Forrester Research analyst Sean Corcoran recently posted an insightful breakdown of some of the differences between owned media, paid media and earned media. Given the ongoing convergence I'm seeing between different communications disciplines which I'm seeing on a daily basis, this got me thinking.

Owned, paid and earned media breakdown

The thought process ultimately led me to sketch out my take on the social media marketing ecosystem in which corporations operate — shown below.

This is my take on the ecosystem within which the new wave of hybrid marketing agencies like ours need to operate as we enter 2010.

Social Media Marketing Ecosystem

Social Media Marketing Ecosystem Legend

This is pretty complex, so I've broken it down into different system elements below. Note though, that the different elements work best when we succeed in breaking out of communications silos and integrating our communications strategies.

A few notes up-front

  • As complex as this image is, it's still a drastic over-simplification. There are many more linkages than are displayed; I've simplified to the graphic is still readable.
  • The ecosystem is constantly changing. A few months down the line, the big four social networks may have changed.
  • There are many, many other social networks, forums and other sites not directly shown here. They're grouped into “Other” but may in fact play a significant role in your activities, depending on your company.
  • MSM stands for “mainstream media.”
  • Each of the different elements can both act as a focal point and/or support other tactics, depending on how they are used within an integrated strategy.
  • The following sections each filter certain elements from the overall ecosystem above, to provide a simpler view of the owned, paid and earned elements of the system.

Corporate Social Media Ecosystem (Owned Media)

Corporate Social Media Ecosystem

Key elements of the ideal corporate social media ecosystem:

  • Hub and spoke: Adopts a ‘hub and spoke' system centred around a corporate social media hub, whose form will depend on the organization.
  • Tiered hub and spoke: Each social network may have its own hub and spoke system, if necessary. For example, you may have a primary corporate page on Facebook supported by several applications and product-specific pages.
  • Integrated: The hub is as integrated into the corporate website as possible.
  • Fewer Microsites: Todd Defren and Maggie Fox both make compelling cases for companies to stop and think before investing in microsites. I agree. They may have their place in this ecosystem, but shifting to a social network or building on top of your flexible social media hub may make more sense.
  • Mobile is ubiquitous: I considered including mobile as a separate component in the ecosystem, but decided against it. The web is becoming device-agnostic. Companies need to consider mobile content and applications as part of every aspect of their corporate web presence.
  • Inter-linking: The social media hub links to all external corporate social media properties and profiles.
  • SEO-powered: Search engine optimization (driven, in part, by social media activities) helps to drive traffic to the corporate website, social media hub and external social media properties and profiles. This goes for both the corporate site and separate properties. SEO could fall into any of these buckets, but for the sake of simplicity I've included it in this part of the breakdown.
  • Two-way flow: The information flow around social media elements is (depending on the organizational context, of course) two way.

Corporate Mainstream Media Ecosystem (Earned Media)

Mainstream Media Ecosystem

Key elements of the mainstream media portion of the ecosystem:

  • On and offline: Mainstream media exist both online and offline (many are both). Either way, they can drive significant traffic within the social media marketing ecosystem.
  • Two-way: Ideally, the information flow with mainstream media is two-way in two ways:
    • Earned media drives quality traffic to your properties; your properties can generate stories within the mainstream media (both positive and negative)
    • One of your goals should be a constructive dialogue with mainstream media which enables you to achieve your goals while making the journalists' lives easier.
  • Multi-destination: Earned media coverage will primarily drive traffic to your corporate site in the short term. However, earned media coverage can raise broader awareness, thus driving traffic to your external properties and social media profiles (especially over time within a sustained media relations program).

Corporate Advertising Ecosystem (Paid Media)

Corporate Advertising System

Features of the corporate advertising ecosystem:

  • Social and non-social: Advertising takes place both within social media sites, but also within other online properties (search engines are a prominent example, as is CPM/CPC advertising on mainstream sites).
  • Interwoven: While paid online media stands alone within the social media marketing ecosystem (represented here by “SEM,” it is also interwoven throughout many other elements.
  • Multi-destination: Much of your advertising may drive traffic to your corporate website. However, advertising can also support your social media efforts by raising awareness and driving people to your social media profiles and properties.
  • Multi-faceted: “Ads” within many social networks can mean many things. Facebook, for example, your advertising activities might extend beyond regular Facebook ads and into “appvertisements.”

Make sense?

Together these different elements combine to form the more complex (yet still simplified) ecosystem displayed at the top of this post.

This is clearly far from complete. I'm curious as to your thoughts — let me know what you think in the comments and let's refine this together.


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