What Drives Earned Media Creation?

photo above by Chris Metcalf

What brands might call “earned media” is simply native behavior for fans on YouTube. So, what actually drives this behavior?

Finding the answer to this question for a particular brand requires an understanding of the many keywords and terms fans actually use to describe their videos, along with the various contexts and motivations that lie behind these creations. Once you understand these sources of influence and motivation, the vast YouTube ecosystem becomes more manageable. So, below is just a small sample of the kind of information we continue to uncover every day.

Are they “vidding” or “vlogging”?

Beginning from a top level perspective on video creation, two main styles predominate. “Vidding” is typically used to describe earned media for more traditional media franchises, like films and TV shows, while “vlogging” is more often seen alongside earned media for consumer facing brands, given it’s wider scope and general use.

Overall, most of what fans make on YouTube could be considered “earned media” for someone or something since YouTubers are accustomed to being asked about everything under the sun, ranging from what equipment they use to what prop is hidden in the background of a random video. Often times, YouTubers gladly share these answers—especially pertaining to equipment—in a blog or in the ‘About’ sections of their channels on YouTube. The result? Free earned media views!

And, when fans create a lot of videos, they will inevitably mention specific brands, and, if they are very thorough and great at SEO, they’ll include a list of all the products they featured in the description box. Check out this carefully curated list below from eleventhgorgeous:

Beyond these keyword distinctions, it’s first important to examine some of the driving forces behind online fandoms when it comes to creating earned media. So, below we look at just three different examples.

Earned media inspirations: Physical memorabilia

Fans will often hand-make memorabilia for events, or just because they feel particularly inspired to bring their passion into the physical world.  Sometimes fans sell their wares (which not all big brands are happy about due to licensing issues). This creation of props, costumes, geeky t-shirts, and other gear showing off their affinities is a staple in the wheelhouse of many fans, as they tend to fill in gaps in the official merchandise offering, and even make larger statements about the community as a whole.

One example of fan-made ephemera is the ‘Jayne’ hat from the show Firefly. Fans hand knit and sold these hats for years before the product was officially licensed. The fan-made element contributes to the value of the hat because, in the story, the hat was handmade for Jayne.

As evidence of the earned media potential behind this hat obsession, a quick search for “Jayne’s hat” on YouTube yields thousands of results of fans talking about the show.

If you want, you can even learn how to knit your very own Jayne hat:

And, perhaps heading the calls from fans, here is the officially licensed version available to buy via Think Geek:

Jayne Hat


Earned media resources: Official magazines and other knowledge bases

Fans tend to be more obsessive and detail-oriented than even the most diligent official resource. As a result, they usually make their own publications through collective intelligence. Fans with different interests in different elements of a fandom, when working together, make comprehensive resources for other members of their community. Fans are experts with the drive, passion, and, most importantly, the time to create websites, forums, wikis, zines, and more.

And, put simply, the result of these well-maintained knowledge bases is a level of earned media creation that rests on very solid ground when it comes to developing a shared sense of understanding. Speaking of sharing…

Earned media environments: Community hubs

Fans are accustomed to organizing themselves in pro-social and/or purely social groups. They are particularly adept at finding each other online and interacting with each other in person. Fans are building philanthropic non-profit groups inspired by their fandoms.

Online groups sprout organically, no matter how hard brands try to rally their fans around branded hubs. Between the terms of service and lack of control on official sites, fan hubs continue to emerge. Fans build conventions, meet-ups, and organizations. These can range from sports fans gathering at a bar to Nerdfighters getting together to do philanthropic events or voter drives.

Part of organizing their community is building mechanisms for sharing resources. Sharing is a big part of fan communities.

One well-documented example comes from Buffy The Vampire Slayer. In the early days of online fan forums, there was a hub called The Bronze. On this forum, fans helped others travel to conventions, wire money, organize transportation, and invited other fans to stay at their homes.

And, when fans get together, they tend to film themselves engaged in their shared passions, creating countless hours of earned media footage in the process.


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