Content marketing has blurred the lines between owned and earned media.

As marketers we love to use industry specific buzzwords such as “owned media” and “earned media” when talking to other marketers. Dropping a good buzzword is like name dropping a famous friend (did I mention I know Tom Skerrit, personally?*). However, there comes a time when our favorite buzzwords fade into obscurity, and the evolution of PR and Content Marketing might be the catalyst that eventually ends two of my favorites: earned media and owned media.

It isn’t that earned and owned media as distinct impression sources will go away. They will not. But their clear ownership and relation to specific marketing disciplines will continue to get blurry. The clear line that separates PR as earned and Social Media as owned is continuing to fade. That being said, at some point we will have trouble distinguishing between them. At that point they will cease to be buzzwords.

How We Have Defined Owned and Earned Media to Date

  • Traditional Earned Media and PR: For years we have defined PR’s output as earned media. If you’re in PR you likely spend a lot of time thinking about how people will find the information you want them to find. Traditionally you have focused on media. Your big score is when you place a story in the New York Times or on the Today Show. One of those media hits will score you millions of brand impressions and, if you’re lucky, a few of these folks will grab their computer/tablet/smartphone and Google your brand, driving traffic to your website in a way that isn’t always trackable, but is still real. In this scenario you have succeeded. You successfully placed information in front of your customer and they consumed. This is an earned media success story.
  • Traditional Owned Media and Social: Social media is the primary stakeholder of owned media and focuses on content published to the channels you control, such as your blog, Facebook Page, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google +, Vine, Pinterest, etc. The good news is you own the channel so you have 100% control of the message. The tricky part is that you lack control of what happens once you push the message. Since social media only becomes social when you engage and start a conversation with your public, there is a certain risk factor inherent in social and therefore in your owned media.  However, that risk is handsomely rewarded if your content becomes viral and, like a PR win, drives people to your website.

What’s Changing?

Content Marketing Blurs the Lines between Owned and Earned Media

To illustrate my point, let’s look at this very article. By posting it on my own blog, I have published it on an owned media channel and it’s a content marketing or social media success. If I were to take the exact same post and give it to my friend Doug Karr to post on Marketing Tech Blog it would become earned media, or a PR success.

Content marketers shake things up: our primary goal is engagement and that’s one of the reasons I am so proud and excited to be a content marketer. If you are a content marketer, you develop a story or message that you believe will resonate with your customer and craft it into a story or piece of online content. Content format can range from blog posts to video, to SlideShare, to podcast, to webinar and so on. The content can be published through many different channels: some are owned channels, some are earned. For instance, a blog post could go on your own blog (owned) or it could be placed on a 3rd party blog as a guest post (you write the content, but the channel and the media is earned).

Regardless of where your content started, once it’s being shared socially you’re getting earned media.  The great thing about social media as a channel is that there are no diminishing returns.

The content you’ve created lives on the Internet and, as customers find it, you the content marketer have driven new traffic to your website. The traffic numbers you draw can be small or large, a slow trickle or a flood. Regardless, you have succeeded when your customer Googles something of interest and finds your content.

In the end, it doesn’t matter much whether a piece of content is PR or social, earned or owned. What matters is that as marketers we understand and, most importantly, take advantage of the blurred lines and crossovers between disciplines. Now is where I sound like a broken record: don’t silo your efforts; integrate your teams for a more powerful marketing ROI.

Even if the lines between earned and owned get so blurry that we stop using the terms “owned” and “earned” all together, we’ll always have this blog post to remind us of the time we witnessed one of many marketing evolutions. To find it, just Google “Meltwater Tom Skerritt” and you’ll surely find this article.

*I do not know Tom Skerritt, that was just a name drop example. But, wouldn’t that be super cool? And there’s a pop culture reference hidden in its inclusion in this blog post, anyone know it? Anyone?