Quick Guide to Earned Media Value & Influencer Media Value

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In 2020, one drink produced more than 4 billion impressions and 250 million views, turning Dunkin’ into the most followed QSR brand on TikTok. 

So, how can a single product launch transform a 72-year-old fast-food chain into social media royalty? Earned media value.

Dunkin’ has always been a top contender in America’s breakfast wars. But to win, the company knew it needed a brand champion to spark conversation and generate excitement in a crowded industry. 

That’s why the brand partnered with Charli D’Amelio—a TikTok megastar and loyal Dunkin’ fan. First, the company updated its menu with her go-to drink order, aptly named “The Charli.” Dunkin’ then let Charli “take over” its social media channels to spread the word about the collaboration and new cold brew flavor. The brand even launched a contest for fans to meet the social media star.

@charlidamelio got my own song and it just hits different. show me how you “do the charli” while you drink ‘the charli’ using #charlirunsondunkin!! @dunkin #ad ♬ The Charli – Dunkin’

The collaboration resulted in countless pieces of earned media for the Dunkin’ brand. From news articles to blogs and social media posts, everyone was talking about “The Charli.” The partnership also opened the door to brand affinity for a completely new (and much younger) generation of Dunkin’ fans.

This quick guide explores how your brand can also capitalize on earned media and how influencer marketing can enhance your overall earned media strategy.

But before we dive in, let’s take a look at a few terms you should be familiar with first:

  • Owned media – Content created and published on a platform you own
  • Paid media – Any advertising that you pay for 
  • Earned media – Organic conversations from third parties about your brand, sometimes as a result of your owned and paid media efforts (e.g., press coverage, social media mentions, word of mouth) 
  • Earned media value (EMV) – The estimated dollar amount of all exposure generated from third parties
  • Impressions – The number of times your content appears to viewers
  • Engagements – The measurement of comments, likes, clicks, and shares on social media 
  • Engagement rate – A metric that compares engagement with reach or audience to measure the amount of interaction
  • Cost per thousand (CPM) – The price a company pays for every 1,000 impressions an ad receives

What is earned media value?

Earned media value is the dollar amount of all exposure generated from third-party sites, social media, or traditional media. 

By putting a quantitative price on brand engagement through these channels, marketers can get an idea of what they might have paid to get the same results through owned or paid media.

Previously, the goal of EMV was to calculate the value of third-party mentions by publications and television news sources. Now, user-generated content (UGC) on social media is one of the most vital aspects to consider when calculating earned media value.

The basis for EMV lies in understanding what effect a brand’s marketing decisions and public image have on its prospects. Rather than “spend a dollar to get a dollar,” marketers should use that dollar to set off a chain reaction of positive feedback and word of mouth.

If earned media value is low, that often indicates a problem with the brand’s image, voice, or marketing decisions. When earned media value is high, the brand has identified meaningful connections with its audience. 

There are a few different approaches to understanding and using EMV. Whether or not your organization adopts a particular model depends on your marketing strategy and how successfully you can arrive at a reliable metric for earned media value. 

Social media apps symbolizing part of earned media value

What is the difference between paid, owned, and earned media?

Paid media happens when a brand funds promoting itself on an external platform, owned media is when a brand owns a marketing channel, and earned media is any free, third-party promotion earned as a result of paid and owned media campaigns.

Paid media

Paid media is when a company spends money advertising on an external platform.

The following are examples of paid media:

  • Google Ads
  • Social media ads
  • Television and print ads
  • Billboards

Google provides conversion tracking tools to help measure how ad clicks and product listings lead to meaningful actions like sales or conversions. Leading social media platforms also enable users to easily track important performance metrics like reach, engagements, impressions, etc. 

The effectiveness of traditional advertising methods, like billboards, television, and print ads, isn’t always as exact. The most common way to measure performance on these channels is to take a sample of core metrics (sales, web traffic, etc.) before you launch your campaign and compare it to how you perform while the campaign is live. 

Owned media

Owned media is any channel that belongs to the company. 

Examples of owned media include:

  • Company websites
  • Blogs
  • Organic social media posts

Brands can measure the success of owned media content similarly to how they determine the effectiveness of paid efforts. They can also measure average time on page, pages per session, and returning visitors to determine how compelling users find their content. 

Earned media

Earned media is free third-party promotion “earned” as a result of paid and owned media efforts.

Examples of earned media include:

  • News articles
  • Customer reviews 
  • Organic social posts mentioning your brand/product
  • Word-of-mouth recommendations

Consumers are generally willing to discuss brands organically when they genuinely love its products and services. But the same is also true when they have a negative experience. To keep an eye on earned media mentions, brands should always implement social listening tools to compare positive and negative consumer sentiment and adjust their strategies accordingly. 

Understanding EMV on social media

Many experts prefer to uncover earned media value by comparing impressions (the number of times people viewed a piece of content) to sales since it mimics models for TV ad buys and assumes that all impressions are equally important. 

Marketers can now leverage built-in social media analytics reports to view these impressions in three categories:

  1. Organic – The number of times your content was displayed (for free) on a social media platform
  2. Paid – The number of times paid content (like Facebook ads) was displayed
  3. Viral – The number of unique people who saw your post or Page mentioned in a story published by a friend. These stories include actions such as liking, sharing or commenting.

Examining quality vs. quantity of impressions

Consumers spend hours of their day engaging brands, influencers, and one another over social media. Marketers can weigh impressions differently thanks to social platforms reflecting each different type.

Just as the overall engagement rate of your profile tells the story about the effectiveness of your social media presence, engagement rate by impression shows how interesting an individual post was to viewers.

