Think about it… When was the last time you actually clicked on an online banner advertisement?
(We’re not talking about that accidental click that launched you to a new webpage while you grumblingly clicked the back button.)

If we’re honest, it’s about as infrequent as the last time you jotted down a phone number from a radio advertisement.

Comparatively, when was the last time you Googled something? Anything. Maybe something like:

Most popular sushi restaurants near me.
What is Snapchat?
How to build a personal brand.

Almost every day, right?

If you’re like the vast majority of consumers across the globe, you turn to the Internet and its seemingly limitless amount of content for help, advice, how-to guides, directions, and recommendations daily. Whatever your need is, whether you’re looking for a recipe, or to self-diagnose medical symptoms, you turn to Google for answers.

Let’s examine this a little closer though…

When you turn to Google with your questions, yes you are searching for an answer, but what you’re more specifically searching for is a trusted, unbiased, unpaid, authentic, and credible source of information about a topic, solution, pain point, or product. In other words, you are searching for a brand or expert that you can trust to help you make a decision.

As soon as you type in your question, hit search, and click on a result, you’re at what’s called the zero moment of truth (ZMOT).

You’re at the point in the buying cycle when you reach a product, service, solution, or brand for the very first time, and you’re making a buying decision based on whether or not you believe that product or service will solve your need. We live in a time where consumers are more likely to make purchasing decisions based on online research, rather than advertising. If you want to grow your personal brand, you need to position yourself as a trusted, unbiased source of knowledge who is findable among the Internet’s pages of trusted content, and within the social sphere of public dialogue.

The key to this valuable positioning among the collective conscious lies in a branding tactic called earned media that can allow you to amplify the reach of your personal brand, and can be more impactful and influential than paid advertising (and did we mention it’s free)?

Intent Beats Targeting: Why Paid Advertising Still Can’t Beat Free, Earned Media

This article will help you understand the value of earned media and how to incorporate it into your personal brand marketing strategy.

What is Earned Media?

Let’s start with a definition. Or a few…

Earned media is:

  • Free publicity
  • Unpaid brand coverage published by third-party sources
  • Online word of mouth

Distilling our three definitions into one:

Earned media is any form of positive promotional marketing about your personal brand that originates from external sources.

Still confused? You may be more familiar with earned media’s more well-known cousins: paid and owned media. An understanding of the differences between earned, paid, and owned media, and how they relate to one another, will help showcase the value of earned media in building a personal brand.

Earned vs. Paid vs. Owned

Think of earned, paid, and owned media as the ideal synergy of advertising and public relations. The trifecta. A hat trick. Three components of a multi-pronged strategy you need to leverage when building your personal brand.

Understand that while you should incorporate all three tactics into your personal brand building approach, earned media can quickly have the most significant impact with the smallest financial investment, making it the most critical component.

So what are the key differences?

Sources: Nielsen, Adage, Zimmer Communications, WordStream.

Examples of Earned Media

Let’s start talking details. Think of the following forms of earned media as personal branding tips that you can begin leveraging today to influence the influencers in your industry and harness the power of word-of-mouth engagement.

Influencer Endorsement

In the age of digital everything, bloggers that earn followers are often seen as trusted and unbiased resources for information and solution recommendations. If a reputable blogger in your industry interviews you, mentions your personal brand, reviews your business, or recommends your services, you instantly earn street cred among your prospective customers.

Shared Social Media

Paid personal branding social media can expand the reach of your message beyond your direct followers—but at a price. When you earn shares, retweets, regrams, and likes by followers and their followers, especially if they are influential in your space, it’s a form of earned media, and it’s incredibly valuable. Imagine if Tim Cook re-tweeted something you posted. Tim Cook has 11.3 million Twitter followers who would all see a message about your personal brand that cost you $0. Mind = blown, right?

Online Reviews

According to a Forbes survey, 85 percent of tech consumers said articles, reviews, blogs, and videos by industry experts were the most influential factors they considered when researching a purchase. Whether conducted by a journalist in an established third-party media publication or a prominent blogger, when a trusted source of information and recommendations advocates for your services in the form of a positive review, it is the equivalent of personal brand building gold.

