Earned media: This isn’t just a numbers game

In the world of earned media, basic data monitoring is no longer enough, says Jeremy Cowles, Ebiquity’s director of online earned media insight.



The rapid evolution of online editorial and proliferation of social media channels and content have turned the earned media space on its head in the past few years. Once the exclusive domain of publishing houses and established media sources the world over, this space has had to make room for new voices, opinion-leaders and brand advocates from among the ranks of us, the consumers.

What people are saying and how they are being heard is making consumer-generated content of vital importance to communications teams and marketers alike. Knowing that the vast majority of consumers trust the opinions of other consumers, brands have to understand consumer opinion more closely in order to influence it through aligned communications across paid, owned and earned media.

From a PR and comms perspective, a brand’s reputation is at stake in the consumer-generated space. From a marketing perspective, brand reputation gets you into the consideration set, but consumer decision-making and path to purchase is also at stake.

Understanding the impact of consumer sentiment from both perspectives is crucial for brands to fully integrate and maximise communications activities.

The quest for data

When comms teams and marketers realised that they needed to understand this vast resource of earned media content, their initial response was to extract it all, as quickly as possible, from wherever it was available. In principle the demand was to be able to drill into conversations in fine detail to see how their brand’s reputation was being affected and to be able to respond. To service this need, a plethora of self-service dashboard tools flooded the market, delivering always-on monitoring and basic data analysis.

In reality, the volume of content available in this space was too overwhelming to manage effectively, leaving these dashboards to deliver little more than silos of data sets.

Capturing and publishing the millions of global conversations occurring minute by minute served only to cloud the view of comms executives, leaving them at a loss to really understand what was being said about their brand and its promises.

In our experience, comms teams and marketers are starting to look elsewhere to gain a clearer vision of the earned media space. Enlightened professionals are no longer satisfied with relying on technology and data providers with a narrow focus on social media content aggregation.

As an independent, trusted advisor with more than 20 years of global communications research and consultancy, we rely on world-class technology but focus more on the way in which data can then be manipulated and analysed to derive real insight and understanding.

The value of insight

By working harder to understand online earned media, rather than just measure it and react to it, we have seen clients learn valuable lessons.

By having earned media content from around the world analysed by people with local expertise brought together into a global perspective, one client was able to gain transparent insight into their brand’s profile market by market, where their strengths, weaknesses and examples of best practice in local communications were emphasised. The findings from this exercise enabled the brand to tailor messaging country by country to target the brand advocates but still promote the global image familiar to customers worldwide. This nuanced understanding of consumer attitudes could never have been realised through automated processing.

Attempting to capture millions of conversations online is a fruitless task

By relating social media sentiment to the findings of market research, another client was presented with an honest evaluation of a product launch that was built around a bold marketing campaign.

Through the combination of stakeholder research and analysis of social media conversations, we found that the brand’s positioning was misaligned with consumer expectations, leaving many confused with the messaging and at worst disaffected with the brand itself. Assessing the true reaction to earned media content (and not just the reach and frequency of it) cannot be achieved through monitoring of content alone.

While this kind of insight is extremely important in a brand-specific context, it is invaluable when placed in a competitive landscape. Understanding the impact of rivals’ communications activities on a global scale constitutes a genuinely powerful intelligence service.

The bigger picture

Now more than ever, the challenge for companies and brands is to live up to the promises they make in the owned and paid media spaces. Consumers won’t hesitate to take brands to task through the direct access that social media channels provide, making delivery on promises critical.

We have seen examples of impressive ‘on-message’ advertising campaigns that cost tens of thousands of pounds to plan, create and place, only to be weakened by the final execution and adverse consumer reaction. Equally we have seen brands combining customer-focused advertising campaigns with social media activation, which have been undermined by a complete lack of response to customers’ direct and explicit frustrations with the service they receive. In these examples, the advertising served to demonstrate the contrast between the promise and the delivery, a contrast underestimated by the brands themselves.

By combining data and insight from across the communications spectrum, companies are now better positioned than ever to ensure they are speaking with one voice and, more importantly from a reputation perspective, making promises they can keep.

Assessing the positive and negative effects of consumer sentiment on brand reputation and consumer behaviour will help marketers to seize opportunities and safeguard against threats.

For further information please contact:

Jeremy Cowles

020 7575 1900




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