Earning Your Media

I spent the second week of our kids' spring break (a week ago) mixing work and family time in Los Angeles. The Gotham Gal's brother and sister-in-law live in LA with two wonderful girls and I always enjoy our time with them. On this trip, in addition to some high quality family time, I got an education from the Gotham Gal's brother Jerry on the subject of earned media.

Earned media is media you don't buy but earn the hard way. PR is an example of earned media. Word of mouth is another. Earned media has been around forever. But it has now gotten a lot easier, thanks to the Internet and social media, to earn media for your brand, product, or self.

I have earned a fair bit of media over the past five years. Google Analytics tells me that 120,000 people have visited this blog in the past 30 days, 45,000 of them by typing in this blog's address directly, and another 60,000 of which came from a referring link. 25,000 people find this blog interesting enough to subscribe to it in RSS. And 17,500 people have chosen to follow my posts on Twitter.

That's a fair bit of media and I earn it every day by posting something thoughtful or thought provoking on this blog or twitter or tumblr or somewhere else on the web. If I stopped doing that, the media would slowly flow away from me to all of the rest of you who are earning media every day.

I am giving a keynote talk at the Ad Age Digital Conference on Tuesday morning. The agenda says I am going to talk about "Bridging the Gap: How Venture Capitalists and Marketers can Create Meaningful Relationships and Innovation." I'm not entirely sure how that came to be the title of my talk but that's not what I am going to talk about after spending a week with Jerry. I am going to talk about earning media, how you do it, and why it's such a great strategy for marketers.

When we landed in LA, Jerry (who just recently got hooked on twitter and blogging) told me "you have to follow kogibbq on twitter". So I whipped out my blackberry and typed "follow kogibbq" and sent it to twitter. Shortly thereafter, I got a tweet on my phone that said:

ROJA: 12-3P[email protected] Park-12312 W Olympic Blvd
6:30-8:[email protected] Rock-4372 Eagle Rock Blvd;[email protected] Brig-Abbot Kinney and Palm in Venice

And I thought "genius".


late night street life-48
Originally uploaded by kogibbq.

See, KogiBBQ are two tacos trucks serving korean barbeque tacos throughout Los Angeles. They drive around and twitter their locations. They've got 13,500 people who are following them on Twitter. The picture on the right is the "Verde" truck at night outside one of the nightclubs they frequent on the late shift.

Not only does KobiBBQ twitter, they also have an amazing flickr stream, and a blog that will make your mouth water if you click on this link.

KogiBBQ is all about social media. After I twittered about kogibbq a few times while I was in LA, I got a tweet back suggesting I talk to Mike Prasad. So I did.

Mike told me that KogiBBQ was the creation of Mark Manguera and a team of food professionals who come out of some top restaurants. They were totally taken by the energy and quality of urban street food and had this idea for a taco truck selling korean barbque tacos.
Kogibbq taco

What they did not have was a way to get the word out quickly and build a brand. They found Mike and he explained social media to them and they loved it. The blog, the photos, the tweets, and mostly the tacos did the trick. KogiBBQ is such a big hit that they increase the revenues at the clubs they park outside of at night by more than 2x. And the lines are Shake Shack lengths. People often wait an hour or more for one of these tacos.

The point of telling you this story is that earned media is both powerful and free. But you must earn it. KoqiBBQ posts photos to flickr every day and tweets all day long. They reply to tweets as well. They are active in their "earned media".

This is one of several stories I plan to tell in my talk on earned media on tuesday morning. I plan to start building the talk tomorrow and I will, as usual, post it as soon as I've got it in draft form. I am sure you all will help me make it even better.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Rantz Hoseley

    That’s a brilliant example of how social networking is not only changing the playing field, but that it’s creating NEW ones in ways that no one could have predicted or anticipated… especially in ‘non-tech’ businesses. Thanks for that. (and not just because I now have access to the dynamic location of yummy Korean BBQ!)

