The term “earned media” isn’t new, but lately, it has taken on an expanded meaning.

It’s part of a group of media types that include earned, owned, shared, and paid media – each of which offers huge opportunities to influence customers.

While paid media has dominated in the past, earned media is gaining prominence thanks to the ever-rising impact of social media marketing and online public relations.

This has resulted in the need for communicators and marketers to rapidly adapt their strategies for investing in earned media to more effectively reach and engage their target customers.

In this article, we’re going to explore what earned media is and why PR pros need to monitor it in 2021. We’ll also look at nine examples to help you better understand the concept.

If you’re ready, let’s get started.

What Are the Different Types of Media Coverage?

To help you understand what is meant by the term “earned media”, we first need to define the four types of  media:

Earned media: This is a type of media that you, well, earn. It’s attention that is organically generated for your brand’s content that you didn’t create or pay for. For instance, when someone mentions your brand or posts a photo or video to social media that you didn’t create or pay for.

This type of media is incredibly effective for rapidly growing a company and increasing sales. It exists across a broad range of platforms, including print media, online and broadcast media, and even in personal interactions.

Owned media: This is media that your brand owns. Online, owned media includes the company’s website, blog and mobile apps, as well as their social media presence on sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc. Offline, owned media includes retail stores, brochures, flyers, billboards, etc.

Shared media: This is when someone shares a video or article of yours across social media without you prompting them to do so. We’ve all seen this type of media in the form of viral content that’s on the internet. That said, it’s much more difficult for companies to go viral as opposed to individuals. So you should always track results and you can use the Whatagraph advertising dashboard to do so.

For instance, if an (unpaid) influencer tweets their thoughts on a blog post that you wrote on issues related to your industry, that is an example of shared media.

Here is another example of earned media:


Paid media: This is also known as bought media. Online, paid media is where you invest in paying for reach, visitors, or conversions through a variety of methods, including search, affiliate marketinginfluencer marketing, display ad networks, etc. Offline, it can include traditional media such as TV advertising, print advertising, direct mail, etc.

Keep in mind that paid media can sometimes be structured as a variable expense if a company bases it on actual placements, so you’ll need to monitor progress carefully.

The key to understanding the differences:

Understanding the differences between these three types of media is simple:

  • You “earn” earned media;
  • You “own” owned media.
  • You “pay” for paid media; and
  • Someone else “shares” your media content.

Unlike owned and paid media, earned media is not controlled by brands, and this makes it a lot less biased – and ultimately more trusted by customers.

Important Note: Sometimes the lines between earned, owned, and paid media can be blurred. As you can see from the image below, theories often overlap between the different media categories:


For instance, videos don’t often go viral by accident. A lot of careful planning is involved in kick-starting the video’s exposure using paid media which stops at some point — when earned media gains momentum.

Another great example of how owned and earned media can overlap is if you write a blog post that gets picked up by media outlets and other bloggers in your industry.

Earned media doesn’t always result from owned media, but owned media can be very helpful in getting your brand more attention from third parties.

Why is earned media so important?

In short, earned media is so important because it’s extremely effective. It’s the ultimate amplification tool, whether used alone or in conjunction with owned and paid media.

Earned media has gone far beyond the traditional media outlets. Now, the pool of potential amplifiers includes public relations combined with different types of user-generated content (UGC) and sharing.

This means that everyone in your community can be a source of earned media by tweeting, reviewing, embedding, sharing, commenting, liking, and curating any of your owned or paid media elements.

Why is this important?

Consumers today are greatly influenced by friends, family, and the content they consume online.

Everyone is so connected these days, and what they share about a brand (good, bad, or ugly) can be seen by hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people.

And, many of these people listen to those stories and use them in making buying decisions.

In fact, according to HubSpot Research, 57% of US adults trust the recommendations of family and friends the most when discovering a new product.

If that’s not enough to convince you why earned media is so important, here are some of its additional benefits:

  • Earned media is free: One of the main benefits of earned media is that it doesn’t cost anything. It’s purely profitable exposure for your brand. This means that you receive all the other benefits listed below without having to dig into your marketing budget.
  • Earned media raises awareness: It’s an effective way to boost your overall brand awareness beyond what your existing marketing campaigns can achieve. Earned media can also be an excellent way to reach potential customers who fall outside your traditional customer base, but may still be interested in your products or services.
  • Earned media is more credible: You are responsible for creating your owned or paid content, and since you have a vested interest with regard to your company’s success, it means that no matter how well-produced your content is, it won’t match the credibility of unpaid promotion from fans and loyal customers.
  • Earned media generates a positive spiral: Word-of-mouth is a powerful tool when it comes to building your client base. Earned media provides your organization with valuable social capital that often leads to new clients who seek you out after seeing someone they know, respect, or otherwise look up to speaking highly of your company.

