Master Class: How do you integrate paid and earned social media efforts most seamlessly?

Every day we are inundated with massive amounts of information - be it on our laptop, smartphone, Facebook, Twitter, TV, radio, and more. The challenge is to break through the noise.


Kari Aakre

Manager, consumer PR, Intel

Georgiana Comsa

Managing partner, Silicon Valley PR

Mark Hampton

CEO, Blanc & Otus

Stephanie Marchesi

Senior partner and MD, global integrated marcomms, Fleishman-Hillard

Marko Muellner

Director of marketing programs, Webtrends

Every day we are inundated with massive amounts of information - be it on our laptop, smartphone, Facebook, Twitter, TV, radio, and more. The challenge is to break through the noise.

A successful campaign hits your audience in many ways and places for most impact. The seamless integration of all PR and marketing channels, including paid and earned social media, must be grounded in sound strategy. When merging a paid and earned approach, there are some key goals for which to strive.

  • Know your audience and where to find it. Don't assume that everyone peruses Twitter every day. Spend the time to understand your target audience and where it gets its information. Intel commissioned social media mapping and research for specific segments of its target consumer audience. We learned that to best reach people, we must tap into their passion points - travel, fashion, fitness - and weave our technology message into those passions. With this, we can determine when and where an integrated approach is most effective.
  • Be transparent, up front, and honest. With the advent of social media, transparency is critical. When we cover the travel costs to send our Intel Insiders (a social media advisory board of online influencers) to key events, we disclose it on our blog and ask each Insider to do the same. Transparency is a key part of our social media guidelines.
  • Don't force it. While true integration may be the Holy Grail for successful campaigns, there is still a time and place for separate paid and earned efforts. We often use a simple blog post to disclose news and ignite discussion. We've also sponsored select social media conferences, such as BlogHer, to infuse subtle messaging into existing conversations and introduce Intel to new audiences.


Kari Aakre, manager, consumer PR, Intel

As PR professionals, we've all had to explain to our own parents - on numerous occasions, no doubt - how we do not work in advertising or paid media, but we actually get paid to help clients "earn" media.

Going back to our marketing classes, let's remember an ideal integrated marketing communications program includes consistent, well-crafted messages brought to your audience through various communications tools, earned and paid social media being among the most prominent.

The key word once those messages have been identified is: integrate. One way of integrating earned media with paid social media is simply to include the results of earned media into your paid media efforts. Promote that great product review, feature article, or award through your social media ads. Third-party validation is also important to your audience. If you are paying to reach that audience through any form of advertising, you want to share what others are saying about you.

The opposite works as well. Post information on Twitter or a Facebook page about your latest webcast or YouTube educational video. You might be surprised how much attention it can get, assuming that, through your earned media efforts, you built a loyal audience that now trusts you and pays attention to your posts.

The same advice we gave clients when we were only exposed to "traditional media" applies to social media: don't just "sell" your product or service. You need to educate potential customers and show them how your product or service could solve specific problems. They will come back to find out more.


Georgiana Comsa, managing partner Silicon Valley PR

The PR industry has been built on the knowledge that earned media, traditionally the most influential driver of customer behavior, is gold. However, today's social media marketplace is shifting the landscape.

While earned content is still king, in its current form - a blog post, news article, or social video - it now has a very fleeting shelf life. If consumers don't see content when it's first posted, or if they don't specifically seek it out, they may never know it exists. It has become more like gold dust, still priceless in terms of building a brand, but you've got to hope consumers catch it as it floats by to get the value from it.

More than ever, this means PR has to be strategic, not only in helping to drive the creation of the content, but also in how to ensure this precious content gets in front of the right audience, making sure the gold isn't lost down the river.

Traditional paid advertising is facing its own problems as it is increasingly ignored by informed and skeptical audiences. However, it has a key advantage - the ability to deliver long-lasting reach. The challenge for savvy communications pros is to connect earned and paid media effectively to drive maximum value.

This is where integration is vital. Rather than relying on a consumer's friend to share great content, PR should feed advertising with links to the best product reviews, online articles, user forums, blog posts, and so on. Advertising can then help increase the impact of PR by building ads around the most engaging social content. This minimizes the increasingly cynical reaction informed consumers have to traditional advertising and maximizes the behavior-changing impact of your earned media through increased reach. Done right, it's solid gold.


Mark Hampton, CEO, Blanc & Otus

Whether integrating paid and earned channels, or achieving alignment of brand and reputation, it's time for PR firms to deliver holistic, media-neutral campaigns.

Paid and earned media should accomplish similar goals. When integrated properly, both focus on one insight uncovered by the analytics each discipline offers. Surrounding the consumer through paid and earned channels, built around a key insight, is most powerful. Increasingly, this can be accomplished through a singular agency approach.

Today, clients also have the option of working with one agency to manage their paid and earned media efforts. Some leading PR firms have strategic planners, media buyers, and digital and social strategists on staff to provide more complete service and robust thinking.

There are also times when a partnership between PR and media is in order. While many believe that PR and media-buying agencies don't have a lot in common, they in fact have numerous complementary skills and assets. Media-buying agencies excel at reaching large numbers of people. PR firms are experts at talking to individuals. Just imagine the power of a PR/media- buying collaboration that answers a client's question, "How can I build relationships with the people who matter through social media and still achieve the reach I want through paid channels?"

The value of social media technologies is in building reciprocal relationships. Earned social media creates and deepens relationships. Paid media can attract a wider audience and close the sale. It's the power of the combination that makes the difference. Why settle for 25,000 Facebook members when with the help of paid media you could reach 100,000? Imagine telling your client, "Here's what you can do with your 100,000 new relationships."


Stephanie Marchesi, senior partner and MD, global integrated marcomms, Fleishman-Hillard

The need to integrate paid and earned social media can be determined through the following five steps:

  • Start with insights. Dive deep into how your prospects and customers live, how they interact with your brand, products, and services, and what they expect from you. Strive to uncover and focus on the 20% of insights your competitors don't have. These will reveal when to focus on either paid or earned media and when to integrate the two.
  • Objectives drive tactics. I used to work for a big domestic beer brand. One of our main objectives was to get loyalists to drink more of our product. Watching a TV spot during a football game isn't great at accomplishing this. Sending a Facebook status update at 5pm that reminds fans to pick up a six-pack on the way home from work does. Being honest and focused here will again reveal when to use paid versus earned media and when to integrate.    
  • Test and learn. Start small. Test some basic content ideas and formats (video, animation, blog posts, primary research, and infographics). Then create, measure, and make a plan for improving efforts based on what you've learned. This will allow you to scale at the right pace based on a path of proven success.
  • Spread the word. Use paid media to accelerate the velocity of your most compelling shared content - it's a virtuous cycle. Once you land on content, tools, or experiences people want to share, look to all your distribution channels and tactics - paid, owned, and earned - to reach scale and accelerate sharing.
  • Be agile. Develop a bias toward marketing ideas and executions that lend themselves to real-time changes, updates, and pivots. Start with well-executed, but small and inexpensive ideas, see what works, and then get bigger as you go. Start with six small niche videos and work towards two huge, more mass-appealing ones. Develop a simple mobile app with just the most compelling elements.


Marko Muellner, director of marketing programs, Webtrends The Takeaway

  • Tapping into the passion points of consumers can help determine when an integrated approach is most effective
  • PR and advertising should help each other. PR should feed relevant links to the ad side, while advertising can help boost PR's impact by building ads around engaging social content
  • Honest, focused objectives are critical in determining whether to use paid media, earned media, or a combination

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