  2. samfjacobs

    Great anecdote. The future of all brands relates to their ability to exploit these media channels while creating an interesting and authentic life stream. That taco truck thing is brilliant.

  3. brooksjordan

    Going to LA tomorrow . . . going to see if I can do @kogibbq for my son’s birthday dinner. He’ll love it.

    1. fredwilson

      Lucky kid

  4. Tom Limongello

    What about brand fans who earn media on behalf of brands – @shakeshack service for letting eaters comment on the length of the line, what should brands do to engage with and encourage these media earners?

    1. fredwilson

      TotallyOne of my other stories for the ad age talk is about that phenomenonSneezers as Seth Godin calls them

  5. Nate

    Here’s a recent tweet from my friend @stephamie: “Waited two and a half hrs for dude to tell us to wait another two hrs. You owe us @kogibbq.”Social media cuts both ways.Anyway, once a faddy place has lines like that, meaning people go there just because people go there, the quality and edge is lost. The owners don’t have to try anymore.BTW, Taco Zone is the One True Taco Truck. They do nothing with social media, they just always park in the same good location, at the same time, with consistently great food, and with great service. Old school authentic taco trucking never goes out of style. 🙂

    1. kenberger

      Tweet re the wait: sounds like faint praise, and i’d bet if they got more like that it would still raise awareness and curiosity and even further demand for this brand.Faddy place w/ lines: plenty of places do well for decades based on just that, w/ little relation to quality. 2 great examples are House of Nanking in SF, and 1 particular Halal food cart in NYC (see: http://twitpic.com/jrdu) : the more these places have lines the more these places have lines.Sure, if any of the above started to suck tomorrow, it would be a matter of time before the queues dropped (maybe), but these trends tend to self-propagate and endure. (“so popular, no one goes there anymore”)

      1. fredwilson

        Good point Ken. I live around the corner from the cupcake place, Magnolia Bakery, which was made famous by the SNL skit. People line up for hours for what I think are mediocre cupcakes and really nasty service. I don’t get it but it works

    2. fredwilson

      Wow, that is not coolWe’ll check out the one true taco truck next time I am in LA Nathan

  6. Mike Gero

    Mouth watering as I look at and imagine a KogiBBQ taco, my dinner no longer seems quite as compelling. What is very compelling is their use of social media, word-of-mouth, and elements of surprise marketing – where will they be next? Smart approach to driving demand that a print ad, radio spot or billboard couldn’t even begin to touch for ROI. Certainly no harm that they’ve got a product that appeals to the connected generation – it’d be kind cool if they were on Google Latitude as well.While its apples to oranges, or rather tacos to computers/airplanes/cable more appropriately – not all that dissimilar to the benefits that brands like Dell, JetBlue and Comcast have seen from the use of social media as well.

  7. markslater

    this is a superb story for a whole bunch of reasons. Cheers.

  8. Matthew Schultz

    KoqiBBQ’s use of Twitter is an excellent example of social media, and the concept is spreading. The folks in Poke London have developed BakerTweet.com which allows bakeries to tweet what’s fresh out of the oven. It’s such a simple, elegant, opt-in, but most importantly *real-time* way to connect with your customers.

    1. fredwilson

      Ooh, that’s awesome.Hot fresh bagels would be a very welcome tweet right about now

      1. Mike Gero

        Come to think of it – the pre-social media equivalent of this was the “Hot Doughnuts Now” sign at the local Krispy Kreme. I never saw stats, but I’m sure that donut sales were up significantly during periods when that light was on. How many people would drive by the new local KK store checking to see if the light was on? Imagine the effect if they’d been able to tweet “fresh donuts now”?Unfortunately the KK fad suffered from too much growth too fast, coupled with outcries against Transfats – but they definitely got something right with that light.Montreal’s local equivalent is Schwartz’s Smoked Meat. Almost always a lineup, and although they move ’em through quickly, it’s hit or miss as to how long you’ll wait. I think they may be a bit too old school for twitter – I’d follow them though

  9. Dave

    Time is money and, well, that looks like it requires a fair bit of time. I like the do-it-yourself approach, though.