These are just some of the reasons why earned media is so important.

In fact, if brands then proactively build processes and campaigns to convert earned media amplifiers into subscribers, participants, attendees, and ultimately customers, they can create a powerful lead generation machine.

Examples of earned media

Listed below are common examples to show you what earned media looks like in practice.

They also showcase how important monitoring earned media is in 2021 and why PR pros should be monitoring it.

1. Original social media posts referencing your product

Instead of sharing content that your brand has created, customers or fans of your company may promote your brand for free by writing about their experience with your product or service in an original social media post.

When a customer tweets about “the best brunch ever!” at a restaurant and the post gets several likes and retweets, that’s earned media.

2. Online customer reviews

While being mentioned in a positive way can be great for your business, it’s also important to keep in mind that earned media is also that bad Yelp review from a different customer who had “the worst brunch ever” at that same restaurant.

In the past few years, the way customers express their feelings about products they’ve used has changed and is no longer limited to just dinner conversations and phone calls.

Now, when people come across a product (whether they love or hate it), they make it known to the world by writing reviews on websites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Amazon, Google Reviews, and more. Each one of those reviews about your business is earned media.

3. Product reviews on YouTube, social media, or blogs

Reviews about your products or services call attention to your brand and let potential customers know about you.

If they are positive reviews, they can lead directly to increased sales. Conversely, bad reviews can negatively impact your bottom line.

For example, a technology blogger might write a review post on the “Top 10 Apps of 2021”, and include your recently launched mobile app. If that post is viewed and shared by tens of thousands of people, it can significantly boost your profits.


4. Media coverage of your products, services, brand, or events

When earned media comes as a result of press coverage, it will often be in the form of a direct reference to your business or brand. Just look at how much buzz the Tesla marketing strategy is generating with basically a $0 budget.

But, it’s also possible for you to benefit from the same tangential incorporation in much the same way as you would with YouTube or social media posts.

5. Natural inclusion of your products or services into external media

For the most part, even when content producers aren’t explicitly setting out to bring attention to your brand, products, services, you can still get free publicity and earned media whenever your company’s goods are incorporated in their video or image.

This is especially beneficial if the video or image shows the participants in a great environment or having a good time using (or simply in the presence of) your products or brand.

6. Word-of-mouth recommendations

Word-of-mouth is yet another example of earned media. It’s just as impactful as a Yelp review or tweet – and it’s free!

This type of earned media can be stimulated through social media, viral marketing and digital8. It includes day-to-day conversations between happy customers and others who are looking for a product or service like yours.

One example of positive earned media through word-of-mouth recommendations is when people talk about your upcoming webinar and share it with their network of friends on social media.

The image below shows why word of mouth is one of the most influential elements driving buying decisions today:


Keep in mind, you can try to increase the occurrences of word-of-mouth earned media with email marketing.

To begin, select your preferred email marketing service, then use content marketing to sign them up for an email list. From there, use automation to deliver value and encourage users to share the email with others who may benefit.

While this seems like a big ask, if you create quality content that delivers a lot of value, people will be willing to share your content with others free of charge.

7. Unpaid search engine traffic

This example is a bit tricky to define because earned media typically comes in the form of written or video content.

But, organic traffic that strictly results from your website’s natural ranking without paid placement is a type of earned media.

You’ve “earned” traffic to your content by ranking highly on search engines. The content within the search results is linked to your owned media, but the generation of search engine traffic for keywords, aside from direct searches for your business, is an excellent example of earned media.

Which brings up a very important question: Is SEO earned media?

The answer is no. SEO isn’t technically earned media.

It’s a process that you control in order to improve the performance of your media. But, you can still “earn” search engine traffic from your optimization efforts, which makes organic traffic a type of earned media – even though the content itself is classified as owned media.

8. Inclusion in a trade publication

If your business is included in a trade publication geared toward an industry that you are an active part of, this qualifies as earned media.

Although such publications have a somewhat smaller reach, they often have a very high value per impression since they offer free placement in front of your target audience.

For instance, a business that has developed a new method for composting might be featured in a magazine that’s all about sustainability, making it likely that the readers who make up the business’s target audience will learn about the innovative brand.

9. Product roundups

Content creators love to create “roundup” articles with a list of the best types of products for customers seeking high-quality items.

If your product or service is good enough, it’s likely that someone will want to include it in their roundup, which would result in earned media for your business.

For example, a car seat manufacturer that develops a safer harness for a lower price could wind up in an article called “9 Best Infant Car Seats of 2021 for Parents on a Budget“.