The Definitive Guide To The 4 Key Types of Media

4 Media Types Every Marketer and PR Professional Needs

4 Key Types of Media: Owned, Social, Third Party and Curated Media is a key element of any marketing or PR plan. Marketers and PR professionals monitor, create and place content and their messages via different media types in order to expand their audience reach to attract and convert prospects.

Due to technology and the dynamic nature of online communications, media has evolved. As a result, how you use the different types of marketing media to achieve your goals and reap measurable results has changed.

4 Key types of media

In today’s information landscape, 4 key marketing media types have emerged. All 4 key types of media are critical to reaching your maximum potential target market and persuading prospects and retaining customers and fans. (BTW: (Here’s a snapshot of how we consume content and media.) 4 Key Types of Media - Heidi Cohen - Actionable Marketing Guide

1. Owned media

Includes all of the content and information you publish on platforms you own regardless of whether you’re an individual or an organization. It’s at the heart of content marketing (and here are 35 tactics to improve your content marketing). Here’s an example from Gini Dietrich’s Spin Sucks 4 Types of Media - Owned Media Example

Key marketing characteristics of owned media:

  • Full control and discretion over content published. You decide what, when and how to publish your content.
  • Extends your own brand. This is critical reason to build and distribute content marketing on your own platforms. If you publish your content elsewhere first, ensure that you retain permission to post it on your own website later.
  • Tends to have a smaller reach, especially compared to third party media, unless you’re an influencer or a top brand. Build your housefile to ensure that you can contact your prospects and audience if other options are closed for reasons beyond your control.
  • Encompasses any information your organization creates. This includes website, blog, catalog, email newsletters, magazines, product manuals, employee handbooks and investor relations.

Communications direction:

  • Either one-to-many or one-to-one. They generally go from the media owner to individuals who’ve agreed to receive them, customers, employees, investors and the public.

Revenue model:

  • Attract potential leads and convert them into customers. Get people to your business so that you can encourage them to purchase from your firm.
  • Offer platform to build thought leadership and branding, which support lead generation and sales.

Marketing Use:

  • Aids your purchase process before, during and after the sale. Provides information that prospects and customers need.
  • Supports your search marketing efforts. Optimize owned content to attract search engines.
  • Provides a home base for your content. Chris Brogan considers a blog your social media home base. 

Marketing expenses:

  • Content creation. These can be employees or external resources or agencies.
  • Operational and/or distribution costs. Tend to be handled internally by existing resources. Individuals and small businesses may outsource them to freelancers.

2. Social media

Are communications platforms where anyone, individual or organization communicate, create and share information, either their own or other people’s.  4 Types of Media - Social Media

The most important social media platforms for marketers are Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram and Google+. You must test which platforms are most effective at driving results for your business. (Details on how to use social media 2015.)

Key characteristics of social media :

  • Consists of communications and commentary. They become part of the content on social media networks. Audience and focus vary based on platform.
  • Includes any format such as text, photographs, images, videos, audio, presentations and PDFs. Specifics of information content and format depends on the specific social media network.

Communications direction:

  • One-to-many, one-to-one (including private conversations between two accounts), and many-to-many. The many-to-many direction of messaging is unique among social media entities. 

Revenue model:

  • Sells various forms of advertising. Offerings and pricing vary by network.
  • Offers subscriptions. On social media, subscription has a broader definition. It provides additional services for a regular fee such as LinkedIn does, for example.
  • Present fee based products. These can encompass different offerings such HR and lead generation on LinkedIn. Given the breadth and depth of data, expect social media platforms to sell this information.

Marketing Use:

  • Expands content distribution. Share your owned content across relevant social media to attract more readers and prospects.
  • Interact with prospects, customers and fans. Provides a forum for interacting with your social media audience.
  • Provide customer service. Extend your customer service. Understand that customer expectations are higher for social media platforms.

Marketing expenses.

  • Employee time. Social media requires employees to actively participate on social media platforms.
  • Internal costs for content creation and optimization.
  • Technology costs for monitoring and automating engagement.
  • Owned content and conversion. You must be able to encourage prospects to purchase from your business.

3. Third party media

Third party media exist for the sole purpose of creating and distributing information. Many are run in order to generate revenues, most commonly in the format of advertising. Here’s an example from Social Media Examiner. 4 Types of Media- Third Party Media

These entities may produce information for consumption across a variety of formats and devices.