  10. vanessa fried

    Hi Fred, I just wrote about the fashion brand HAYDEN-HARNETT and how smart their media presence is. Besides having a blog, lots of fun you tube videos and a myspace page, fans from all over the world can follow them on facebook and twiter.It sounds like what you are talking about. My post is in portuguese…just be creative.Vanehttp://vanessafried.blogspo…

    1. fredwilson

      Is hayden-harnett a fashion brand or a store or bothI tried to read your post but my portugese is awfulWhat happened to the google translate widget?

      1. vanessa fried

        They are both, brand and store. They have a store in Brooklyn and just opened another in Nolita.The point is that more than watching a TV ad or seeing a print photo in a magazine, when you are a “member” of a fashion brand, you feel part of it, even if you can’t buy that amazing bag right now…btw, I fixed the translator in my blog.

        1. fredwilson

          Membership – now that’s a great insight VaneJust like amex does with its cardFollowing a brand via blog, facebook, or twitter is like being a member of the brandnice

  11. rickburnes

    Nice post. I like the concept of earned media. At HubSpot we call this Inbound Marketing. The idea is that if you create a lot of quality content that useful and interesting to your customers, they’ll find you via social media, search engines, etc. If it’s done right, this can be a lot cheaper more effective than the alternative — finding customers (outbound marketing).

  12. Leonard Kish

    Seems like relationships and innovation are a largely enabled via earned media. Seems like innovation and relationships is also mostly what you described in this post, so maybe the title is not too far off.

  13. Jeff Jarvis

    Fred,I put it, uh, more provocatively in a Steve Rubel interview in AdAge this week:Advertising is failure.The ideal is that your product or service is so good that your customers sell it for you. Now they can. Anything short of that is the reason to advertise.So your product is your ad and your customers are your ad agency. That being the case, your first dollar should go to improving your product. Your second dollar should go to customer service. If you’re good and lucky, that’s marketing.Is that earned media? Well, here’s the rub: There’s no media in that equation. Just customers.My only problem with that is that I work in media. I want advertising to support media (because I don’t think customers will). And so I’m counting on some failure so marketers will advertise in media.

    1. fredwilson

      I think that’s true at some levelBut what about Apple or Coke?They have great products that people love and promote and yet they still spend a fortune on TV advertisingThere must be something else going one

      1. Jeff Jarvis

        Apple, I think, adds cool to both its products and its customers with its ads. It’s an odd gift to us. Yes, we’re the hip ones.Coke, like Kleenex, has the commodity problem: Pepsi does the job just as well, as do generic facial tissues. The better example, perhaps, is cosmetics and perfumes, which are pure smoke and mirrors, the product solely of advertising. They convince us to buy this shampoo or makeup because it’s better when, of course, it’s not. In that case, advertising is not just a failure. It’s a lie, but for them, a necessary lie. Without it, they have no brand, no value.Once in a while, the two converge: A Prada bag is still just a bag; like a WholeFoods tote, it totes. But both its advertising and its customers imbue it with brand magic. But we know it’s a bubble made of hype and ego.

        1. fredwilson

          I don’t agree about Coke and PepsiI won’t go near Pepsi. It’s awful. But I love Coke.And it’s not about the brand. It’s about the taste.

  14. Jeff Jarvis

    Oh, and I predict in three months, you’ll tweet that you’re backing a mobile, tweet-backed, New York version of the Shake Shack.

    1. fredwilson

      Ha, unlikely unless it’s a personal investment

  15. chefbikram

    i’ve read about those taco trucks — in traditional media — likely Sunset Magazine. anyway, first, how was the chow? do tell.second, supply and demand. that to me is the key to good twittering. obviously if the locale of the taco trucks is unpredictable and unknown, there is great value to the tweets. and the later the time and the more booze consumed, the greater the demand, right?what i don’t get is the application of twitter for everyday joe? sure joe’s family and close friends may enjoy the novelty of following/stalking joe, but beyond that? i wonder if there is a creative enonometric approach to twitter evaluating the statistical significance of ego and twittering. Other “dummy variables” fame, fortune, and finally, knowledge.

