Paid, Owned & Earned Media: What’s the Difference?
9 mins read

Paid, Owned & Earned Media: What’s the Difference?

Paid, Owned & Earned Media: What’s the Difference?

The internet is like the universe: there are so many things floating around all the time and in almost every place that it can be difficult to know exactly what’s what.

Just like the universe, we categorize phenomena to better understand them. Media can come in different types, forms and channels.

But there are three categories that are important for marketers to understand. They are:

  • paid media.
  • own media.
  • Earned Media.

The task ahead is to understand what each type of media means and, more importantly, how to use them individually and together.

What are payment media?

The key to handling something skillfully is to define it and understand it. In addition: What is paid media?

As it sounds, paid media is any content that you pay to place on an advertising platform.

Paid media includes PPC ads on Google, ads on Facebook, and display ads that follow you on sites that sell ad space.

They could also resort to physical payment media and identify newspapers, magazines and billboards as platforms selling advertising space.

Paid media are one of the most important advertising options for companies today.

Ads placed on Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other places generate billions in revenue for these platforms annually.

Your ROI on the paid media you place depends on so much, from the copy you write to the images you use, but rest assured; You can gain traffic and conversions from your paid media efforts if you approach them the right way.

Media Venn DiagramImage created by the author, February 2023

What is own media?

Conversely, owned media is any content that you fully own and can publish yourself without any additional cost or effort.

Custom media can have whatever purpose you give it. As with paid media, your goals for your owned media can be anything from traffic and clicks to conversions.

The point is that Owned Media is free for you and you can spread whatever information you want on your Owned platforms.

Examples of your own media

The most common types of owned media include websites you own, the organic posts you create on your social media channels, and the email marketing campaigns you run.

These platforms are proprietary media because you have complete control over them and can publish anything you want without having to pay anyone else or rely on another party to create and distribute it.

What is Earned Media?

Earned Media is probably the only type of content on this list that some readers haven’t yet labeled as such, but I bet you’ve seen Earned Media before.

Earned media is all content about you or your brand on the internet that is not yours. It’s not something you even touch.

Earned Media includes any mentions, links, and other discussions that people talk about you on other websites or social media platforms.

How do you generate that kind of positive word of mouth? It all comes from the work you do on the paid and owned media side.

You don’t deserve free attention if nobody knows who you are, and that takes work in the beginning.

If you’re generating serious value through your website content, social media posts, and paid media advertising, position yourself well to earn that free media.

Earned Media Examples

Since earned media is free exposure and there’s nothing you can do directly to gain that spotlight, it can still be a bit difficult to understand what earned media actually looks like.

As you read through this collection of earned media examples, keep in mind that the best brands earn based solely on what they offer to the public:

  • Social Media Mentions.
  • Reporting in all forms of news media, including interviews and special reports.
  • Product or service reviews from influencers, Roundup posts, or review websites.
  • Backlinks from other websites.
  • Real estate on search engine results pages (SERPs).

All of these things, even search engine rankings, are technically earned.

Although you took direct action to make those results more likely, you didn’t pay to rank number one on Google.

This happened because you used your own media on your website, but the result you have produced from that effort is surely deserved media and nothing else.

You’re now getting “free” attention on a Google SERP for all to see.

How to integrate paid, owned and earned media

At this point, as you can imagine, it pays to combine all of these forms of media throughout your digital marketing strategy.

Paid, owned, and earned media should all contribute to the digital growth of your business.

The obstacle you have to overcome now is: How do you combine them all correctly?

The simple answer (simple in theory, not necessarily in practice) is that you should coordinate your digital efforts across all your media channels.

Consistency will win the day here.

You’ve probably heard this idea before in relation to branding: when developing a corporate brand, you should keep it the same everywhere, from your social platforms to your website to billboards and TV commercials.

The same concept applies to your content.

When you publish an incredible infographic on your website (owned media), post it on all your social media channels (owned media) at the same time.

If you’re after website traffic, you can buy digital ad space on the Google Display Network or Facebook (paid media) to drive visitors to your website so they can see the full infographic.

Ideally, if the content is new and useful enough, it will start earning backlinks (earned media) and maybe even be included in some roundup posts (earned media) about the best infographics in your industry in a given time period.

Again, this does not mean that combining all three forms of media is easy. It certainly takes work, persistence, and a whole lot of patience to get it right.

But integrating paid, owned, and earned media is absolutely the best choice for spreading your content and business brand across the digital space in a way that people will notice.

Media Comparison TableImage created by the author, February 2023

Which is Better: Paid, Owned or Earned Media?

In closing, I’d like to address a remaining question some of you may have at this point: which of paid, owned, and earned media is the best for earning digital exposure?

As frustrating as it may be, the answer is: It depends!

No one type of digital media is best for your business across the board, and here’s why: each has its pros and cons.

Take paid media for example. You can create a killer ad for Google or Instagram and say that this will get you all their attention, but remember you have to pay for it and include your expenses in your earnings.

Sure, you get a guaranteed placement on the platform, but it comes at a real money price and still with no promise of rewards.

With owned media, you have somewhat opposite advantages and disadvantages. You own the media platforms. It’s your website and your social media channels.

You don’t have to pay to post content there and you control everything about what you post.

However, remember that if you own this media, you also own the efforts to spread it to your digital audience. You will not get Google or Meta advertising platforms to place your content. It’s all about the organic traffic you can drive yourself.

Then there is earned media, which you have absolutely no control over.

The thing is, almost everyone who maintains an online presence does so to make a living, to promote a cause, or to gain attention in some way.

Everyone wants earned media, and it can easily be combined with everything else you do to form a strong, healthy approach to digital marketing.

Which media form is the best? It’s up to you to decide.

You know what you can handle, from the actual cost of paid media to the organic effort you would have to put into owned media. Earned media can come as a result of either.

The best type of media for your business is the one you can handle with real finesse.

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Featured image: Siri Siripan/Shutterstock