One of the things I’ve been pondering lately revolves around the digital marketing and social media buzz words:  Owned, Paid and Earned.

While these words imply different channels, marketer relationships with those channels, media formats, their audience reach and persona types, I believe it is time to stop considering them mutually exclusive silos.

wommaTweets that originate from content  published on your website, as well as Facebook likes, Google +1s, retweets and shares of brand-published content, are still your content and the dialogue is still largely driven by this branded content. Digital marketers need to focus equally on audience reach and engagement, creating a content strategy that crosses all platforms. This certainly includes owned media as a syndication lever.I find that falling into the trap of seeing all traffic from a social network as word-of-mouth is not only a faulty assumption, but has the potential to skew our understanding of performance and engagement substantially.

In 2013, across all the brands that measured content with  Rio SEO Social, we were able to attribute only 30 percent of traffic from a social network as consumer-to-consumer dialogue and share-driven. Of all the WOM traffic we tracked for our client brands, only 20 percent of social traffic came from a third-party social network.

What this tells us is that marketers still largely provide most of the content and messaging relative to their brands. When you factor in retargeting, display and traditional channels, marketers have the potential to drive incredible value for their brands by engaging the right audiences, looking to what is happening outside of their website, and crafting and merchandising content accordingly.


Recently Nordstrom and Allrecipes launched a feature on their sites that pulled the most-pinned content from Pinterest to display on their front pages. This “bird in the hand” approach is a great way to highlight key products and popularize them across social channels by going viral.

One way to drive additional value is to focus on “social merchandising.” This strategy focuses on featuring products and services in a format, configuration and targeted message that matches the profiles of communities who engage, or are likely to engage, with your product or service.

My advice is to look for audience traffic from consumer user-generated content and community sites not typically defined as social (e.g., blogs and forums) to identify key products and formats that are being shared there. Then go ahead and feature your content on brand social channels to drive sharing not only on the social sites themselves, but also through other sites that have UGC.For publishers, marketers and e-tailers the next step is to look at audience behavior from the lens of a social network. When users enter different sites from a post, what are they looking/clicking to? Use this data to feature content on the home page for consumers who click through from social sites and on the branded social boards/pages. Focus on driving discovery among that audience by highlighting items not already on social networks. This is how real discovery begins and how you can truly extend reach to new audiences, as well as extend your in-channel reach

Seeing each piece of content as a merchandising opportunity, while looking at WOM and social visit engagement to identify trends, enables you to introduce content. It also allows you to better identify and drive word-of-mouth and engagement with those consumers.

It’s important to view social media as more than a reactive merchandising tool. Looking to each visit from consumer-engaged sites like blogs, fan forums, and non-traditional WOM venues as an early indicator of social curation is a great way to continually drive engagement and become your own discovery engine.

Don’t get stuck looking through a narrow lens by focusing only on social sites. Make sure you are looking across your entire social audience for an impactful digital marketing strategy that maximizes your ROI and fully encompasses all of your owned, paid and earned media opportunities. When you take this approach, paid, owned and earned become exponentially more powerful than the sum of their combined parts.


wommaRachel Ullstrom
Account Director, Social Technologies

Originally posted at