Earned Media Is All About Generating Free Exposure

Get Your Attention Right Here!
Earned media is really just the digital-age term for word-of-mouth advertising. It’s an idea that has grown hand-in-hand with content and social media marketing and the notion that a viral success can cheaply translate to mega-exposure.

Everyone wants earned media.

Marketing agencies know this, and they routinely pitch their ability to generate it. Most businesses, even small ones, are embracing the earned media paradigm to shape their social media strategies. Indie writers are no exception.

However, there are many misconceptions floating around the notion of earned media via the use of social media.

Earned Media Has a Number of Advantages
Many of them are obvious. (1) it’s “free,” in the sense that there’s no direct payment for the exposure provided; (2) it’s transparent, in that brands need not rely on intermediaries to measure it; and (3) it tends to create greater trust than paid or owned messages.

People trust the enthusiasm and recommendations of friends, acquaintances and professional networks more so than ads.

The Disadvantages Are Less Obvious
The real disadvantage has to do with earned media’s hidden cost. It requires investment in internal and external social media content generation. It takes time and effort.

Sometimes a lot of effort.

This week, I spent some time looking over past entries to my blog, because I thought they might make an interesting booklet if compiled and published together. One I could sell.

Looking at them, however, I noticed I keep talking about writing blogs and the Twitter and the Book of Face, as though they’re going to help, all by themselves in some magical way, reach out to fans, create a nice fan base and sell books.

I keep pushing new media as the be-all and end-all of promotion, completely forgetting the many years I spent dealing in old media to sell things.

Old media that worked.

It made me realize I’m not doing justice to readers who are looking for indie writing/publishing advice by pushing so hard on the new media tack without completing the story. Being an indie writer myself and talking about my experiences is not sufficient.

I do mention the need for word-of-mouth publicity, and I’ve written about earned publicity … not paid publicity. I just don’t do it enough.

Evaluate Social Media
When you consider maybe half the people in a social network will actually see a posting (assuming they aren’t following so much stuff they don’t have time to read any of it), and maybe one percent of those who see it will respond, and about five percent of the responders will buy, you’ll understand why marketing types today use this formula to evaluate social media:

(followers) x (50% see it) x (1% pay attention) x (5 % buy it) = sales.

Using this as gospel, you can figure out what the outcome will be for any given social networking post. For the sake of example, I’ve chosen an audience following of 100,000 (I should be so lucky). It works out something like this:

100,000 x 50% x 1% x 5% = 25

You read that right. Assuming you have something to sell, a posting to 100,000 followers on your social media site (your blog, the Twitter, the Book of Face, or whatever else you use) could possibly translate into 25 sales. Maybe.

Twenty-five. That’s it.

Considering all the time I spend on those sites, those numbers made me feel sick, too.

I have almost 2000 follows here. Another 1650 on The Twitter. Only about 53 on the Book of Face (I’m not real active there). I’m not at all sure about Pinterest or Tumblr or LinkedIn or any of the others I’m on and vaguely familiar with, so I won’t count them.

So let’s say it’s about 4000.

Let’s see … 4000 followers x 50% x 1% x 5% = 1.

Seems I’m way ahead of the curve with my actual sales, but it still isn’t promising. Mediocre is more like it. Never mind my first two books are award-winners. They don’t sell as well as I would hope.

So What Are We Supposed To Do?
There are scads of untalented hacks … people who couldn’t write their way out of a wet paper sack with two sharpened pencils and an axe … who sell more books than some great writers.

And I’m not talking about books in some alternative universe. These untalented non-writers sell all kinds of books right here on good ol’ planet Earth: non-fiction and fiction.

What’s the secret? You know their name.

That’s it. Name recognition.

Nothing is more powerful. If you want to reach a mass audience, you must use mass media. Must. Not should.


You see, it doesn’t matter how good your book is … and why simply telling people how good it is on social media won’t, all by itself, help. It’s why someone like Glenn Beck (or whomever it is who writes his books for him), have books on the best seller list.

People know his name (the same is true of non-talented folks like the Kardashians, too … so I’m not just picking on you, Glenn).

Use the same formula I just gave you, but assume 200 million people around the world know your name. Go ahead, do the math.

(200,000,000 people) x (50% see it) x (1% pay attention) x (5% buy it) = 50,000 sales.

That’s a bestseller right there.

Quality doesn’t necessarily matter when exposure is that high.

But to reach the kind of volume you need to achieve those numbers, your plan has to include ideas for reaching out to every form of mass media: newspapers, magazines, blogs, radio and television.

And since you don’t have an automotive company’s marketing budget, you need earned media.

Earned Media
Earned media refers to favorable publicity gained through promotional efforts other than advertising. In other words, free publicity.

Wait, you say. With social media, you can reach a mass media-type audience. Yes, but will you reach as big an audience? No.

