Earned, Owned, Paid and Shared Media

By • November 5, 2012

By Kelly Donovan

For all the talk about the importance of content to an organization’s marketing
and communications plan, where and how a message shows up remains a key factor
in that message’s effect on the larger marketing campaign. But which channels
are best? Are some types of media more impactful than others?

  • Media analysts classify communications into four
    interdependent types: owned, paid, earned and shared.
  • Smart organizations are starting to look at
    their communications tools in terms of ownership, control and desired
    outcome—not by platform.
  • However you decide to organize your
    association’s communications, the categories provide a useful framework for
    mapping your next interactive communication strategy.


The idea for organizing media by ownership, or who creates it, comes from research
by Forrester Media aimed at defining the types of media channels interactive marketers
and public relations specialists work with. Analyst Sean Corcoran details three
types of media:

  • Owned:
    Your brand or company controls the message and the channel in which it
    appears. (Websites, magazines, newsletters, etc.)
  • Paid:
    Your brand or company controls the message and pays a third party to
    display it. (Advertising)
  • Earned:
    The press and your customers or clients control the message and the
    channels through which it is shared. (Newspaper or TV coverage, blogs,
    social media)

Corcoran advocates curating a “solar system” of media
surrounding your brand, starting with owned or controlled media (like a
website, magazine or newsletter) at the center, and earned channels like news
coverage and online communities radiating outward in order of engagement with
consumers and decreasing control. Paid media like advertisements or
sponsorships serve as catalysts for conversation around a brand and
opportunities for your brand to educate stakeholders and respond to feedback.

Shared media

In June, Peter Himler of Flatiron Communications added
the category “shared media” to Corcoran’s organizational chart. Himler
defines shared media as “the desired result of well-executed and compelling
paid, earned and/or owned media initiatives.” In other words, it is the coveted
“buzz” or word-of-mouth marketing that happens when your customers become so
engaged with your brand that they carry the conversation surrounding it and become brand ambassadors to their
family, friends and colleagues. Shared media can take the form of blog posts,
social media posts, email or videos; it is anything that is passed along via
third-party outside a formal media channel. Though it is stimulated by your
owned or earned media, because consumers quickly take over the conversation in
shared spaces, it is considered the most credible and sticky form of marketing.

(According to The New York Times, this way of categorizing media has even led at least one ad
agency to overhaul its employees’ titles
to align its thinking more closely with this new

How does this way of thinking about media affect your
communications mix?

Shared media shifts the importance and purpose of the other
three types of media. Because control of an association’s message is divided
between the association and its stakeholders in shared media spaces, an
association must rethink its communications mix and consider how a message on
one medium will affect conversations in other media. Owned media still serves
as the home base for a company’s core message and value proposition, but paid
media, such as sponsorships, becomes less of a way to control a channel and
more of a way to launch brand conversations in earned and shared media spaces
such as blogs, Facebook and YouTube.

Himler cites the recent Old Spice campaign starring Isaiah
Mustafa as an example of a company using a paid media tactic (video ad) on an
owned channel (YouTube) to create buzz on earned and shared media. While Old
Spice did purchase TV spots for its ads, YouTube was the main channel through
which people saw and responded to the ad.

Manage the overlap

Even though the emphasis is on delineating media types,
there is still a lot of overlap. A website is usually considered owned media,
but with social plug-ins, such as comment boards, installed on many web pages,
websites can turn into a shared space where members’ feedback weaves into
webmasters’ content and changes the overall tone of the site. Some companies have set up YouTube channels
on which they post the same TV ads they’ve paid networks and cable systems to
air because they know people will spend leisure time watching and sharing those
videos with their friends online. A blog can be an owned or earned media spot,
but it can also serve as a paid or a shared media outlet, depending on the blogger’s
passion for the product and their relationship with an association.

Even “shared media” platforms, from which association staff
and members divide the podium, have become partially owned and paid over the
past few years as channels like Facebook and Twitter have introduced
business-friendly pages and promoted tweets. An association might host a
Facebook page on which it advertises its next event with Facebook ads while
encouraging members to share the information with their networks. These types of
features are so popular among companies and consumers alike that even though
the Google + network is just over a month old, PC World notes that it already
has business profile templates in the works.

Many companies and associations find that a message pushed
out in one type of media is often amplified in another. The exact degree of
effect differs by message and brand, so the “right” formula will differ based
on industry, association size, member engagement, communication history, etc.

But however you decide to organize your association’s
communications, the owned, paid, earned and shared category framework provides
a useful framework for mapping your next interactive communication strategy.

Kelly Donovan is an online marketing specialist with Naylor, LLC.