What Is Earned Media Value?

what is earned media
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Earned Media Value (EMV): What It Is, Why It’s Important, How To Measure It

Earned media refers to any type of social media exposure gained through word-of-mouth, recommendations, or conversations about the brand. This form of media includes user-generated content, reviews, brand mentions, or any other form of content that is shared by social media users in relation to a brand.

Although typically acquired through paid and owned channels, earned media functions as an uncontrolled media, or only partially controlled with a comprehensive marketing strategy. For example, Target featured an Instagram image of two young girls happily styled in Target clothing that had originally been shared by the mother. Since the post was not sponsored by Target, it represents an off-the-cuff method in which the brand monitors for positive brand experiences to then feature and amplify on its own accounts. Yet, the uncontrollable aspects of earned media haven’t stopped brands or marketers from attempting to measure its value.


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More recently, brands have turned to influencer marketing, a form of both paid and earned media, as authentic recommendations and branded shares from a trusted person are much more appealing to Millennial consumers than ads. Nielsen reported 83% of global respondents trust recommendations from people they know, while 66% trust consumer opinions online. Thus, brands have unleashed the power of influencers upon their impressionable audiences. But measuring the ROI of both this tactic and earned media has brought an onslaught of confusion.

Measuring Earned Media Value

In a Harris Poll survey gauging familiarity with earned media in the United States, 10% of respondents stated they were somewhat familiar with earned media, while 68% of respondents said they had never heard of it. Despite the majority not having a firm grip on the concept, brands and marketers alike have scrambled to assign concrete value to earned media.

avg EMV of influencer marketing

In influencer marketing campaigns run by RhythmOne in 2016 and 2017, earned media value (EMV) for every 1 U.S. dollar of paid media spent was reported as 11.69 and 12.21, respectively. Without industry knowledge or benchmarks for this metric though, distinguishing this value from paid advertising ROI grows murky.

earned media value luxury brands

Looking at select luxury brands’ earned media value in March 2016 and 2017, Business Insider and Tribe Dynamics aggregated data in a graph to show that the brands saved an average of $33 million USD on paid advertising. In other words, luxury brands harnessed social media exposure and influencer marketing in replacement of paid advertising. Gucci alone saved $58 million USD in March 2017, equating to more than twice the previous year’s earned media value.

The harsh truth is that measuring earned media value has virtually zero consistency – each brand dictates its own metrics depending on the initial campaign goals. Typical vanity metrics, such as likes and impressions, are abstract and fail to address brands’ larger business objectives. For this reason, EMV represents an uncharted and arbitrary territory for many business owners looking to translate earned media into impactful KPIs and tangible value.

Related Post: Biggest Benefits Of Influencer Marketing

Earned Media Benefits

As we’ve already learned, familiarity with earned media value runs low. However, brands look to earned media impressions to help start a dialogue between their brand and customers. Ensuring earned media is part of a brand’s marketing strategy presents a number of benefits:

  • Earned media holds the most credibility for brands. According to The Harris Poll, 71% of consumers said that reviews from family and friends have a great deal of influence on their buying intent, just as 74% rely on social media to make purchase decisions.
  • Earned media expands brands’ reach to a variety of audiences. Social media has amplified the quantity and reach of earned media. According to Forrester Research, people in the U.S. generate more than 500 billion online impressions on each other regarding products and services.
  • Earned media has staying power. Online word-of-mouth can reach millions and will continue to do so through searches and indefinitely indexed content, while loyal customers will continue to create branded content.

Drawbacks Of Assigning Exact Earned Media Value

In spite of the powerful branding effects and potential reach of earned media, some brands steer clear of assigning it too much credibility due to the following disadvantages:

  • No defined standard when it comes to measurement. Measuring EMV differs for each brand, depending on campaign goals, content type, or communication channels.
  • Target audience is often neglected. Brands often focus on metrics, such as social following and engagement, rather than brand resonance. Without access to a niche audience through influencer relationships, engagement becomes merely social noise without conversions.
  • Earned media as a full-blown strategy is tricky. Earned media strategy frequently resides as an afterthought, with a goal to generate extra impressions as opposed to implementing a thoughtful approach.

Related Post: Top Online Advertising Statistics Marketers Should Know

Alternative Measurements To Earned Media Value

Perhaps the most daunting issue brands face when it comes to earned media, and influencer marketing specifically, is measuring return on investment (ROI). But fear not, as we’ve identified four methods to quantify influencer marketing ROI:

  • Return on ad spend (ROAS)
  • Reach
  • Engagement
  • Social sentiment

You can read more about what each method entails in order to best engineer influencer campaigns here.

While EMV should not be directly compared to paid advertising efforts, brands should understand earned media’s role within their marketing playbook. The difficulty to quantify its value should not deter marketers from employing earned media, rather it should encourage brands to carefully plan their earned media strategy with realistic goals and expectations. Agencies can help brands prioritize goals, plan and acquire earned media, and accurately measure campaign success.

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