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Understanding Today’s Media: Insights from Top Journalists

Join this panel with top journalists to explore findings from the 2024 State of the Media Report.

The 2024 State of the Media Report

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As Consumer Trust Thins, Marketers Must Pivot to Earned Media

Consumers’ trust in the media is thin, and it’s only getting thinner. Cision’s latest State of the Media Report showed 63% of journalists think the public has lost trust in the media over the past year.

Between bots, political polarization, native advertising, and fly-by-night publications, consumers have real reason to doubt what they read online. Rightfully, they view some media with more suspicion than others: Although just half of consumers trust paid ads, 92% say they trust earned media.

Paid media may offer more control than earned media, but marketing requires the audience to believe what they read. Given that earned media is trusted by nearly twice as many people, it’s the obvious choice for brands operating in the age of distrust.

The Paid-Earned Pivot

When paid media isn’t performing, marketers typically blame the channel. But the trouble isn’t with search, digital, or social platforms themselves; it’s that marketers are trying to buy their way to success.

Fortunately, most every channel has earned and paid media options. Rather than swear off one that isn’t working, switch to media that consumers perceive as more trustworthy.

Take social networks. Earlier this year, The Manifest found that 44% of Facebook users view the platform negatively after the Cambridge Analytica election scandal. In the eyes of many users, Facebook’s behavior has also tinged the trustworthiness of its ads.

“Facebook really tried to give an image that this type of thing wasn’t happening, that their data was safe,” said Steve Pearson, CEO of online reputation company of Friendemic, upon the study’s publication. “To see something like this come out, it was a blow to many consumers who were otherwise trusting.”

Signs suggest, however, that users’ distrust dissipates when Facebook’s name isn’t in the picture. Instagram — which, keep in mind, is owned by Facebook — became the fastest growing social network in mid-2018. 

Rather than pay for Facebook ads, take advantage of that organic growth. Influencers are hot on Instagram in part because the site is attracting large numbers of new users. Catch an influencer’s attention, and you’ve got the perfect mix for word-of-mouth marketing.

Whatever you’re spending on social ads, sink it into events or visual content that catches eyeballs. “The toughest part is to get people talking at all,” warns Erik Huberman, CEO of Hawke Media. “But once the conversation around your brand hits critical mass, consumers will basically do your marketing for you.”    

Search and content marketing work the same way. Sure, you could pay to be featured in Google’s sponsored results. But if you improve your website and create quality on-site content, you get the same attention without the trust-busting tint of the “sponsored” label.

Seek Out Shortcuts

Earned media may be free, but earning the attention other brands pay for takes time. Still, there are some shortcuts depending on your strategy.

A powerful one on social media is to take a stand. Nearly nine in 10 consumers want to see companies involve themselves in social and environmental issues, and nothing attracts buzz like socially controversial content.

The key is aligning your company’s stance with the values of your audience. “Your brands values were created for a reason, so ask yourself again: Why does your brand exist, and who does it serve?” suggests Brett Hyman, president of NVE Experience Agency. 

Patagonia is no stranger to environmental activism, for example. Although its moves may turn off anti-environmentalists, the outdoor brand knows where its customers stand. By championing environmental issues, it’s betting that the brand lift it receives from supporters outweighs the ire of its opponents. 

Politically charged content isn’t such a smart approach with other earned media strategies. Say you’re a B2B company looking to attract better candidates. How can you encourage positive reviews on jobseeker sites without outright buying them?

Debut an unusual perk. Jobseeker sites like Glassdoor write about companies that offer off-the-beaten-path benefits to their employees. Airbnb offers a travel stipend, REI provides “yay” days intended to get employees outdoors, and Bain & Company even hosts global soccer tournaments. The point is, brands that break the mold get talked about.

Even with these tricks, earned media is a long-term play. Neither it nor consumers’ trust can be earned overnight. Get creative, be patient, and let the conversation unfold around you. 

Cision Contributor

This post was written by a guest Cision contributor.