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A Quick Guide to Owned, Earned and Paid Media
by Daniel Kehrer
May 10, 2022
Marketing team collaborating in modern office space

As social media and other forms of digital marketing continue gaining popularity, business owners may face unfamiliar terms and territory. For example: 

What’s the difference between paid, owned, and earned media for promoting or advertising a business, and how can you put them to work?

The whole “owned-earned-paid” thing is familiar to advertising and PR pros, but can be a mystery to small business owners who’ve never really thought in those terms. Yet understanding how to deploy owned, earned and paid media to grow sales is critical. Here’s what you need to know:

Owned Media Basics

Perhaps the simplest examples of “owned” online media are your business website, e-newsletter, blog, and social media pages. You built, operate and control them, so you own them.

Done well, they’ll be nicely designed, easy to navigate, and full of helpful product information, articles, photos, videos, and other content that customers and prospects will find useful or interesting.

The basic idea with owned media is to deploy engaging content that helps potential customers discover your business when they search for something online or use their own social media channels. This is the realm of what’s called “content marketing,” which uses helpful, high-value information to draw people into your products and services.

Paid Media Basics

No surprise here. Paid media are the online ads and promotions you pay for with your marketing dollars. This includes search engine marketing (SEM) via Google Adwords, as well as banners and paid promotions on social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and others.

Using paid media is the more traditional approach that most businesses are familiar with. You set a budget, pick your channels and spend as you see fit, while tracking results as best you can.

Earned Media Basics

Earned media is arguably the best kind of all, since it generally doesn’t cut into your budget, and generates greater authority and response.

Thought leadership and public relations fit here. Issuing a press release that gets mentioned somewhere (either online or offline) “earns” you exposure that you didn’t have to pay for (at least not directly). Similarly, if you publish a thought leadership article or column in an industry publication, for example, that counts as earned media exposure as well, and can lead to other earned media such as speaking invitations at conferences.

It also includes positive comments, recommendations, reviews, mentions, likes, and shares that you must earn, and can’t (directly) pay for. This includes word-of-mouth but is amplified through the digital megaphone.

Putting them Together

Owned, earned and paid media don’t exist in isolation. They overlap. So your goal is to make them work together. For example, paid ads might attract people to your website or Facebook page where they see some interesting content they want to “like” or share. In turn, that engagement earns you more notice among the media. 

Thanks to the nature of social sharing, the interaction possibilities are almost endless as information passes from one person’s network to others. This is sometimes called “converged media” — the place where owned, earned, and paid intersect.

What to do now

First, recognize that the way buyers research purchases and find businesses has changed. What once occurred via a few channels now happens through thousands of highly fragmented media outlets on a 24/7 basis, often simultaneously as people occupy several digital platforms at once.

To get noticed, you will need to embrace new digital tools and tactics (including some from all of the above categories), and deploy them in the places that work best for your business.

Start with a firm foundation. Look for small wins that you can reasonably achieve in each category (owned, earned, paid) and build from there. Take it one step at a time. Don’t try to concoct a huge strategy that takes months to deploy. Test small things to see what works and what doesn’t. It’s easier, less stressful, and more effective.

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About the author
Daniel Kehrer
Daniel Kehrer, Founder & Managing Director of BizBest Media Corp., is a nationally-known, award-winning expert on small and local business, start-ups, content marketing, entrepreneurship and social media, with an MBA from UCLA/Anderson. 
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