The Power of Engagement: How to “Earn” Your Way into People’s Lives

- June 16, 2015

When marketers talk about “earned media” they’re talking about “free” or otherwise earned coverage. But this coverage isn’t as “free” as you might think, because it doesn’t come out of nowhere. It comes out of the time you spend creating content, marketing that content, and building a reputation.

When I share something you have published, whether that’s on your website, or on a 3rd party site, you have “earned”:

  1. My attention;
  2. My trust; and,
  3. The attention of any followers or readers who might see, and choose to engage with, the content I’ve shared.

Repeated over and over, this process can mushroom, which pretty much describes how something goes viral. (Not that virality is the goal; I’d take the ongoing trust of and engagement with a qualified audience over a momentary spike in traffic any day.)

The question is, how do you achieve earned media?

Creating Content People Want to Share

All internet users are content consumers. Most of us read all day long, even if we don’t realize it. We search for and read information relevant to our jobs, our lives and our interests. When we find information we think will be relevant to others, we share it. This might sound simplistic, but it’s important to understand user motivation.

Specifically, what causes someone to share something?

Usually, people share something when it’s relevant, interesting and useful. Only you can determine what this will be for your audience. One way to find out is to take a peek at what your competitors are doing. Another way to determine what your audience might need is simply to ask them. If you’re not regularly connected to your audience, ask the team members who are.

Consider that King Arthur Flour has an entire section on their website for recipes, another for video and a separate blog, and even publishes a magazine called Sift. Clearly this brand is clued into what its core audience is interested in, and the part that it can play in delivering this information.

Creating the Conditions for Success

Of course, simply publishing content and hoping your content lands at the top of the SERPs and is seen by the right people is a bit of a fantasy. In order to get your ideas and your content the buzz it deserves, you’ve got to market it to the right people. This can involve:

This last point can involve a bit of legwork. You might even engage a public relations professional whose job it is to drum up media attention. (This isn’t cheating, it’s just smart.)

Consider that when King Arthur Flour launched Sift earlier this year, it was written about on Fast Company’s blog Co-Create, and on various cooking blogs and news sites, including the Boston Globe. There’s no way to tell whether the authors of those articles saw King Arthur’s press release, Facebook ad, organic social media posts, or were contacted by a PR professional. And it doesn’t matter. The point is that its earned attention did not come out of nowhere. It came out of a lot of hard work, and the understanding that it takes a lot more to achieve success than just showing up. (They don’t call it “earned” for nothing!)

Being a Good Brand Ambassador

Finally, it’s up to your social team to advocate on behalf of your brand, and to get others to do so as well. This can involve:

  • Creating ongoing social content that shares both branded content, and other content relevant to your followers, or ideal followers.
  • Interacting with influencers in your space, both online and in real life.
  • Reading, and commenting on, relevant blogs – if you want attention, sometimes you have to give attention.

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

The thing about content creation, and social interaction, is that it never really ends. While this might seem daunting at first, once you have the processes, and staff, in place, content creation can become as much a part of your operations as your core business – whether your core business is milling grain into flower, or some other seemingly “not sexy” enterprise.

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