owned media/earned media/paid media

Owned, earned and paid media are three different types of advertising content used by digital marketing teams to create a complete and effective marketing strategy. Owned media is any web property that is controlled by the company and unique to their brand. Earned media, or free media, is free content generated by outside sources, such as reviews, reposts, shares, mentions or recommendations; these are sometimes called viral tendencies. Paid media is content that the company pays to promote on third-party channels, such as sponsorships or advertising on third-party sites.

Combining owned, earned and paid media will help a company attract, nurture and close leads. Furthermore, the media trio has the power to greatly expand the reach of a company's digital marketing campaign because it utilizes various advertising platforms and methods instead of relying on just one channel. Therefore, owned, earned and paid media can increase brand recognition and loyalty, while simultaneously boosting sales and achieving marketing goals.

Digital marketing best practices allow the media trio to work together and use each other to amplify and extend their messages; the main link between each media form is the ability to capture the audience with a compelling story.

For example, while the company's owned media -- such as their company website -- allows the business to create its own channels for marketing, paid media -- such as pop-up ads on other websites -- can be used to arouse the interest of the target audience and redirect them to the owned content. In a perfect world, these efforts would foster reactions from consumers, which they share online, thus generating earned media.


A company's owned media includes:

Examples of earned media include:

  • Social media mentions, shares and reposts
  • Publicity from media outlets
  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Review sites

Paid media channels could include:

  • social media ads and Native advertising;
  • offline ads, such as newspaper ads, billboards and branded apparel;
  • video or podcast ads; and
  • display ads on third-party sites, such as pop-up ads, wallpaper ads and video ads.


One way to combine the three types of media is to use the company's blog for Content marketing. This will produce owned media content. The blog post can then be shared on the company's social media profiles, such as their Facebook page and Instagram or Twitter accounts. This should generate interaction from consumers -- such as likes, shares and reposts -- thus creating earned media content. Finally, the company can expand the reach and increase the visibility of their original owned media content by purchasing some form of paid media, such as a social media sponsored post or display ad.

Another example of a successful combination of owned, earned and paid media is the acquiring and payment of influencers. Influencers are people whose actions and opinions carry more weight with the public than most other people. These individuals can be paid to create interesting and shareable posts for the company's blog. Therefore, paid media becomes owned content since it appears on an owned media source. The blog post can in turn be shared across social media with an even greater impact due to its connection to the influencer, thus increasing the generation of earned media.

A third example of using the media trio is paying for the creation of a special Instagram-only discount, which consumers can only take advantage of by following the company's Instagram account. In this situation, digital marketing teams are once again paying for the advertisement that will lead the consumer to their owned media. Discounts are a major motivating factor behind customer follows and interactions with companies across social media channels. If the consumer follows the company's page, then their attention has been won and a relationship can be built, which could generate earned media.

Earned media vs. owned media vs. paid

Owned media benefits a company because it provides the complete control of content, which can be published directly on the company's website or blog. It is also the less expensive option when compared to paid media.

On the other hand, owned media disadvantages include the necessity of internal maintenance for all websites, blogs and social media accounts, as well as a limited audience and, therefore, restricted visibility and reach of content.

Earned media benefits digital marketing teams by increasing the company's credibility, improving brand awareness and expanding the reach of the company's content. However, earned media requires attention, time and effort and it can be difficult to collect and control. Digital marketing teams should be wary of any negative publicity that could appear in earned media.

Paid media produces instant results for the company. Furthermore, it is easy to track paid media performance and target the content at high-intent customers. Much like owned media, control is still provided over copy editing and the content's message.

One of the greatest disadvantages of paid media is the initial cost and the fact that producing paid media gets more expensive as competition increases within the industry. It is also easy for a digital marketing team to become too dependent on paid channels, thus causing them to miss out on the benefits of owned and earned media.

How to get earned media

Earned media is an important part of the media trio because it provides a company with third-party credibility and a way to enhance the visibility of their content so it doesn't become hidden in the massive amount of other information that constantly surrounds consumers.

Factors like strong organic rankings on search engines and the production of high-quality content from the brand are some of the best ways to fuel earned media. A first page ranking for the company's owned media on search engines enables higher engagement with and shares of the content. A company can improve their social media ranking by utilizing an effective SEO strategy.

Other ways to generate earned media include:

Developing influencer marketing - As mentioned before, Influencer marketing can be beneficial to the company's overall digital marketing strategy, but it is especially impactful for generating earned media. Any content that the influencer releases about the company that was not paid for or requested by the company and does not appear on any of the company's owned media is a form of earned media. Furthermore, the influencer's audience could potentially become part of the company's audience, thus generating even more earned media possibilities.

Engage with fans and advocates of the brand - Digital marketers should focus on strengthening relationships with people who are talking about the company and sharing the company's content; this could include a company's own employees. Initiating and continuing contact with interested customers can encourage consumers to continue talking about the company -- advertising through word of mouth -- or posting about and sharing content about the company, thus creating earned media.

Attend industry trade shows - Attending industry events and talking to people about the company, products, services or brand is one of the best ways to generate earned media. This activity greatly enhances brand recognition and can start to build a following that will in turn provide earned media.

Gain press or media attention - Any coverage or mention of the company in the press or media is earned media. Some ways in which a company can gain the media's attention are by sending out press releases, sponsoring events or showing that they have developed a new product or service that is completely unique or exciting in some way.

The benefits of earned media expand beyond those mentioned thus far. Companies can choose to reprint flattering reviews or comments and distribute them as hard copies at events. Excerpts from favorable reviews can also be published on owned media.

Other ways to continue benefiting from earned media include:

  • using endorsements of the brand by printing recognizable logos on marketing materials and product packaging;
  • sharing earned media with the sales team so they can repurpose it for sales presentations;
  • liking, reposting or sharing any earned media across the company's various social networks;
  • incorporating earned media into marketing and public relations (PR) award applications; and
  • using quotes from earned media on pop-up ads and other paid media.
This was last updated in November 2019

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