From Buzz to Something Real: The Peril of “Earned Media”

Like most marketers, we're trying to figure out just how real the promise of "earned media" is. Truly earned, positive exposure for your brand is almost unicorn-esque: it takes a fantastic product, a clearly articulated brand story, and a lot of elbow grease to get it started.But more and more, we're talking to brands about how "earned media" can be a powerful benefit from great marketing.

But, we're nowhere near close to being able to answer the legitimate questions we'll be getting from smart marketers about how to equate the value of earned media to the stuff we're hoping to displace. So, when marketers ask "what's the value of earned media", we don't have the tools to really answer that question.

We know, generally, that exposure for the brand that we don't have to actually pay for is good. But, can you put a media value on the amount of blog posts, tweets, mentions, comments, etc? How do we go from vague "buzz", to real, legitimate "media value" from the conversation?

(Yes, i know the whole question is kind of crass. But, it's still legitimate. More importantly, as paid media gets less effective/efficient, we'll need to understand how to prioritize our efforts in the social space. Which brings us back to how to value the conversations… )

Here's the nut that needs to be cracked:

* the promise of "earned" media is that it could, theoretically, replace "paid" media, if we could get our arms around it.

* to get our arms around it, we need to be able to track the activity over time and see real trends emerging from the data and, eventually, make connections in the data, leading to legitimate insights

* to track it, we need a consistent definition of "earned media", and a clear, consistent categorization of the forms that earned media takes, from blog posts, tweets, comments, "likes" etc.

* To measure it, we need to see the differences over time, and equate some sort of value to each of the instances we see it. Even if that value is relative (*this* is better than *that*) and not financially quantifiable. Ideally, we'd be able to identify some causal relationship between "earned" media and cash register rings. But, until then, we'll need some sort of objective way to rank/force rank the desirability of the forms earned media takes.

* all we have – right now – is an "impression" as the common media unit. We have to be able to do better than that.

So, what I guess I'm looking for is a tool that will help us track and categorize the "earned" media we're getting like we track our paid media. I've got all sorts of tools that show me activity, some that can show me sentiment, and one or two that can give me semantic insights in the deluge of text. But, how do i know how much it's worth? It's the unicorn tool, i'm afraid.

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