A Guide to Content Channels: Owned, Earned, and Paid media


What is Owned, Earned, and Paid Media?

Owned, earned, and paid media is “Content“. Specifically content channels. After all “media” is simply the plural of “medium”.

And the “medium” of content is the channel or format in which it is distributed or presented to a web browser.

Why is this relevant? Because content is king!

That’s been over-said, but in part it’s true. It’s true because the internet is content, or at least it’s built on it.

The time you wrote useless blog posts on Blogspot.com for your teacher in middle school, you created content.

The time you sent a friend some ridiculous video from the depths of the internet, you participated in sharing or distributing content.

And when you made the gut-decision to buy beef jerky after seeing an advertisement on Facebook, you were swayed by some smoothly written copy and creative via a piece of content.

Notice the three examples I have provided above?

Yes, owned, earned, and paid forms of media. All part of the content marketing mix.

It’s important to understand the difference between these three categories so that you can properly implement them into your overall digital marketing strategy.

I’ll be explaining the differences and providing examples as well.


You just got Owned!

I haven’t heard that phrase of victory fueled aggression since middle school. Frankly, it has nothing to do with what I am talking about, so let’s move on…

Owned media, oddly enough, means you own it. It is yours. You crafted the article, published the resource, put up the video, tweeted the tweet, etc.

In my opinion, it’s the most important of the three forms of media. It allows you to build your brand, drive traffic, create authority, and ultimately work to develop an asset that you “own”.

As you might have guessed, your center of owned media (most likely) will be your website. This is the epicenter of your digital marketing strategy; a hub of your online activity.

It contains the web pages and blog posts you are trying to rank for so that you can drive inbound leads. If you aren’t working on this asset, you better have a very good reason why not.

I’ve heard all the excuses, but I still firmly believe that every business should have a website.

Owned media doesn’t end simply with the content on your website. It also includes the content you create on other platforms. For example, your social media content is considered owned content along with your videos on YouTube.

Furthermore, if you’re building an email list, you can run email marketing campaigns that engage your fans and drive traffic back to your website.

You manufacture this content and no one can take it from you. The point is, the ownership leads back to you, so you get the credit.

If your owned media is quality content, you can grow a following on the channels that you excel at.

Furthermore, owned media can be perpetual. If you create an evergreen piece of content that is useful to the market you participate in, that piece of content may continue to be relevant for a very long time to come.


The benefits of owned media.


Another interesting point to note is that content is free to create. You can certainly pay someone to do it for you, but at the end of the day, content crafting only costs you time (and perhaps some equipment costs if you’re creating visual content such as video.)

It’s nice that you don’t have to pay a monthly fee for social media huh?

Lastly, you have full control of this content. Theoretically, this means you could grow an asset as large as you want while still retaining ownership of it. But to take your owned content to the next level, you’ll require the benefits of earned media.

You won’t be able to grow as large without it.


You Earned it

Earned media is what convinces people to buy, it makes you easier to trust. Why? I’ll get into that in a second.

First, what is earned media?

Earned media is an extension of owned media efforts. It’s what makes owned media such a powerful concept in the first place.

In fact, if it wasn’t for earned media, most people wouldn’t create any owned media in the first place.

The value just simply wouldn’t be there.

I still haven’t quite answered your question.

Earned media is the promotional side of what you do. Both good and bad.

It’s when another company writes a blog post about your company, or when a happy customer tweets about you.

The point is, earned media is not owned by you, but it exists because of something you did.

This means comments on your blog, press releases that you didn’t create, and nearly anything that is an extension of the content you’ve created or what your company does.

Next time you decide to re-tweet a brand, you have effectively created earned content for them (and they’ll love you for it).

The point is, if you can generate good enough owned content, there is a very good chance that the earned media efforts will grow as well. It feeds into itself.


Earned Media


A very important note:  People trust people more than they do companies. If people are talking about your brand in a positive light, it’s better marketing than you can ever do for yourself.

The customer will always be a better spokesman than you, even when you know the industry in and out.

This is why there’s a such a large focus on building value, earning trust, and encouraging sharing.

When a company gets you to share, refer, or promote for them, they’ve done something right.

And I guarantee you’ve acted as a company ambassador without even realizing it. I know I have.

Luckily, most of the content that we share online is “good” content. It provides a lot of value, either in the form of saving us time, providing us with information, or making us laugh.

If a company decides to put effort into creating content that is that valuable, they truly“earned” the shares and the extra efforts that amplified their content.

The lesson here: Always start with top-grade content that makes people say “thank you”.

Then you won’t feel bad asking them to share it.


