The Earned Media Effect - What Is It And How Can Your Small Business Story Ignite It?

The concept of earned media is something that you might have come across as you begin to build out your marketing strategy, especially if you have been doing any research into inbound marketing.

To that end, I thought I would write a post explaining what this is in more detail, plus examples of how you can use this to market your small business more effectively.

Grow and engage your audience with earned media
A Definition Of Earned Media

My favourite definition of earned media actually comes from the Mashable website. They define earned media with reference to paid media, as follows:

  • Paid media is the kind of advertising that you have to pay to have distributed
  • Earned media is freely distributed on your behalf, no payment required
I think that the word 'distributed' is important here. I don't think that earned media encompasses all free traffic sources - I'd say there has to be a human element involved here. Someone has to appreciate your content enough to actively share it with their network on your behalf.

So, just so we are clear on this - here's an example. Let's say that you write an e-book, which you have available for download on your website:

  • A Google Adwords campaign would be classified as paid media
  • Someone sharing a link to your e-book through their Facebook account would be classed as earned media
  • If a blog owner liked your e-Book and recommended that their audience downloaded it, that would be classified as earned media

Hopefully that has helped to define exactly what earned media is - let's move on to discuss how you can benefit from it in your small business marketing efforts.

Earned Media In Small Business Marketing - What's Your Story?

I think it's important to understand that you don't have to have huge marketing budgets available in order to benefit from earned media. In fact, I think it's safe to say that a great story can impact your audience in the way you want to, i.e making your mark on them so that they feel happy in sharing your content.

Here is one of my favourite examples of (what I think anyway) is a great earned media success - the Cambridge Satchel Company. Here's an overview of their story:

  • Julie Dean found out that her daughter was being bullied at school
  • She vowed to find a way to send her daughter to private school
  • She came up with a list of 10 ways she could earn money to to this, selling satchels was one of them
  • The Cambridge Satchel Company was born 
  • Julie outreached to popular fashion bloggers, who then became brand advocates
  • Julies' satchels were widely adopted in the fashion industry and are worn by celebrities such as Alexa Chung
  • The Cambridge Satchel Company now turns over around £12m a year and employs 84 people (at the time of writing) 

To me, this is an excellent example of how powerful earned media can be and how engaging a story can be. I'm not sure if the story about a mother trying to fund a private education for her daughter after finding out she was being bullied was the thing that initially won a high level of attention, although I'm sure it's part of the brand message and success now.

Don't get me wrong, there were most definitely other forms of media involved too, it's just that I think this was perhaps the most engaging part of the marketing message. Certainly, it's the thing that got me really interested and led me to using the story in this post. In fact, if you Google 'cambridge marketing company' you will see this story repeated over and over - it's clearly something that people like to share.

What Can You Learn From This?

The most important thing I think you can learn from this is that authentic, meaningful stories really connect with people, which means that they are a great way for you to benefit from earned media.

Think about the following two points:

  • What's the human element behind your business? For Julie, the inspiration was her daughter being bullied. What's yours?
  • If you can't find something related to why you started your business, what about now? Are you doing something that people would want to know about and share?
  • What's the best way of you kicking off this viral message? For Julie, it was outreach to popular fashion bloggers. How would you do it?

Hopefully if you have a think about these three points you'll be well on your way to creating a story that resonates with your target audience. This is great for both sides - your business gains viral word of mouth market, and your audience find something new to talk about, engage with and feel part of on a personal level. 

Sounds like a win-win to me.

Thanks for reading,

By Alan MacDougall

Got a nagging marketing question? Ask me here.
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Revenue Builder is a small business marketing strategy advice blog, written to help small business owners and startups maximise sales revenue.