I'm not one of those people that believes the world is being totally upside down with how we get the word out about our products and services, but I do believe there needs to some acknowledgment of several models that need to work together (and right now I am only focusing on digital—that's big enough). So I'm in the process of sketching out a very high level model of 2 approaches which in my opinion will need to work in tandem in the not so distant future. The paid and earned models.
Buying Digital Media
The business of buying media has been around as long as marketing and in the digital space, while it may be measured differently, the principles are similar. You determine where you'll get the most bang for your buck and purchase media placements in digital environments that are deemed appropriate. In many cases, agencies are used to broker the deals. The latest wrinkle to this model is to partner with specialized firms who deal in niche media such as communities, networks, forums and blogs. These firms will take payment and make arrangements for your communications to exist in these alternative areas. While as an advertiser you may not have control over the communications (for example, bloggers in this model still say what they want) but the "placement" remains paid for or purchased.
Earning Digital Media
Earning digital media doesn't mean it's free. It's not. It's just that instead of paying directly for a placement or making arrangements with a partner—you are paying for the time and resources of people who will investigate what's being said about your brand and engage on your behalf. These can be employees, contractors, agencies etc. but it requires manpower and effort. However, the reason the "media" (apologize for lack of a better term) is earned is because you can never actually buy it. The people talking about your products and services are never compensated by an agency or network—however they can be set into action by triggers you've put in place. This could mean establishing a relationship, sharing news, seeding content, talking to, and in general interacting with the people who actually care about your product or even better the topics associated around them. Earned media is tricky, and no one has figured this out exactly yet, however it's real and the search engines pick up on it. The trick is figuring out how to meaningfully participate in the spaces where your brands, products and services are relevant.
It's a pretty big enchilada here that I'm trying to capture and I know I'm not covering all the basis. But trying to get my head wrapped around making the two models work better together. So what do you think. What are the differences? Where do the lines blur? How do they work together better?