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.
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.
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.
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.
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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:
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:
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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:
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.