Key characteristics of third party media:

  • Tends to have broader (or mass) reach and a greater level of authority than other media formats.
  • Has established editorial function and point of view. This attracts their audience.
  • Presents content created or at least edited by trained professionals who are compensated for their work. Compensation may be a salary, a set fee or non-monetary form (such as guest posts to gain visibility and exposure to a broader audience.)

Communications direction:

  • One-to-many, the classic media model. While commentary may appear, comments are often reviewed like letters to the editor in newspapers and magazines. 

Revenue model:

  • Third party product advertisements. Offerings and pricing vary by media entity and information format.
  • Offer subscriptions. Third party media has an established audience that makes an exchange for the information provided. It may cover the full cost of the content or only build the base to support advertising rates.
  • Sell fee based products. These offerings can include conferences, books, training, and other products and services.

Marketing Use:

  • Expand reach to people interested in your product. Generally these people wouldn’t see your message.
  • Support your brand. Get people to know who you are.
  • Drive sales. Encourage people to buy from your company.

Marketing expenses:

  • Employee or agency expense to create, place and monitor advertising and content.
  • Advertising expense to use the media for your message.
  • Internal marketing expense to create targeted landing pages and conversion processes.

4. Curated media

Consist of information targeted at an audience where the information presented tends not to be original to the entity. The content is aggregated and organized by a human curator and/or via a computer algorithm. 4 Types of Media - Curated Media Example

Key characteristics of  curated media:

Curated media falls into 3 categories.

  • Search. While many businesses work to get their information to appear on the first page, it’s chosen based on a machine algorithm.
  • Forum based sites. Are created by participants who contribute experiences, images and comments. They include sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp. Note: some media experts may consider this format to be an extension of social media. Unlike social media, however, there’s a central team with editorial control.
  • Curation platforms. These software-generated media enable individuals and companies to select articles on information on a specific subject. Examples include Paper.li and Scoop.It. This also includes advertising and shopping sites that aggregate shopping information, often as a form of affiliate revenue.

Communications direction:

  • Curation media communications are generally one-to-many. Note that forum based sites are the exception; they tend to be many-to-many.

Revenue model:

  • Offer advertising. Marketers can pay to get their message to appear on these platforms.
  • Sell affiliate programs. These are other people’s products where the seller receives a percentage of the sale.
  • Supply subscriptions. Curated media may have moderated forums that encourage peer-to-peer learning.

Marketing use:

  • Broaden reach to people actively seeking your product. Especially for search you need to show up where your prospects are looking.
  • Provide additional information to your customers. People seek deeper information and customer reviews before buying.

Marketing expenses:

  • Employee expense. Depending on the platform, this includes monitoring the information and optimizing content to appear on different curated platforms. In some cases, participation is expected.
  • Advertising expense. Where appropriate, pay to appear for specific words or content.
  • Internal expenses to for owned media to get curated. Also, provide targeted landing page or conversion process.

Why earned media isn’t a marketing media type

Earned media is a by-product of appearing or being shared on one of these marketing media types. Earned media doesn’t exist or have media characteristics on its own. BTW, here’s how 38 marketers define earned media.

That said, earned media often a key metric for PR and social media activity since it shows how engaged your target audience is in your content marketing.

Note: My approach to media has evolved in response to its dynamic influences. As a point of reference, please check my media taxonomy from 2010.

As a marketer or PR professional you need to use a mix of the 4 key types of media to ensure your target market sees your message at least 5 to 7 times to gain credibility.

While owned media is generally the least expensive, it often has the smallest reach, especially if you’re seeking to build your base.

By contrast, third party media tends to have the broadest reach. But they often are the most expensive for marketers since you must pay for the media and your related advertising and supporting marketing.

Test different marketing media types to determine which ones are most effective for the different elements of your marketing mix and continue to improve them.

How do the 4 key types of media compare to your selection of marketing platforms and why?

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen


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Photo Credit: Heidi Cohen

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  • You already know we disagree on this. Earned media is not a by-product of being shared on one of the marketing types. Earned media is media relations. It’s publicity. It’s relationships one has built with journalists (way before social media even existed) to create opportunities for them to cover your business or your client’s organizations. I can’t get the Wall Street Journal to cover a client just because they’re active on social media or have curated great content. It’s a totally different tactic.

    • heidicohen

      Gini–

      I’m truly honored to have you stop by and comment on my column!

      I agree with your that earned media is broader than shared content.

      At its core, earned media includes media relations and publicity. While media relations and publicity require building on-going relationships to get covered, they don’t exist as independent media entities. As such, I consider them a media by-product because without an established audience there’s no reason to get placed.

      Happy marketing,
      Heidi Cohen