What is paid, owned, earned media – and how to make the most of yours? Click here to find pre-vetted digital professionals to help align your goals with your media strategy.

Paid, owned, and earned media play a pivotal role in helping businesses reach both their target audience and marketing objectives. But what exactly are paid, owned, and earned media? How do they differ, and how can you measure their effectiveness? 

In this guide, we delve into these questions. We provide examples, discuss the pros and cons of each one, explore how they interact, and share insights on how to measure and gauge results.

The Basics: Paid vs. Owned vs. Earned Media

Media is a means of mass communication that refers to the various channels and methods companies, people, or organizations use to promote their products or services. It can include paid advertising, owned assets, and earned media generated through customer advocacy.

Before we take a deep dive into the vast world of media and social media marketing, let’s gain a clear understanding of what paid, owned, and earned media actually mean.

What Is Paid Media?

As the name suggests, paid media refers to any form of paid advertising or promotion. This includes traditional advertising channels like television, radio, and print media, as well as more modern digital platforms such as search engine ads, social media ads, and sponsored content. Paid media give brands control over content, placement, and targeting, allowing them to reach a specific audience. 

What Is Owned Media?

Owned media refers to the channels and assets that a company owns and controls. This includes websites, blogs, social media pages (not ads), mobile apps, podcasts, and email newsletters. Like paid media, an owned media channel gives you complete control over the content and messaging, providing an opportunity to build a loyal following and establish a brand identity.

What Is Earned Media?

Earned media, also known as “word-of-mouth” or “organic” media, is generated through customer advocacy and interactions. It includes publicity, mentions, reviews, social media shares, and recommendations. With less control over the content, earned media strategies showcase the quality of a product or service through voluntary endorsements by customers and influencers.

With a clear understanding of the three media types, let’s explore them further and uncover how they fit into your marketing efforts. Chances are, you’re already using one or more of them.

Paid Media: Driving Awareness and Reach

Paid media plays a crucial role in driving awareness and building or growing a brand. By investing in paid advertising, businesses can tap into various channels to promote their products or services to a specific target audience. 

For reference, paid media is sometimes referred to as outbound or interruptive marketing. Basically, both terms refer to the directionality of the media —from the marketer outward. Similarly, paid media aims to interrupt and then capture the attention of the audience.

Here are a few examples of paid media channels:

  • Pay-per-click (PPC) ads on search engines like Google
  • Display ads on websites and mobile apps
  • Social media ads (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn)
  • Influencer partnerships 
  • Sponsorships (podcast, local organizations, events)
  • Television commercials
  • Radio advertisements
  • Print media ads (newspapers, magazines)

Pros of Paid Media:


Paid media offers control over the content, messaging, placement, and targeting. You typically have the power to tailor your ads to specific demographics, interests, and locations, ensuring your message reaches the right audience.

Immediate Results

With paid media, you can quickly generate visibility and reach a wider audience. By targeting specific keywords or demographics, you can drive traffic and conversions. However, different mediums offer different levels of immediacy. For example, PPC tends to provide faster, more targeted results than print media ads.

Scaling Opportunities

Paid media allows you to scale your advertising efforts based on your budget and objectives. You can increase or decrease your ad spend as needed and adjust your campaigns to optimize performance.

Cons of Paid Media:


Paid media can be costly, especially if you’re targeting highly competitive keywords or demographics. Options like TV commercials are also expensive. Long story short, it takes a significant budget to sustain continuous paid media campaigns.

Ad Fatigue

With the abundance of ads bombarding consumers daily, there’s a risk of ad fatigue. People may become immune to ads or develop ad-blocking habits, making it more challenging to capture their attention.

Limited Credibility

Paid ads, although attracting attention, may not carry the same level of credibility as organic or earned media. Consumers are often aware that paid ads are promotional in nature, which can sometimes result in skepticism or distrust.

Measuring Paid Media:

To measure the effectiveness of your paid media efforts, it’s essential to track key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics that align with your marketing goals. Here are a few commonly used metrics in the more modern paid media options like PPC, display, and social media ads:

  1. Impressions: The number of times your ad is displayed or seen by users
  1. Click-through Rate (CTR): The percentage of people who click on your ad
  1. Conversion Rate: The percentage of users who complete a desired action, such as making a purchase or filling out a form
  1. Return on Ad Spend (ROAS): The revenue generated for every dollar spent on social media advertising. Check out this ROAS calculator to help crunch the numbers.
  1. Cost per Click (CPC): The average cost incurred for each click on your ad
  1. Cost per Acquisition (CPA): The average cost incurred to acquire a new customer or lead

By monitoring these metrics, you can assess the performance of your paid media campaigns, identify areas for improvement, and optimize your overall paid media strategy.

