Paid, Owned, and Earned Media Models Explained in Simple Terms

Navigating all the possible ways to communicate with online users and promote your brand can be tricky. The digital landscape offers dozens of channels through which to reach consumers. As you create your marketing strategy, categorizing your outreach into paid, owned, and earned media can help you build a cohesive formula that leverages content at the right place, and right time. 

Paid, owned, and earned media models work together to help you grow your brand, generate leads, and meet your business goals. Understanding how each of these models works together is key to customer acquisition, conversion, and retention. This guide will break down each of the three models to help you create a strategy for your company.

What are paid, owned, and earned media?

Paid, owned, and earned media make up a simple framework that categorizes your marketing messaging and context into three buckets. These buckets contextualize the ways in which your company can make customers aware of your brand, cultivate familiarity with your product, and ultimately convert someone into a paid customer. 

Here’s a graphic illustrating how a brand might use this paid, owned, and earned media for customer acquisition:

Customer acquisition through paid media, earned media and owned media

(Image source)

Paid, earned, and owned media work together to make up your digital marketing strategy. If you do any online marketing, those assets will fall into at least one of these three categories. 

Each type of media is necessary to grow your brand, generate leads, and meet your business goals. Keep in mind that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to leveraging paid, owned, and earned media. Most experts recommend you allocate some resources across all three categories. This can take some time, so prepare to test various tactics iteratively to learn how to make the most of paid, owned, and earned media and maximize your marketing ROI. 

Before we get into how to best use paid, owned, and earned media, let’s dive deeper into what each type of media is and what it can offer your business.

Paid Media

Paid media includes any marketing that your business pays for. The role of paid media is to drive people to view your existing content, like your social media channels or website, or encourage them to make a purchase. Paid media is virtually synonymous with advertising. In the past, it would have encompassed things like TV advertisements, radio ads, and print media. 

Examples of paid media

Paid media assets are almost always advertisements. This can be any type of advertisement you see online: banner ads, Facebook ads, pay-per-click ads, display ads, retargeting, and affiliate/referral marketing programs. Paid media can also include video sponsorships or sponsored content on third-party websites.

Some companies still opt for offline print ads, which is another form of paid media. However, when you put your ad in a magazine or up on a billboard, it can be difficult to pinpoint its success. People may see your ad and buy your product from it, but you can’t track the customer journey to understand why they did so. As a result, it’s better to invest your paid media budget into digital assets that are easier to measure. 

Paid media: pros and cons

Paid media can be challenging because you have to pay for it. This form of marketing can get expensive quickly if you haven’t done the proper research to target the right audiences. Nevertheless, it’s an important part of your marketing strategy and can do some of the heavy lifting when it comes to identifying search patterns for your category and business. 

Consider some of these advantages and disadvantages of paid media before purchasing any ads.


  • Receive results immediately—get instant feedback based on shares, click through rate 
  • Test and track content to see what attracts the most clicks 
  • Understand who your product or service appeals to with audience segmentation
  • Control the messaging; you write the ads 
  • Easy to target the right people for your brand


  • You only receive leads for as long as you’re paying for the ad—once the campaign ends, so does your lead generation
  • ROI varies widely—ads become more expensive as competition increases in your niche
  • Costs the most of the three main types of marketing models

How to use paid media

Ideally, your paid, owned, and earned media will form a holistic marketing strategy. Most people use paid media to boost the impact of their earned and owned media. Paid ads can increase brand awareness by 80%. Whether you’re first starting out, switching up your strategy, or have a campaign coming up that you want some extra views on, paid media is an important tool for delivering ROI in your marketing.  

How you use paid media will also depend on the maturity of your business. For instance, new businesses can leverage paid media to drive more traffic to your website or social media pages and secure more leads for your company. If you’re just starting out and your organic posts aren’t bringing in the engagement you were hoping for, purchase a few paid posts to help get the word out about your company. From there, you can refine your owned and earned media to continue to engage your audience.

Paid media allows you to be specific in your ad targeting. For example, when you pay for a Facebook ad, you can narrow down your audience to reach certain viewers based on their age, location, gender, language, and more. Paid media channels can help you dig deeper to understand which consumers are responding to your marketing messages. 

Owned Media

Owned media consists of content that you publish, including conversations that you generate among your followers on channels your company owns and controls. Owned media makes up your content strategy. You control the content—meaning you choose where and when it’s published. And, you can always create more of it with the goal of reaching your audience in an organic way.

[Read more: Using Owned and Earned Media to Build Brand Credibility]  

Examples of owned media

A company’s website is often its biggest piece of owned media. That means your website should be kept updated and user-friendly if you want people to take your brand seriously. More than 80% of consumers think less of a brand if its website is outdated. 

Other owned media channels include email marketing, podcasts, and online events, such as webinars, Q&As, or virtual workshops. A huge portion of owned media takes place on your social media accounts via posts, stories, Tweets, Instagram Reels, and other videos. Video social media marketing in particular resonates with consumers. 

