Dec 19, 2022

Earned, Owned, and Paid Media: What are they?

You’ve probably heard people refer to “earned media,” “paid media,” and “owned media” – but what are they? What’s the difference between them and what are the best strategies for employing each?

venn diagram of earned, owned and paid media explanation

This article will explain the distinctions and describe how to begin strategizing to make sure you’re making use of all three.

  1. Earned Media
  2. Owned Media
  3. Paid Media
  4. Digital Media Strategy

Earned Media

The distinction between earned, owned, and paid media can be tricky because it comes down to who owns or posts content rather than the type of medium itself. A blog, for example, is owned media when it’s on your own webpage or when you’re posting the content on a free-to-use server. A blog can be earned media, however, if a third party is posting about your business.

Whenever a third party takes it upon themselves to spread awareness about your brand or your products, we refer to that as “earned media.” It’s “earned” because you don’t own it and you didn’t pay for it. Someone else just decided to give it to you.

Earned media can take a lot of different forms, such as:

  • Reviews
  • User-generated content
  • Mentions on social media
  • Newspaper or magazine coverage
  • Attention from influencers
  • Word of mouth

Earned media engagement can be some of the most powerful and convincing content for consumers learning about your business. Unfortunately, it’s also the hardest to control.

Depending on the type of business you run, getting quality earned media is essential. It’s crucial for B2C operations such as local businesses and online retailers.

When people have great things to say about your business, it can be really exciting. But bad reviews can create their own negative momentum, so it’s important to manage and monitor them.

The average consumer reads at least 10 online reviews before they’re ready to trust a business that’s new to them – and just over half of all consumers won’t consider a business with a rating of less than four stars.

Think about when you’re scanning product reviews on Google or Amazon. A new coffee maker might have 700 reviews with an average of 4.8 stars, but chances are that one scathing complaint will be the one that sticks in your head.

To paraphrase Tolstoy:

“All five-star reviews are the same, but every one-star review is vicious in its own way.”

That’s why your earned media strategy should be about encouraging engagement and managing the results. It’s rewarding to see people excited about publicly praising your brand, but make sure you respond to comments on your social media accounts and reply to reviewers on Google.

Owned Media

Owned media refers to the media assets you yourself control. That might include your:

  • Website
  • Blog
  • Social media presence
  • YouTube channel
  • Email list
  • Membership group

The primary benefit of owned media is that you control and manage 100% of the content – you’re in charge of what appears on your website.

The downside to owned media is that it often comes with limited reach. Without any paid promotion, your owned media is entirely dependent upon your current followers and your organic search results.

Therefore any owned media strategy will benefit greatly from careful search engine optimization (SEO). The name of the game here is to increase the number of people who naturally find your website or your social media accounts – without spending extra to boost the content. That means making sure that your site and your content are optimized for Google search results.

Conducting keyword research on sites such as Semrush or Ahrefs will help you understand what your customers are searching for and to fill any gaps your competitors may have missed. Creating a web page for each new keyword-oriented product or service will broaden your website’s organic reach in search results and ultimately lead people back to your main site.

You also want to make sure that your web site is easy to use. That means:

  • Making sure your pages load quickly.
  • Optimizing your page for desktop and mobile devices.
  • Optimizing your page for conversions.

Paid Media

Lastly, there’s paid media, which refers to any paid promotion of content on platforms you don’t own or control. Paid media encompasses the whole ecosystem of digital and traditional advertising – everything from pay-per-click ads on a search engine results page to a billboard on the side of the highway.

A paid media strategy might include:

  • Sponsored posts in social media
  • Display and video ads
  • Voice or radio spots within podcasts and digital radio
  • Google search
  • Print ads
  • Billboards
  • TV commercials

The downside of paid media is… well, you have to pay for it. But if you set clear goals and have a well developed understanding of your target audience, you can also expect to see significant return on investment.

That’s because paid media done right can vastly expand your reach and draw in new customers who never would have heard of you without it. A carefully balanced, sharply-focused paid media strategy will help your bottom line by increasing conversions and drawing in more clients.

When you’re approaching paid media, it’s important to begin with a clear goal: that could be getting more sales, generating leads, or even just driving traffic to your site. Knowing what you want to achieve with your paid media will help you understand how well your message is performing and how effectively targeted your ads are. It also lays the foundation for further optimization once you’ve gotten your initial results.

Digital Media Strategy

Not all media strategies are alike, because not all brands are alike. Testing and innovation can come in many forms.

For instance, a site such as LinkedIn is a great place to leverage your owned media in a B2B setting. Content you produce such as ebooks, case studies, white papers, and infographics can effectively inspire audiences, establish you as a thought leader, and gather leads at scale.

With those in hand, you can segment those leads with paid media in order to further refine your messaging. In the process you might discover more about your audience than you originally knew.

Take another example: YouTube. YouTube can be utilized as either paid, owned, or earned media. As much as you can, you should make sure that your paid and owned content have a similar look and feel for brand consistency. (Hopefully that will also inform any earned media you get, though there you have less control.)

Coordinating your strategy across paid, earned, and owned media will make sure each one has an overarching message proper to its particular channel and consistent for its audience.

At Cordelia Labs, our experienced media professionals partner with clients to discover and create opportunities on all three media fronts: earned, owned, and paid. Our job is to make your brand shine by creating innovative strategies that draw in potential customers. By focusing on paid media through search, exploring new or existing social channels, or amplifying SEO-guided blog posts, we can increase awareness for your business.

Contact us today to schedule a discovery call and find out how we can help grow your business on every front.