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What Is Owned Media?

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

Learn what owned media is and how to use it to your advantage!

Learn what owned media is and how to use it to your advantage!

What I Learned About Email Marketing and Owned Media From Fat Tuesday

As I’m writing this, it’s one of my favorite days of the year: Fat Tuesday (or Mardi Gras, if you prefer). I love it because it includes consuming my favorite treats of doughnuts, beignets, and paczkis. (Except the jelly ones, bleck!)

But even though I love these diet-destroying delights, there comes a point when I’ve had enough. I just can’t eat . . . even . . . one . . . bite . . . more.

It’s kind of the same situation I have with email newsletters. While I love getting them, I reach a point where I can’t envision getting or reading just one more, even though the content is delectable. I’ve unsubscribed from many, many emails sent by truly good writers and friends because I’m suffering from information overload. I've chosen to follow some of these folks in less time-consuming ways, such as in my RSS feed or somewhere on social media. I’m not alone in this as a content consumer. But since I am a content creator, too, I realize that this content consuming (or anti-consuming) trend is not good news.

Yet many marketing “experts” still preach that email marketing and building opt-in, in-house email subscriber lists should be a top priority. In theory, I totally agree with them because when you own an email subscriber list (an example of what’s often called a channel), you can decide when and how to send your content or marketing messages to your target audience. When you control the channel and the flow of information to it, you own the media. Contrast this with social media (non-owned media) where the platform (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) or its algorithm could decide what, how, how much, when and even if your information is shown to your followers or subscribers.

But even if you do own the media channel, you can’t control whether your subscribers will actually open and read your messages or content. In some cases, you’d have a better chance of actually getting their attention on social media, though your investment in it may be precarious.

It’s a marketing Catch-22, even though the strategy of marketing with owned media is sound.

Exactly What Is Owned Media?

Owned media is any online or offline information channel that you own or control. Examples would include:

  • Your self-hosted blog or website.
  • An email or snail mail newsletter you distribute to your opt-in subscriber list.
  • A podcast that you produce.

Note, though, that you may not be able to control all aspects of these owned channels and your results may be dependent on additional providers and actors. For example:

  • You may send your email newsletter through an email service, such as MailChimp or AWeber, which may have limitations and rules (and cost!) for content distribution via email.
  • Your podcast may be listed (sometimes called syndicated) on podcast apps which can control where your podcast appears compared to similar offerings. You must drive traffic to your podcast.
  • Google or other search engines will rank and display your self-hosted blog content in search results according to an algorithm over which you have no control.
  • Email providers, Gmail in particular, could send your emails to an out of sight “Promotions” type tab if their algorithm perceives it as promotional, thus decreasing the chances that your emails will be opened, or even seen, by your subscribers.
  • One of the most important things you can’t control is when and if your audience consumes your messages or content, or acts upon it. Email marketing open rates of 20 to 40 percent are considered normal (rates vary by industry and topic). But that leaves 60 to 80 percent of your messages going to waste.
  • Plus, it may take investment in non-owned media such as advertising and social media to even get potential subscribers to notice you.

What you really own with owned media is power to distribute information to and through the channel when, how, and how often you choose. That is all.

Diversifying Marketing Investment Risk

While you should always—ALWAYS!—seek to build your owned media channels and subscriber lists, be aware that only concentrating on them could be an arduous and low return investment these days. I liken it to holding your money in a low or no interest-bearing bank account. It’s a safe option that builds an asset for you (your mailing or email list is an asset!). But the returns could be small and difficult to scale upward, especially now with people trying to unplug due to information overload.

However, sizable investments in social media aren’t the answer to expanding reach. These channels can be subject to frequent, chaotic, and significant changes that could wipe out your followers or visibility instantly, making it a higher risk marketing investment.

Therefore, as with financial investments, diversification of marketing investment risk is a recommended strategy. There are no exact recommended ratios of owned media to social media, as well as no best practices on how many total channels of either type should be used. So decisions need to be made by continually monitoring key metrics and trends, including:

  • Your email subscriber counts.
  • Your email open and click rates.
  • Your website, blog, or podcast traffic analytics, especially paying attention to traffic sources.
  • News about trends or changes in social media, email, online marketing in general, and your industry.

Monitor these elements at least monthly over an extended period, say several months to a year, before making major changes to your activities. This helps prevent reacting to minor fluctuations (which are inevitable) and gives a truer overall picture of what’s working and what’s not with both owned and non-owned channels.

