization’s podcasts are two more examples of earned media. Both provide excellent opportunities for brands to establish thought leadership in their field. Of course, anyone can start on this path through their own means, such as a company blog. However, being featured by an external medium increases the credibility of the content.
Related: What is earned and owned media? And how can they serve your business?
Choose Earned Media
If a media outlet can add credibility to a brand’s message, it stands to reason that choosing the wrong outlet can also damage an organization’s credibility. Therefore, effective earned media coverage requires a strategic approach that defines the target publications and the people the brand wants to build a relationship with.
The reputation of the selected media channel and its credibility, or lack thereof, will automatically be reflected in the brand. Ideally, the credibility of third-party earned media enhances the brand’s credibility and helps grow and protect its reputation in the short and long term.
Earned Media Limitations
Increased credibility and trust in a brand are the main benefits of a successful media activity. But there are limitations to this approach, especially if it’s not combined with other media relations activity.
Even before the pandemic, journalists believed that trust in the media was waning due to so-called fake news and disinformation campaigns. Journalists believed that consumers had begun to question the authenticity of online sources.
Research by the Pew Research Center found that for political news, Americans placed some level of trust in the news medium they used most frequently, although this trust was not uniform across the population. Trust levels varied depending on the political orientation of the survey participants, with Democrats being more likely to trust their main news source.
Another limitation of earned media is its reliance on third parties. This level of dependency can make it difficult for brands to get their message out there promptly. Establishing trust and working relationships with journalists, bloggers and other third parties can also be time consuming. This can be a serious barrier to the success of new brands, but it’s not enough to remove earned media from the communications plan.
Earned media is critical to building trust and credibility between brands and their audiences. It works most effectively as part of a complete and balanced media strategy.