Paid, owned and earned media

There are countless ways to generate traffic and engagement for your brand online. They all come with unique requirements whether that be time or money or both. We'll cover how effective and difficult each of them is below.


What is paid media? 

We'll start here with the quickest, easiest and often the most expensive. Paid media encapsulates all advertising online and offline across mediums and platforms that charge you the privilege of showing to an audience on a large scale.

So you can include online advertising across Google, YouTube, Microsoft, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and more in this regard. You could also count radio, TV and billboard media but we'll stick to purely digital for this article.


How to generate the most success with paid media

There's plenty of options within paid media that can be overwhelming. Realistically, you only have to ask yourself a few questions before proceeding. How much budget can I afford to put into this? What kind of audience do I believe I have? What does success look like to me? Each of those questions will help shape your initial strategy. We say initial because nobody is a fortune teller so predicting the market and its response to your ads with 100% accuracy would be actual witchcraft and should be treated with great suspicion.

Budget is a very important first talking point. Without a doubt success in paid media is driven by data. More data equates to more success. Data comes in the form of ad views, ad clicks, site engagement, conversions and so forth. How do you get lots of that? You spend as much as you can afford. So what if you're working with a very small limited budget? Then this helps make decisions for you. Typically, the more extravagant the ad the more expensive. Creative and dynamic ad types on social media such as a Facebook canvas or lead form ad can be more expensive than smaller text-based ads.

Diverse Audience

Additionally, if you have quite a diverse audience for your service or product then you should speak to an expert about which platforms are worth focusing your attention on. With a larger budget, you'd be looking at showing on as many platforms as possible. But with a limited budget, you want to get the most return for your money. And the right platform depends massively on your audience. Pension scheme comparison services probably won't perform best on Tik Tok.

So success on paid media is driven by continuous refinement. Spend enough budget on a large number of areas and read the data. Where did you see an actual healthy return for your money? Trim the wastage and focus your budget on your best areas. Now, look at a more granular level. What time of day, postcode, age bracket and so on leads to the best return? Continue to streamline your budget over time and you should see great results.


Pros and cons to paid media:


  • Quick setup and results
  • Easily adapted
  • Certain campaigns are easily set up
  • Automation options
  • Tight control of budget and performance
  • Detailed performance data to optimise with
  • Prominent placement on search results, social feeds and display placements
  • Lots of creative and targeting options


  • Certain platforms, markets and ad types can be highly expensive
  • Certain markets such as insurance can be highly competitive
  • While the ads do help your brand awareness long term you will see a significant drop in results once you switch off the ads or spend all your budget
  • The platform your using may change their policies and disadvantage you


What is owned media?

Owned media speaks for itself. It’s yours. So the control is an obvious advantage. Owned media is your digital shop window. If you can get people to feel nostalgic about your website in 10 years time the way they reminisce about the strangely consistent smell inside a Blockbuster store then you’re onto something good.

Owned media includes your website, social media pages, blog, and any other content you offer up to the internet. Admittedly it’s quite misleading having these channels outside of paid media because none of these areas are really free. You still need to build and host a website. This takes time and money to get right. Social media may be free but making a strong impression on there will take a hell of a lot of time and energy and will of course be costly if you’re paying a social media expert to get the most out of it.

However, unlike paid media, once you’ve built everything up your costs are dropped significantly but your results remain. Sure, you need to maintain a website which is costly but the design and build of the website is done. If your site is well designed and structured then you’ll receive organic traffic from search results for free. You may even be successful enough to show at the very top of search results in essentially the same area as your paid media ads.


How to generate the most success with owned media:

Owned media comes down to good decision making. You need to be well informed and up to date with what’s relevant. Website designs go out of fashion, social media channels can go stale, blogs can dry up and so on.

With your website, you need to evaluate your audience and competitors. Research what users respond to best. What function does your site serve? Information gathering? Sales? Entertainment? How do you adapt the design, structure and content to best facilitate these needs?

Additionally, like paid media, you want to continuously refine this over time. Split test different website experiences with CRO. Change the colour of the add to basket button. Move the contact form around the page. Bulk out or reduce your content. Find out which decisions lead to the greatest CVR results and build from there.

Split Testing

Consistency is another key to owned media. When it comes to the content you produce on your site and social channels you need to be frequent but relevant. Are you offering value to your audience by posting another tweet? Your strategy needs to adapt to the feedback. Especially with social. If you’re last 10 posts have received no social engagement then it’s time to change tactic. Post at different times, post different content, provide a fresh incentive or simply reduce the frequency.

You may even consider changing your tone of voice to better capture your social audiences. If you’re selling mattresses then daily social posts about your latest mattress may fall on deaf ears with your existing audience and could earn you an unfollow. How about posting about maintenance tips instead? A behind the scenes look at how your mattress has been built? Let’s not pretend that a slow-motion video of the CEO sliding down a flight of stairs on a mattress to the tune of Ride of the Valkyries wouldn’t go down well.


Pros and cons to owned media:


  • Longer lasting
  • Cheaper in the long term than paid media
  • Can drive stronger results if done well
  • More creative control
  • Can strongly impact everything you do


  • High cost initially
  • Social media activity requires more consistent effort than paid media
  • More abstract and difficult to uncover a winning formula
  • Much slower at generating results than paid media


What is earned media?

We’re speaking about earned media last here because this is what you achieve for all your hard work. This comes in the form of social media comments or shares, product reviews and good old-fashioned word of mouth. Your ad can look fantastic and be perfectly optimised to your audience. Your website can be really engaging and stylish. Your social media channels can have some really good open dialogue on there with your customers. But all of that can be completely tarnished by 1 really influential negative review.

Online shopping has become a cautious and cynical landscape. We’ve all been stung at some point by a poor customer experience or product that fails to live up to what you paid. So while it’s all well and good seeing a great website and what seems like a great product matching all your needs in the description, who are you going to trust? Someone just like you in the same situation as you. If you're eyeing up a brand new trouser press on Amazon it doesn't matter how promising that product description reads. It all counts for nothing when Jez from Sheffield makes a comment about the strange burning smell coming from his trousers all day.


How to generate the most success with earned media:

Unfortunately, with earned media, there’s no real direct control. You can only do your best to supply the best possible service or product, a well designed and easy to use the website, regular dialogue and support with your customers on social media and well researched and targeted advertising. From there it’s out of your hands really.

Customer Reviews

With a lot of the things you do you’ll need to do everything well but you’ll also need a bit of luck and patience. You can publish something of great value on social media and receive nothing for your efforts. And on the other hand, you can publish something quite simple and meaningless and it somehow takes off.

So with earned media, the advice is to stick to it and not be discouraged by a lack of response. Continue to refine your approach and stay informed on the latest tactics and research. More than anything else this one takes time but has the greatest impact. The longer you go the easier it will get. Like the empty restaurant, you’ll find it harder to attract customers at first. But once things get busier and more active it’ll start to snowball.


Pros and cons to earned media:


  • Significantly better results from real customer feedback
  • Can provide you with direction on how to improve your service or product
  • Exponential growth


  • Difficult to achieve and takes the longest time
  • More abstract and difficult to tie a sale back to a particular review or social action



In conclusion, there are a lot of plates to spin here. There’s also a clear distinction over time and results. Some of your activities will drive effective results immediately. And other activities will drive stronger results but take much longer to achieve.

There’s a lot to consider when trying to spin all these plates so it’s always worth reaching out to a specialist to help guide you with specific strategies in each area of your business. And to help you keep everything moving in the right direction working in tandem.


Get in touch at any time if you need any advice or support and we’d be happy to help.