When used in conjunction with impressions, reach can tell you if your posts end up in front of the right audience. For example, if you have 10 impressions but only one reach on a post, you can assume that one viewer was quite interested in your content. 

How to calculate earned media value

It’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to calculating earned media value. But the closest that any marketers have to a standardized earned media value formula is as follows:

(Impressions) * (Cost per 1,000, or CPM) * (Adjustment Factor)

The only variable in the formula above with any stable metric is CPM, a metric used in TV/PPC advertising. Adjustment factors also convey significant ambiguity but allow marketers to tweak value accuracy. 

When calculating earned media value metrics on social media, brands must take a comprehensive look at impressions, engagements, and the impact posts have on media mentions. Social listening is also critical to gauge audiences’ general attitudes about a brand online. 

When brands invest in the right influencer marketing platform, they gain access to AI-powered software to help identify the real-world cash value of their social media campaigns. 

The goal of the software is to provide marketers with an “apples to apples” comparison for CPM across social media platforms. The comparisons come from campaign objectives, engagement, conversions, share of voice, and other variables. 

Why earned media value is important to influencer marketing

Ultimately, authentic engagement leads to increased brand awareness and sales. EMV helps demonstrate which influencers possess the highest ROI potential.

When investing in creators, you need your marketing dollars to result in a swell of digital word of mouth. Influencers with high engagement metrics grant you a head start because they’ve done the work of nurturing authentic connections with their audience.

When brands begin scaling their creator team, adopting an influencer marketing platform enables them to easily track social media engagement and influencer EMV. These platforms allow brands to use EMV metrics to identify where they will get maximum ROI. And because the earned media value calculations are programmed based on engagement metrics (rather than vanity metrics), there is no risk of partnering with inauthentic creators.

How to use EMV in your influencer marketing strategy

One of the best ways to set the stage for growing EMV is to identify your top-performing influencers. But since you can calculate earned media value based on influencer accounts and individual posts, you can further use EMV to guide your ongoing marketing decisions.

For example, high-performing influencer posts from a recent campaign can make great repurposed content in ad campaigns. Since you already know that a particular image and message will perform, you can leverage that value to sponsor paid social media for increased engagement.

Tip for creating an earned media strategy

Make time for media members. 

Many companies partner with journalists and publishers who can incorporate their brand into the news outlets consumers tune into every day. Not only does this strategy enable brands to stay top of mind with consumers, it forces them to create products and initiatives innovative enough to be deemed “newsworthy” by local and national media outlets. These partnerships look similar to affiliate marketing but are largely driven by a brand’s PR and communications team.

Create an amazing customer experience.

The customer experience is critical to building trust and creating a positive consumer sentiment around your brand. In a recent episode of the GRIN Gets Real podcast, renowned marketer and author Dan Gingiss shared his WISE approach for nurturing an ideal customer experience:

  • Witty – Be clever with your language. You don’t have to be a stand-up comedian, but you do need to use language to your advantage.
  • Immersive – Do everything in your power to delight throughout the entire customer journey. Ensure their buying experience is smooth and without unwelcome surprises. 
  • Shareable – Create moments you know people will want to share with friends and family. The happier customers are, the more willing they’ll be to talk about it.
  • Extraordinary – Find out where in your customer journey you’re ordinary and kick it up a notch. No one is going to share a perfectly average experience. 

It isn’t necessary to do all of these things perfectly. Even just excelling in one aspect can launch your customer experience ahead of your competitors. 

Make an impact on your community. 

Find a cause that you believe in and incorporate it into your brand’s mission and values. Studies show that 56% of consumers will stop buying from brands they believe are ethically unconscious, and 91% of consumers will likely switch to a brand that supports a good cause, given similar product price and quality. 

Madewell is one of the many brands that have repositioned itself to adopt sustainability into its ethos and encourage consumers to encourage sustainable shopping behaviors. The brand recently set a carbon neutrality goal and aims to have all its denim be Fair Trade Certified™ by 2025.

Show your industry expertise. 

Brands should take every opportunity possible to amplify their expertise through blog posts, social media content, and other forms of owned media. By establishing yourself as a thought leader in your niche, your brand (and your content) becomes a go-to source of information for like-minded individuals. Brands don’t earn credibility overnight, so make sure you consistently produce interesting, data-backed content for your audience.

Key takeaway: Generate earned media value as the fruit of your marketing labor.

Earned media is often viewed as free press for your brand. But in reality, there is nothing “free” about it. As the result of your paid and owned media strategies, earned media serves as a hard-earned reward for all the hours and dollars spent running a successful campaign.

Partnering with brand-aligned influencers is one of the most effective ways to generate excitement about your brand and strike up a conversation around your products and services. And by investing in the right creator management platform, you can ensure your brand always invests in the influencers most capable of generating earned media value and providing a positive ROI for your campaigns.

Are you ready to stake your claim in the creator economy? Discover more helpful tips and resources from the experts at GRIN: Creator Management Learning Center

Updated: November 2023

Frequently Asked Questions

Influencer endorsements and word-of-mouth recommendations are both examples of earned media. 

Earned media is exposure gained from some avenue other than paid advertising. It’s important because it can signify that whoever is talking about a brand actually enjoys its products and services and isn’t just a paid mouthpiece. 

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Written by GRIN Contributor

GRIN is the pioneer behind the world’s first Creator Management platform built to support every brand’s journey to connecting with consumers through authentic creator relationships. Thousands of the world’s fastest-growing brands—including SKIMS, Warby Parker, Allbirds, Mejuri, and MVMT—use GRIN to make creators feel like trusted, empowered partners and work with them to build their brands into household names.

© Grin Technologies Inc. 2024. All rights reserved.

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