Also known as “word of mouth,” what’s the secret to a successful earned media strategy? Traditional paid media, according to Tracy Stokes, principal analyst at Forrester Research and former senior director of global brand marketing at Timberland.
Born from traditional public relations, Forrester defines earned media as “a message about a company passed between consumers as a result of an experience with the brand.” And thanks largely to an explosion in social media, earned media is on fire.
But “earned media cannot be treated as a stand-alone sideshow to the main event of building the business,” according to Stokes. Rather, chief marketing officers “must demand that it is integrated with online and offline paid media as part of a holistic brand-building strategy, with success measured in terms of business results, not just Facebook likes.”
Indeed, as an anonymous social media vendor told Stokes, “for every wild success, someone has paid someone something to get it started -- it just doesn’t happen by itself.”
For example, Stokes cites Old Spice’s hit social media campaign -- the one with the horse. Sure, it garnered high levels of earned media in social networks, but it launched with a traditional high-ticket Super Bowl TV ad.
Furthermore, Stokes finds that new technologies are fusing together earned and paid media. In particular, Facebook and Twitter ads have built-in sharing capabilities to amplify fan bases, while American Express uses Buddy Media to scale and track brand engagement programs throughout the paid, earned, and owned media ecosystem.
In a second example, Kraft Foods used Kontera to give a social boost to its Ritz Crackers’ Glee promotion by embedding a contextual text ad into online editorial about the show, Stokes recalls.
How should marketers evaluate earned-media programs? Well, PR has traditionally been measured by counting gross impressions, and social media has followed suit by counting the number of likes or fans.
According to measurement analytics expert ThinkVine, however, “just because it can be counted, doesn’t mean it is important or relevant.”
According to Stokes, discussions with social media agencies and vendors reveal that many marketers are trying to quantify the return on investment of their social media by asking, “what is the value of a like?”
Others, meanwhile, are starting to move beyond counting the likes to try to understand outcomes on two levels: first by measuring how a campaign affected their bottom line and then by using that data to predict what the results of a future campaign might be.