You may hear these words a lot in social media. It conjures up real estate, I know. We are talking about different playgrounds in which your audience lives and your digital and social media marketing activity efforts inevitably fall into.

The reason why it’s important to understand their meanings is so you don’t fall into the trap of putting all your marketing efforts into areas that you have limited control over. In saying that, each owned, earned, rented, free, shared and paid space are not mutually exclusive nor independent. All will find a happy home within your marketing mix.

Real estate is probably a great metaphor.

A smart investor wouldn’t spend all their time and money into a rented property that the landlord could sell beneath their feet, or put the rent up, or paint bright magenta, or decide to change the rules with little or no warning. 

In more detail, let me try to explain them all, in no particular order.

Owned, Earned, Rented, Free, Shared and Paid


This is the most ‘secure’ of the property investments out there.

Examples of OWNED digital space would include: your domain name, a self-hosted website, email database, blog, online shops and mobile apps. Here in the OWNED space, you have virtual control over the look and feel of your branding, content and user experience functionality. If you need to update, tweak, reformat or refresh any of these elements, you can. If you want to adjust the pricing, communicate with your customers, you can do it. No one dictates the rules (well, there are guidelines of course) but in essence, you have control, you own it.


Most people forget where they are and treat it like they own the place.

With RENTED media, such as social media platforms (the likes of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, LinkedIn etc), hosted websites (SquareSpace and Wix) and blogging platforms (such as WordPress.com and Blogger), users feel they have a certain level of control as they can personalise their pages and grow a community or network online. They have limited control over the look, feel, layout. They are at the mercy of the landlord who can change restrictions, algorithms and their minds, as regularly as they do their underwear.

Many of your customers can be found in rented spaces and businesses can acquire huge followers…yes, in these rented spaces. You can see how this is a little like building a house on sand, right?


Neither owned nor rented, paid is a transaction to purchase an opportunity in a foreign land that we can’t easily reach by other means.

Hmmm, that doesn’t sound very solid, does it? Like all advertising, we do hedge our bets that we’ll hit the right audience and the money will be worth it, guaranteed or not.

So PAID space would include digital advertising (banner and display ads), native advertising (paid editorial), marketing and PR agencies. It would include search engine advertising (Google ads), paid influencers and sponsorship programmes.


Woohoo, something for free?! Hmmm, nearly.

While FREE digital media may not cost you in cash, it generally takes resource, effort and planning. This would include the likes of blogging and articles (to increase organic search engine ranking) and leveraging other’s social media channels to spread the word.


You’ve worked hard for this, have a deck party.

EARNED media is your reward for hard work. It may come in the form of references from happy customers (written or ‘word of mouth’), mentions on social media, unpaid consumer influencers, or activity from a friendly brand/service that you’ve worked hard to partner with who wants to spread the love or show gratitude.


The benefits of building a community.

It may be SHARING of social media content – a repost, a share, or a like, follow, comment or a review (either on your Rented page or via a third-party such as Trip Advisor), or backlinks to an article or interest piece on your website. Your online presence is valued and respected.

As you can see, there is some ‘fuzz’ between some of the categories: a blur between Earned and Shared, for example, or what is Free vs Paid (free to do yourself,  unless you pay a specialist to do it for you).

Now you have turned yourself into a human social media glossary, go and have a strong cup of tea and read Facebook 2019: Rethink Everything to learn why a rented space can have its unpredictable landlord spring a few surprises.

  • One of the best ways to sabotage your content is to not tie it to your goals. Know why you’re creating content.
    Ellen Gomes

  • © 2022 Digital Armchair - a trading name of PlanMyPlay Ltd | Site by JeliNet NZ