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Marketing

Understanding Earned Media: Tactics, Best Practices & Measuring Success

Paige Sander

prInfluencerEarned Media, Noun. Unpaid opportunities for brands to be written about, featured on prominent platforms, publicized through individual influencers in the industry, and linked back to.

Why Does Earned Media Matter?

PR is all about disseminating the right message on the right platform — whether that platform is a popular publication, an influencer, or a social media channel. Unfortunately, these platforms are becoming more and more difficult to leverage.

The authenticity and impartial nature of many influential publications have been called into question. Forming relationships with individual ‘influencers’ has become a daunting and inaccessible task for smaller companies. Guidelines around sponsored content are constantly shifting. This all means that the modern PR approach has changed. 

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When paid PR opportunities are hard to come by, brands turn to earned media to gain a foothold in the public conversation. For these brands, it’s critical to understand the true impact of earned media placements and how they play into other strategic initiatives.


From a high level, earned media can increase brand exposure, establish thought leadership, improve SEO/domain authority, and build better backlink profiles. Perhaps most importantly, earned media opens up communication channels with a large, relevant, and targeted audience.

In other words: once you figure out where your target buyer personas spend time online, earned media helps you gain visibility in those spaces.

Earned Media in Action

When you hear about earned media, you might think about cold pitching reporters for a company feature in Forbes or another national publication. However, this approach is far less effective than it was a few years ago. Marketers are now forced to find creative ways to approach these outlets for coverage.

Looking for opportunities to land earned media placements? We’ve got a few ideas.

  • Get HARO. Consider using Help a Reporter Out, also known as HARO. This is a compiled list of 50-70 media queries that appears right in your inbox three times a day. HARO is powered by Cision, who partners with both niche blogs and major media outlets to connect reporters with experts and professionals. This is an incredibly effective tool for gaining exposure and backlinks, and has earned Salted Stone clients multiple media placements.
  • Tweet. Search the hashtag ‘#JournoRequest’ on Twitter. Here, reporters looking for quotes or expert input will tweet out what they need. This is a free resource you can check periodically for relevant requests.
  • Contribute. Pay attention to the topics that journalists are reporting on within your space, and keep an eye out for guest author guidelines/guest post submission calendars for publications in your industry. Reach out to content creators and writers directly and see how you can contribute information for upcoming pieces. Many media publications also publish regular “expert roundups”, with tips, advice, and ideas about a specific topic taken directly from thought leaders. Inquire about getting a spokesperson from your organization featured as an authority.

  • Use Groupthink. Find and join LinkedIn and Facebook groups, Slack channels, and subreddits tailored to industry-specific sharing of information. You can use these platforms to discover what your target demographics are talking about, then provide them with genuinely helpful information while you’re at it. If a piece of your content directly answers a user’s question, drop in a quote from the piece with a link and add additional questions or insights when you reply. Don’t push too hard for clicks on these platforms, however, and avoid coming off as a salesperson simply looking for leads — aim to be as helpful and ‘human’ as possible. And when you’re using Reddit,don’t forget your Pressiquette!
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Remember, the most effective way to cultivate earned media opportunities is to target publications and organizations with relevant audiences and present value to their readers. National publications carry prestige, but a thought leadership piece on a relevant professional association’s website may have more impact on campaign goals, such as lead generation and exposure.

Our client Med School Tutors (MST), a 1:1 online tutoring organization, sought an opportunity to drive visibility and demand generation for a very well-defined target audience. Salted Stone identified and developed a relationship with contacts at The Almost Doctor’s Channel, a persona-aligned online community, who offered MST direct exposure to their readers — med school students. One earned media placement with The Almost Doctor’s Channel has grown into an ongoing content syndication partnership, which has resulted in consistent visibility for MST in a relevant, highly targeted outlet.   Screen Shot 2018-04-19 at 12.42.21 PM

Tracking Earned Media Success

Sometimes it can be hard to see the immediate benefits of earned media placements, but there are some trackable key performance indicators that can help highlight results.

Traffic and lead sources can be tracked through unique UTM codes tied to influencers or Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) who have shared, or are featured in, a piece of content. This gives marketers insight into which influencer relationships are the most valuable and helps them figure out audience preferences more easily.

Social media engagement is another key indicator for seeing how well a piece of media is performing. Likes and comments can also provide insight into how shareable the content is.

For gated content, downloads or form submissions are obviously good metrics to track, and will give you an idea of lead generation tied to specific content offers.

For webinars or event appearances, numbers of event attendees (online or in-person) will give your organization a good idea of the reach your efforts had.

Lastly, positive changes in backlink profile or domain authority are telling indicators of a successful earned media effort. Read more about these here.

The Forbes Communications Council points out that vanity metrics such as likes and shares aren’t cutting it anymore for public relations professionals who want deeper insights into engagement. Using advanced metrics like those listed above can help you better track your successes and gain insight into your brand’s audience.

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Bonus tip courtesy of Cision: "an earned media content strategy should encompass creating content that others will link to and quote. Infographics, reports and research are ideal because they provide real value to anyone writing content on the subject you’re an expert in.”

TL;DR?

Media efforts are evolving into mutually beneficial relationships. The way these earned media placements are secured has changed, but the benefits of these efforts and their effect on overall strategic campaigns has not. Use modern Subject Matter Expertise-sharing tools like Help A Reporter Out, leverage social media to listen for topic ideas and syndicate your content, and regularly provide valuable information to journalists or reporters in your space. Track metrics like: traffic and lead sources, social media engagement, downloads/form submissions, event attendees, and changes in backlink profile or DA.


Whether we're supporting client content campaigns through a syndication strategy, working on developing thought leadership credentials, or finding/sourcing opportunities for guest posting - we know modern PR. Let's talk about your project!
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