Media relations has always been one of the most trusted forms of communication. People around the world trust earned media to deliver fair, unbiased coverage about world and local events, business, lifestyle, sports, fashion and many other important topics. 

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has caused a seismic shift in the definition and practice of earned media. What was once content predominantly created by media professionals is now shared content created and distributed by consumers and brands. While this change is important, what truly makes it meaningful is the fact that user-generated content carries sizeable and growing influence. 

From a recent eMarketer article: “Five years ago, 45% of respondents said they either didn’t pay attention to online reviews at all, or didn’t let reviews influence them. This year, that share is down to 32%.” 

Put another way, 68% of the population is influenced by consumer-generated online reviews. Consumers are valuing the reviews of complete strangers in their purchase decisions. 

The results are more pronounced when you look at women. Again from eMarketer, “Asked about the most credible source for information about products, US female internet users overwhelmingly said ‘only product reviews.’ While 43% preferred reviews by people they followed on social media, or people who were ‘like’ them, a solid 38% trusted any products reviews on shopping sites.” 

As an avid online shopper myself, I can attest that I often analyze Amazon reviews and weigh them just as highly as a review from CNET. Even my 8-year-old reviews YouTube “unboxing” videos when determining whether a new LEGO or NERF toy is worth it. But it doesn’t stop with just viewing and consuming content. Today, consumers want to share content. Nearly one-third of people share content, videos and pictures either daily or a few times each week, according to the 2016 World Economic Forum’s Digital Media and Society Report. Unfortunately, all of this sharing has put consumer trust at risk, as most user-generated content is often unchecked. 

So what does this mean for marketers? 

The role and consumption of traditional media will continue to evolve, yielding big opportunities for marketers who are seeking highly-credible content and new ways to engage consumers. Earned media should be at the forefront of this. Imagine a day when you can quickly take news about a virus outbreak and quickly geo-target it to people in the affected location, complete with information on where to go for a vaccine. Or target online shoppers searching for a new phone by delivering a media review bundled with an offer that drives them to e-commerce. This isn’t tomorrow; it is possible today. 

By amplifying highly relevant and credible earned media with paid media, we can target it to the precise right person using behavioral targeting. We can give it scale and capitalize on the 7-10x ROI media mix models show it generates vs. paid media. The implications of targeted earned media at scale are huge. 

I see immense opportunity in the Fourth Industrial Revolution for public relations experts to fight for their fair share of content marketing budgets and to re-energize the most influential content of all: earned media.

Lanuti, Erin (2)By Erin Lanuti, SVP. Cross Channel Strategy and Paid Media, MSLGROUP