Influencer Agency Guides

What Is Earned Media (and How It Related To Influencer Marketing)

Feb 9, 2023 | By Chris Jacks

What is earned media? Earned media is free publication about a business that’s generated through organic efforts. Usually, earned media is published by third parties and isn’t created or paid for by the influencer marketing agency.

Because there’s inherent trust in promotion that isn’t paid for by the company, it can be an effective form of publicity. Earned media leverages the power of word-of-mouth marketing from an independent source.
There are several forms of earned media, including mentions in online articles, third-party write ups, links to content from unaffiliated sites, reviews from unaffiliated third-party entities, or reviews on third-party sites like Yelp. Earned media may also appear in traditional formats like a newspaper or magazine.

The Differences Between Earned Media, Owned Media, and Paid Media

Owned media is online property that’s owned and controlled by a company, such as a blog or website. The more owned media channels a company has, the greater the audience reach and brand presence. Anything that’s an extension of a brand, such as social media accounts, is considered owned media because of the company’s vested interest and control over what’s published.
Paid media is the media channels that companies pay for to reach customers. This could be paid content promotion, paid engagement with influencers, PPC ads, or social media ads. Essentially, any avenue that’s paid for in exchange for promotion is paid media.
Earned media differs from both of these in that it’s neither paid for nor owned by the company. Together, these three types of media create a comprehensive marketing strategy to boost traffic, improve engagement, and promote better visibility for a company.

Earned Media Value

Modern consumers are distrusting of paid promotions and advertising, which is why influencer marketing is so powerful. They prefer authentic reviews and recommendations from friends and family, which includes the recommendations of influencers they trust.
The ubiquity of social media and online channels allows virtually anyone to broadcast their opinion about a product or service in front of a captive, global audience. Consumers also have the ability to research brands and products extensively to make purchasing decisions.
According to research from Nielsen, 85% of consumers consider third-party write-ups when considering a purchase, while 69% of consumers read product reviews written by experts.[1] Another 67% of consumers consider unbiased endorsements from unaffiliated third-party experts when making a purchase.
This suggests that content from industry experts, which is a form of earned media, has a lot of influence in the purchasing process. In addition, earned media can boost visibility through SEO and creates opportunities for backlinks from authoritative pages.

Earned Media Value

Attributing a dollar value to a campaign is key to understanding which marketing strategies are most valuable. But that’s not always straightforward, especially with earned media.
Earned media value is a “soft” metric, but it can be a key indicator of social media success and ROI. It measures the monetary value of all exposure gained on third-party sites or social media content through marketing and PR efforts and assigns a dollar value to the engagement the company gains through these channels.
The result is a number that represents what a brand would have to pay to get the same level of engagement through owned or paid branded channels.
There’s no standard for calculating earned media value – each marketing team or platform will consider different key metrics. Because of this, it shouldn’t be a standalone metric. However, hard data can be used to inform earned media value, such as:

  • The average cost per engagement (CPE) for paid social on each network
  • The average cost per impression (CPI) for paid social on each network
  • The average cost per click (CPC) for paid social on each network

Once this has been determined, the earned media value shows how much comparable exposure would have cost, even though it came through unpaid avenues.
Other factors in calculating earned media value include:


Not all content platforms are equal, so earned media value accounts for the platform the post is published on. For example, a YouTube video will receive a higher value for earned media than a Facebook post because a video takes more time to produce and consume.

Audience Engagement

Much of earned media value depends on the engagement it receives from the audience. Engagement is an important consideration over other marketing metrics like reach and impressions to understand the content’s social relevance.


Earned media value is a holistic measure of earned media performance and considered all types of third-party creators: brands, retailers, publications, and influencers. Earned media value is often used to evaluate influencer marketing activities, since influencer posts are a big portion of the earned media metrics attributed to brands.
Generally, the bigger a creator’s following, the more earned media value they will generate per post. Earned media value calculations don’t often factor in the creators’ audience size, but the more followers they have, the more opportunities for engagement. As a result, content from established creators tends to receive higher earned media value totals than content from newer or smaller creators.
Ultimately, earned media value provides the value that external, third-party posts truly have in an overall marketing plan. Earned media isn’t enough on its own – it needs to be paired with paid media and owned media to generate results.