You can track your digital channels through intuitive dashboards, such as Google Analytics or other third-party options. It is generally more of a challenge to track the effectiveness of traditional channels such as TV or print ads that do not offer real-time data or feedback. 

Owned Media: Building Brand Authority and Engagement

Owned media provides businesses with the opportunity to build a strong brand presence and engage directly with their audience. Owned media channels are assets that companies have control over and can use to showcase their expertise, share valuable content, and foster relationships with customers. Here are some examples of owned media channels:

  • Company websites and blogs
  • Social media pages and profiles
  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Mobile apps
  • Email newsletters
  • Podcasts or video channels

There are no strict rules for what constitutes owned media. Some marketers go so far as to argue that methods like PPC are also owned media.

Pros of Owned Media:

  • Control and Flexibility: With owned media, businesses have full control over the content, messaging, and branding. This allows for consistent brand representation and the ability to adapt content to meet specific objectives or target different segments.
  • Direct Audience Engagement: Owned media channels enable direct communication with your audience, fostering relationships, and building brand loyalty. You can engage in conversations, respond to feedback, and provide valuable information, establishing yourself as an authority in your industry.
  • Long-term Investment: Unlike paid media strategies, owned media assets continue to provide value over time. The content you create on your website, blog, or social media profiles can attract organic traffic, generate leads, and contribute to long-term brand visibility.

Cons of Owned Media:

  • Initial Investment: Building and maintaining owned media channels requires an initial investment of time, resources, and expertise. Developing quality content, SEO, and managing social media accounts can take months to see true results
  • Limited Reach: Owned media channels rely on users actively seeking out and engaging with your brand. It may take time and effort to build a significant audience and expand your reach beyond your existing audience (SEO can help expedite the process). 
  • Dependence on Algorithms: The visibility of your owned media content can be influenced by search engine algorithms or social media platform algorithms. Changes in these algorithms may impact your organic reach, visibility, and engagement.

Measuring Owned Media:

Measuring the effectiveness of your owned media strategy is imperative. Say a brand has a noticeable uptick in website traffic one month and a sizable drop the next. The thing is that they didn’t make any strategy changes over that time. What’s the story there? Proper use of data allows you to gauge the impact of your content and engagement strategies. 

Here are some metrics to consider when measuring owned media performance:

  1. Website Traffic: Monitor the number of visitors to your website, as well as the sources of traffic (organic, direct, referral).
  1. Engagement Metrics: Track metrics such as likes, comments, shares, and follower growth on social media platforms.
  1. Conversion Metrics: Measure the number of leads generated, email sign-ups, or form submissions.
  1. Time on Page: Analyze how long users spend on your website or blog pages, indicating their interest and engagement with your content.
  1. Bounce Rate: Assess the percentage of visitors who leave your website after viewing only one page. A high bounce rate may indicate a need for improved content or user experience.

By analyzing these metrics and using web analytics tools, you can gain insights into the effectiveness of your owned media efforts. This data helps you refine your content marketing strategy, optimize user experience, and enhance audience engagement.

Earned Media: The Power of Word-of-Mouth

Earned media refers to the organic exposure and publicity that your brand receives. You can think of it like public relations. Earned media includes positive mentions, reviews, and shares from customers, influencers, or the media. It is often considered the most valuable form of media due to its authenticity and credibility. Examples of earned media include:

  • Customer reviews and testimonials
  • Social media mentions and shares
  • Influencer endorsements
  • Media coverage and press mentions

Pros of Earned Media:

  • Credibility and Trust: Earned media carries a high level of credibility since it is based on genuine experiences and recommendations from satisfied customers or trusted influencers. In a nutshell, it helps build trust and confidence in your brand.
  • Reach and Amplification: Earned media has the potential to reach a broader audience than paid or owned media alone. Positive word-of-mouth and recommendations from brand evangelists can lead to increased brand visibility and organic growth. 
  • Cost-Effective: While there may be initial investments in providing excellent products or services and building relationships with influencers or media outlets, the exposure and impact of earned media can far outweigh the costs.

Cons of Earned Media:

  • Lack of Control: Unlike paid or owned media, you have limited control over the content and timing of earned media. Positive or negative mentions can arise spontaneously, making it challenging to manage or shape the narrative.
  • Negative Publicity: While positive earned media can be highly beneficial, negative publicity or negative reviews can also spread organically, potentially damaging your brand’s reputation. It is essential to proactively address customer concerns and monitor online conversations to mitigate negative impacts.
  • Dependency on External Factors: Earned media relies on external parties or platforms, such as customers, influencers, review sites, or media outlets, to voluntarily promote your brand. Therefore, you cannot solely rely on earned media for consistent brand exposure. What you gain in trust, you sacrifice in terms of controlling the narrative.

