What Is “Owned, Earned and Paid Media”?

What Is "Owned, Earned and Paid Media"?

If you work in a marketing agency, or are a marketer in-house in a larger company, you probably know the answer to “what is owned, earned and paid media?”.

But small business owners wear many hats. Marketing is likely just one of your myriad of responsibilities. So you may not be familiar with industry terms like owned, earned and paid media. However, no matter the size of your business, these concepts can be essential for creating a marketing strategy with optimal reach.

So let’s dive in and see what it’s all about.  We’ll also look at how to employ owned, earned and paid media as part of your marketing strategy in a small business.

Definition: Owned Earned Paid Media

This phrase is simply a framework for how to organize and execute your marketing:

Owned media is when you leverage a channel you create and control.  This could be your company blog, YouTube channel, your website, or even your Facebook page.  Even though you don’t strictly “own” your YouTube channel or your Facebook page, you do control them and don’t have to pay for basic usage.

Earned media is when customers, the press and the public share your content, speak about your brand via word of mouth, and otherwise discuss your  brand.  In other words, the mentions are “earned,” meaning they are voluntarily given by others.

Paid media is when you pay to leverage a third-party channel, such as sponsorships and advertising on third-party sites.

Forrester Research created a chart that lays it out pretty well, including the advantages and disadvantages:

What Is "Owned, Earned and Paid Media"?

Discussions about owned, earned and paid media tend to be in the enterprise context.  Case studies and advice often focus on Fortune 1000 companies having boo-koo bucks for their marketing.

But the concept is just as relevant to small businesses.

The concept of owned, earned and paid media has content at the center.  Luckily, small businesses are getting savvier at creating and curating content.

Avoid These 2 Myths

The key to understanding the “owned, earned, paid media” concept is not to buy into these two myths:

Myth #1: All you need is owned media.

It’s important to have channels and content you own — for sure. But they alone are not enough.

What many small businesses lack with their owned channels is reach and scale.  You have a website with excellent case studies and resources on it, but it could use more traffic.  The Instagram channel for your brand doesn’t have a lot of followers and shares of your content through it yet.  Your company has blog, but you don’t have time to regularly create content. And when you do, with so much content floating around online today, it’s hard to get eyeballs to your blog to read it.

That’s where earned and paid media come in.   They extend your reach.  To be successful, you need to amplify and scale your owned media channels.

Myth #2: Paid media is more expensive than any other kind of media.

Recognize that there’s a cost to every channel — time, money or both.

Let’s take owned media.  Whether it’s the time your people spend in improving your website, writing blog posts for your blog, commissioning expensive infographics to get people talking, editing videos to share on YouTube — or paying for SEO services to get more traffic to your website — you still have to invest time, money or both.

It’s the same when it comes to earned media.  Earned media takes effort to develop and leverage at any scale.  If you want your content to spread through social media and for social discussions to spring up around your products, it means you have to put effort into developing your social media channels. You must build your social media profiles, engage with customers, curate content. And you must also do it consistently, week in and week out.  You must stick with it.  Paying attention to your Twitter account once every 5 months won’t do much.

If you want to earn influencer mentions, you may have to reach out to bloggers or social media personalities via email to share that new infographic. Or you may need to engage in guest blogging on third party blogs to get more people to pay attention to you and your brand.  Here again, you have to do it consistently over time.  One guest blog post may help.  But it’s hardly enough to move the needle far.

So before assuming that advertising is more expensive than the other two forms of media, consider ALL the expenses. Consider the value of your time and your team’s time, too.

Most small business owners underestimate the cost of the marketing they do in-house in which they invest precious time.

Combine Two or More Types

The best practice today is to use a combination of “owned, earned, paid media.”  Use one media channel to amplify or extend another type.  They need to work hand in hand.

What Is "Owned, Earned and Paid Media"?

According to AirPR and other industry veterans, the main link between these different forms of media is the ability to tell a compelling story to your audience. When you can use these various methods in tandem, you get converged media, which can be significantly more powerful than any one of these methods on its own.

Judy Luk-Smit, VP of product for AirPR explains, “Amplifying content through organic social sharing, traditional media relations outreach and online paid opportunities is the key to ensuring that your message isn’t getting lost in the noise. PR is typically responsible for social sharing and media outreach, but marketing can power that content through paid opportunities and email marketing.”

There is one difference in that description as it applies to small businesses.  Smaller entities have always relied on owned and earned media to a large degree. Compared with their larger enterprise counterparts, they have had less of a single-minded focus on paid advertising traditionally.

And that’s a good thing.

It means that convergence comes naturally.  We small business types never got over-reliant on advertising. We are used to doing more with owned and earned media.

