We’ve all participated in earned media. If you’ve ever posted about the shoes you just bought or retweeted a brand’s hilarious meme, that was earned media for the brand.

Of course, you don’t just randomly post about brands. Something has to happen to encourage you to share, like a product is high quality or a blog post is super informative, to push you to post. So, just because you can’t completely control the earned media you receive from audiences, you also can’t just sit back and get it without effort. Like most parts of marketing, it takes a lot of work to perfect your earned media strategy to boost your brand’s reputation.

What is earned media?

Earned media is coverage or promotion of your brand through organic means. It’s a very effective form of content marketing and is also the toughest media type to get.

digital marketing mix ven diagram

Credit: Codedeisgn

There are three types of media: earned, owned and paid. Paid media is anything you paid for, such as a sponsored post in a magazine, a social media ad or an influencer’s post. Owned media is content that you’ve created or distribution channels that you control. For example, a blog post on your website, a social media post from your account or a newsletter. Some people add a fourth type of media, social media or shared media, to separate out the social media channels.

Earned media stands out from these two because it’s media that you don’t and can’t control. Examples of earned media include an Instagram mention when someone visits your shop, an unsolicited Yelp review and even a reshare of your blog post.

Why earned media is important for brands

Consumers trust friends and family for recommendations, online review sites and unpaid social media influencer posts. All of these are earned media and are influential in building your brand’s reputation.

Examples of earned media

There are several common types of earned media, and they all take time to build up. A lot of these are the natural result of community building and an effective press strategy.

Review sites

Earned media from review sites covers the feedback you receive from places like Yelp, TripAdvisor and Google My Business. Honest and positive reviews are earned media gold.

brightlocal infographic study on impact of reviews on local business

According to a Brightlocal study on consumer behavior around reviews, 87% of them read online reviews for local businesses and only 48% would consider using a business with less than four stars.

brightlocal study on reviews showing 28% search for more reviews to validate their choices

It’s not enough to know how consumers engage with reviews, it’s also important to know what they do after reading them. After reading a positive review of a local business, 31% visit the business’ website and 28% continue to look for more reviews. The average consumer will read 10 reviews before they’re feeling ready to trust a business.

As you can see, reviews are important to a consumer’s purchase decision. An effective online review management strategy is needed if you want to stay on top of them.

Media coverage

You might be thinking that media coverage falls under paid media, which is true for certain types. Advertising spots or sponsored articles are media coverage that your brand pays for and controls.

The media coverage that counts as earned media is when you are mentioned or written about without paying anyone to do so. For example, your product is listed on a gift guide or your company did something newsworthy and it was covered on a TV segment.

This is where PR work comes in. You can certainly do outreach with press releases but it’s not up to you when or where coverage takes place.

Social media shoutouts

There are a few ways that social media shoutouts happen. The customer could’ve had such an amazing experience at your restaurant that they had to share about it. Or your product filled a consumer need and they want to recommend it to others. Or you posted something sensational on Instagram and it just had to be reshared to others.

You can’t control what people post on social media but you can definitely influence them. How your brand behaves, how good your product is and how interesting your content is are all things that you can control. The more you do these things on a consistent basis, the more likely you’ll receive social media shoutouts.

To capitalize on their brand shoutouts, brands like Red Bull retweet fans’ comments and may also repost them to other networks. Including user-generated content as part of your content marketing strategy is one way to encourage more of these shoutouts.

Search engine results

Search engine optimization (SEO) plays a role in earned media. Every time you create content for your website, search engines take note. If someone’s search query matches up with that blog post you recently wrote, you might show up on the first page of results. You can use paid media in the form of paid search advertising to guarantee placement, but SEO tactics let you work organically to obtain ‘free’ placement if you execute them successfully.

From keyword research to technical best practices, there’s a lot of factors that go into a fully developed SEO strategy. Some important foundational elements are creating high quality and useful content that fulfills your audience’s needs.Try to align with the search intent and interests of your marketing personas to create findable and share-worthy content for your audience. You’ll get more value out of this approach than just chasing the most popular keywords that don’t necessarily relate to people’s reason for buying your product or service.

5 Tips for a successful earned media strategy

Now that you know some of the different types of earned media, here are some tips to increase your chances of obtaining earned media. Many of these tips cross platforms and channels, which means you can target boosting different types of earned media from just one of these tactics.

1. Create & maintain media relationships

When you think about talking to journalists and media people, do you think about only talking to them when you need something to be done? Media relationships are like any other relationship: you need to nurture them and build trust.

A journalist may not need your product immediately, but if you’ve established a working relationship, they might think of you when an opportunity arises. This relationship building doesn’t have to be done solely through email, either. Social media and PR work in tandem with each other since they allow both brands and journalists to keep track of what the other is doing. Take the time to foster these relationships and you’ll find that your brand mentions will naturally come up in articles and other media.

2. Create interesting & engaging content

Part of content marketing success is having content worth engaging with and sharing. If it strikes the right chord with the audience, they feel compelled to share it. Retweets and reshares count as earned media as well as accounts sharing content on their own.


For example, Domo’s infographic was so interesting that Sprout just had to share it with their audience. In this case, it counts as earned media for Domo.

3. Utilize all your distribution channels

Are you getting your content out in all possible ways? Don’t limit yourself to only social media as a content distribution channel. Send your content out in your newsletter and ask your employees to share it.

Bambu by Sprout Social screenshot

To make this easier for you, utilize an employee advocacy strategy to send out your best content to the people who are already big fans of your company. Think of your employees as another type of brand ambassador and a way for your customers to personally connect to your company.

4. Establish & demonstrate expertise

What’s one way to get your brand tapped as an expert in articles? Demonstrate your industry expertise through blog posts, social media posts and other types of owned content. As you establish yourself as a thought leader, you’ll naturally become a go-to source for your industry.

example of a thought leadership piece by HBR on linkedin

For example, Harvard Business Review is well known in management circles because of its history of publishing interesting and relevant articles on how to improve business management. This trust wasn’t built overnight. It was created over years of consistently high quality content.

5. Be amazing to your customers

According to Statista, 59% of customers have a more favorable view of brands that respond to questions or complaints on social media. Social customer care, while having been around for a while now, is still an area that few brands are truly exceptional in. So when it does happen, those great social shoutouts come about.


This also isn’t limited to social media. Being great with your customers should be happening in person, in email and wherever else you interact with them. When you go above and beyond for your entire customer base–not just for the influencers–people notice. Chewy regularly gets shoutouts like this because their customer experience team takes care of their customers in unique and personal ways.

How to track & measure earned media

You might be wondering how to know if an earned media strategy is even working. Your tracking method will vary depending on the direction of your strategy. On social media, you can track earned media data by keeping an eye on your brand mentions and keywords.

brand keywords in sprout social smart inbox

Every retweet, repost and reshare counts as earned media. Keep an eye on your brand’s share of voice to see how you’re doing within your industry. Are you getting more press than your competitors? If you’re creating content on your website, take a look at your referrals to see if you’re being ranked higher in search results or receiving more social media referrals.

Start your earned media strategy

Earned media is one of those types that all marketers want but don’t always get. That’s because the strategies that you use don’t guarantee success, they only increase your chances of it. It’s worth the effort though, because earned media is some of the most influential media around. From review sites to social media shoutouts, every brand wants to have more earned media.

One of the easiest ways to get going is to start influencer marketing. By starting a paid influencer strategy, you can build up relationships with brand advocates that lead to more earned media.