Measuring Earned Media:

Measuring the impact and reach of earned media can be more challenging than other digital marketing strategy efforts. However, there are several ways to gauge the effectiveness of your earned media efforts:

  1. Social Media Engagement: Monitor the number of likes, shares, comments, and mentions your brand receives on social media platforms. These interactions indicate the level of engagement and advocacy from your audience.
  1. Brand Mentions: Keep track of online mentions of your brand across various platforms, including social media, blogs, and forums. Google Alerts is one such option that lets you know whenever a specific word or brand name is used. Tools like social listening (more below) software can also help you identify and measure brand mentions.
  1. Referral Traffic: Analyze the traffic to your website or landing pages from external sources. By tracking the number of visitors referred by other websites or social media platforms, you can measure the impact of earned media on driving traffic. One option here would be to use UTM (urchin tracking parameters) attached to owned media. 
  1. Customer Reviews and Ratings: Pay attention to customer reviews and ratings on platforms like Yelp, Google Reviews, or industry-specific review sites. Positive reviews can indicate the effectiveness of your products or services and contribute to your brand reputation. To show you’re listening, you should reply to all reviews of your brand.
  2. Social Listening Tools: Social listening tools like Sprout Social or Brandwatch provide valuable insights into online conversations about your brand by monitoring mentions, sentiment, and trends across social media channels. The AI-powered tools enable real-time data gathering, identifying engagement opportunities, and addressing potential issues.

Keep in mind that earned media is not directly controllable. Instead, the goal is to nurture positive relationships with customers, influencers, and the media to increase the likelihood of generating organic brand mentions and endorsements.

The Interplay Between Paid, Owned, and Earned Media

Paid, owned, and earned media are not mutually exclusive. In practice, they are (or should be) interconnected components of a comprehensive marketing strategy. 

Understanding how these different types of media work together can help you maximize their impact and achieve your marketing goals. 

Here are some ways that paid, owned, and earned media can interact:

  1. Paid Media Supporting Owned and Earned Media: By investing in paid advertising campaigns, you can increase the visibility and reach of your owned media assets. For example, promoting your social media posts or social media content through paid channels can drive more traffic, engagement, and potential for earned media. Paid media can act as a catalyst to amplify the impact of your owned media efforts.
  1. Owned Media Driving Earned Media: Compelling owned media assets, such as engaging blog posts, informative videos, or interactive content, can generate interest and stimulate organic sharing and recommendations. When your owned media provides value and resonates with your audience, it has the potential to attract attention, generate conversations, and lead to earned media opportunities.
  1. Earned Media Informing Paid and Owned Media Strategies: Analyzing earned media can provide valuable insights into your audience’s preferences, interests, and perceptions of your brand. By understanding the topics, messages, or campaigns that generate positive earned media, you can refine your paid and owned media strategies to align with what resonates with your audience and drives results.
  1. Integration and Consistency: Maintaining consistency across paid, owned, and earned media is crucial for building a strong and cohesive brand presence. The visual elements, messaging, and values should align across all media channels to create a seamless brand experience for your audience. Integrating these branding guidelines ensures that each media type reinforces and enhances the impact of the others.
  1. Tracking and Optimization: Continuously monitoring and measuring the performance of paid, owned, and earned media is essential for optimizing your marketing efforts. Analyze the data from each media type and identify opportunities for improvement. Adjust your strategies, content, or targeting based on the insights gained to achieve better results and a more effective overall marketing strategy.

Remember, the goal is to leverage the strengths of each media type while considering how they can complement and support one another. By integrating paid, owned, and earned media strategically, you can create a powerful and cohesive marketing ecosystem that generates maximum impact and drives business growth.

Bringing It All Together

Understanding the distinctions between paid, owned, and earned media helps brands develop a comprehensive marketing strategy. Each type of media offers unique advantages and considerations, and they work together to enhance your brand’s visibility, reach, and impact.

Ultimately, a well-rounded marketing strategy incorporates all three media types—paid, owned, and earned—in a harmonious interplay. 

Cohesive Media Made Easy – With Credo

Your paid, earned, and owned media strategy is only as good as the team executing it. Choosing a top-flight, pre-vetted digital agency ensures that your media strategy runs right. 

If you need help creating high-touch brand media that registers with your audience, try Credo today. We connect businesses like yours with reputable marketing professionals.

Average rating:  
 0 reviews