    1. fredwilson

      On twitter for the “average joe”:My brother in law Jerry started twittering a month or so agoHe’s a partner in a leading TV commercial production companyHe’s not a celebrity, certainly not Shaq, although he’s got a nice jump shotHe’s got 78 followers (even though I linked to his twitter page in this post)And yet, he’s found that twitter has impacted his businessHe told me a few weeks ago that “twitter is for business, facebook is for friends and family”So if it can work for Jerry, I think it can work for a lot of people

      1. awaldstein

        I agree that twitter is perfect for business and its not about the size of the community but the quality. If you can ask a question and get helpful thoughtful responses, then its working because a relationship is developed

  16. George Nimeh

    Fred, I think that David Armano deserves at least a mention if you’re discussing “Earned Media” … Be it a thought or a meme or strategy or whatever, he’s brilliantly described it here: http://darmano.typepad.com/…But then again, as Faris points out, talent imitates, genius [email protected]

    1. fredwilson

      Yeah, I saw your tweet as wellThat link is not working for me but I can get to his blogSo I’ll track down that postThanks for the tip, I’m putting together my talk this morning and this is going to be really helpful

    2. fredwilson

      I found the postthanks

    3. Michele Clarke

      David is great, but this comment: “Earned media is tricky, and no one has figured this out exactly yet, however it’s real and the search engines pick up on it.” is more a statement of his own personal understanding of the topic than a collective truth. PR — the 1:1 and/or 1:many interactions that generate the word-of-mouth, press coverage and other opinion-forming activities that constitutes earned media — is a well-understood discipline.

  17. Jeff Jarvis

    I posted last night on the real value of Twitter: currency.

  18. LissIsMore

    I love this idea of Earned Media. It implies that you must offer something of value, not just a stream of posts to whatever social media outlet you are using.I am currently working on the marketing plan for a new Cloud Computing service offering. After reading this post I think that I may add a NYC pushcart vendor as the focal point of our efforts. 🙂

    1. fredwilson

      Take the shake shack on the road!

  19. jsepoch

    Thanks for the major shout out. Your giving me a giant leap into branding my own blog. Now the pressure is on to keep it up. Regarding your post…You and Kogibbq are the perfect examples of earned media. No commercials or print ads or mailers. You communicate directly with your audience in the language and forum of their liking. By delivering a quality product on a consistent basis you’ve amassed a devout attentive audience and built a personal brand.What corporations have a hard time grasping is that with each passing generation they need to earn their customers time. They can’t simply force feed their messages i.e. their products down an unwilling public. There is too much competition, too many options and too much messaging. I wrote in an recent post, the great irony is consumers have never been easier to find yet harder to reach. How you stand out is by giving audiences something of value. In your case, it’s insider information on the world of technology and business. In Kogibbq, it’s access to an exclusive culinary clique.Corporations can do the same if they took the time and respected their audience half as much as A VC and Kogi do.

  20. MarvPollack

    You should have an interesting session at the Ad Age conference. So many of the big advertisers and agencies are wedded to the mass scale, one-to-many model that underlies their advertising that they completely avoid the harder one-to-one marketing of earned media. The big agencies are failing because their scale is all wrong for dealing one-to-one. Their creative heads don’t think that way. It takes the entrepreneurial minds of kogibbq to embrace the power and low cost of social media.

