When I first entered the public relations profession shortly after college, we typically heard about two types of media: earned media and paid media. Thanks to technology-driven changes, social media and owned media have become increasingly prevalent communication tools in recent years.
Paid media refers to tools such as traditional advertising and direct mail. While the content of paid advertising is controlled by the advertiser, it can be costly, and is viewed with less credibility than other types of media.
Earned media typically refers to media activity such as news coverage that is not directly generated by an organization. Tactics commonly used to generate earned media coverage include news releases, press statements, press conferences, and special events designed to make news. Positive earned media coverage can significantly bolster an organization’s credibility and reputation. However, there is no guarantee that a media outlet will cover your story and, if they do, there is no guarantee that the story will communicate the message you desire.
Social media has become an increasingly important communication tool over the past decade, and many organizations have successfully utilized it to market their services or communicate with key audiences. While social media can be extremely effective, you would be well-served to NOT put all of your communication eggs in the social media basket. First, there is no guarantee that the dominant social media network of today will be a major player tomorrow. Remember Myspace? Additionally, social media platforms can change the rules of the game, and there is nothing you can do about it. Further, some users are abandoning certain social platforms because they disagree with political stances taken by those platforms. If your marketing efforts are limited to those networks, you’ll miss out on those who have left.
This brings me to owned media. Owned media refers to content generated in channels controlled by you or your company. Many major companies have transformed their online news pages into full-blown newsrooms. Their newsrooms include news releases, blogs, feature articles, videos, and more – all of which are written by the companies or their communication agencies. A company newsletter is another example of an earned media tool, and a well-done newsletter can drive traffic to your online newsroom.
I’m not saying you should abandon or ignore social media altogether; just don’t put all of your eggs into one basket that is controlled by someone else. Build your owned media platform, and then use social media, paid media and earned media to drive traffic to that platform – which you own and control.
Frank Williams is president of Pioneer Strategies, a public relations and strategic communication firm based in Leland.