Shares correlate with Viral Reach


Paid: Part of this complete breakfast (or content marketing strategy)

You can’t rely on a paid strategy alone. Rather, it acts as part of the ecosystem that your marketing efforts lives within.

If you look at the top players in your respective industry, my guess is that their paid efforts complement their organic efforts.

The reason for this is that paid works on a closer 1:1 ratio of input to output.

You put $X into a new campaign and you hope to get X sales as a result.

On the other hand, owned media has the opportunity to drive higher output, especially in the long term.

This certainly makes it more difficult to calculate, but it means that there is good reason to focus on organic efforts in conjunction with paid efforts.

It means that if your initial input of owned media is of high enough value, the earned media as a result causes the return to be higher than that of the paid efforts alone.

Generally the issue becomes that owned media and organic efforts aren’t as predictable as paid efforts. You can alleviate this by understanding the market, doing research, and putting in the work to create the owned media that aligns with your target market.

The easiest place to start is your competitors that are excelling in this part of the game.

What paid efforts support their owned media? Where do they create content? What type of content do they create? What keywords do they target? Who shares their content? What other companies do they work with? What are their results?

Most likely you are newer to the game than them, so they’ve had the opportunity to build an online presence.

That’s okay, it simply means that you should expect less earned media results. You don’t have the immediate community to amplify your organic efforts, so time to start building!


Paid Media


What’s paid media and how does it support organic efforts?

Similar to owned media, there are a wide range of options.

You can advertise with pay-per-click and display advertising in Google Adwords, you can leverage paid promotions on social media through Twitter, LinkedIn. Facebook, etc.

Furthermore, you can use media buys to get your ads into publications both on and offline, or pay influencers to share, mention, or endorse your product.

For a majority of businesses, if not all, paid efforts alone are not enough.

However, if you can leverage earned media from your paid efforts, then the output can be amplified.

For example, if you make a video and pay to advertise on YouTube, people may find your video funny and share with friends, or mention it on their blog.

In a sense, your paid efforts have gone a lot farther than the initial output of its paid value.

For example, look at what Dollar Shave Club did to strategically leverage earned media to amplify their message. They created a video for $4,500 and then proceeded to rack up 22 million views and land them thousands upon thou=sands of subscribers.

This was a result of the earned media they relieved. People talked about and shared the video just as Tech Crunch and other major media outlets wrote articles on it as well. The craze started to feed into itself, resulting in a viral campaign and a major success for the company.

Even mentioning Dollar Shave Club here is a form of earned media.



Depending on the product or service you offer, this means that there is an opportunity to create even small spurts of virality with your paid efforts rather than relying on a 1:1 ratio of input to output.

But this isn’t about a hard sell. It’s about getting creative and striking a chord with the audience.

Look for ways in which what you do resonates with people, makes them smile, causes them to share with friends. It’s not about your product or service in this case, it’s something more.

That’s not exactly an actionable piece of advice, but certainly something to think about next time you run a paid promotion.

Furthermore, this will be a lot easier to do if you run marketing for a consumer product rather than in B2B. But it’s still entirely possible…


Owned, Earned, and Paid Media


The Trinity of Owned, Earned, and Paid Media

These efforts in and of themselves are separate, identifiable forms of content.

But they aren’t as siloed as they appear.

In reality, we start to notice that a digital marketing strategy usually involves a varying amount of media formats in an interrelated fashion.

Perhaps a company blogs 3 times a week, shares curated content with their email list, posts on Twitter, and retargets website visitors with display ads in Google’s display network.

As their online presence grows, so does their earned media.

Instead of pigeonholing you into a strict regimen of X% this and X% that, I suggest you test it out, especially in the beginning of your efforts.

What makes sense for the industry you are in?

Just as I mentioned before, start with competitors.

Do they have a majority of their traffic from earned media since a lot of people talk about their brand? Do they run several product funnels?

What platforms are they active on and how good is the engagement? What’s their website traffic and what keywords do they bid on?

Luckily, we have the ability to do some snooping to see what competitors are up to, which can be extremely powerful.

If you are unsure, this is a great starting point for your owned, earned, and paid efforts.

One “hack” or tactic will not lead to success. Whoever is telling you this is trying to sell you a product or service.

It depends completely on your industry, brand, product, service, personality, and ultimately what “works”.

And measure like crazy so you do know what “works”.



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Henry Foster
Henry Foster has built massive social followings, started and sold a tiny ecommerce business, and writes about social media and content marketing. If he isn't currently working on a project, he's most likely brainstorming the next.

Henry Foster

Henry Foster has built massive social followings, started and sold a tiny ecommerce business, and writes about social media and content marketing. If he isn't currently working on a project, he's most likely brainstorming the next.