Media Planning & Buying

Brands as ‘Friends’: How Advertisers Can Use Digital to Connect Paid, Earned & Owned

February 22, 2012

Prior to the Digital Age, the traditional advertising model was fairly cut and dry, with paid placements running across radio, newspapers, magazines, billboards and television. But when websites began to proliferate and, with them, advertising opportunities, us media people got our sticky fingers on it as quickly as possible. Standard banners were placed across websites like stamps on envelopes.

After the initial excitement wore down, people began to view online ads less positively, generalizing them as nothing more than commercial interruptions from what they really wanted to see. If they could fast forward through commercials on VCRs and then DVRs, why should they be held up in their digital experiences? Advertisers had to get smarter in order to capture the attention of a relevant audience and make a brand stand out in a marketplace of options. And as any good media planner will ask, “What’s next?”

While the paid media landscape continues to evolve, brands have increasingly invested in earned and owned media. Earned media includes digital platforms where brands can freely engage with fans or followers through more organic activities, such as page posts, tweets or distributed content. When someone other than the brand shares or comments on brand content within the owned environment, it becomes earned media.


Today, Facebook and Twitter are the prime hotbeds for earned media activities. Some would say that social networking sites provide a softer landing for users or, rather, work harder during the awareness and consideration phase of the purchase process. Instead of screaming, “Buy this!” (paid media), brands are instead saying, “Like me,” “Be my friend” and “Talk to my other friends” (earned media).

For social platforms to be effective marketing vehicles, consumers must engage with the brand’s content and with each other. As more brands have begun to invest in social platforms, it becomes harder for brands to drive engagement from their target consumers. Why? The space is more competitive and there is less real estate (e.g. space in a person’s Facebook News Feed or Twitter stream) for the brands. To solve this problem, platforms like Facebook and Twitter are introducing paid ad products to help drive stronger engagement and provide deeper insights that allow marketers to connect the activity within their paid, owned and earned channels.

Below are three core benefits of taking an integrated approach to managing paid, earned and owned media.

1. Paid media can help grow an audience that is more likely to engage. Facebook Insights provide a tremendous amount of data around what types of people are engaging with earned media content. Engagement is important for any brand actively managing a Facebook community. Leveraging these insights to develop more targeted Facebook media campaigns can increase the quality of fans and drive higher engagement rates on content.

As an example, our media team recently collaborated with our community management team to drive paid media performance for one of 360i’s large retail clients. Based on insight from the community team that multiple choice questions on the brand’s Facebook wall resulted in higher fan engagement, the media team bought a Polls ad unit for the Homepage on Black Friday. Not surprisingly, the unit exceeded benchmarks with an engagement rate 70 percent higher than the campaign average.

2. Earned media content can increase interaction with paid efforts. Both Twitter and Facebook offer advertisers the ability to utilize earned media content in their paid placements. Bravo, a 360i client, leverages its earned media on Twitter through paid, Promoted Tweets. Even though brand followers will see Bravo’s tweets about new shows and tune-ins, Bravo repurposes these organic tweets through paid media to increase its followers and fan base.

USA Network (also a 360i client) utilizes Promoted Tweets in different way to spark conversations around its shows. When Twitter users search for relevant keywords, such as show titles like, “Burn Notice”, the Promoted Tweet will show at the top of the results.

3. Paid media can help surface owned or earned content through more traditional media placements. In addition to Sponsored Stories and Promoted Tweets, brands can also utilize more traditional digital media placements to feature owned and earned content. 360i client Direct General wanted to increase brand awareness by utilizing its existing owned media. The brand had offline TV assets that the media team was able to repurpose online. Through paid media, the media team was able to lift awareness by pushing the video across websites and adding share functionality on the videos. In addition to thousands of shares on Facebook, sales, engagement and searches outperformed past benchmarks thanks to owned, paid and earned operating in harmony.

As brands continue to invest in their earned channels by creating digital content, paid media will become a more critical piece of the activation. This isn’t new, but publishers are finally beginning to develop advertising products to allow this to happen more seamlessly. When working in tandem, paid and earned can create a virtuous cycle – building engaged audiences who interact with content and influence their friends to do the same.

-Jamie Dorfman is a Media Supervisor at 360i.