Press Mentions

Press mentions occur when you or your personal brand are quoted or discussed in an article that appears in a trusted media publication. There can be two ways to earn press mentions: press release distribution and reporter engagement. Note: they often work in tandem.

  • Press Release Distribution. If you have news to share about your company or offering (e.g., you are hosting a one-day seminar or partnering with a local non-profit on a fundraising campaign), you can write a traditional press release and send it to targeted media publications. This approach costs you nothing unless you choose to send your press release using a PR distribution tool such as PR Web. Your targeted publications may pick up your statement in its entirety, assign a reporter to write an article about your efforts, or ignore it entirely, deciding it is not of interest to their readers. If your release gets picked up, or a reporter writes about your initiative, the resulting media attention is valuable for brand awareness and promotion, but readers will recognize that the story is about you and your brand and serves as a form of advertising.
  • Reporter Engagement. A reporter is working on an article about a subject of which he or she recognizes you as a subject matter expert, so the reporter contacts you to be interviewed and provide insights for the piece. This form of PR is more valuable in building your personal brand than the press release distribution because it’s nonpromotional. The article will appeal to your prospective target audience and will position you as an expert in the subject matter as endorsed by a trusted member of the unbiased media. It will also generate awareness for your services without you having to promote them directly.

Understand that to earn reporter engagement; you must first gain recognition in your industry and build relationships with influential journalists. One way to do that is to issue press releases in the hopes of catching a beat writer’s attention so that when the day comes when he or she is writing a piece about your area of expertise, yours is the first name that comes to mind for article input.

Organic Search Engine Results

It is estimated that Internet users conduct over 6 billion Google searches per day. We’ll pause while you let that number sink in. That means that your prospective customers are searching for information about your area of expertise and they’re starting with a search engine. By optimizing your personal brand website so that it ranks high on search engine results pages (think: the top two organic search results on page one below the paid search results), you will increase your chances of prospective customers reaching your website when searching for a solution or need. This achievement is a critical step in the brand awareness and customer acquisition process.

Click here for tips on building an optimized personal brand website on a budget.

Why Earned Media Matters More than Paid Advertising

We previously said that earned media matters more than paid advertising when building a personal brand. Here are five reasons why.

Earned Media Serves as a Trusted Endorsement.

In the era of fake news fear and advertising overload, consumers are adept at recognizing when a brand is controlling a message, and in response, prefer authentic insights and recommendations from unpaid and unbiased sources, such as journalists, peers, social media influencers review sites, and bloggers. According to a survey conducted by Nielsen Global Trust in 2015, 83 percent of respondents said they trust recommendations from friends and family. When earned media comes in the form of social shares, endorsements from influencers, and even authoritative interviews from respected journalists, you position yourself as a trusted expert in your field, separating you immediately from the litany of paid advertisers that most consumers have learned to ignore.

It’s Free.

Earned media is obtained through building relationships with influencers, building educational content, creating an engaging social media presence, and becoming thought of as an expert in your industry. While there is a cost to such achievements in the form of your time and effort, you won’t be building a budget and setting aside thousands of dollars to implement an earned media strategy.

Positive ROI.

If you’re now beginning the process of building your personal brand, then you may not have an expansive marketing budget to spend on paid advertising. Fortunately, you can make a significant impact on your target audience by leveraging earned media opportunities and positioning yourself as a thought leader and subject matter expert. When your financial investment on a marketing strategy is $0, and you gain invaluable brand awareness, and prospective customer leads in return, you earn the highest form of ROI.

If You Go Viral, You’ve Hit the Jackpot.

Sure, Super Bowl ads that cost millions of dollars regularly go viral, but if an article, infographic, interview, or video you created for free goes viral and begins to rack up millions of views, you’ve just launched your personal brand into the stratosphere of awareness, reputation, and prospective growth.

Modern Consumers Distrust Traditional Advertising.