Earned Media Value and Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing is a big universe that includes a variety of content and campaigns from thought leaders, industry professionals, bloggers, or influential consumers.
Is influencer marketing paid media or earned? Though it has some things in common with earned media, it’s paid media. Influencers are paid, whether monetarily or with products and access, for their content and promotions.
Unfortunately, many brands get into influencer marketing with the perspective that influencer content is earned media. They may think influencers will work for free, or that providing product discounts or samples isn’t paying for promotion.
That’s not the case. Brands do pay for content creation and promotion from influencers (or they should), just like other paid promotion or media buys. It’s still a sponsorship.
That’s not to say that influencer marketing is the same as a dedicated paid promotion, however.
When a brand pays an influencer to write, speak, or attend events on behalf of the brand, payment isn’t issued to buy loyalty. They’re paying the influencer for their time, effort, and ideas, as well as the time the influencer put into building their own personal brand and credibility.
Influencer marketing isn’t earned media, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be turned into earned media.

Influencer Content as Earned Media

The content in influencer marketing campaigns inspires others to act on it, amplify it, or write about it without an incentive to do so. That’s where the earned media aspect can be leveraged.
These audiences can be considered influencers as well, even if they’re not being incentivized to promote the brand. The brands don’t have to ask them for support or pay them, because they genuinely enjoy the brand and its products enough to share information on their own.
Here’s an example of user-generated content for Calvin Klein:

what is earned mediaSource: Instagram
In this respect, influencer media – paid media – can lead to owned assets and earned media by inspiring free amplification and support from brand advocates or people connected to the influencer. There’s a positive influence over the audience, eventually turning content into real earned media through exposure, awareness, advocacy, and sales.
Here’s another example for GoPro, which didn’t cost the brand a cent to create:

Generate Earned MediaSource: YouTube

How to Generate Earned Media

Earned media is largely organic, but there are some ways for brands to generate more earned media:

Understanding Objectives and Target Audience

Having clearly defined objectives helps brands flesh out comprehensive campaigns with clear KPIs to evaluate success. Brands also need to understand the target audience to create content that will resonate with followers and inspire ongoing shares, write-ups, and conversations.

Engaging in Influencer Marketing with Established Creators

Having influencers known to inspire shares and engagement can shift paid influencer media to earned influencer media. Still, it’s vital that the influencer matches the industry, goals, and target demographics of the brand to connect with the audience.

Creating Engaging Content

Engaging and relevant content is arguably the most important aspect of earned media. Content quality factors into how much an audience is inspired to share it, link to it, or write about, so it’s important for brands and influencers to put the effort into valuable content.

Leveraging Diverse Channels

Social media makes it easier for brands to gain earned media. Owned media can be used to share valuable content with the audience, especially with those who are already engaging with the brand. That builds relationships that can inspire loyal and unpaid brand advocates, and by extension, earned media attention.

Earned Media for Better Credibility

Both earned media and influencer marketing are unique in that they leverage the inherent trust in word-of-mouth marketing over self-promotion. The difference is that influencer marketing is paid media, not earned media, but it can be used to inspire third-party promotion and credibility. Gaining more earned media can bolster a brand’s reputation, expand reach, and connect with the target audience.


Chris Jacks is an influencer marketing professional with over a decade of experience in the digital marketing sphere. As the Director of Growth Strategy, Chris oversees and drives strategic initiatives to fuel business expansion. With a keen eye for market trends and opportunities, Chris develops comprehensive growth plans and aligns business objectives across cross-functional teams. With a strong focus on crafting impactful, ROI-driven influencer campaigns across multiple sectors, Chris utilizes his expertise to enhance market positioning and maximize results.

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