The Differences Between Earned Media, Owned Media, Paid Media: What You Need to Know

Earned media, owned media, and paid media are terms that float around a lot in the marketing world. Lots of people don’t entirely understand what the differences between these three terms are.

All three of these types of media are quite important when it comes to building the perfect digital strategy. In this guide, we’ll break down what earned, owned, and paid media mean. We’ll also break down their importance and how they all fit into a good digital strategy.

What is Earned Media?

Earned media is content that different channels, figures, brands, etc. give to you freely. There are a number of different mediums that earned media can cover, including:

  • News coverage
  • Press mentions
  • Interviews
  • Influencer plugs
  • Product reviews
  • Influencer shoutouts
  • Organic traffic
  • Direct traffic
  • Sharing content
  • Reposts of content

Earned media brings traffic to owned media, such as blogs or landing pages. It’s the boat that sails off into the internet and brings back potential leads. While earned media isn’t powerful enough to be used alone in a marketing plan, it is a wonderful supplemental type of media that can really boost a good marketing strategy.

An example of earned media would be a news segment on public television that is dedicated to a specific newsworthy thing that a brand did recently, but did not pay the news station to air the segment.

According to research sourced by Ahrefs, the benefit of earned media can be broken down into the case that the mattress company Parachute found success with.

In 2019, when Parachute launched its new wool mattress, the company opted for earned media over paid media,” the Ahrefs guide notes, “It seeded the product with editors and influencers, which resulted in tons of articles and Instagram Stories from people who tested the mattress. In total, they spent around $20,000 on PR and product gifting. According to Ariel Kaye, Parachute’s founder, they would have had to spend at least $2 million on Facebook Ads to get the same number of impressions as they did from this earned media campaign. And unlike paid media—where you have to spend more for more impressions over time—earned media is the gift that keeps on giving.

The Pros of Earned Media:

  • Earned content can help you get endorsements from figures of power in your specific niche or industry, such as influencers.
  • Influencer marketing with earned content can help your brand build trust from your target market.
  • Sometimes, a very good earned media campaign can even boost search engine optimization if your brand continues to be talked about.
  • It’s a cost-effective type of media ideal for startups and small businesses.

The Cons of Earned Media:

  • Even though earned media can be a good strategy for companies that can’t spend a ton on marketing, the costs can certainly add up. It’s vital to have an excellent top-notch public relations plan, which can take up time, effect, and resources.
  • There is virtually no guarantee that your brand will even get the mentions you want. You can reach out to as many influencers as you’d like, but that doesn’t mean any of them will respond.

Does Every Organization Need to Use Earned Media?

The short answer would be “no.” Earned media is hard to maintain as a standalone marketing strategy. There’s too much risk of loss involved since you can’t force people to share your articles or make influencers show off your brand with earned media. However, when accompanied by paid and owned marketing, earned media can be a very valuable asset. You can really further your reach by investing in the content you are creating. Just ensure that your social media management is on point, as you’re essentially creating a persona that will encourage target audiences to share your work.

What is Owned Media?

Owned media refers to the type of content one would publish on their own channels, such as their website or blog. There are a number of different mediums that owned media can cover, including:

  • Articles
  • Blog posts
  • Self-filmed videos
  • Self-taken photos
  • Email campaigns
  • Newsletters
  • Social media posts
  • Websites
  • Blogs
  • Landing pages
  • Games
  • Mobile sites
  • Blog sites

Owned media is probably the most common type of media out there, simply because it is cheap to create (in most circumstances) and can really get your marketing campaign moving. Social media is incredibly easy to access. Brands with no resources for marketing can create social media pages easily and begin to write content on their blogs to share. It’s a very solid part of a good marketing campaign, and can sometimes be used alone.

A common example of owned media would be a blog post written by a website owner that goes viral, thus catapulting the website brand into fame. The website itself may or may not have paid to promote the blog post, but it is still owned by them regardless.

In a writeup for Moz by marketing expert Samuel Scott, Scott noted that the biggest benefits to owned media involve lifelong ownership and search engine rankings.

You will own the content forever,” said Scott in the article, “If you publish, say, a blog post on your company website, then you will own and have access to that document for as long as you own your website. However, you have no guarantee of how long your content will remain on another website. [Plus,] your website can rank in the search engines. Why should another website receive the search benefits of your hard work? If I write an e-book that targets a keyword theme addressing informational queries, I want my website to rank for those search terms for the foreseeable future to generate top-of-the-funnel awareness.

