Everything You Need To Know About Earned Media in 2021

Picture this: your biz goes viral. You’re on everyone’s Instagram feed, email inbox, and heck, you’re even on the news.

While every business secretly wishes they could take the world by storm, it’s really hard to achieve virality.

There’s usually no rhyme or reason to the world’s obsession with unicorns, TikTok challenges, or muscular kangaroos. Engineering virality is like finding Atlantis—it might be possible, but nobody’s really done it yet.

So, what can you do instead?

The most successful brands focus less on viral videos (lookin’ at you, Old Spice) and more on strategic marketing.

Glamour's products.

The best way to make something as vague as “strategic marketing” come to life for your brand is to enjoy your time in the limelight with earned media.

If you’re curious about earned media, how to execute it in the real world, and how to, well, earn it, buckle up, buttercup. Let’s dig into what earned media is and how your brand can use it to find more customers.

Our definition of earned media

So, what’s the deal with earned media?

You get earned media any time someone makes content about your brand and you didn’t pay for it.

Basically, earned media happens when someone, be it a customer, influencer, or journalist, says something about your brand because they want to, not because you paid them.

Earned media is usually made by a third-party, but savvy marketers know how to position themselves to get more earned media (more on that in a sec).

Earned media is not:

  • Paid media. You aren’t sponsoring ads or running PPC campaigns to get it.
  • Owned media. This isn’t you publishing a press release on your site or writing something on social media.

3 reasons we love earned media

You have less control over earned media because someone else is writing it, but that’s okay! Earned media is a branding goldmine (as long as the writer isn’t super-pissed at you, that is).

We love earned media for 3 reasons.

1- Cut through the crud

Between inflammatory politics, funny memes, and personal updates, your customers are mired in the Swamp of Distraction that is social media.

Tweet showing person posting about a product he purchased after following an Influencer.

Are they really going to pay attention to your brand?

Especially if you’re writing self-promotional posts that suck?


Fortunately, earned media cuts through the crud. Because you aren’t tooting your own horn, your audience trusts the content more than usual.

Since it’s not you disseminating a glowing review about yourself, earned media cuts through customers’ filters and actually delivers the message.

2 - Reach a wider audience

Whether you land a feature on a blogger’s site or a bona fide TV news slot, earned media helps you reach even more customers.

If you’re struggling to get the word out about your awesome products, earned media puts it in front of fresh eyes.

Trend dashboard

3 - Boost your credibility

It’s a fact: customers are more influenced by family, friends, and online content than your marketing content.

In fact, 57% of US adults trust product recommendations from friends and family.

When you snag earned media, you’re tapping into the credibility that comes from third-party seals of approval. Shoppers trust you way more as a result.

3 examples of earned media in action

Is your mouth watering already?


But what does earned media look like in 2021?

Fortunately, it’s not so much about pitching journalists and news anchors anymore. Today, you’re targeting the tastemakers of the 21st century: digital content makers.

If you need earned media ASAP to get in front of an online audience, these 3 avenues will get you there.

1 - Blogs

Yes, people still love reading blogs. 77% of internet users consume blogs and spend 3X more time on blogs than they do checking their email.

You want your brand or product on as many high quality, relevant blogs in your niche as possible.

The best way to get earned media on blogs in 2021 is with:

  • Product roundups: Lots of bloggers make roundup-style articles. If you land a feature in gift guides or “the best of” blogs, that’s a valuable piece of earned media.
  • Product reviews: These days, when people love or hate a product, they shout it from the rooftops of the internet. Many bloggers write in-depth product reviews, and those qualify as earned media.

“That sounds awesome,” you might think, “But how the heck do I convince bloggers to write about me?”

To land a feature on the hottest blogs in your niche, do blogger outreach. That might mean:

  • Sending free, no-strings-attached products to bloggers.
  • Emailing a super-relevant message requesting a feature or backlink. It sounds far-fetched, but just asking for a feature will sometimes earn you one!
  • Commenting on a blogger’s Instagram or comment section on their blog.
  • Pitching your product through Help A Reporter Out.

You won’t get a feature from every blogger you contact, but just a few well-placed features can boost your sales!

2 - User-generated content (UGC)

Let’s say you’re scrolling through Instagram. You see your friend chilling at a hot new brewery just down the street from you.

“Woah,” you think, “I had no idea that place was there. I should go!”

Hook, line, and sinker, you’ve seen user-generated content (UGC) in action thanks to earned media.

User generated content that wins

Users pay more attention to UGC, especially from the people in their social networks. 51% of US consumers trust UGC more than your branded content, after all.

UGC is a form of earned media because your customers (aka your biggest fans) are creating content about you.

Not sure how to generate more UGC? Check out our ultimate guide.

3 - Influencer marketing

Now, the most common type of influencer marketing is paid influencer relationships. Through a platform like Trend, this is a quick and easy way to increase your reach and find a new core group of customers.

But you don’t necessarily need to pursue paid media to get features.

It’s entirely possible to convert satisfied customers into fanatical influencers for your brand.

Here’s how influencer marketing works within earned media:

  • You share your branded content via social media, as usual.
  • A happy customer replies with their own glowing endorsement of your brand. They then share that content out to their network.
  • You ask that happy customer for permission to share their story with your audience at large. This is user-generated content.
  • But this is where it gets juicy! This customer becomes such an avid supporter of your brand that you ask them to continually promote your brand via social media.

By building this relationship with a newly-minted influencer, you gain more earned media features and attract customers in a genuine way.

Influencer content sparks real engagement with the users.

To put it simply, you get earned influence—any influencer relationship that you aren’t paying for qualifies as earned media.

Now, these folks are promoting your brand for nada. Do you owe them anything in return?

Technically, no. But it helps to show appreciation, especially if you want them to continue featuring your brand.

Engage with their posts or thank them with a personal DM. Sometimes a simple thank you will suffice, but discounts and the occasional freebie won’t hurt, either.

The bottom line

Sure, we love paid media strategies. But earned media should have a special place in your marketing strategy, too.

Keep in mind that earned media is a long-term approach. You’ll need to consistently pitch yourself and put your products out there to earn badass features over time.

But when you put in the work, you’ll see a huge ROI for just pennies. Be deliberate, strategic, and consistent to earn more features and get the internet talking about your product.

Of course, pitching influencers and bloggers isn’t always a walk in the park.

If you need quick access to vetted, reliable digital tastemakers, tap into the Trend network. We help brands automate the influencer marketing process, getting you more mentions and features in less time.

Curious how it works? Give Trend a test drive.