How to measure earned media

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Somebody covered you or your company. Your quote may have gotten picked up. A reporter interviewed you and even used some soundbites. Sweet. That’s some earned media for you. But now the question comes up: How to measure earned media? What should be counted?

On “The Business Storytelling Show,” I spoke with Amanda Proscia, a PR agency leader who works with tech companies on developing and executing earned media strategies. Our conversation covered a range of topics related to the state of earned media today, and how businesses should approach measuring the impact of their efforts.

What exactly is earned media?

First, it’s important to define what earned media is and how it differs from paid media.

“Earned media is typically the media that we get published in news publications, or on TV shows, or now more and more on social media channels,” explains Amanda. “Earned media is any media that is marketed to a large channel of audience, but it’s not paid for, unlike an advertisement.”

This third-party validation and perceived objectivity is what makes earned media so valuable compared to advertising. Studies have shown that people trust news coverage more than paid placements.

People, of course, will highlight on their website when they are quoted. But how do you know they actually were? And that it was earned media and not paid media?

“If it’s a reputable publication, then you can be sure, if you see the quote, of course, some people can say they were quoted in something and not linked to the article or not show me the quote, and then you know, it’s up to you whether or not you trust them,” says Amanda. “But if it’s they’re showing you a quote, or they’re linking to an article in a reputable news outlet, then it was there because those people do not – they don’t take what we call pay for play, which is when you pay a publication to have an article about you or quote you or something like that.

Setting the right goals

Of course, not all earned media placements are created equal. A mention in a top-tier national publication like the New York Times will have a different impact than coverage in a niche trade outlet. In theory. The niche trade outlet could have more of your target audience in its readership. So, before you can measure the value of your earned media, you need to get clear on your goals.

“It depends on where your audiences are,” advises Amanda. “The people that you want to reach – are they reading newspapers? Are they watching the morning news programs? Are they reading trade publications? Or are they primarily looking at social media channels and TikTok? It really all depends on who you’re trying to influence and where you might find those people.”

Common goals for earned media programs include:

Metrics to track

Once you’ve aligned your earned media outreach to your broader business objectives, you can start defining the key performance indicators (KPIs) you’ll use to measure success. Amanda recommends paying attention to outcomes and results, rather than just focusing on vanity metrics like the number of placements.

“If you start getting more attention, if your brand is more well known, if your social channels start getting more traffic, if your website starts getting more clicks, if your product starts selling, whatever your KPI is for that earned media – that’s really what you want to watch,” she says. “If the results are showing that you’re reaching the right people, and they’re taking the action that you want them to take, then you know you’re on the right track.”

Some common metrics to track earned media include:

  • Media outlet quality and readership/viewership
  • Key message pull-through
  • Share of voice relative to competitors
  • Backlinks and domain authority
  • Referral traffic from media placements
  • Branded search volume lift
  • Lead generation/sales lift
  • Social media engagement and follower growth

Tools for measurement

Advancements in marketing and PR technology have made earned media measurement much more sophisticated than in the past, when it relied on readership numbers and advertising value equivalents (AVE).

“There are more tools from the PR and advertising side, where we’re able to use advertising technology to have pretty up-to-moment knowledge of who we’re reaching and how those people are interacting with the content,” explains Amanda.

Depending on your earned media goals, you may also want to invest in tools specifically for earned media monitoring and measurement. Platforms can help with tracking media mentions, social amplification, key message penetration, share of voice and sentiment analysis.

Tying earned media to revenue

For many executives, the holy grail of PR measurement is showing how earned media placements translate into leads and sales. Customer journeys are often long and complex, with many touchpoints. Easier said than done. However, modeling can help understand earned media’s contribution to pipeline and revenue.

“There is a great thing, great amount to be said, for getting a journalistically reported on article in a target publication that reaches one of the people that you want to reach,” says Amanda. “I see it every day with my clients – that can move the needle in ways that almost no other marketing can.”

Tips for maximizing earned media’s impact

More ways to amplify earned media results:

  • Showcase earned media logos on your website and marketing collateral to boost credibility
  • Promote earned media hits on your social media channels and in employee/customer newsletters
  • Repurpose long-form earned media pieces into snackable digital assets like blog posts and videos
  • Equip your sales team with earned media clips to use in their outreach and nurturing efforts
  • Run paid social ads highlighting your earned media coverage to reach even more of your target audience

The power of persistence

Earned media works when you are consistent and offer value to reporters or even bloggers. Building relationships with journalists and delivering a steady drumbeat of newsworthy stories takes time—it’s not a one-and-done proposition.

“If you want to be included, you have to be on their schedule,” advises Amanda. “That’s how we operate as a PR agency. We’re always available. We’re always responsive. And we particularly are aware that if we fall down and don’t deliver for a reporter, something they might need, then they might not be so quick to work with us next time because we didn’t deliver for them.”

Earned media, when done well, moves from a nice-to-have to an essential step toward success.

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