Paid vs. Owned vs. Earned Media: What's the Difference?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published November 2, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Marketing professionals consider several different variables when developing and implementing media strategies. Some of these variables include the particular type of media they might use for the promotion of an advertisement, piece of content or campaign. If you're interested in pursuing a marketing career, you may benefit from learning about these types. In this article, we define paid, owned and earned media, discuss their differences and provide a few tips for how to implement these strategies into your marketing plan.

Related: What Are Media Strategies? Types and Tips

What is paid media?

Paid media is a marketing tool that marketers use to increase the exposure of a particular ad campaign. Any time a marketing professional decides to pay for ad space, to promote a social media post or hire an affiliate marketer, they use paid media. Making this investment may boost the number of people who view the advertisement, or it could increase the amount of times a new user accesses your company website. A few different types of paid media include:

  • Display advertisements: Paying for a display advertisement means that another party displays your ad on their platform to increase your exposure. For example, you might pay for a company to display your ad on their social media feed.

  • Affiliate marketing: Paying for affiliate marketing means that you hire an influential person to promote your product or service on their personal platforms. This is a common strategy for social media marketing that equips companies to appeal to a wider audience.

  • Print ads: Paying for a nondigital ad, such as a print advertisement in a newspaper or magazine, is a common strategy. These ads may reach a different type of audience than your digital ads, based on the target audience of the particular publication.

  • TV commercials: Larger companies may decide to pay for TV commercials. These paid media sources may have a high return for exposure, yet they tend to cost a significant amount.

Related: 16 Types of Marketing Content To Engage Your Audience

What is owned media?

Owned media includes every piece of content that your company or marketing team designs, creates or produces. This type of media encompasses a wide range of content styles. However, owned media is unique to your brand, which provides opportunities to display creativity, uniqueness and the ability to differentiate your brand from others. Increasing the amount of owned media that your brand may offer more chances to extend the presence of your brand in digital and physical advertising spaces. Types of owned media may include:

  • Videos: Your brand may produce videos that describe products or focus on a particular campaign. These completed videos become the digital property of your brand.

  • Website: Your company website is a versatile source of owned media, as it provides a digital space for you to explain your company, discuss values and promote your product or service. Typically, you can customize your website extensively to ensure that it matches your brand effectively.

  • Social media: The content that your marketing team decided to post on social media is another type of owned media. Once you've posted a piece of content, whether it's a video, text or image, that content becomes linked to your brand.

  • Blog posts: If you decide to write and publish blog posts, those pieces of content become owned media. You can write posts that directly relate to a particular campaign, discuss your product or explain changes to your company.

Related: 10 Types of Social Media To Promote Your Brand

What is earned media?

Earned media is another important facet of digital and print marketing that interacts with both paid and owned media strategies. It relates to any type of publicity, exposure or marketing that exists outside of paid marketing. For example, the position of your company on the results page of a search engine is a type of earned media. Some types of earned media include:

  • Shares: The amount of times users share your social media content with their own followers is one metric of earned media. When they share, they freely expose your content to their own audience, which can lead to a heightened amount of views on a particular post.

  • Recommendations: Sometimes, another brand or someone with influence online may recommend your product or service. Rather than paying them to promote your company, they share a personal recommendation with their audience, which can increase traffic to your website or social media pages.

  • Content: The type of content that a marketing team produces determines what the company can earn back. For example, if the team produces an engaging social media post, there may be a higher chance of people sharing, reposting or commenting on the post.

Related: Complete Guide to Digital Marketing

Paid vs. owned vs. earned media

Paid, earned and owned media have key distinctions and similarities that are important for marketing professionals to understand. Here are a few main differences between the three types:


While each type of marketing comes with a price, the overall cost of each one may vary. Paid media costs change based on the type of marketing you buy. For example, a TV commercial may cost more than a newspaper advertisement. However, paid media isn't always the most expensive option. Owned media costs vary as well. It typically costs your company a variable price to produce content in-house, such as a video or specialized digital advertisement. While you may not pay an outside source, there is still a cost to the company for production.

Lastly, earned media involves focusing efforts on a target audience to increase the amount of people that view your content. For example, you might hire a public relations professional to conduct market research that helps your team highlight a new target audience. Then, the team uses the research to create publicity and exposure through various strategies, such as mentions or shares on social media.


While you may combine these media types into a comprehensive media strategy, each one requires consideration on its own. For example, with earned media, it's important to generate traffic to your owned or paid media through alternative sources. Your marketing team may strive to create content that has the potential to go viral on social media to help increase website traffic. For paid media, it's important to develop a strategy for types of media to share on specific platforms. It's best to choose a paid media outlet that addresses your target audience with potential for a high rate of exposure.

Finally, with owned media, you might consider the types of content that your target audience appreciates. For example, imagine your audience consists of young adults who recently graduated from college. One strategy may be to research which social media platforms that demographic uses the most and develop content specifically for that platform.

Related: Traditional Media vs. Digital Media in Marketing


The goals of each media type vary based on the individual strategies involved in each one. For earned media, the main goal may relate to an increase in traffic to your company website or to gaining a certain amount of new followers on a social media site. Paid media strategies may have the goal of directing viewers to engage with your company's sources of owned media that exist on your website. However, owned media strategy goals may entail the amount of viewers who see a particular piece of content or the conversion rate of new customers.

Tips for media planning

Paid, owned and earned media all serve different purposes in marketing strategy. However, each one is important to the development of a comprehensive media strategy. The amount of time you spend developing each type depends on the particular need of your company, but using all three may increase the effectiveness of your overall strategy. Some businesses may value paid media more highly, while others value the lower-cost options of earned and owned media. It's best to create a strategy that serves your company's purpose. Here are a few other tips for media planning:

  • Implement a flexible strategy. It's best to develop a strategy that has space for flexibility depending on the campaign or the timing. For example, you may typically rely on earned media to generate website traffic, but you can increase your paid media usage when you release a new product.

  • Let each type overlap. Each media type can interact with the others, such as using owned media for paid advertisements or paying an affiliate marketer to generate more views on your website. It's best to develop a strategy that incorporates each element.

  • Allocate resources. After you understand of which media type best suits your company, consider allocating your resources accordingly. It's best to contribute resources to each one, but you may benefit from prioritizing one over the others in a particular campaign.

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