What’s the Difference Between Paid, Owned, and Earned Media?

What’s the Difference Between Paid, Owned, and Earned Media?

Owned, paid, and earned media are three sects of the media beast, each as important as the last. They differ in their benefits, applications, and influence, but all three are requisites for a successful digital strategy in any industry. Learn more about some of the approaches to each and how you can methodically apply them in your business.

Owned Media: Definition & Benefits

Owned media encompasses all the content your brand owns and controls. Most of your owned media exists on your website, socials, and traditional media sources, but email marketing is also included under the umbrella of owned media.

Website content is more clearly owned, as it was created by your brand, exists exclusively or predominately on your site, and you have complete control over it. You decide when it is posted, where it is shown, and how the content is produced from start to finish.

Social media is dissimilar in that you don’t control where it goes, but you still independently manage how that content is produced and when it is posted. Once it’s live on social platforms, your content will take on a life of its own, but the initial posting time, date, and any accompanying content are under your jurisdiction.

Traditional media – catalogs, packaging, branding, brochures, magazines, business cards, etc. – also fall under the scope of owned media. Your business manages these pieces of content from their inception until they land in the hands of your audience.

Owned media is the base of all content marketing. Whatever decisions you make with paid or earned media, the end goal should be to send your audience back to your owned media, namely, your website or other domain.

Notably, owned media contributes the most to organic search rankings compared to earned and paid media. But that doesn’t mean you should focus your efforts on owned media alone, especially when paid and earned media are so vital in directing traffic toward your owned content.

Benefits of Owned Media:

  1. You maintain complete control over owned media in content, production, design, message, and every other part of the process. That means you can always put forth the brightest message about the worth of your products or services that aligns with your values.
  2. Because you have full control over owned content, you can use it to build your audience’s trust in your brand, focus on audience relationships, and generally utilize it to the advantage of brand growth.
  3. Owned digital media is a continuous driver of ROI in the form of organic traffic, unlike paid or some earned media. Your return on investment should not be an issue in relation to organic content, because as long as that content lives on your website (or social media), it can continue to drive ROI.

Paid Media: Definition & Benefits

Most people think of paid media when someone mentions words like advertising or marketing. Though paid media is still a massive player in digital marketing, it’s no longer the only player. Still, neglecting it would be a huge mistake for any brand.

Paid media refers to any type of advertising, from traditional ads to partner emails. 

Other examples of popular paid media include paid search engine advertisements like Google Ads and anything PPC, as well as social media ads, sponsored content, and digital display ads. Not to mention the vast and valuable space of more traditional paid media, such as television and radio ads, billboards, print ads, you name it.

The downside of paid advertisement is that the ROI ends as soon as the ad campaign does. Ad campaigns are not unlimited drivers of ROI in the same way that owned media can be, which means that your money is spent externally and with a clock. However, the benefits of paid media mean that you can’t escape it.

Benefits of Paid Media:

  1. Paid media offers immediate, quantifiable results. When you pay for an advertisement, the second that ad goes up, you start reaping the benefits. You can use it for whatever cause is most important at the time: retargeting, new leads, anything.
  2. You maintain acute control over the ad content. While you don’t regulate the platform it is posted on, your team still gets to decide what that content looks like, what message it sends, and where it directs the audience.
  3. Paid media works to boost content visibility more than some other forms of media. Because you get to choose the place your ad will go, you get to decide on the highest-value option to give yourself the most reach.

Earned Media: Definition & Benefits

Earned content is the modern-day equivalent of word-of-mouth. And though our marketing strategies have changed as digital marketing has taken the lead, word-of-mouth still holds the same value as when you chose a laundry detergent based on what your neighbor recommended.

All of the exposure you get from exterior sources, outside of your owned media and paid campaigns – that’s all earned media. 

Earned media is also frequently the branch through which your potential customers reach the owned media on your website or social platforms. This type of media comes through shares, reposts, mentions, and retweets, in addition to recommendations and unpaid referrals.

Positive coverage in the news – whether that’s via television, print content, or other – is another profitable arm of earned media. When your name pops up in trade magazines and papers or other traditional media, you gain critical awareness and credibility. 

Earned media can spur off of paid media or earlier earned media – it’s a process that can escalate and profit from itself. For example, social media influencers that discover you organically and offer recommendations of your product or service on their widely-watched platforms give you earned media of equal value to paid content.

Benefits of Earned Media:

  1. Brand awareness grows with earned media in ways you might not get with paid or owned media. It positions you in front of the right audience with little cost to you and an extremely high payoff.
  2. Earned media may be the best form of media to increase customer belief in your brand. Audiences trust the word of social media influencers, people they know on and offline, and big names in business that can mention you on their sites, as you’ll see next under our examples of earned media.
  3. One of the most significant benefits of earned media is that the ROI is always higher than paid or owned media. Organically earned media – media acquired without any effort on your part besides offering a valuable product or service – delivers on ROI because it comes at no cost to you.

