Word-of-Mouth and Referral Marketing Blog

How To Create “Earned Media” – Content Marketing In The Age Of Surplus


I read an interesting post by Chad Politt on Social Media Today titled What This Content Marketer Does Is By Far The Most Insane Thing I’ve Seen In My Life.

The title is, of course, a jab at the Upworthy-type headlines that have swept across the Internet over the past year.

The content marketer’s struggle is real.

Chad’s post captures the struggle of the content marketer beautifully.

Nobody reads her posts.

Nobody visits her company’s blog.

She has 10 colleagues just like her, and there are 1,000 companies just like her’s, too.

She dutifully broadcasts her content for over a year, and barely anything happens. There’s just too much stuff out there for anybody to care about any individual post she writes.

First-movers had a genuine advantage.

Many of today’s authoritative figures benefited hugely from first-mover advantages. They’re famous now because they started before anybody else did.

This can seem like they got lucky, but it takes a lot of guts and conviction to move early before there’s any clear benefit or ROI to doing it. Also, they’ve been doing it longer, so many of them do have a deeper understanding of the issues.

Chad argues that if a person with little to no personal brand tried to start a marketing company using only owned or shared media, he or she would take years to see results, if ever. The surplus is simply too strong to be defeated by regular run-of-the-mill posts.

I agree completely. Simple lists and how-to guides are no longer the valuable currency that they used to be.

My beef is with the proposed solution: paid and earned channels.

The limitations of paid and earned channels:

Politt’s solution to the content surplus problem is to make use of paid and earned channels. The marketer should be asking for more budget to do paid distribution, and “reaching out to media outlets and influencers within his industry to start building real relationships and collaborating”.

It’s a nice idea, but here are some problems with that:

1: Asking for more budget is often easier said than done.

Where is the money supposed to come from?

How do you justify it?

What happens when your boss says no?

Or worse, what happens when she says yes, and then you discover that your paid distribution isn’t converting?

2: Paying for distribution doesn’t necessarily help you achieve your goals, it could be money down the drain.

When we put on our writing hats, or our content marketer hats, we tend to forget what it’s like to be a casual consumer.

Most if not all casual consumers develop defences against advertising that they’re not interested in.

Just because something is in a newsletter that I read regularly doesn’t mean that I’ll pay attention to it.

Social media provides a great opportunity witness this phenomenon first hand. If you’ve been publishing to Twitter and/or Facebook regularly, and you’ve experimented with using promoted/sponsored posts, you may notice that your most best-performing posts aren’t necessarily the ones that you promote.

This is because paid advertising is no substitute for real word-of-mouth. It can at best amplify a pre-existing signal.

3: How exactly are these real relationships and collaborations built?

This is one of the hardest and most challenging thing a marketer needs to do, and it’s hard to reduce it to a bullet point:

How do you build relationships with quality people who are doing amazing work and have all the attention that you need?

The fundamental rule of relationships is to bring something to the table. 

Being friendly is important, but it’s also insufficient. Influencers are primarily interested in what you can do for them- how you can help them do their job better, how you can help them make life easier for their audience.

That’s the fundamental challenge of the content marketer.

It’s never crowded along the extra mile. So go there.

How do you make better content? Content that people actually care about, and actually want to share?  This is the hardest and most important question that every content marketer needs to be asking.

Let’s analyse our own content. Our best content include posts like:

All of those posts answered questions that we ourselves were curious about, that we ourselves would share just because we found it genuinely interesting and useful. And these posts in turn helped us build relationships with peers in our industry- they gave us something to talk about, at the very least!

Distribution matters, but make sure you have something worth distributing.

That’s what ‘earned media’ is all about. 

Yes, content marketing was easier in the past when there was barely any content to go around. There was a time where people were really excited to receive email, even if it was a promotional newsletter from Proctor & Gamble.

But times have changed, and the game has gotten more challenging – just as Olympic records have gotten harder and harder to break. That’s the nature of the game we’re playing; the nature of every game, really. (Even action heroes are getting fitter than before.)


Visakan Veerasamy

Visa is ReferralCandy's Blog Editor. He also co-founded Statement.sg, a fashion ecommerce label selling witty t-shirts. He's been thrice named a Top Writer on Quora. He hopes to enjoy a glass of whiskey onboard a commercial space flight someday.

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