  21. Facebook User

    Regarding the Jarvis <> Wilson debate on Apple & Coke…..it’s a matter of scale and speed and while it may be unsexy to say so, at this point in time customer advocacy & social media rarely deliver the attention and impact big marketers need – at least not yet. So when you have a great product and need to sell a certain number of units in a certain amount of time to keep the stockholders happy, TV is still the fastest most effective way to get the word out. There has to be some way for Apple to say to ka-millions, “Hey folks, we got new macbooks at our stores if you’re interested, come and get ’em.” Completely agree with Jeff that the only remaining source of trust for marketers to associate with is their customers themselves and that a bad product or lack of brand fans means having to spend more than one should have to on advertising…but advertising isn’t always about just selling, it’s also about generating awareness and informing. Advertising is far from healthy, but also it’s far from dead.

  22. johndodds

    Saying that unearned media/advertising is dead is over-egging the pudding. The fact is that very recently, the cost of mass-ish communication has fallen dramatically. But it’s still mass-ish and not mass. Its reach will continue to grow but the transition will take some time and, in any case, the qualities that Jerry rightly praises are qualities that should feature in all good marketing (including advertising).And maybe that’s the point – bad advertising will die. Advertising will have to change its game because it has to compete with the authenticity of the social media milieu.On the other hand, there may be a case to argue that these media will also be vulnerable to the clutter problem as they are all competing for our very specific attention and not merely our noticing of them (and we only have 24 hours in a day to give). So it may be that mass advertising may still be able to survive by dint of being the best way to reach a huge number of people at one time. It’s the tone that will have to change. Hype will not work as well as it did before – honesty, helpfulness and purpose will come to the fore. Earned media will ensure that unearned media changes. Two minor points: I’m not happy with the inclusion of PR in earned media – unless you’re talking about word of mouth generated by your product-related activities rather than the PR of which I am no fan, namely the promotional hype generated by hire hands or internal PR departments. The creation of spin is not unearned media.Secondly, in line with the bbq example, a number of acquaintances over here have been tinkering with the automated mashing up of electrical hardware and twitter and one of the best examples I’ve seen lately has been http://www.bakertweet.com/ whereby the oven announces to potential customers what it has just served up. Might make a good example for your talk.

    1. fredwilson

      I’ll dig into bakertweetIt sounds great

  23. Malcolm Bastien

    Awesome. I love how this to me speaks volume of an example of a wicked product getting a lot of leverage and growth through a very purposeful, original, and non-BS use of social media.Now the only question is: What am I going to do about this craving I have now for spicy BBQ beef?

    1. fredwilson

      Go to LA

  24. RacerRick

    Seems like you never talk about the subject that the people at the conference say you’re going to talk about.

    1. fredwilson

      Is that good or bad?

      1. RacerRick

        I’m sure it’s better than doing something you’re not into!

  25. Marc Vermut

    Charles, thanks for pointing out the value that still remains in traditional advertising, or paid media. There is a reason that marketing has an entire discipline devoted to Behavioral Marketing. Advertising does work when structured appropriately and it can’t be understated.Earned media is also only “free” in the sense that the coverage you receive, whether blog, newspaper (heaven forbid), magazine, television, web video, does not directly cost you money. But it is the result of tremendous amounts of effort, time and money (in the case of engaging and hiring individuals and firms to craft successful campaigns that engage said media).Kogibbq works on two levels. It engages its community (or ‘tribe’ in ‘sneezer’ loving Godin vernacular) and it delivers a product that wholly satisfies said community (with its tasty goodness experienced firsthand),The (potential) benefit of social media is that it reduces the direct costs of mounting a campaign that may result in earned media and widespread attention. Of course the time, effort and cost of that may be well matched by an (relatively) expensive paid media campaign. Remember, kogibbq is local to LA only. Does it scale easily?

