The Concept of Shared Content

Everyone who works in marketing has likely heard the terms earned, owned and paid media. The traditional definitions of these terms is usually something like the following:

Earned media - press coverage gained by the PR team.

Owned media - a company’s website, newsletter and assets that are controlled completely by them. Brand social media accounts have also started to be bundled within owned.

Paid media - advertising - be it broadcast, print or online. This could also extend to social media in terms of promoted or sponsored content.

I’ve been thinking about these terms more and more and keep coming back to the realization that they don’t adequately define the marketing world we currently live in.

Something’s missing.

Social media isn’t really owned, is it? Sure, a brand can control its Facebook page. What if there’s a negative, substantiated comment left on a post though? A brand shouldn’t delete it. That goes against everything we’ve learned about social media being an open, transparent space. They have to reply to try and change the direction of the post back in their favor. Now go back and look at that definition of “Owned media” I gave. Does that brand really still have control of that conversation?


I’ve seen a number of visual representations of the earned/owned/paid definitions. Most commonly, it seems to be displayed as a three circled Venn diagram with the overlapping section of the three circles classified as social media. I could see that. To a certain extent I could listen to an argument that social media content has components that are owned and earned. However, not all social media is paid.

Another representation I’ve seen is Edelman’s Media Cloverleaf. This visual is slightly better than the Venn diagram. The fourth content bucket in their cloverleaf is “hybrid,” which they define as social - Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the like. Social is somewhat a hybrid, but I still don’t love the hybrid terminology. It's not always a hybrid of all three other content buckets.

Both of these examples have some gray area to the definitions. And that’s ok. I like gray area. It provides an opportunity for creativity and change. So I’m not criticizing these models as much as I’m just thinking about definitions or representations that are a little better than what we have right now.


The more and more I thought about these media definitions and visual representations, the more I felt that something is missing from them.

Then it hit me. Shared media is what’s missing.

I know others have written about shared media, adding it to earned, owned and paid as a content type. I'm defining it a bit different than what I've seen in the past though. Shared media is typically referenced more like something that can be shared rather than something that is shared from the very beginning.

Take a look at this post, for example. The author places brand social media accounts under owned media. Then he goes on to place them in shared media as well. He talks about shared media being spread across follower’s networks and then comments that earned and paid can be spread as well. Shared can become paid. Earned can become shared. And so on. Like I said, I like gray area, but that’s just too much. A content model should be simpler.

The way I look at shared media, it’s content that’s developed in a shared fashion by all of us. A brand publishes a post on LinkedIn. Then someone leaves a comment, providing their own perspective. Then someone else does. Then the brand leaves a comment in response. You see, no one truly “owns” the content. It can actually change over time. The brand manages the LinkedIn account and may first post something, but a commenter can easily change the conversation, and thus the content. Facebook works the same way and so does Twitter. Another good example is Medium, which, when used the way the platform was developed to be used, with public citation-like comments in the sidebar, is a very shared type of content.

My concept of shared media acknowledges that on these platforms, content is always developed jointly by a brand and its audiences. If a brand understands this, they can better introduce content that will thrive in this environment. Right now, too many brands develop content for social media platforms the same way they develop owned content, and that content ends up being self-centered, out of touch and generally uninteresting. Then those brands wonder why they aren’t seeing a better response from their audiences.

It’s because they’re missing the mark from the very beginning.

You don’t develop content for social media, post it and then be done with it. Social media content is always changing, growing, shifting directions. Social media content is iterative with your audiences. Social media content is shared content.

This post is syndicated from its original publishing on LinkedIn.