What Does An Earned Media Specialist Do?

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1. First off, What is Earned Media? Advertisers and marketers know that old-fashioned word-of-mouth (Word of Mouth) marketing is the most effective way to build brand equity and drive success. Here's an example. Recently, I decided that I wanted to start looking for a home to purchase, so I asked a co-worker (who'd recently purchased a house) if he had a Realtor recommendation. His emphatic thumbs-up was all it took to convince me to go with her.

Earned media is essentially online word-of-mouth marketing. Here are a few examples:

Google's Search Results: A large portion of Google's search results are not paid placement; they're earned. When you "Google" a term like "Realtor", most of the results you'll find are what's referred to as organic or natural results. To earn a top spot in Google's organic search results, you must prove to Google that you're the best possible result. When Google's search engine returns a Web page at the top of search results, that's Google's Word of Mouth recommendation.

Earned Content Placement: When an outstanding piece of content is written from a trusted source, people will flock to it and share it with their online communities. This results in earning placement in front of new readers' eyes without having to pay for it. That's what I call earned content placement. It can also result in earning online social advocates.

Earned Fan Acquisition: When a person or brand does a good job engaging in social conversation, curating content, and managing communities, increase in earned (non-paid) quality fan acquisition occurs.

2. What Does an Earned Media Specialist Actually DO?

It really depends on the organization. Here are some general responsibilities of an earned media specialist:
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Optimizing content, IT, and experiences for people and search engines.
  • Content Strategy and Development: We know that the best way to earn media placement with our content is to make sure the content is top-notch. We spend a lot of time making sure we are writing the best possible content for people and search engines.
  • Digital Footprint Management: Most organizations have media properties outside of their Websites (e.g., Facebook, eBay, Angie's List). Digital Footprint Management refers to managing an organization's content and communities across the Web.
  • Digital Strategy: An earned media specialist who is worth their weight in salt understands their customer and what will evoke them to action. Because of this ability, earned media specialists are deeply integrated in an organization's overall digital strategy.

3. What is your typical day like?

One of the beautiful things about earned media is that there really isn't a "typical" day. There's always something new in the mix. But here are some things my team does fairly regularly:

As the director of the earned media practice, this is what I typically do: I spend most of my day supporting my team, reviewing their work, collaborating on enterprise objectives, evangelizing and training internal teams, and building out capabilities.

4. Do you spend all your time on the computer? It's a 50/50 split between doing actual work on a computer and collaborating with people in meetings.

5. Is this a 24/7 kind of life? Absolutely! In order to be successful in any sort of marketing or advertising career, it has to be part of your DNA. As it applies to earned media, there's no formula for success. We can't do the same things all the time and expect to see incremental growth. Often, the best ideas come when we're out of the office. Additionally, it's important for us to build our networks (which propagates earned results), which is a 24/7 endeavor. Personally, I wouldn't hire or keep someone on my team who didn't eat, live and breathe this stuff.

6. What kind of money can you make? If you're good at what you do, you can easily make six figures. However, that's at the very senior end of the spectrum. It also depends on where you're located geographically and the competition/demand in your area. If you plan on working at an agency, expect to earn on the lower end of the pay spectrum.

Additionally, don't plan on a big salary as an entry-level earned media specialist. In order to do well financially you must put in the work, have a portfolio of great results, and build a strong personal brand that carries gravitas and respect from the online community.

7. How do you learn this job? I learned earned media by pure luck and chance. In 2007, while at digital advertising agency iCrossing, I was taught the ins and outs of SEO from some of the best minds in the industry. At the time, there wasn't much user-generated content on the Web and social media marketing was still in its infancy. As user-generated content and social media grew, I grew with it and learned it by doing hands-on work. It took a self-starter mentality. I still learn every day.

8. What's your favorite part of the job? Results are what keep me motivated in this career. It feels great to see Google rewarding my content with a top ranking. Over the course of my career, I've earned top 5 rankings for terms like: "credit cards," "online banking," "business checks" and more. Additionally, seeing my work drive significant revenue (real results) validates what I do.

Also, when I see an article that I've written take off on social media and receive positive feedback, the sense of accomplishment is unreal. It always feels good when other people validate that you've done a good job.

In saying that, my favorite part of the job is building teams. As an example, my current team at Deluxe had little to no earned media experience when I hired them. Over the past year-and-a-half, I've watched them become pros and turn into best-in-class talent. Not only are they world-class talent, they also have a fire and passion for the industry.

Another example is the team I managed at MRM McCann in New York City. When I staffed the team, I hired five incredibly smart new college grads that were hungry to make it in advertising. Like my team at Deluxe, these guys did amazing work across some of the world's most prestigious brands (e.g., ExxonMobil, JP Morgan Chase, and the United States Army). We became like family and have continued to be an important part of each other's lives though we've all moved on. It's heartening to see ALL of them succeeding using what they learned as part of my team.

This is what I love about my job.

9. Are there software programs you HAVE to master to succeed in your field? Yes, it's extremely important to master Microsoft Excel and advanced formulas. Also, have a functional knowledge of:
  • Blogging and Website platforms like WordPress
  • Social networks like Facebook, Twitter & Instagram
  • Basic HTML
  • Server architecture
  • Industry specific tools, too many to name.

If you'd like to learn more about earned media, make sure to visit the earned media presentation I gave at the Ad2 Summit at the University of Minnesota.

Images: Adam Dince
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