Digital Media: Owned, Earned, Paid… Plus Shared, Free and Rented
The forms of digital media that organizations can leverage as part of their marketing and public relations efforts should include not just the traditional notions of owned, earned and paid, but also shared, free and rented. This article describes and provides examples of each type and offers some related thoughts.
The forms of digital media most commonly discussed in the context of marketing and public relations are owned, earned and paid. Recognizing additional options and important nuances, some people have expanded the forms to include free and shared. No one to my knowledge, however, has acknowledged that certain channels should be treated as rented rather than owned. Here’s how I would break down the digital media platforms, channels and tools available to organizations as part of their digital engagement efforts.
The common notion behind owned digital media is that it is generally considered a digital channel or property that an organization controls virtually 100 percent. In this context, control includes things like look and feel, types of content, and underlying functionality. Examples include self-hosted websites (and mobile sites if they’re maintained separately), blogs, on-line stores, and email services, as well as mobile apps.
Self hosting is the act of having your website [or other digital presence] totally under your control. This can include you managing all whole aspects of it, from setting up the web server to installing software, to simply managing [the] software…. This is usually accomplished by either renting your own server/virtual machine or, more commonly by using shared hosting. (source)
Most people treat what I consider rented digital media as if it’s the same as owned, but it’s not. With rented media, the level of control an organization has over the channel is limited – sometimes severely. With respect to websites, for example, organizations that opt for hosted solutions like SquareSpace and Wix have relatively limited options with respect to look and feel, included content types, and underlying functionality. The same is true for free blogging platforms like WordPress.com and Blogger.
Most email services (e.g., Constant Contact, Emma, Mail Chimp) are also essentially rented digital media, as are web-based meeting and screen-sharing services like GoToMeeting and join.me, and podcasting platforms like BlogTalkRadio.
Most importantly, although most people count social media presences (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, SnapChat) as owned digital media, treating them as rental properties is more accurate. Not only is the degree of control an organization has over how a social media presence is designed and managed restricted, every organization is essentially at the mercy of the platform. Algorithms on channels like Facebook, for example, determine whether and how content posted via a Facebook page gets shared with the page’s followers. Similarly, the functionality of social media channels is usually changed without warning or even notice, leaving the people responsible for those presences scrambling to adapt. And there are also privacy concerns, as noted in this article.
Paid digital media includes all paid forms of digital advertising, marketing, and public relations. Examples include search engine advertising (e.g., Google ads), banner and display ads on other websites (both via ad networks and direct), ads on social media channels, and ads in apps. It can also include digital forms of affiliate marketing, paid influencers, and paid content promotion (aka native advertising), as well as digital press releases and sponsorships.
Like owned, rented, and paid, free digital media is generally something organizations can leverage directly. Whereas the other media forms usually involve some kind of cash outlay, free digital media basically only requires an investment of time and effort. A prime example would be commenting on the blogs, online articles, and social media channels of others using the identity and/or voice of an organization or brand.
Organic search engine ranking is another form of free digital media. It generally results from optimizing website and blog content using relevant keywords.
Guest contributions to other websites, blogs, and digital magazines can also be considered forms of free digital media, as is syndicating an organization’s content on other sites (e.g., aggregators like Social Media Today and Business 2 Community).
Earned (and Shared)
Earned and shared digital media are often treated as a single category, because both basically involve references to and/or promotions of an organization or brand by a third party who has not been compensated. Some people refer to earned and shared media as “online word of mouth.” Examples include:
- Earned digital media: website and social media mentions of an organization, online reviews and recommendations, and digital press coverage.
- Shared digital media: the distribution/posting of an organization’s created content via email and social media, as well as reposting/retweeting social media content. Although more indirect, shared digital media can also include likes and comments on social media posts if that activity is easily visible to others (e.g., via Facebook’s Ticker). Content that has been republished by another website at their initiative can also fall into this category if it includes proper attribution.
Caveats and Other Points
In the context of this discussion, digital media generally refers to the channels and/or means by which content is presented and/or shared. The forms the content itself takes, which can involve multiple media types (e.g., text, video, audio, infographic) is a separate discussion. Also excluded from this discussion are “means to an end” media like QR codes, radio-frequency identification (RFID), and location tracking.
In addition, considerations of cost in this context only involve the use of the digital media forms themselves. Obviously there are costs associated with leveraging each of them, including management tools (e.g., Hootsuite), in-house staff, and/or external service providers. Search engine ranking, for example, may be classified as free digital media, but search engine optimization often requires the dedicated efforts of someone well-versed in the tactic.
It’s also worth noting that the distinctions between various digital media forms can be a bit fuzzy, and that they’re likely to evolve as the related technologies evolve. Individuals with responsibility for digital engagement need to understand both the range of forms and the nuances among them, so that they can figure out the best mix of digital media to achieve the organization’s goals and objectives.
Which brings me to my last point: the various forms of digital media are not independent and mutually exclusive. They should be considered integrated elements of an overall digital engagement ecosystem that promotes convergence and cross-pollination across the different options as part of a holistic marketing and public relations strategy.
As always, I welcome your feedback. What questions has this piece raised for you? What would you add to, change, or delete from the digital media forms, descriptions, and examples I proposed?