Owned Media vs Earned Media vs Paid Media: Definitions

In the digital advertising and marketing industries, the terms owned media, earned media and paid media are becoming increasingly popular as the approach and potential outcomes of each of these content marketing segments are quite different. Each provides its own value but should ideally work synergistically, making the most efficient use of common campaigns and creative assets, and maximizing audience reach. Let’s start with some definitions:

  • Owned Media: placements on properties which you own and/or control. This can include your sites, landing pages, and microsites, hosted press releases, your blog, and your Twitter account and Facebook page (assuming these are monitored and moderated).
  • Earned Media (also known as Free Media): any media created and controlled by people outside your organization that you do not control. This includes news stories, reviews, guest posts, discussions, and similar online chatter about your company or product. It can be sparked and influenced by PR and other promotional efforts, but there is never any complete control over how the conversation develops. Often includes social media, which is media with grassroots origins.
  • Paid Media (also known as Buy Media or Bought Media): placement on other properties that you have paid for access to. Advertising, paid placements, sponsored posts, and the like fall under this segment.

All three media types can fill important roles in developing mind share, but there are caveats associated with each that require careful planning and coordination. Often more than one segment can coexist with others on the same page; for example, a press release (owned) hosted on a site that allows comments (earned) and that serves up an ad for your company (paid). The risks associated with conflicting or otherwise incompatible brand messages across different media types also present tantalizing opportunities. The same brand message can be presented in different contexts and can resonate with different types of Web users.

Owned media provides marketers with complete control, but is limited to the reach provided by your properties’ viewership. Content publication is managed solely by the brand, but there is no guarantee that your desired audience will see it. Significant, sustained, and careful investment in high-quality content development and propagation can translate into a respected information channel which can at least somewhat overcome skepticism, and expand reach through subscription and organic search traffic. However, even the largest and most consistent investments in owned media require significant time to scale up and see favorable returns.

Earned media might be the trickiest segment to manage, since so much of how the message is internalized by its audience is out of the marketer’s control. Effective public relations and other publicity projects (like contests and giveaways) can ignite the creation of earned media, but sometimes the message can be distorted in a way that marketers didn’t anticipate and might not like. The advent of popular social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest presents marketers with free and effortless ability for audiences to extend messages on owned media and paid media publishing by making sharing buttons accessible within or near content.

Paid media has traditionally provided marketers with control and reach limited almost completely by budget. However, the limited real estate, predictable format, and static nature of most online advertising can make it difficult for marketers to get visitors to pay attention. The most promising modern extension is in the form of paid media publishing, which allows marketers to stream their most recent published content into their paid media placements. This grants marketers the ability to immediately spread brand messages to targets far and wide, as well as providing audiences compelling reasons to engage. No longer only a driver to owned media, paid media publishing hosts your content in the ad itself, shortening the path to brand content.