Traditional advertising in the form of radio, print, and television advertising is dying, not only because decades of paid advertising have created generations of distrustful consumers, but because traditional media is dying. Newspapers are being replaced by free online news, traditional radio is being replaced with paid subscriptions to ad-free satellite radio, and cable TV is crippling underneath the popularity of paid (also ad-free) services such as Netflix and Hulu. In a shrinking world of oversaturated and ignored ads, consumers are searching for authenticity in the form of recommendations, endorsements, word-of-mouth, and influencer reviews.

The Risks of Earned Media

Before you fully embrace the world of earned media and begin working to build relationships with reporters, influencers, and followers, understand that there is a distinct risk with earned media. Unlike paid and owned media in which you write and design your message, with earned media, you have little to no control over the comments made about your personal brand. That means you may be psyched to have a popular blogger review your services, until you learn that the blogger only rated you with three out of five stars. Or when the reporter you spoke to for an hour, misquotes you or misspelled your personal brand website’s URL and suddenly can’t be reached for a correction. It can be frustrating.

How to Build a Personal Brand Using Earned Media in Seven Steps

Earned media is all about relationship building and gaining a reputation as a subject matter expert—something you are likely already focused on as part of your personal branding strategy. We’ve compiled seven targeted personal branding tips to amplify earned media opportunities.

1. Identify Influencers in Your Space.

To target social media and industry influencers whose opinions matter to your audience of prospective customers, you first need to identify them. Spend some time searching social media, attending industry conferences, signing up for webinars, listening to podcasts, and reading editorial content from relevant media publications to identify established influencers.

2. Build Authentic Relationships.

Now that you have identified influencers in your industry turn them into advocates for your personal brand. Make sure they know who you are and begin to build the types of trusted relationships with them that will earn their endorsement. Whenever possible, meet influencers and journalists in person. Ask them out for coffee and discuss topics of shared interest in your industry, but withhold your sales pitch. If your service offering comes up organically, all the better.

A critical note about this step: This is a tactic that only works if your efforts are genuinely authentic. Influencers and journalists will see through blatant promotional outreach. If you intend to earn media, you have to be worthy of gaining influencers’ trust, and you have to be genuinely earnest in establishing long-term relationships with key thought leaders in your space.

3. Donate Your Services.

Like number two, this tactic must come from a place of authenticity, however, donating your services to a cause that matters to you can help earn you valuable media attention in the form of public relations and traditional media exposure, and it can bring attention to an important cause. #winning.

4. Help Out a Journalist.

Another way to identify yourself as an available and experienced expert in your field is to leverage journalist resource tools. When searching for news topics or researching articles, even the best journalists can get stuck. When this happens, they often leverage tools such as HARO (Help a Reporter Out) or turn to Twitter using hashtags such as #journorequest or #prrequest. Keeping an eye on such sources may help you to identify reporters in your field looking for insights from an expert like you.

5. Optimize Your Website for SEO.

You want everyone to consider you a subject matter expert in your space—especially Google. Spend time optimizing your personal brand website with keywords and content to elevate your search engine result rankings and earn a page one placement.

6. Attend Industry Events.

If you want to be considered a thought leader in your space, then you should be in attendance at your industry’s most widely attended educational events, such as trade shows and conferences. These events allow for networking, media coverage, and even guest speaking opportunities in which you can wow a captivated audience with your knowledge and insights.

7. Create Shareable Content.

If you want to earn social followers, shares, retweets, and posts, you have to create the type of engaging content pieces that will break through the clutter. That doesn’t mean putting all your effort into funny memes and cat videos. While such content sometimes goes viral, you want to earn shares among serious influencers in your space, which means your materials must be groundbreaking, educational, influential, and well designed. Such content may come in the form of blogs, webinars, video tutorials, podcasts, survey research, how-to guides and videos, infographics, eBooks, and white papers (and yes, all of these can be produced at little to no cost).

Wrapping it all up…

Earned media can be more valuable than paid advertising in building your personal brand, and is most effective when leveraged as part of a comprehensive marketing plan.

If there is one critical piece of information you take away from everything you’ve read, remember this: your earned media strategy must come from a place of genuine authenticity.

No matter your area of expertise, sharing your knowledge and building relationships with industry influencers, are two of the best ways to build your personal brand, and you’ll improve the lives of those who consume your content in the process—and that’s the best win of all.


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