January 10, 2010...5:08 pm

Media as an Ecosystem

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Image by Dave Fleet

Last week Dave Fleet got me thinking A LOT about how paid, earned and owned media can each be modeled as types of ecosystems. If you missed it, please go read his post and come back here to discuss — you’ll need to see what he’s working at here to get where I’m going with this.

From there, I couldn’t help but think that as helpful as it is to have each of these mapped out from an operational standpoint, this is not how consumers generally experience marketing media.

Rather than classifying each channel based on direction (push vs. dialog), consumers sort of collect (and forget) a dynamic set of impressions and conversations gathered in a mix of a lot of other impressions and conversations.

Some of those other impressions and conversations are relevant to what your company represents, but most are not.

Making an Impact

Most marketing is still not being created or executed with media ecosystems in mind beyond our own segment of paid, earned or owned media. To me this spells opportunity.

Those of us working on the social media side of marketing understand social networks and blogs as a sort of information ecosystem where content is shared and made relevant through linking and sharing. Similarly, those on the paid media side of the equation realize the importance of delivering the same messaging in different channels — broadcast, print, display (online and offline).

But, Dave is right to point out that maybe it’s time to think of success beyond our own discipline and integrate to make all of our marketing more successful.

Most of the people creating the paid vs. owned vs. earned media are not working together to aid the success of the other, but what if they did?

Let’s face it; most of the companies engaging in social media have simply added on another information silo with another set of rules, responsibilities and success metrics.

What If…

  • Pictures of display ads were shared on Flickr?
  • Online banner ads asked for consumers to follow the company on a social network?
  • Stores and product tags gave us instructions for finding out about promotions and discounts on Facebook?
  • Product manuals told us how we might ask for help on Twitter?
  • Affiliate marketers could opt-in to be included on media distribution lists for press releases and other company announcements?

I like to think the benefits of sharing and collaboration can be driven deeper inside companies and extend far beyond where things are now.

Looking Inward

Listening to what others are saying in social networks is still a great place to start, but maybe the second step should be getting a firm grasp on the traditional PR and marketing messaging and thinking about how to align earned brand experiences happening in outposts (social networks) with paid and owned types of marketing.

Like Playing Jazz

The goal of social media engagement shouldn’t be to participate in conversations for their own sake. That engagement should actually help the entirety of the marketing media achieve its goals — not by creating another disconnected set of impressions, but rather, giving those impressions personal relevance.

I’m not saying people should carry messaging into social networks, but they should at least know what their message is. Being off-topic, or human, is important, but so is knowing when it’s time to be ON topic and having guidelines that help identify business opportunities.

Even jazz musicians need to know the basic chord structure and melody of songs they make great through improvisation. Without guidelines and goals, we’re just chatting.

Back to Ecosystems

Most consumers aren’t thinking about your message is paid, earned or owned. Not that I’m trying to give Dave more work to do, but I can’t help but wonder what a comprehensive model might look like that encompasses paid, earned and owned media in a single, dynamic ecosystem that indicates movement through networks and channels in ways we have only yet to imagine.

Image by Dave Fleet
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  • Hi Shannon,

    Great points, and I completely agree. In fact, I’m not sure if we diverge at all – the whole point of my original post was to try to map out the single integrated ecosystem in which communicators work nowadays. It’s not about earned media or paid media alone; they all need to work together. The image you’ve pulled for this post is a single, narrow layer of that ecosystem which I pulled out to help clarify the whole.

    You’re absolutely right – we absolutely need to think outside our silos nowadays. Mainstream media relations is harder than ever; ads are growing less effective over time. The only piece which seems to be growing right now is the online part, but without the others to support it even that can be ineffective. I think effective communicators really do need to think about all of the elements when they’re creating their plans.

    The toughest part of the challenge is that organizations still tend to put them in silos – ad agency, PR agency/function, etc. Social media does begin to bridge the divide but it’s all too easy to hive that off too (and suffer from the disconnect once again).



    • Dave,

      Thanks for chiming in! I don’t think we diverge at all either, I just had a lot of thoughts swirling around in my brain in relation to your post.

      I simply pulled one of the illustrations — each does an excellent job of showing the direction and current means of interaction within the space. Maybe it would have been better to nab the more comprehensive one for this post that encompassed the broader overlaying of each type of media.

      I guess I was thinking more in terms of the movement involved with each. Some channels are regarded as push only, whereas others like social channels are considered push/pull. Even though this opinion is rather unpopular, I think it’s completely appropriate for some branded channels to focus on push in social networks as long as they deliver something valuable to the community. Since ads can be interactive, content-rich and encourage a means of opting-in via social network, I was simply trying to think of ways the arrows could be moved around and messages could be more consistent and integrated.

      Does that make sense?

  • Shannon, I love the 5 points mentioned under ‘What if…’…really good thought. I had posted something mildly on this line, based on Sean’s (Forrester) original post defining paid, owned and earned media, from the perspective of high involvement and low involvement products. Some of that thought could help understand the kind of brands that could do one or more of your ‘what if’ ideas. I’d rather not add a link to my post and make it seem like a link bait, however.

  • Shannon, I think you’re seeing the not-to-distant future. It seems like we’re racing toward a time when social media and traditional media will blend and cross pollinate in every imaginable way. In a year or two, Twitter handles might be as ever-present in mass-market advertising as web addresses are today.

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