Owned media: pros and cons

Owned media costs less than paid media—though costs are variable—and carries a high return on investment. This type of content can help you build your brands, appeal to your audiences, and develop authority and thought leadership on online platforms. But, there are challenges to using owned media, too.


  • Provides a high degree of control, since businesses create the content and determine where it is placed (on social media or other owned channels)
  • Owned content is permanent; it lives on the channels it was posted on. It can also be tweaked and modified as needed, allowing brands to keep their content relevant, fresh, and appealing to new audiences.  
  • Owned media can be leveraged to reach new and existing audiences by building a following or using keywords and meta tags to help SEO. 
  • High ROI: since most owned platforms are free, you can build relationships with your customers without paying for the exposure.  


  • Permanence can backfire, and any missteps can create negative publicity
  • It’s time-consuming to create a pipeline of original content
  • You have to share your content consistently or it won’t generate and sustain engagement

How to use owned media

Owned media is best utilized to create a following online through social media, blog posts, and email marketing. When you create helpful, funny, or emotionally engaging content, people are more likely to trust your brand. They may even share your content with their own networks, which expands your brand’s reach to your followers’ friends, family, and colleagues.

Generally, brands start by mastering their owned media before expanding into paid and earned media. This is because owned media is usually the last impression you make before someone converts. Your website, in particular, needs to be in good shape for your marketing strategy to work.

“There’s no reason to spend money on ads driving potential customers to a site that provides a poor experience. At best, you would be missing conversions and wasting your money. At worst, you would be compromising your brand’s credibility,” wrote M13, an early-stage consumer tech venture capital firm. 

Earned Media

Earned media includes all content around your brand that has been created by someone unrelated to your company and published in channels other than those your business controls. Any time your content is liked, shared, or retweeted, that becomes earned media. Earned media often happens organically, but you can also pay social media influencers or thought leaders in your industry with free products for them to review in exchange for a shout-out online.

Earned media is incredibly powerful. When someone talks about your brand favorably, it encourages others to trust your brand more. Potential customers can see that your brand is legitimate and trusted, and they’ll conclude that they should also employ your services or buy your products. 

Earned media can sometimes be tricky to track. Most marketers use a KPI known as Earned Media Value. Learn how to calculate EMV in this guide: Earned Media Value: What You Need to Know

Examples of earned media

Since any recommendation online can be earned media, this category of content takes many forms. The most common earned media is obtained through social media channels when users like, comment on, or share your content. However, it can also include other websites or news articles linking to your company’s website.

Common examples of earned media include: 

  • Social media posts recommending your product, business, or service 
  • Shares, retweets, or comments on your social media comment 
  • Reviews on sites such as Google, Yelp, or Amazon 
  • Influencer marketing 
  • Unsponsored blogs promoting your products or services 
  • Radio and media coverage discussing your product or service 
  • Professional recommendations and credentialing (e.g., recommendations from an association)

Earned media: pros and cons

Earned media is a great way to get the word out about your brand and help your company appear more trustworthy to consumers. People who hear about a product, brand, or service from a friend are four times more likely to make a purchase. But it can be difficult to calculate ROI accurately.


  • Earned media builds trust; consumers trust user-generated content 50% more than other types of posts
  • Increase brand awareness and reach due to others sharing content about your brand to their audiences
  • Earned media can help you build thought leadership
  • Increase conversion rates—if a customer is scrolling a product page and some UGC appears, the conversion rate bumps up 8.5%


  • It can be difficult to measure the ROI of earned media
  • Because you’re relying on other people, earned media is outside your company’s control
  • Earned media may lead to negative press if you aren’t sufficiently engaged in online conversations about your brand

How to use earned media

Certain strategies can help your company gain recognition with earned media. You can encourage others to post about your brand by working with influencers, micro influencers, or simply asking loyal customers to share their love for your business. You could also host an online contest or giveaway to encourage entrants to post about your product or service. 

One incredibly valuable source of earned media is your existing team of employees. A formal employee advocacy program can encourage staff to post company links on their personal social media pages. People are 16 times more likely to read a post from a friend about a brand than the company’s actual post. Your employees can be a huge asset when it comes to earned media, so you should make the process of sharing content about your brand as easy for them as possible.

Level Up Your Earned Media with Clearview Social

To amplify your earned media strategy, use the best tool at your disposal: your employees. Clearview Social’s simple social sharing tools make it easy for your employees to contribute to your earned media campaign. Our platform includes one-click email sharing straight from your employee’s inboxes, so they can share curated content to their personal pages in seconds.

Our platform offers:

  • One-click email sharing, which lets you send an email full of pre-approved content that your employees can share in seconds.
  • Article queue builders that help you create planned posts in advance and schedule them for distribution to your team and your owned media channels.
  • PeakTime AI, a smart algorithm that understands the best time to share social content when your target audience is online and schedules it accordingly. 

Start generating more earned media by trying a free demo with Clearview Social today.