What Is Earned Media?

Updated on June 12, 2020
heidithorne profile image

Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker specializing in sales and marketing topics for coaches, consultants, and solopreneurs.


Earned media is getting yourself and your work featured in a form of media without having to (technically) pay for it. Examples:

  • Getting your press release included in mass media (newspapers, magazines, television news shows, etc.).
  • Being a guest or featured expert on a news program or podcast.
  • Being quoted in a magazine article.
  • A reader sending a link to your article in an email to his friends and colleagues.
  • Having your Facebook post, YouTube video, or blog post shared on social media by your followers. If massive sharing occurs, it can be referred to as "going viral" due to its resemblance to the spread of viruses in the physical world.
  • Guest blogging on someone else’s website.

The owner of the media (newspaper, social media account, blog, podcast, TV program, etc.) that features you or shares your content “pays” you by promoting you and your work to their audiences. By being relevant and interesting, you have “earned” that privilege.

Is Earned Media the Same as Social Media?

Earned media and social media are two different things, though they work together.

As defined in the introduction, earned media means getting featured on a media channel that you don’t own. Social media user accounts (other than your own accounts) are media channels on which you and your content could potentially be featured or shared. With social media being as powerful, ubiquitous, and noisy as it is, organically earned sharing of your content from social media users is an accomplishment. Today, social media is one of the most common ways through which media coverage is earned.

Some marketers reach out to—even pay!—social media influencers to encourage social sharing of their content and companies' offerings. This has its own challenges, including that of proper disclosure of any financial gain or benefits provided in exchange for the sharing. And once there is an exchange of dollars or any other benefits (including free products, VIP treatment, etc.) for sharing, it is no longer "earned" media. It's regular old advertising, just paid for in a different way.

Is Earned Media Free?

Yes and no.

Your content that is voluntarily shared with others via social media, email, etc. is considered free earned media. The user who shared your content deemed it worthy to share with his or her followers. This can also be referred to as amplified or organic reach. You did very little or nothing to prompt the share, except for creating quality, shareable content. The additional reach provided by sharing is free.

That prize of free organic reach is why advertisers are now plowing time, talent, and money into creating quality content with high potential for sharing. It’s good for marketing because it provides more bang for every buck spent. Individual bloggers and influencers also invest heavily in creating good content that their followers will want to share since it could increase traffic, sales, and ad revenues from their sites.

However, it can cost plenty to create good content! Equipment, talent, time, web design... it all adds up. So as with any other investment, monitoring costs and outcomes from an earned media strategy is essential to avoid over-investing.

  • Example: A hobby blogger spent thousands of dollars on cameras, equipment, travel, web services, and hundreds of hours of time. He received hundreds of thousands of views for his blog and videos. Yet his returns in hard dollars were pitiful by comparison. So while he gained amazing earned media coverage, he also suffered financial losses.

How Can You Earn Media Coverage?

I’ve been asked a number of times about how to get featured on the media. Usually, those asking want to get on the likes of Good Morning America or some other popular news-information show. I wish them the best of luck since the chances of that happening are about as good as winning the lottery: Always possible, never probable.

But do you really need mass media coverage? Likely not for many niche markets and topics. You’re better off trying to gain amplified organic reach for your work from people “closer to home,” meaning your friends, colleagues, and followers with these tips:

Encourage Social Sharing By Offering Sharing Tools on Your Blog Posts and Other Content. I have a friend who writes stellar blog posts and he shares links to them via email. But when I go to read the full post on his site, there’s no way to easily share his work on social platforms. No buttons located at the top, bottom, or sides of the page to quickly allow readers to log in to one or more social media platforms and share it. Plus, there’s no “share this” link on the email either. Because I’m a friend, I often take the time to copy the blog link and log in to each relevant social media account to share it. But most readers are not that committed. They’ll just move on. I wonder how much traffic he loses by not including these sharing tools. Lesson: Make sure you include obvious social media sharing tools on your site to help your followers help you.

Continue to Build Your Own Social Media Presence. I always encourage authors to build their “author platform,” or presence, on social media before they even try to promote their books there. Same applies for solopreneurs and small businesses. You cannot expect people to magically follow and share your work if they don’t know who you are. This is a “build it before you need it” strategy. Side note: Definitely post links to your content on your social media accounts, but don’t make it all “read my stuff.” Be a resource by sharing others’ good content, too.

Don’t Game the System. I often see suggestions to support others by mutually “liking” and sharing each other’s posts. That feels disingenuous to me since I don’t think they may have truly liked my post or other content; they were just filling a social obligation. Plus, I may not even like their content! This isn’t earned media, it’s gamed media. And if you’re so unsure of your work that you need to force a like or share, you better take a serious look at the content you’re creating.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2017 Heidi Thorne


Submit a Comment
  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    2 years ago from Chicago Area

    Linda, earned media can be a very good thing, which is why businesses are so hot to get it. Glad you found it helpful. Enjoy this pre-holiday weekend!

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 

    2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

    Like Bill and Flourish, I didn't know what earned media was before I read this article. I can see that it can be a very good thing. Thanks for sharing the information, Heidi.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    2 years ago from Chicago Area

    Flourish, the term actually goes by several names, but this is the one that probably sums it up best. Appreciate you chiming in, as always! Have a great weekend!

  • FlourishAnyway profile image


    2 years ago from USA

    Excellent topic. I hadn’t heard of the term but can absolutely see now both the overlap and distinction.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    2 years ago from Chicago Area

    Bill, you have definitely earned your media stripes... and probably earned a relaxing weekend, too! Thanks for stopping by and enjoy the weekend!

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    2 years ago from Olympia, WA

    I had to laugh. I read the title of this article and the first words out of my mouth were "I'll be damned if I know," but it turns out I do know, and I have earned media, so there!

    Have a great weekend, earned or un-earned!


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