Real-World Examples of Earned Media

To demonstrate the value and reach of earned media, here are a few examples that show realistically how it can bring your brand to the forefront of customer awareness.

Social Media and Client Shoutouts As Earned Media

1. On-Site Mentions

At First Media, an essential part of our strategy is identifying the content that will speak best to our target audience, and Tubular Labs’ video analytics gives us the resources we need to do so. With a successful and effective working relationship, Tubular Labs boosted our content on their website, offering earned media of the highest value – content that comes from a business that has direct experience with your brand.

Appearing in other brands’ owned content, from webinars to blogger reviews, is an excellent tactic to build awareness and trust, and get the eventual engagement you want from potential audiences.

2. Social Media Mentions

Tubular Labs took their influence even further by adding a Creator Highlight on LinkedIn about our DIY brand, Blossom. Highlighting the value Blossom adds to the industry, our content strategy, and the results of our marketing efforts, Tubular Labs sent a message to all their followers.

Social media channels like LinkedIn and brand-run Facebook pages are always at the front line of earned media. People and businesses like to shout out the companies they love and trust the most.

Awards as Earned Media

When customers search for a product in your industry, odds are they’ll head to a top ten list or search for the best in show. If you can make it onto those lists or otherwise appear on the sites of trusted names in the industry, your earned media will take you far. See how our work at First Media earned us a spot in the following awards – and why the value of that recognition is so significant.

1. Creative Media Awards

In 2022, our Walmart and So Yummy 360° Shoppable Campaign landed us as finalists for MediaPost’s Creative Media Awards not once, but twice. As finalists for Influencer Marketing and Performance Media Marketing, our campaign stood in the spotlight.

What’s most exciting about this earned media is not just that we landed on the page of a trusted name in media but that the Creative Media Awards are considered the only awards program devoted to brands in the media industry. With that, First Media’s recognition through the awards sent us to the feeds of anyone interested in or involved with the industry.

2. Content Marketing Awards

The Digiday Content Marketing Awards honor the work of the most successful, innovative, or otherwise industry-leading campaigns and businesses throughout the year. Appearing as finalists in two different categories, Best Advertising Partner for Brands and Best Direct Response Campaign, gave us another push into the spotlight.

Audiences that trust the word of Digiday, head to the company’s website to get their content marketing news, or see tweets about the year’s award finalists now know our name and our talent.

3. Shorty Awards

As you can see, our Walmart & So Yummy 360° Shoppable Campaign earned extensive recognition this year – and the Shorty Awards furthered its praise by adding it to the finalist list for Shopping in the 14th annual awards. Sitting among other brands with incredible digital marketing strategy and media content, our campaign stepped in front of our target audience with ease.

Again, the value of appearing on other trusted media sites like the Shorty Awards helps increase campaign and brand awareness, promote trust in our capabilities, and spread our reach through social sharing and other channels.

Tips for Earned Media from First Media

While many businesses are forgetting the importance of earned media or forgetting the utility of traditional media, you can step ahead of the game by devoting efforts to a few things:

  1. Social Media Marketing: From SEO strategy to thoughtful metrics on what works and what doesn’t, a lot needs to go into your socials. Social media posts are an excellent way to offer content that your audience will love to share, repost, and interact with to spread your name and drive conversions.
  2. Original, Approachable Content: In that regard, focusing on producing quality content will never lead you astray. The saturation of social media (and digital content in general) means that you have to stand out to earn praise. Remember that for your content creation, and prioritize original content you know your audience will engage with on all your social media platforms.
  3. Search Engine Optimization: SEO energizes your media advertising, your marketing campaigns, your everything – and it’s partially a form of earned media. Though it leads to owned content, you get to earn the SEO traffic that you generate. As you develop original content and an SEO strategy, consider how it acts as a facet of earned media.
  4. Industry Relationships: It’s no surprise that you should value industry relationships. Earned media thrives on the opinion of dependable industry names, and developing symbiotic relationships with your peers can only benefit you. Maintaining these relationships can also help you land in trusted traditional media like trade papers, pushing your name out and into the hands of other businesses and potential customers.
  5. Customer Satisfaction: The customer comes first, and if you’re not serving your customer, you’re not giving yourself the opportunity for earned media. At every step of the way, make sure you assess your user’s experience throughout the customer funnel, all the way to loyalty and advocacy.

Our approach to earned, paid, and owned content is systematic and deliverable. We act on the same promises and tips for our clients that we do for ourselves. Nurturing industry relationships and customer-friendly content, applying action-driven social media strategy, and employing the power of resourceful AI, we can offer solutions you don’t encounter elsewhere. See the benefits of human ingenuity, technology, and a network of industry connections when you partner with the First Media team.