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The most effective way to gain a loyal following

The most effective way to gain a loyal following Eric Roach

Earned media value is ultimately a measure of how effective your social media efforts are.

With the introduction of easily accessible and popular social media platforms -- Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc. -- consumers are becoming a larger part of the marketing process. Brands now have to tailor content to what consumers want and need -- and doing that might not always be easy. The focus can no longer remain on simply making a sale, but on gaining a loyal following and taking action at every opportunity. That's why it's important to remember the various types of media available to social media marketers.

Ultimately, there are two main types of media value: paid media, which is value gained through advertising on the radio, purchasing a billboard, Google AdWords, or anything else you pay for,  and earned media, which is value obtained through other people talking about your brand, business, or product.

While both forms are valuable in their own ways, when it comes to social media marketing, earned media can be incredibly valuable because it is third-party validation of your business or brand. It can cost substantially less to obtain than typical paid media value.

For example, a study by Wishpond found that social media marketing increased a business' exposure by around 92 percent with as little as six hours of work per week. That's huge -- and it means more people are talking about your business, brand, and product. As well, the same Wishpond study found that among marketers using social media -- over six hours a week -- saw reduced marketing expenses, with the same amount of exposure. That means you can experience the same amount of exposure for less money. And if you use your earned media correctly, you can gain new customers just as with paid media value.  

Customers are more likely to trust person-to-person contact, rather than business-to-person. If they see one of their friends or someone they follow talking about a great brand, they're more likely to accept that information as accurate. That's earned media value.

You might wonder how you can measure earned media value -- how do you know someone is talking about you or spreading the word? How do you know how many people are talking about you? The short answer: You can measure earned media value through shares, retweets, comments, favorites, and "likes" -- the stuff social media is made of!

It's true, conversion tracking is more complicated for social media -- and earned media value -- than with traditional paid media value. It's easy enough to track if say, a customer clicks a link on Facebook and buys the product. But what if the customer clicks the link and doesn't buy, but opens your website independently a few days later and buys? Or what if they go to a physical store to buy your product? There is no direct way to track those kinds of paths, but don't let that determine whether or not you decide to focus on earned media value. The true value of earned media is the number of new people talking about your business, brand, or product. The focus is removed from actually making a sale and instead, gathering a following.  

It's important to remember that you cannot necessarily measure a sale based on a website visit. But within those metrics, you can measure how effective you are at building a community and a brand. In the long run, earned media value is less about making a sale, and more about being a thought leader in your niche market. It's about building a brand and a consumer base that is loyal and talkative. The benefit is that you can obtain earned media value for a fraction of the cost of paid media value.

As I mentioned, when it comes to measuring the ROI of social media and earned media, the metrics have changed to include things like audience reach, engagement, and sentiment, rather than just revenue-per-customer. Earned media can also provide marketplace insight. According to a study conducted by Wishpond, 68 percent of those with at least one year of experience found that social media platforms provided insight into their specific market.

By focusing on earned media value -- and how people are talking about your brand on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites -- you can more effectively tailor your content and products to what your consumers want. This means you'll be more likely to make a sale and gain a loyal customer, because they're getting the product that fits their needs.

So, how can you get the most earned media value out of social media?

Encourage your readers to share

Every time one of your readers, Twitter followers, or Facebook fans shares a post, they contribute to your earned media value. By asking your followers to share with their followers, you can extend your reach exponentially, increasing the opportunity that someone will see your message and like what they see!

This also means that your content -- every tweet, every blog post, and every Facebook post -- needs to be relevant to your readers, even if it isn't necessarily about your product. The more compelling your content, the more likely the people who already find you knowledgeable will be to share it with friends and colleagues.

Employee involvement matters

How many employees do you have? How many of them are active on Facebook and Twitter? How many friends and followers do they have? Think about it this way: If you have 20 employees and each of them has at least 100 Facebook friends, by including them in your social media marketing and encouraging them to share the content you post to their friends, you could potentially reach 2,000 additional people than just posting alone. More importantly, you're reaching more people who maybe haven't heard about your brand or product at all.

Ultimately, social media marketing is the path to earned media value. When you encourage your followers and employees to share your message, you raise awareness about your product. Social media is ultimately about broadcast and distribution: The better the content that you broadcast to the world via social media, the more likely it is to be shared by those who already trust you. Earned media is important for your social media ROI.

Earned media value is ultimately a measure of how effective your social media efforts are. Changing your mindset from a strictly sales focus to a focus that includes gaining customers that are loyal and involved in your brand can be challenging -- that's for sure. More than ever, society is switching to being "always on."  This change is being driven by social networks. There are more opportunities than ever to interact with current customers, to see what people are saying about your business, and to reach new, ready-to-be loyal customers. You just have to take them.

Eric Roach is co-founder and CEO at EveryoneSocial.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet. Follow Eric Roach at @veroach and Everyone Social at @EveryoneSocial.

As a co-founder of social media leading EveryoneSocial, Eric brings more than 25 years of experience in Marketing including a number of C-level positions. Eric served as EVP Marketing for Morgan Stanley, which included the Bank, Dean Witter and the...

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