There have been many changes over the past few years in terms of how information is shared.

The advent of social media, the perceived declining effectiveness of existing methods and the state of economies around the world have affected the way brands approach content creation and distribution.

Gone are the days when information flowed in one direction from the brand to the consumer with little or absolutely nothing going back the other way.

The days when brands had full control of their content, and the type of message that they wished to spread to consumers, have slowly given way to earned media – where media coverage is earned from consumers, not just paid for like a commodity.

Your reputation might be at stake

Earned media can be the reviews that you read on independent blogs, Twitter recommendations, comments on Facebook or +1s on Google+.

A brand has no control over these but has to keep a keen eye on them as it is the voice of the people and those messages, positive or negative, go a long way in forming a brand’s reputation.

Many, including myself, predicted that 2012 will be the year when earned media really comes to the fore. And there is more than enough reason to believe that.

Considering the current economic climate, earned media comes with a personal touch that you wont get even if you run a multi-million pound campaign. People are more likely to believe their family and friend’s recommendation than that of an international brand.

Earned media is also very cost effective. Compared to the price of adspace and such, earned media costs little.

Word of mouth recommendations combined with a ready outlet to feedback information means the engagement that every brand is striving for is available without having to burn a hole in the budget.

Earned media can act as the catalyst to get those two-way conversations going to the benefit of both the brand and the consumer.

Trust is key

There’s no question that marketers with decent budgets can and do buy media to reach audiences and fund development of owned channels.

However, in 2012 – more than ever before – it will be those who ‘earn’ media placements who will be on the front foot.

Social media is now well and truly here – with business audiences as much as consumers expecting two-way conversations with companies. And to succeed here, the trust of the audience must be earned.

Another reason why earned media will potentially appeal to more people is because we have had other forms of media thrown in our faces for so long that we have somewhat become numb to them all. And apart from the personal touch mentioned earlier, people are generally more responsive towards the simplicity and honesty that comes with earned media.

But before going on a campaign to earn media, there has to be a solid plan in place to resolve any backlash or unforeseen circumstances. There is an endless reel of half baked campaigns that come undone spectacularly. And the last thing any brand wants is to have an unsuccessful campaign or one that achieves the exact opposite of what it set out to do. 

Like everything else, failing to prepare is preparing to fail. As long as a strategic plan is put in place to back a well thought out campaign, there’s no telling how your brand’s reputation can be enhanced.

Five steps to succeeding at earned media

So what steps should companies take to succeed at earned media in 2012?

Here are my top tips:

  1. Add value – think about what your audience want and the content that might engage them.
  2. Make sharing easy – it could be as easy as adding sharing buttons to your blog or site, but make it as easy as possible for people to share your content.
  3. Keep it simple – the general rule here is don’t try too hard. Keep your content clear, short and concise.
  4. Prepare – think about what you are trying to achieve and how your strategy will help you meet these goals
  5. Seed – targeting the right people initially will help you catapult your content out there and will encourage sharing.