There is something everyone searches for it, but few find it. Something that once they find it, they honor it and hold on tightly. Something you truly have to work towards. No, it’s not love. It’s Earned Media. Earned media is like a well developed relationship. One that requires time, effort and hard work.

But what is this elusive earned media you ask and what does it mean for your small business’s digital strategy?

“Earned media (or free media) refers to publicity gained through promotional efforts other than advertising, as opposed to paid media, which refers to publicity gained through advertising.”

With the advent of digital marketing and social media, earned media has evolved in a short amount of time. Traditional methods of gaining publicity just don’t cut it anymore. The press release is dead (ouch) and now it is up to every brand big or small to break through the clutter with creative and well-defined content. Think you don’t need to produce well thought out content? Think again.

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There are 3 mains types of media: Owned, paid and earned. Of those three, Total BS Media, the Bozeman marketing company, focuses on the importance of earned media and the return on investment it can have for your brand.

Earned media is essentially the equivalent of online word of mouth. It’s the main vehicle that drives the main part of your traffic, engagement and overall sentiment around your brand. And if owned media sites (your website/mobile site/blog/social channels) are the destination, then earned media is the vehicle that helps people get there. While there are different ways a brand can garner earned media, good SEO and content strategies are the most controlled and effective and have the biggest ROI for your efforts. What good is a website or social media profile if no one is seeing or interacting with it? That's where earned media comes in. Earned media is usually seen in the form of mentions, shares, reposts, reviews, recommendations, or content picked up by 3rd party sites (press). All of these mean more eyes on your brand, and more organically formed customer relationships.

Today's consumers are influenced greatly by what they read and see online. People no longer share the good, the bad and the ugly exclusively at the dinner table -- they share it with everyone they're connected with online. This makes it even more crucial to form those online relationships between your brand and your audience. Earned media strategies are the bread and butter of effective content promotion, and creating and promoting a successful piece of content comes with a lot of work.

One of the most effective driving forces of earned media is usually a combined result of strong organic rankings on the Search Engines, and content distributed by your brand. It’s all about a balance! And when it comes to brand content, interesting, informative content can come in all shapes and sizes. Whether it be a blog post, infographic, video, social media post or webinar, the bottom line is that the content has to be worthwhile in order to receive valuable earned media; which is why a great content strategy is so important.

As a small business, it is crucial that you create new ways to reach your audience and cultivate your networks. If you fail to construct a solid strategy, your content may miss the mark—and more importantly, it may miss your audience all together. But how can you be sure you’ve designed a strategy for building your PR? Especially if you’re not ready to pay big agency prices? The first step in building PR is getting in front of the right audience and you can learn how to do this in the next part of our PR series.