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Paid vs. Earned Media

By Athena Alexander

Many companies use both paid and earned media to maximize traffic to their websites or platforms to build their business and attract customers. In many situations, both are used together to reach different audiences, grow company credibility, and track what is performing well for their company and what is not. There are pros and cons to each method that may cause a company to choose one type over the other. However, both paid and earned media are valuable ways to grow exposure for a company, engage customers, and increase overall engagement.

Paid Media

Paid media is media marketing that is purchased; businesses pay for content to be promoted to create exposure for goods or services. Prices vary depending on the amount and duration of ads purchased. One way to use paid media is through promotion through the service itself. Social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn offer paid services that the app itself promotes on users' feeds. This content shows up as advertisements or promoted posts on the feeds of a target audience selected through analytics such as location, age, and previous likes and saves.

Another way to use paid media is through a paid user, or influencer, who promotes products to their followers. A company chooses an influencer based on factors such as their number of followers, location, target audience, and reputation. For example, younger influencers may be paid to promote products that a younger demographic may use, such as a phone case, a new snack, or clothing. Paid ads for products such as alcohol would be promoted by an older influencer with a following of people aged 21 or up. When an influencer’s followers see them using a product, wearing a brand, or attending a certain event, they tend to want to use those products, wear that brand, and go to those events. A company will send an influencer information regarding the promotion and may include a package of products or an invitation to an event in exchange for a post on their accounts.

Earned Media

Earned media does not use paid advertising to build exposure; it uses the internet itself to gain exposure for websites, products, companies, and more. It has been described as "the online word of mouth." Earned media includes blogs, shares, mentions, reposts, and recommendations --and, in some cases, items that "go viral." An important component of earned media is SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, which uses key words and phrases to increase traffic to products and services. For example, for a company selling phone cases, their blog might include keywords used by customers looking for phone cases, such as case, waterproof, and silicone. This way, if a customer searches for "waterproof silicone phone case," this company’s website would be one of the first to pop up, increasing traffic to the site and bringing attention to the business.

The Best Combination for Your Company

Many companies utilize both paid and earned media to maximize their exposure. There are pros and cons to each.

Proof that paid media gets almost instant results and the ability to track which ads work and overall engagement. This helps companies understand which posts do well, which posts don’t, the best time to post, and their target audience. Knowing this information can drastically grow a company. A con of paid media is that it can be expensive, and the price usually increases over time. In addition, a company may become dependent on paid marketing because of its ease of use.

The proof of earned media is the organic way it increases a company’s credibility and customer awareness. Users lean toward companies they trust and also listen to positive reviews. A con of earned media is that it takes time and effort to build a reputation, and some efforts may lead to setbacks. For example, if a customer has a bad experience, they may leave a negative review and tell their friends about their experience as well.

Both paid and earned media help companies grow their exposure. It is equally important to get ads to people to bring in new customers and build a company's reviews and ratings.


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