Earned Media Worth More Than Paid Media

Companies that focus heavily on paid media or earned media are losing out on the potential to fully leverage their marketing efforts. Despite the popularity and significant power of earned media, it presents challenges that only paid media can solve. You need both.

Organic content tends to have a low reach on Facebook (~6 percent of followers) and Twitter (30 percent of followers). Getting people to share your content helps you reach more people, but only a small percentage of posts get shared widely by a small percentage of people (according to Klout, only 5 percent of people create 50 percent of the content on social). And since organic content can’t be well targeted, most organic content is very broad in nature. It is difficult to create a brand-to-customer relationship this way, even though people are more apt to trust earned media.

Market research indicates that 92 percent of people trust earned media more than any other type of advertising, while 49 percent say they trust paid media.

Earned media has long been heralded as one of the most powerful mediums that propel consumers to act. It is relevant, drives impact and sales, and cannot be owned or bought. Which makes it even more valuable, and for marketers, sometimes elusive to control. Traditionally, earned media has taken the form of word-of-mouth or mentions in the media. Buzz has been the point of action for marketers. However, with customers going online to research products before they choose a brand, marketers are focusing on how to reach the right people to share a powerful message in the right places so it will drive brand awareness and increase buying consideration.

In light of this, custom, user-generated content is one of the highest currencies in brand marketing. Why? Because when consumers create the content themselves (blog posts, reviews on Amazon and Yelp, Tweets and Facebook posts, comments in forums) and share it, they inspire trust within their circle of influence. People trust friends, family and those they consider to be experts in an area more than they trust brand messaging. So user-generated content that is shared within trusted circles is powerful in influencing people’s brand considerations. In fact, user-generated content has been shown to generate a four-fold increase in brand lift, according to Nielsen’s Brand Effect Study.

Plus, when people create content they share it on the networks that make sense to them, which leads to content showing up where it’s natural for it to be. As people share it with their trusted circle, it ripples out to wider rings of audience. There is no throttling of content based on algorithms. This natural flow of content means that it feels more authentic to audiences as it comes from people they trust and not from the brands themselves.

Consumers latch on to content that is easily shared. As you consider what type of user-generated content to repurpose, think of what will grab their attention? What will get them sharing? Visuals – videos, Vines, photos, infographics – these are bite-size and shareable.As you look at the consumer-generated content available to you, consider how you can repurpose it across your other larger cross-channel marketing campaigns.

Know your audience. You have to know who your audience is, which networks they engage on the most and the topics that interest them. What are the demographics, geographic details, what motivates them to engage? There are a variety of tools out there to helps brands gain insight into their audience. For example, Klout helps brands identify and connect with trusted content creators based on Klout Score, Klout Topics, demographics, as well as geographic data. This allows you to create highly segmented and customized campaigns.

Tell a story. People love stories. Build a unique story that has emotional resonance with your audience and you will kick-start engagement around your campaign. Use what you’ve learned about your audience to generate a story that will capture their attention and make them want to share with their network. People engage on emotions – both positive or negative (“you’ll love this” or “be careful” sentiment in sharing) and you can drive that sharing by crafting a story that is real, genuine and speaks to their emotional needs.

Enlist partners. Consumers love multiple brands and partnering with those brands can help you to increase engagement and drive greater awareness. If you’re planning to launch an event to drive awareness, incorporate various partners and align the campaign with a hashtag so that all partners and participants are able to join the conversation and engage with each other. This partnership builds goodwill among brands and consumers and helps generate trust in your brand.

Listen to your audience. Once you reach out, listen to how they are responding to your message and continue to engage them based on those responses. Find ways to continue evolving the story to build on-going engagement with your audience. This is one of the hardest things for brands to do, as it’s so easy to push out messages and assume that consumers are receiving the same story. Be careful that the stories you tell align with overall customer experience, or your message will not resonate – or even worse, will backfire, as consumers find that you are out of touch with their perceived brand experience. Implementing best practices in earned media will ensure that you are having the most impact with organic content as possible. But, as we said earlier, it is still going to leave gaps. This is where paid media is indispensable.

Recently, paid media has been a growing focal point for brands, as evidenced by the tremendous growth in US social media ad spend, which is expected to surpass $11 billion in 2017. Brands are paying more attention to paid media because just as earned media enhances a brand’s authenticity as part of a larger marketing strategy, paid enables brands to scale these organic efforts to reach a more meaningful and robust audience.

Brands should view paid media as a powerful and necessary strategic initiative that balances their owned and earned strategies. It’s true that paid media has had a rocky experience in social over the past few years. Concerns about efficacy and user experience gave many brands pause about devoting budgets towards Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others. These platforms have taken tremendous steps to ensure a good experience for users, while simultaneously providing advertisers tools to help prove a justifiable ROI. As such, paid social media budgets have increased substantially, growing more than 40 percent each year since 2009 and the interconnectedness between a brand’s owned/earned and paid media strategy will only become stronger.