    1. fredwilson

      I hope nobody thinks that I am suggesting that paid media is going awaySee my deck for more on how I think they work togetherhttp://www.avc.com/a_vc/200…

      1. Marc Vermut

        I don’t think that was really implied. But people love to take an example to the extreme.What’s more interesting is what you are projecting in your “Wild Ass Guesses” slide, that media spend will precipitously drop over the next five years. The question that underlies that is whether it is due to reduced volume and/or reduced pricing. Clearly it’s reduced pricing, as we see that pressure already. And it is also reduced volume (as we witness the end of newspapers as we know them today). But is this also a reallocation of “paid media” into alternative forms of media, such as sponsored content (tv, webisode series, magazine features, community sites). And where does the intersection of paid and earned media occur? When people of Twitter and in Time cover a series funded by AT&T?Big questions, but you gotta start somewhere. G’luck with the presentation.

        1. fredwilson

          And those are wild ass guessesI want to make people think and question everythingI may well be dead wrong about all of them

  26. rfreeborn

    The one thing that you didn’t touch on was causation vs correlation. How is social media going to bridge that gap or is it destined to be that same ephemeral “hmmm” that brand advertising has?Are the twitter followers there because the bbq is popular in general or is the bbq popular because of the twitter followers?You use the Shake Shack analogy – they sure didn’t need the twitterati to get hour plus long lines.

  27. Rich Nadworny

    PR as earned media doesn’t really hold up. You pay your PR firm, just like you pay your advertising firm. You pay them to place stories, just like you pay a media department to place advertising. The biggest differences are that PR isn’t guaranteed but it has the potential to give greater returns.PR isn’t earned. Word of mouth is earned. Blog hits are earned. Things employees do to wow customers and make them come back is earned. It’s funny how companies and marketing professionals view PR as free.

    1. fredwilson

      I sort of agreeMost of our companies do “PR” in houseWhich is more earned

      1. Marissa Louie

        We do our own PR in-house as well. It’s “earned” in that it’s based on the existing relationships our employees have with media.I agree that earned advertising online is cheaper.However, online advertising prices in particular need to be controlled better so an ad is not devalued: a Twitter message is not worth much in itself, and there are billions of tweets out there (see the failure of Magpie). This is a signal of why advertising in social networks like Facebook is so cheap: too much inventory.Awesome seeing you talk at AdAge! I just tweeted you (@malouie).

        1. fredwilson

          The secret in twitter is to get retweets.

  28. Theresa Smith

    Any chance you will upload your talk to Youtube or perhaps a link here? I would love to hear it.Thanks,Theresa

    1. fredwilson

      I did not film itMaybe ad age did but I don’t know for sure

  29. Jeff Hilimire

    Great post, as usual. And a great example of a company effectively using social media and leveraging the format to “earn media”. My question is, can HUGE companies take advantage in the same way?Small brands have always been the real pioneers when it comes to using emerging tech, but the big brands always stumble along the way. Is it that they aren’t hungry enough or limited enough in their budgets to HAVE to try these new ways of marketing, or is their size actually a limiting factor in their ability to pull them off, or some combo of the two?

    1. fredwilson

      Whole foods, jet blue, dell computer and a host of other big cos are using twitter. I don’t know whether it “moves the needle” but it sure is nice to see them trying new stuff

      1. Jeff Hilimire

        Agreed Fred, I’m happy with the experimentation that I see these brands doing (I particularly like what Carl’s JR and Dunkin Donuts are doing), but I’m still wondering if they can actually “move the needle”. As I look across the space, I see a great deal of positive case studies on these types of companies using social media like Twitter and Facebook, but I never see them really show a correlation to direct sales (other than Dell).I think the larger issue is, CMO’s still (IMHO) try to measure all digital marketing to revenue/sales instead of looking at certain types of social media the same way they look at TV, radio and outdoor (increase in brand awareness, positive brand impressions, pure exposure, etc.). I just haven’t seen that mentality yet.Personally I’m rethinking the question: “How do you measure social media” and rephrasing it “Social media IS the measurement”.

  30. Marie Wiltz

    love @avc’s blog postings!

  31. fredwilson

    Ooh, I like the distinction between media and audienceGreat point

  32. fredwilson

    Excellent point, kogibbq is leveraging mobile phones