4 Examples of Combining Paid, Owned and Earned Media

Here are four examples of ways to combine owned, earned and paid media, in a small business context — and make for more powerful marketing:

1.) Create content on your blog [owned]. Share it on Facebook [to generate earned]. However, you only reach a small percentage of your fan base organically.  To extend your reach,  make it a Sponsored Post for $40 or $60 [paid] to get wider visibility for it.

2.) Crowdsource some advice and tips from your customers or loyal community members, for an ebook on your website [owned]. Then share it on your company channel on Slideshare.  And reach out individually by email to send a copy of the ebook to each community member who submitted a tip.  Most will share the ebook with their social networks, as they will be proud of their contribution [and you generate more earned mentions].

3.) Pay some influencers [paid] to create interesting and shareable content for your company blog [owned]. Then amplify it heavily through social media [to generate earned mentions].

4.) Create special Facebook-only discounts [paid]. To take advantage of them, people must Like your page.  Studies show that discounts are a primary reason people follow and interact with brands on social media.  When they Like your page, you have their attention. That also means you now have the start of a relationship with them [leading potentially to earned media].

When you combine owned, earned and paid media it expands your reach. You get wider reach than from a single channel alone.

So don’t think about a single marketing technique in isolation, such as blogging. Or being active on Twitter.  Think instead about how you can combine techniques.

More in: 38 Comments ▼

Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.

38 Reactions
  1. Martin Lindeskog


    With this post, you have “earned” cred. one more time as an A-blogger and you “own” the blogosphere! I will use this post in my social media study circles / courses and workshops. How can I “pay” you? 😉

    I guess that the term social media will transform into a new media mix of owned, earned and paid media.

    All the Best,


  2. Anita:

    By the way: How much is boo-koo bucks? 😉

    • Hi Martin,

      “Boo-koo bucks” is a slang term for “lots of money.” It just sounds funnier. 🙂


      • Anita:

        Thanks for the explanation. It is good know these kind of slang words for the future! 😉

      • Boo-koo certainly comes from Beaucoup ( pronounced Boo-koo) french for a lot!
        Just like Deja vue =has been seen before , RSVP Repondez s’il Vous plait = Please respond, Debut = start, Genre = type…. Vive la France!

  3. Anita,

    Great explanation and very timely. I feel like these terms become buzz words in the online marketing community and the basic understanding of what they mean gets lost. Small businesses need to know what sales reps and agencies are saying to them so they can make informed decisions.

    I also really like the Venn diagram. I work almost exclusively on the paid side of things and when clients understand and leverage those areas of overlap they can get even more bang for their buck. Recently I wrote a guest post on using paid channels to boost content (owned) – http://www.searchenginepeople.com/blog/boost-your-content-marketing-with-ppc.html

  4. Anita this is such a great post! You name some great strategies that I will bring for discussion to my company.

  5. I think this works together. You can start with paid media as it is cheaper than owned and does not need a lot of effort compared to earned. From there, you can gain some leverage until you get more earned exposure (which is mostly free).

  6. Great stuff. If a business begins with some owned (even a little bit), they’ll gain an understanding of the value of new media, through having to have some clarifying input in it’s authentic creation, and the rewards of getting some additional customers. Then by adding in paid, and hopefully along the way getting some earned, that should make it all come together very well for them. The overlap is a VERY powerful thing! It’s sad that some of these concepts still have to be sold! But then, businesses are well trained and used to being sold stuff where advertising and marketing is concerned.

  7. Converged Media is definitely the way to go! Each medium has different benefits and trying to leverage all of them and avoid the challenges is best for the company.

  8. Brilliant, Anita! So true, all go hand in hand. My favorite line is: “It means that convergence comes naturally.” So perfectly stated.
    Thanks for sharing.

  9. In agreement with Aira above about owned, earned and paid working together… although I believe it’s possible to get good exposure free from the beginning with OWNED media.

    Paid advertisements on TV brought me very little little success in one of my ventures. Promoting the same kind of content at a very LOW production cost (zero) brought me tens of thousands of views on YouTube, converting piles of customers.

    Later I sent these same videos a teeny bit of paid traffic and they BLEW UP because they were shareable, PLUS I was adding flame to the fire.

    The advantage of owned media is that you can be pretty prolific and find out what works in the market you are serving before really putting your back into it.

  10. Marina Sánchez Marcos

    Great explanation!! 🙂

  11. Thanks very much!

    This is how good posts should be and why it ranks well. Answer my three questions at a glance and then there’s plenty of explanation for the more time relaxed.

  12. Thanks very much!

    This is how good posts should be and why it ranks well. Answer my three questions at a glance and then there’s plenty of explanation for the more time relaxed.

    It earned you some shares 🙂

  13. This is an excellent article Anita, really puts it into perspective for the lay person, and gives direction as to where to start. Thanks !!

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  15. Thanks for sharing this information