But, you continue, everything you write will at least get out there, and the mass media may decide to cover something after spotting it in the wild, if enough people pick it up and repeat it.

That, Gentle Reader, is true.

Self-Serving Posts Don’t Get Read
But a common mistake is to treat social media as a monologue, and to make it self-centered. That’s why you see a lot of Book of Face pages that are often ‘me’ focused (including mine sometimes, sadly) and feeds on The Twitter that are just links to press releases.

In order for social media to be earned media means it isn’t something you wrote about you. You may start the conversation, but it’s a dialogue to which a lot of people contribute.

The best use of social media to try to achieve this … is to give your audience something. Inform them. Entertain them. Give them news they can use. Ask questions. Figure out why an average person would read what you’re saying. What would they get out of it? Indie authors trying to promote themselves should be no exception.

Give Your Audience the Best Value You Can
Then make it easy. By that, I mean make it simple … and make it easily found. Link things so whatever you post on your blog automatically gets on your Twitter feed, or on Tumblr, or the Book of Face … whatever you use. The more places the better.

Make it easy for other people to write and post content without jumping through a bunch of hoops.

Create a short video, put it on the You of Tubes and learn how easy it is to embed that video on your blog or put it on your Book of Face pages (I already do). Record a podcast and do the same experiment (I’m working on it).

The ideal system lets you write and post with the fewest steps possible, with your posting system linked to your other social media. Most new blogging platforms like WordPress will automatically sync with other social media like Book of Face and the Twitter, so every post you put up on your blog gets put on those other places, too.

Social media isn’t a replacement for earned media, but it’s a growing force for getting there and it’s becoming standard these days for any public figure or public figure wannabe.

If you’re in the public relations business … and, believe me, if you’re an indie writer trying to promote your writing you are … and you aren’t using social media, people today will look at you funny, as if you don’t believe in telephones.

You need to get dialogue going. More importantly, you need to have other people talking about you and your books. You absolutely need it.

Like my sons told me months ago, when they urged me to blog, tweet and Book on Face about my books … get into the 21st century, Pop.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section.


New York Review of Books – A Reminder
Look for the mention of my novel REICHOLD STREET in the September 26, 2013 Fall Books issue of The New York Review.


Creating Believable Characters
Don’t forget to click on the link in the right-hand column to get your copy of “Creating Believable Characters.” It was written specifically to aid writers with their character development and the price shouldn’t be a deterrent … it’s FREE.




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2 Responses to “Earned Media Is All About Generating Free Exposure”

  1. Mary Hackstock Says:

    In response, yes Glenn Beck sells a lot of books, maybe half written with the help of other people, but not all. The people he is selling his books to are the ones who personally know him from his radio and TV shows. They hear him every day, might think like him or just enjoy a good debate of issues. I have read his novels and find them in the same vein as Mitch Albom, kinda schmaltzy, but I did enjoy “The Christmas Sweater” and “The Snow Angel”. His novels are about the human condition and how important redemption is. His other genre of writings in the political realm and his suspense books are for people who know him and want to read more from the person they listen to and relate to. He has a definite following and yes that helps him sell books. As I said I am NOT a novel reader, but love his other books. He is definitely a conservative thinker who puts great emphasis on real facts in his books that deal with history and current events. To anyone who has either not listened to his broadcasts in the morning(you have to pick him up by computer) since he is not carried by any local channels or have not read any of his books, I always suggest “try him, you”ll like him”. I have ALWAYS made my own decisions on people, places or things and have NEVER relied on what other people tell me I am supposed to like or think. That said, people who have a radio audience do sell ALOT of books because they have a captive market. Their loyal listeners are usually waiting for the next book. His next book looks to be another best seller, about people in history, and the “real story” as Paul Harvey would say. Enjoy your posts, love.

    Sent from my iSlate


    • Ron Herron Says:

      Wow! I really hit a nerve!

      I try not to comment on politics or religion, because they are such personal topics and can cause so much unnecessary anguish when you hit the “wrong” nerve.

      I wasn’t trying to tell anyone NOT to read Beck’s work, either. I read “The Overton Window” … or more accurately I should say I “started” to read it … but I found it so bad I couldn’t continue.
      Others might adore it. To each his own.

      I pulled Beck’s (and the Kardashian’s) name out of the air to illustrate my point about “name recognition.” I could just as easily have used “Ayn Rand” (or a number of others) in that sentence, because I don’t think a whole lot of her writing talent, either … but obviously a whole lot of people do, and THAT’S what matters.

      You illustrated my point very well when you said, “He has a definite following and yes that helps him sell books.”

      My point exactly. People know his name.

      Your opinion matters, and I’m glad you took the time to comment. I need that. MY opinion matters only to me, so I’ll try to temper my comments in the future even more than I do now … or at least hide them in non-descript no-name references.

      Thanks, Mary.

      Love ya.


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