5 Key Questions to Ask When Planning an Earned Media Strategy

You may have heard of the term “earned media” being thrown around while reading marketing or PR industry news. Just what is it, and should you focus in on it? Or is it just another buzz term the industry grabs onto to generate interest?

Let’s dig into the topic to see what the buzz was all about. In this post, I’ll define earned media and include 5 questions you should ask yourself when planning an earned media strategy.

So what does earned media really mean, and why should those marketing a brand use it to their advantage?

Earned media, simply defined, is any publicity you haven’t paid for and that is on media owned and created by a third party. That can be a third party mentioning your brand on social, an article, a blog, or a webcast. Or, earned media can go a little deeper and be the complete theme of a publication’s blog or article (like a publication taking an article written about your brand, and posting it with their own media).

To me, earned media is finding someone who finds you, or your content, so valuable that they’re going to tout you to their audience. It’s very rewarding to see that return (or, pat on the back)! Earned media is also a form of “word-of-mouth marketing:” the more earned media you have out there spreading your value, the better.

But, how to you get there? What are the steps you’ll need to take to start building an earned media plan for your brand? Here are a few questions to ask yourself to get the process kicked off right.

What are the goals of your strategy?

All marketing projects start with a goal. Otherwise, the tactics wander around without a true end in sight. Earned media goals can be:

Building Brand Awareness – Very important for new brands where the audience has no idea who you are. Start by building your social networks. Feed them with content your audience would find interesting. Push some ads out on social to drive the audience to the content; once they’re there, develop ways to get them coming back. Connect with other industry influencers and pitch them to share your content (but always keep in mind there has to be something in it for them).

Thought Leadership – Give your audience something other than messages that push your product or service. Instead give them something of value. Tip articles or blogs or industry research content that your audience will find worth-while is a good strategy to deliver on a regular basis.

Increased traffic – Encourage readers to go to your website or blog. If that’s not possible, get them to sign up for your newsletter.

Who is your target audience?

Defining and understanding your target audience is THE number one rule before tackling any marketing effort. Look at it this way: You put so much effort into creating a blog post, article, infographic or any other piece of content that takes up valuable time and resources. But what if that message completely misses the mark (or the needs) of those reading it? It’s best not to fly off the cuff and not know who you’re creating messages for. Here are a few tips on how to get to know them:

Check them out on Twitter: Who they following, what types of content do they like to share.

Read the same blogs they like, regularly.

Attend conferences that they attend.

Study up on how competitors are interacting with them.

What popular topics resonate with your target audience?

Once you’ve identified your audience, it’s much easier to identify the types of topics that will reach them best and interest them most.  Identify the top five media sites that fit with your target audience and look at pieces of their top performing content.

Understanding the type of content that performs well on a site gives you two insights. First, it indicates that the audience finds it appealing and consumes this kind of information well. Second, it gives you a look into what kind of topics these media outlets cover. If you unveil the topics that perform best on sites, you have a recipe for successfully creating tailored content that will both garner media coverage and resonate with your audience.

How can influencers help in this earned media strategy?

Getting noticed on the media just isn’t enough anymore, if you really want to stay in the game. There’s so much out there trying to grab readers’ attention, distracting them from your message. Partnering with influencers can really add some weight to you content, building credibility to your brand.

Influencer marketing (also referred to as “word-of-mouth” marketing) gives your brand another perspective or new light. People like people they find influential, and people are willing to take advice on products and services from others whom they find influential in the space.

What about a social strategy?

Social should always play a role in marketing efforts, and it definitely needs to be an element with an earned media strategy. Social platforms can provide a relatively inexpensive way to amplify your content to new audiences. Consider creating a social overview for the campaign: Identify which platforms you’ll target and a timeline to execute. Once you have a general overview of the scope of your social campaign, you’ll be able to create content calendars with tailored audience messages.

How will I measure success?

Like any marketing effort, being as detail-oriented as most get, we need to see what’s working! That can be tricky with earned media. But if you set goals in the beginning of the campaign, you can track success in meeting those goals throughout.

To start, look at other pieces of content on your site and how they performed. This will help you set a baseline. Look at a piece that you promoted versus one that you didn’t. Check the referral traffic, organic traffic, unique visits and social visits for each. The non-promoted one will give you an idea of how a normal page performs on your site, and the promoted piece will give you more insight into the numbers you could consider as a baseline.


Whether you’re aiming for traffic or conversion, developing earned media strategies takes on a different shape for every piece of content. Understanding your goals and target audience allows you to deliver the right message every time. When you create content that people want, your social becomes an added bonus for amplifying your content.

No two earned strategies are alike, but asking yourself these five (six!) questions will ensure you cover all the bases for a great campaign.

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