Earned Media: The Case For Telling Better Stories Online

April 23, 2014

In the recent State of Media Report by Vocus, reporters revealed that they are quite likely to find stories or story ideas using social media. And while this is the case, there was an overwhelming response that most still prefer a story via email. Knowing how to tell that story is the most important piece to note.

Social Is In, But Email Isn’t Out

In the report, a business writer shared his thoughts on how social plays a role, but that like other journalists, email pitches were still most important. He said, “I get ideas from Facebook and Twitter, but I prefer pitches by email with more information. I don’t want a ‘marketing’ pitch that sounds like an ad. In fact, that is usually a turn off. I need to be able to quickly figure out if it is a story that will interest my readers. And my readers let me know in the comment section of my stories if they think what I wrote sounds more like an ad than a story. I just want a short, clear press release with some facts so I can see if I want to follow up.”

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The key word for us in this quote is “story.” Often, as brands, we seem to send a list of facts or bullet points in a press release and are often shocked when we don’t receive coverage. With many journalists receiving stories or pitches every day, it’s not a surprise to us that these dime-a-dozen releases aren’t getting picked up.

You’re Fighting for the Top Spot

In her new book Spin Sucks, Gini Dietrich says, “Your livelihood will, in the very near future, depend on how you drive effectiveness, cultivate creative ideas, assess customer needs, build relationships with influencers, develop reach, achieve authenticity, and cut through all the clutter that is out there, competing with you for the same top spot.”

While we can try to take the top spot with paid advertising, the most credible and trusted way to take the top spot is through earned media. For those who need a refresher on this term, earned media is publicity gained essentially for “free.” This can be through press, word-of-mouth buzz, or reviews and testimonials. We put the word free in quotations, as there is no cost for the coverage or media mention, but there is the cost of time and effort for promoting to those outlets or customers.

The pros of earned media are that it is transparent, credible, and often lives on. But, as with all media types, there are cons, as well. Brands must be cautious as these transparent reviews or stories can be negative, hard to measure, and often completely out of our control.

Take Control Of Your Story

What we can control, however, are the stories we tell and hope that they gain the attention of those outlets that we want to carry. Need some inspiration to tell a better story? Here are a few tips:

  • Create a compelling headline – Rather than “Tips for Publicity,” consider “Ways to Kill Your Competition In Press Coverage.” Which would you want to read first?
  • Start a debate or conversation – If it fits with your brand, feel free to cross a line or two to get other brands or your customers talking. This will carry far more online than a once read piece of information.
  • Showcase the good, the bad, and the ugly – Highlight examples from your industry that went well, bad, and, maybe, to the point of really ugly. And then share why it worked, why it didn’t, or how you’d recommend they handle it.
  • Develop a list – Lists work. If you don’t believe me, check out the most popular BuzzFeed articles or listicles.
  • Rank something – Industry leaders know the industry well enough to rank brands, products, leaders, and more. Be the go-to source for rankings and trends and you’ll soon be the go-to for business, too.
  • Review or interview – Do you have an interesting take on a certain book, product, or topic? Write a review. If not you, would someone from your industry that you could interview? Sometimes, others tell a better story than ourselves.
  • Educate – You’ve probably heard that you need to write web content at a third-grade level. We also recommend to educate your audience as if they were third graders. Never assume your customers know every term, process, or product. Educate, re-educate, and repeat.

Above all, make sure your stories are grounded in your brand’s mission, principles, and beliefs. As Lee Clow says, “The reality of the new media world
is that if your brand does not have a belief, if it does not have a soul and does not correctly architect its messages everywhere it touches consumers, it can become irrelevant. It can be ignored, or even become a focal point for online contempt.”

And we wouldn’t want that.

What steps are you taking online and off to build your earned media?

Photo via Flickr user umjanedoan
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is a strategist, speaker, educator, and author of Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World and Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, an educator at the University of Iowa, and host of the On Brand podcast. More about Nick.