Email Incentives May Only Attract Those Who Want Incentives

So are incentives the answer to quickly and effectively building owned media channels? While an attractive incentive to subscribe to an email list, such as a free eBook or other perk, might help you gain some subscribers, you still have to get people to your site (or signup link) to subscribe. That’s the most challenging part and it may require investments in non-owned channels such as advertising and social media.

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What I’ve found over the years is that these incentives usually attract many who just want incentives, but not necessarily your regular emails. Not only is it disheartening to get a bunch of subscribers who quickly unsubscribe after they’ve received your opt-in freebie, but these quick opt-out subscribers also are usually not viable sales prospects or followers either.

Other incentive seekers just stay on your list, but are basically dormant. If you do a cleanup of your list, meaning you email your subscribers asking them to confirm their interest in staying on your list, you might be in for a rude awakening. Since only a portion of your list actually opens your emails, and an even smaller percentage actually act upon it (maybe as low as a single digit percentages of your whole list), you might find that the true size of your email list is very small. I've done this multiple times and it is truly disheartening.

Sure, you might own the channel. But is it doing anything? Experimentation and monitoring results is recommended when building an owned media channel with incentives.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2018 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 23, 2018:

Lawrence, quality is ALWAYS a winning strategy when it comes to owned media or social media. And, yes, in the long run, it wins. But, as you note, that process can be long.

What's surprising to me is that some of my articles that I wrote years ago are now getting traction and traffic. Another point about the whole issue: You often can't predict when something will make an impression in your community or market.

But, still, the best policy is to always create your best stuff. Then let the market and the universe work their magic.

Thanks so much for highlighting that aspect of the situation. Have a great week!

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on April 21, 2018:


Thank you for the explanation of what 'owned media' is in regards to us. I'm not really at the stage of having 'owned media' though I'm working on it, but I guess the one thing I really can control with it is the quality of the content that I put out.

I've always been of the view that 'quality will always sell itself'. I know you've got to get the quality in front of people, and that can be a long, slow process, would you say that's true?

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 22, 2018:

Flourish, I also have to admit that I've unsubscribed from many newsletters for those very same reasons: 1) No time; and, 2) The content has gotten off course. My favorites are the folks who are business pros who now feel they can write about health. Oh brother!

Thanks for chiming in and have a great day!

FlourishAnyway from USA on February 21, 2018:

One of the recipe newsletters I follow has evidently been monitoring clicks and traffic and taken it to the extreme. A recipe for “cracked out” chicken (or something) evidently did very, very well so now every other recipe is “cracked out” this or that. It’s gotten so annoying I want to unsubscribe. Then for some reason the recipe blog is including stuff about lots of travel. And I’m like “Wait. Whaaat?” Having control of your content is great, but sometimes bloggers need someone to remind them to focus. I’m becoming less of a fan of owned content like newsletters. I just don’t have the time.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 21, 2018:

Linda, glad you found it informative! Like you, I was a teacher and it seems I can't get away from the whole education thing. :) Thanks so much for your support and have a terrific day!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on February 20, 2018:

Like Bill, I always learn something that I didn't know before when I read your articles. I appreciate the education, Heidi.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 20, 2018:

Hi Mary! I hear you! No doubt I could read from the moment I get up until the moment I go to bed and still not keep up with everything. :)

I still would encourage you to build an email list. It is an asset of your business and can be relied upon when all the social platforms change or disappear. Just understand that it won't happen overnight.

Thanks for chiming in and have a great day!

Mary Wickison from USA on February 20, 2018:

I know exactly what you mean about overload, I too have been unsubscribing from so many. There just isn't enough hours in the day to read everything.

I haven't been building an email list but now wonder if it is worth it or not.

More to ponder.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 20, 2018:

Brian, you and me both! It's such a balancing act we have these days. But we hope that the really good stuff makes it through to our readers and to us.

Thanks so much for chiming in and have a great day!

Brian Leekley from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on February 20, 2018:

I also am on both sides--wanting information from me to be noticed and not wanting to miss desired information coming to me, and not doing well achieving either goal.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 20, 2018:

Bill, glad you enjoy the brain share! :) Thanks for stopping by. Now get those chores done before the snow!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 20, 2018:

Always an educational read, and I always manage to come away with something I didn't know before. Thank you for letting me inside your brain for a few minutes.

Snow coming this morning...gotta run!

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