Earned Media is Not Nearly as Free as You Think

Most marketers see "earned media" as the kind of coverage you don't pay for. What many don't realize is that earned media still comes at a cost.


The debate about paid advertising vs. earned media is hotly contested. When major changes like updates to Facebook’s algorithms impact a business’ ability to reach their audience, it seems like the only thing to do is fork over cash for advertising. But maybe “earned media” isn’t as free as marketers like to think.

“The truth is that the road to viral success is often paved with hefty price tags and significant manpower. Great content doesn’t make itself,” says the 140 Proof blog. And it’s true — many social media managers and teams are working long hours to manage successful campaigns.

Not only are teams pouring resources into ongoing efforts, many companies now see live event social marketing as a necessity. You’re nobody if you didn’t cover the Oscars, Super Bowl or Sochi Olympics.

This year, Esurance bought the first commercial after the Super Bowl had ended, saving $1.5 million. The company ran a sweepstakes to give away that money on Twitter.  Within a minute, there were 200,000 tweets using the hashtag #EsuranceSave30. Thirty-six hours later it was 5.4 million. Was it worth $0.28 a tweet?

“Paid media can light the fuse that enables virality to begin. It has to because it is not possible to reliably predict what content will become viral on its own,” says 140 Proof.

Nudging content out into the wider Web with paid advertising or initial investment is the smart move to make. If a campaign can balance a low initial investment, and the content is reasonably share-worthy, you’ve found the golden ratio.

The point is that there is no mythical ‘earned media’ anymore, at least not for free. Any endeavor will require money up front, its just up to the marketers to decide where to invest it.

“Earned is not a strategy: it’s an outcome,” says 140 Proof.

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