The social media marketing space evolves so quickly that there are constantly new labels and tactics being thrown around to see what sticks. Anyone can come up with a way to segment and describe strategies to reach mass amounts of people through the mutualization of communication made possible by social platforms. It’s hard to keep up sometimes. What’s important to remember is that brands are treating social media as “word of mouth marketing,” with unique strategies of content amplification. A very common way to referring to how companies market on social media is the owned, paid, and earned. If you don’t know exactly what that means, this article is for you!


Owned media

Owned media is the content that a brand or company posts on its own social pages and platforms. It’s called owned because a brand pays for it to be created and it places it on a channel that it controls. The brand can choose to take it down, promote it, or edit it.

The challenge with owned media is that a brand must have a channel with a large audience in order for it to be naturally effective. If owned media is too product-focused and doesn’t deliver enough value – either instructional or entertainment – it can’t expect its fans to share that content. So owned content can easily stagnate.

When a brand wants its content to reach more people, it pays to sponsor the post to a wider audience. This is still considered owned media, even though it’s paid for, since the brand can control what happens to that content and when the campaign ends.

Paid media

In word of mouth marketing, paid media is not referring to banners or a digital campaign complete with video, native ads, or home page takeovers. Paid media takes the form of influencer marketing. This is when a brand solicits the help of influencers that have large audiences, either to talk about, use, or create content for a product or service.

Paid media can take the form of product reviews, selfies with a type of bottled water, paper art to take beautiful photos to launch a product, or even more in-depth content like videos and short films. Brands pay these influencers depending on the quality of their content and the size of their audience.

According to the law in most countries like the US and France, an influencer must disclose that they are working in tangent with a brand, a law that is supposed to protect consumers from manipulation. Sometimes that’s as easy as adding a #sponsored to the post. How frequently this law is actually followed is another story, because credibility is a very important part of the influenced strategy, and influencers need to guard their credibility in front of their audiences otherwise they risk coming off as disingenuous. That can be more harmful for an influencer than breaking the law.

Earned media

Both owned and paid media have one primary goal on social media, to gain earned media. Earned media is when people share owned or paid content to their personal networks. This is content amplification at its best, and the strongest fulfillment of the promise of digital: valuable content will spread far beyond the limits of traditional media, fluidly across borders and social classes.

Earned media is also the natural conversation that fans have around a certain brand or product, such as when a bag pops up in a picture of a healthy breakfast or sneakers waiting in line at the airport for a flight to Singapore. People will showcase their connections to brands they love naturally, and thanks to social media, that love gets turned directly into promotion for a brand. High five for digital!

The problem: earned media is really hard. It’s impossible to know beforehand if content will resonate with people enough for them to share and for the virality effect to take place. So much of content that is created does not deliver value, there is no inherent reason for people to share a certain piece of content if it doesn’t help them or reinforce what they believe.

But when it’s done properly, earned media is the best thing that can happen to a brand. It’s free publicity and buzz that can last for weeks or months, driving awareness and sales. On the other hand, it is now entirely out of the control of a brand. As content warps through shares and retweets, messages can get distorted. A brand has to be OK with the idea that they are no longer able to tweak and fine tune the image or the message. Once it’s out there, it’s really hard to bring it back in.

Does that make sense? Does your definition of owned, paid, and shared media differ? I’d love to hear your thoughts!



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