Whether you are walking down the street, watching the TV, surfing the net or even driving a car, you are the subject of some form of advertising. From the branded cap on the boy walking down the street to the billboard behind him – marketing is hard at work trying to capture your attention. Constance Hill and Bruce Henry suggest that we see around 3000 marketing messages each day. But no matter whether we see 100 or 10,000 messages – clearly we are exposed to a significant number. But how many do you recall? How many seep into your unconscious, adding a negative or positive neuron to your thoughts around these brands?

Now, add into this mix the dozens or even hundreds of blogs that you read and the tweets that you view on Twitter each day. Combine this with podcasts, music streams via blip.fm, videos on YouTube and email – and suddenly you have an abundant media stream that can appear overwhelming. As Sean Howard says, “In today's world everyone is a publisher, everyone has some level of influence, and everyone has a network of influence that is difficult to define let alone measure”. It makes the life of the media consumer rather complex.

As a marketer, however, you do have a specific objective. What you are aiming for is MAKING GRAVITY. With paid media you are using your marketing budget to have your content inserted into spaces that your audience inhabit. It is an expense which you measure in terms of how many people you have reached with your communication.

Earned media (or what Craig Wilson calls engagement marketing), on the other hand, is both different in nature and in measurement. Rather than being an expense, it is an investment. Its effectiveness is directly related to what you DO rather than what you SAY, and the value that is exchanged is not currency, but trust. As I have explained previously – it is about changing behaviours:

Every time we forward on a link, retweet a message read on Twitter or any other type of social network interaction, we are CHOOSING to act. We are not just using our network of connections to FILTER the noise, we are using it to SHAPE our experience. It is a choice. And understanding this distinction places us in a context where STORYTELLING emerges as vitally important?

Paid media has been an effective marketing approach for hundreds of years (if not longer). But it thrived in a time where attention was abundant and our media consumption choices were limited to a set number of channels. These days, media is abundant but our attention (and maybe more importantly, our respect) is scarce. Graham Brown has an excellent five minute piece on the challenges presented by these changes.

But the fundamental difference with paid vs earned media is the refocusing of effort. No longer do you spend your creative energies (and budgets) on producing executions that gain attention – you spend it on building trust and creating Auchterlonie Effects (stories that can be easily shared). Indeed, in the best traditions of storytelling, earned media propagates itself – becoming promiscuous in the process.

The reason that promiscuous ideas are important to your brand is that you WANT them to be shared. In social media, every shared idea, link or concept creates an exchange of value within a PERSONAL network – so the act of sharing is a recommendation of sorts. Over time the person who “adds value” to their network builds an abundant store of social capital. It is like branding – we can’t necessarily point to a PARTICULAR item – but to the recurring and ongoing sense of positive exchange relating to that person.

When YOUR brand story or content is the subject of that exchange, you are effectively providing a reason for connection between people in a network. And as these connections grow, as they are passed from person to person, you are creating points of gravity around your brand ecosystem. Your challenge then is to work with a continuous digital strategy to “share the message” but “own the destination”. The thing is, gravity can only be earned. And while you can employ paid media to complement your earned media – you need to make sure you have a compelling story to tell and to share.