The Pros of Owned Media:

  • Owned media channels don’t involve a ton of risk like other media types.
  • Owned content can be an excellent long-term tool to use for marketing endeavors, as they are owned by you for as long as you would like them to be.
  • If you can keep your content relevant and implement an excellent content marketing strategy, owned media can be a great way to further your brand’s reach and your supporters will continue to share your content

The Cons of Owned Media:

  • It can take a very long time for shared media to increase. When a brand first begins to implement content, the rate of people sharing it will likely be low for a while.
  • Building customer loyalty, improving brand awareness, and creating the right environment for engagement with your target audience can be difficult and sometimes impossible.
  • An owned media channel will not work well alone. The best bet for your brand is to implement a full digital marketing strategy involving paid, earned, and owned channels.

Does Every Organization Need to Use Owned Media?

In general, every brand could benefit from owned media in some capacity. It can take a bit of time to create the content that is to be owned, but it’s also free in many circumstances. Small businesses and startups could definitely benefit from owned media, especially during the early years of the business. An established large enterprise can also benefit from owned media, but only if the production and tone of that media are well-produced and relevant enough to be future-proof. The biggest benefit of owned media is that it is owned by the company forever and can be used again in the future, so take advantage of that.

What is Paid Media?

Paid media refers to marketing efforts that you paid money for. There are a number of different mediums that paid media can cover, including:

  • Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising
  • Paid media advertising tools from social media websites like Facebook and LinkedIn
  • Influencer sponsorships
  • SEO advertisements
  • Display ads
  • Sponsored ads
  • Paid searches
  • Google Ads
  • Carousel ads
  • Story ads on social platforms
  • Dynamic product ads (DPA)

Paid media is one of the more reliable types of media of the bunch, though it is still, by nature, unpredictable. You can gain a ton of exposure with paid media and pull in a ton of leads. You can incorporate paid media in a lot of ways as well, from influencer sponsorships to paid advertising. Social media websites also have tons of advertising tools that make the process painless and easy. The only downside to paid media is that, obviously, it costs money. And sometimes it can cost a lot of money for very little in return.

A common example of paid media would be a sponsored advertisement for a specific product on Amazon that appears under relevant product search keywords. This would be paid for by the product’s brand or retailer directly to Amazon via its advertising platform.

In a chat-based interview with Semrush, PPC expert Gianpaolo Lorusso noted that while the nature of paid media has evolved in recent years, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

PPC will remain an important asset in web marketing mix where you cannot count on a steady flux of good quality content,” said Lorusso in the interview, “Paid media has become more and more important in [the] web marketing mix, due to decreasing natural visibility, especially in Facebook.”

The Pros of Paid Media:

  • It’s scalable and relatively reliable.
  • The more resources are spent on a paid media promotion, the further the reach will be in insights.
  • By making a purchase, you are essentially guaranteeing that your brand’s image has a place in viewers’ feeds.
  • Social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter are constantly trying to get advertisers to use their advertising toolkits. By using them and investing in paid media, you can get the kind of exposure your brand wouldn’t be able to get with other types of ad media.

The Cons of Paid Media:

  • While your promotion is guaranteed because you paid for it, you still have to weigh and measure whether the paid media is worth the investment and just how much you can grow your leads. Because of this, it is necessary to have a very solid paid media strategy in place.
  • Paid media channels can be quite pricey.
  • Once you decide to end a campaign through a paid media channel, your overall reach and even your engagement could disappear. To combat this, marketers need to plan and schedule everything accordingly.

Does Every Organization Need to Use Paid Media?

Paid media fits into nearly every brand marketing campaign that could exist. However, it does cost money. And not every startup or entrepreneur has the resources for it. For those types of brands, avoid using paid media for a while until you can put together the resources to really be effective. For organizations that have more money, a paid media marketing campaign works the best when it accompanies an omnichannel marketing plan.

Key Takeaways on the Difference Between Paid, Earned and Owned Media

Paid Earned Owned Media

Each of these three elements is vital in creating the best possible media marketing strategy. Marketers should take their time evaluating their unique situation to determine how much in terms of resources will go where. It all comes down to what makes sense for one’s company and product. Still, there are many differences between these three concepts:

  • Owned media channels should be seen as a further extension of your company that is capable of making new paths for viewers to connect with your company. If you maintain your owned media strategy, the returns just keep on coming.
  • Earned media, on the other hand, is more like the internet’s version of “word of mouth.” It pushes leads and generates traffic. It can also make it possible to engage with brands, thus making earned media a great way to improve one’s brand presence. There are a few different ways marketers can get earned media, but it’s very important to have excellent SEO practices and other marketing strategies in place. Earned media definitely shouldn’t be used alone.
  • Paid media is a solid form of advertising that is perfect for promoting products and services, not just the brand image and content. It’s also a great way to push traffic to companies.

When it comes down to it, each of these types of media is very beneficial when used together in one marketing campaign. However, when used alone, they aren’t quite as effective, especially earned media.

If you are interested in incorporating earned, owned, and paid media in your marketing strategy, reach out to learn more.