Paid, Earned and Owned Are Dead

It’s absolutely perfect timing for this blog post (which I’ve been thinking about for the last month or so), hot on the heels of Altimeter Group’s report, released this week, titled, The Converged Media Imperative: How Brands Will Combine Paid, Earned and Owned Media.

It’s absolutely perfect timing for this blog post (which I’ve been thinking about for the last month or so), hot on the heels of Altimeter Group’s report, released this week, titled, The Converged Media Imperative: How Brands Will Combine Paid, Earned and Owned Media. It’s a great report that identifies and speaks to a trend we first saw emerge in 2009: the fact that multiple channels and multiple sources of content inevitably bring cross-pollination, which is an operational problem for the way most marketing and communications organizations are structured (while you can download our recent whitepaper on the subject, we’ve been speaking and writing about this topic since 2010, here’s a post that references much of our own past thinking around the challenges of convergence in paid, earned and owned media, as well as a link to a whitepaper on the same topic we co-authored with Digg in early 2010). I strongly suggest you read the Altimeter report – Social Media Group will be contributing case studies from our own client work to Altimeter as they support their new research into this topic on the speaking circuit this Fall.

So what do I mean by “Paid, Earned and Owned are Dead”? Simply: the distinctions we have made about content based on its origins and delivery methods are rapidly becoming meaningless. As our own public communications channels have multiplied and diversified in ways unimaginable just ten years ago, so do our forms of content. I’ll give you a real-world example (click on the links to see the actual activity illustrating my point):

Company A creates and  publishes an original article on the paid Forbes AdVoice platform. The article is shared by employees of Company A via their personal Twitter accounts. The Twitter followers of those employees, who have no affiliation with Company A, start to share the content as well on multiple channels.

Is that original article paid, earned or owned? The answer is, confusingly, yes; it’s all of those things.

That’s what I mean by my somewhat controversial headline – we need to stop thinking about content (and channels) by our old, singular, labels (paid = mass advertising, earned = PR, owned = your website) and recognize that there are absolutely no boundaries between these types of content. In fact, what we’re looking at is a flexible, fluid publishing and sharing continuum; how the original work was created does not define it. Instead, what matters most is what happens to that content once it’s released. I would argue that our new set of labels should be about quality/interactions, rather than source, and that what a piece of content is can’t be defined until someone has engaged with it (or not). Ideally, a piece of content, like the Forbes AdVoice example used earlier, could be all (or most) of these things, though in no particular order: owned by origin, paid to scale, earned because of its quality.

This reminds me of a concept I spoke about first at the Society for New Communications Research Annual Symposium a few years ago, and which was covered not long afterwards by the Financial Post: as marketers, as communicators, you need to focus on one simple thing: and that is making your content (your messages) good enough to steal. What your content gets labelled as afterwards will tell you just how well you did.

[More on how to leverage paid media to make the most of all types of earned media]