Measuring Earned Media vs. Paid Media

by | Sep 19, 2011 | Blog, Blog Archive, Multi-Channel Marketing | 0 comments

The newest buzz word for engaging current and prospective customers through social media is earned media.  It’s measured with the same metrics as traditional paid media (advertising, press releases, telemarketing, direct mail, and email marketing): impressions/audience size, lifts in brand awareness, message awareness, and purchase intent.  

Quantifying the value of earned media has moved up the priority list as multi-channel marketers have learned that “free” marketing tools like social media aren’t really free.  (Yes, it’s free to set up a Facebook page or a Twitter account, but it takes time and dollars to create the strategy, messages, campaigns, and marketing support that makes social media a valuable part of product marketing.) 

There are several different frameworks for valuing earned media.  The Nielson Company has partnered with Facebook to create something called Nielsen BrandLift that measures both Facebook ads and earned social media.  It measures three types of Facebook impression:

  • Homepage ads:  “above-the-fold” ads that contain ad creative (image + text) as well as an option for users to engage with the brand (e.g. “Become a Fan”).
  • Homepage ads with social context (e.g. social impressions) which include the names of a user’s friends, if any, who are already fans of the brand.
  • Organic impressions, which are social stories that appear on the homepage of friends of users who have engaged with a brand or become a fan of that brand.

According to Nielsen and Facebook, a successful social media campaign needs both paid and earned media in order to have the reach and impact required to affect sales and deliver a long-lasting impression on prospective customers.  “Buying social media is different than buying standard online media,” according to Jon Gibs, Vice President, Media Analytics, The Nielsen Company.

On Nielsen’s blog, Gibs repeated the often-heard fact that people trust their friends far more than advertising when it comes to making a decision about a product or brand.  Citing the results of a study of 114 Facebook ad campaigns that involved more than 800,000 users, the blog reported a 2% purchase intent increase between consumers who were exposed to both the ad campaign and the resulting organic impressions compared to a control group (same demographics) who were exposed to just one or the other.

If 2% doesn’t seem like a big difference, let’s put it into perspective.  In a sample size of 800,000, an increase of 2% could deliver 16,000 prospective customers who might not have been prospective customers without the combined effect of earned and paid media.

Photo credit: The image showing the three kinds of ads comes from the Nielsenwire blog, and is ©2010 by The Nielsen Company.