Paid media drives targeted impact. With earned media’s challenges of low, poorly targeted reach, paid media steps in to focus content to the audiences that are most receptive to it. Brand content is becoming the dominant native ad unit across Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, so the success of organic and paid are inextricably linked. Here are some of the reasons why paid media creates impact.

Paid has larger reach. Reach often lays the foundation for paid social success, as getting an ad in front of users’ eyeballs is critical for a campaign to resonate. Paid media offers a way for brands to expand reach among a wider audience far beyond just
followers and provides additional frequency controls, both of which will have a greater impact as organic reach continues to decline.4, 5 There is circular logic here too, as increased reach through paid media will feed back into an opportunity to grow organic reach. As more users share content, more impressions are generated at no additional cost which helps tell the earned media story. Selecting the content to put money behind, however, requires the right partners and tools to help identify what will be most effective. SHIFT, for example, enables brands to identify its strongest performing organic content through a proven algorithm. Advertisers can then choose to immediately scale that content into paid media across key platforms and channels.

Paid drives measurable engagement. Engagements are a powerful indicator of user interest, as they provide brands with a metric to measure the number of people that both saw a brand’s content and took an action (e.g. like, retweet, share, comment, view a product, click to a website, etc.). Paid media provides brands with an opportunity to engage with more users over organic alone due to expanded reach, while also allowing brands to improve the precision of their reach through better alignment between
content and audience. Targeting options that include broad demographic data, interests, keyword usage and more help brands achieve that alignment. In addition most social channels provide advanced targeting options that connect to website data, first-party data (CRM data), offline behavior and specific user IDs.

Brands that leverage these targeting options will better be able to pair the content they distribute with the users that it will resonate with best, ultimately increasing the likelihood of an engagement or conversion event. Driving these high quality engagements through more precise targeting only improves a brand’s voice in the marketplace and helps you build stronger customer relationships.

Paid allows you to refine your strategy. Insights gained from paid media efforts can be used to inform your brand’s paid and organic content strategy. One of the most powerful methods of doing this is through A/B testing. Paid media allows you to choose specific audiences, as discussed above, and serve content to only those groups. Brands can then identify what content or targeting is most effective and allocate additional spend to those. Brands can also test organic content to measure general sentiment among a small audience (i.e. test group) before publicly posting to all followers. Test results will generate insights into how different audience segments interact differently with posts. Brands can then leverage these insights to better plan for future campaigns, both paid and organic, by tailoring content that will resonate and result in high quality engagements.

Paid generates actionable reporting. Brands have access to granular level data about content, user engagements, impressions, conversions, specific actions, etc. through paid media. This data provides unique insights that can inform your initiatives, including more effective reach through both real-time optimizations as well as long-term guidance. Organic strategy can also be improved through better understanding of the types of content that resonates. Brands can gain a holistic view into overall performance by working with the right partner. SHIFT, for example, provides reports based on cross-channel data as opposed to reporting that focuses on individual channels. Brands can use this information to plan larger initiatives that span multiple touch points.

social media best practices

With a better understanding of how paid media can enhance organic content and drive a more holistic approach, the following are ways to ensure you get the most out of your paid social media:

Set clear objectives. Objectives should be the underlying guide for all paid and organic content decisions, as they will form the strategy behind what channels are used, the audiences reached, and the method of contact. Objectives can be general broad goals such as brand awareness or website engagements, but can also be more specific KPIs such as reaching 10M highly targeted users or generating 1,000 product purchases. Setting clear objectives upfront will serve as a barometer for all brand stakeholders to understand what success looks like. They will also provide a baseline for ongoing performance measurement as initiatives are tracked and optimized.

Know your target audiences and speak directly to them. Paid media’s ability to target users at a much more granular level is a clear benefit over organic distribution. Brands should identify specific audience segments they want to reach using the precision targeting that only paid social media provides. Creating segments with various sub-characteristics enables brands to tailor content that will be delivered only to those specific audiences. You will be able to develop a stronger brand-customer relationship, elicit more desirable actions, and ensure ad dollars are being spent efficiently by using messaging that speaks to those groups of users and resonates uniquely with them.

Test and optimize. Test timing. The hour of the day and the day of the week can make a difference. In some cases, monthly issues and opportunities must be anticipated and synchronized. Meanwhile, test the offer, the creative and any other variable that can impact the sales process (even if you are an advocate versus a merchant),

Analyze and learn. Analysis of performance over time can provide greater insights that add to an audience’s characteristic profile or inform everyday organic content strategy. You can extract small, yet very powerful data points that can be leveraged to effectively plan for future campaigns by conducting a deep analysis of performance metrics. Brands can also establish a benchmark of success that can be used to measure similar campaigns. Benchmarks ensure that performance can be held against the objectives that were defined as well as providing a comparison of performance delivery.

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