Owned vs. Rented Attention

under Inbound Marketing.

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Effective content strategy is built upon many different tactics, each of which play a specific role as part of the whole. There are different types of media to consider as part of a holistic content strategy, and each has a different purpose. You can also slice these media types by even simpler terms: paid and unpaid parts of your flywheel.

To start with the basics, the three types of media are owned, earned, and paid. Understanding the difference between them is an integral part of weaving them into your content strategy as a way to achieve your objectives. Let's break it down.

Understanding Paid Media, Earned Media, and Owned Media

Paid Media

This one is pretty straightforward. As the online marketplace becomes noisier and more crowded, paid media provides a way to promote your content and augment organic traffic. Paid media provides additional exposure...at a price. There are various channels through which you can purchase paid exposure, including social media platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. There are also tools like Taboola and Outbrain that offer native advertising options for your content.

The channels on which you choose to amplify your content are important. LinkedIn and Twitter can be most effective for B2B audiences while facebook can move the needle for B2C. You can find a number of guides on how to set up paid campaigns across different channels, but you should always be testing your campaigns and tweaking according to performance.

Earned Media

Earned media is exposure you gain through word-of-mouth. This happens several ways:

  • Great content you created is discovered and shared (or goes viral)
  • SEO efforts boost the visibility of your content organically
  • Fans and evangelists of your company spread the word to their audiences
  • Something newsworthy about your content or brand catches the eye of a journalist, who publishes a story referencing you

This organic amplification of your content and brand by third-party sources all falls under the earned media umbrella. At times, this earned media is intentional (you distribute a noteworthy press release that gets picked up by journalists or reach out to influencers in your vertical that want to help spread the word), but in many cases, it is the result of simply producing great content.

Earned media has evolved from the more traditional public relations activities to include a variety of tactics. For example HARO (help a reporter out) provides three digests per day with inquiries from journalists and other publishers to which brands can provide answers and insights and gain exposure in new publications. Additionally, forums like Quora and reddit make it possible for anyone to reply to outstanding questions or to help troubleshoot issues while also gaining exposure and building trust for their brand.

Owned Media

Owned media is just as it sounds - it's the content and communication channels you have total control and ownership over. This includes your website, blog, social media profiles, tumblr accounts, email, and any other content hubs or communication methods you manage. The greater the sphere of your owned media, the more you are able to extend your brand presence online.

Attention for Rent: The Temporary Nature of Rented Attention

It's important to actively maintain your owned media channels (namely, your website and blog), and they should serve as the primary content hub of your online presence. Why? Because all other channels are simply rented space, and to be frank, you could be evicted at any time.

The best strategy is to produce your most meaningful content on your website and blog, pointing back to it from social channels. While social channels technically fall under the "owned" category, they don't contribute to your SEO as powerfully as your website and blog. If you were to write up a great post and post is straight to Facebook, you would derive less of an SEO benefit than you would had you posted that entry on your blog and pointed back to it in a Facebook update.

That said, there are ways to move the organic needle with social media, albeit more temporarily. If you are a brand with a large following and you posted a tweet with a strong anchor (link to a detailed article, infographic or video), a compelling title, and supporting copy that is optimized for search queries, there's a good chance that post will be picked up in the top section of SERPs. As more timely or relevant updates and stories gain traction, however, that post will fade into the past.

Social Media channels are optimal as broadcast channels and to interact with influencers. Think of it like the game of telephone. On social, your message has the ability get amplified, shared with a greater audience, and repurposed as others reference your message. Over time, that message fades (and sometimes becomes distorted from the original intent). Your website and blog are like transcripts of a phone call. The details are always available, in their full and optimized form, for people to reference, point to, and for search engines to rank.