Earned, owned, paid. social media

Maybe Social Media Isn’t the Way to Promote Your Business

Social media and organic traffic has become the sales funnel of choice for many businesses. Everybody (almost) is in love with social media. Way to go!

The Forgotten Channels

Yet you might attract more customers to your business if you adopted the use of the traditional channels of Earned, Owned and Paid media. (Thanks to Business Wire for the graphic above).

The Internet has spawned a whole new vocabulary. When I was starting out there was advertising and public relations. You paid for advertising and public relations — or publicity — was free (of course, it’s never free because a company has to pay people to generate PR).

Now Owned media is your website and blogs (like this one). Paid media is advertising and marketing, Earned media is public relations, and Social is social networks and audience and employee engagement.

The lines are being further blurred because you can pay to advertise on the major social networks and paid media is now featuring what’s called native advertising. That is advertising that looks like a regular story in a magazine or newspaper – or earned media.

Native advertising is somewhat controversial because it can be deceptive. A reader thinks a story is editorial when it’s actually paid advertising.

It’s all getting mushed together and can be confusing.

Let’s Get Real

For sure it doesn’t pay to put all your eggs into one social media basket as Facebook Page owners learned to their dismay last month.

As I mentioned in my recent post, Facebook announced that effective January 15th, “Facebook Pages that post promotional creative should expect their organic distribution to fall significantly over time.”

Many business owners had built their entire businesses around their Facebook Pages accounts. Poof, gone.

How about building your business on your Owned media. No social network can take you down. You are in complete control. But how many visitors do you attract to your site every month?

I tried to find an average number of visitors statistic and everything I read said, “It depends.” It depends on the type of business you’re in, what you’re selling, where your business is domiciled.

Having blogged every week for six years, I can attest that it’s heavy lifting to attract visitors to your site and have them stick around for a while. Most bounce off right away. You weren’t what they were looking for.

If you’re promoting your self-published ebook, can you realistically expect to sell enough books from your own website and via social media to earn a living? There is always Amazon where the ebook best sellers there sell for $5 – $7.

Last year, when “Twelve Years a Slave” won the Academy Award for best picture, the HarperCollins ebook by that name made the best seller ebook list at a price of — 99 cents! And that was a best seller that benefited from all the publicity for the movie. How many ebooks at 99 cents would you have to sell to make real money?

What Will Work For You?

This is not to place a damper on your plans for your business. Maybe you’re selling a high-ticket item. You may not need more than a few sales a year. I’m just injecting note of caution to carefully examine the sales funnels that will work for you – in combination with social media.

For example, AdWords Target Locations may be the answer. AdWords location targeting allows your ads to appear in the geographic locations that you choose: countries, areas within a country, a radius around a location, or location groups. For example, you could target high net-worth individuals in New York if they are your targets.

A friend is married to an attorney with a very specialized niche. He pays $100 a month for his ad and gets the majority of his referrals that way.

Then there is Earned media (PR). Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge to benefit the ALS Association? A former Boston College baseball star named Pete Frates, who has this neurological disease, started the Challenge that soon went viral. It also garnered publicity in print and broadcast media and donations poured into the Association.

That promotion didn’t cost a penny – it all started with a simple, but powerful idea that involved celebrities like Mark Zuckerberg who then nominated other celebrities. They all made news for participating.

Direct Response Advertising

Then there is direct response advertising. You wonder why these companies keep sending out “junk mail” that no one reads. Well, they aren’t stupid. If only a small percentage of recipients do open the mail and buy something they make a profit.

I decided to call a list house (found by clicking on a Google Adword) with a hypothetical example of a gardening company that is targeting Nassau County, NY, an affluent suburb of New York City.

Within minutes of my phone call with Jeff, at MediaListQuote.com, he sent me this email:

“I have a gardener demographic in Nassau County, NY. The cost is $100 per thousand with a minimum order size of $410.  The bulk-pricing discount takes effect at 20,000 contacts for $1,500.

“All contacts are updated every 30 days and we track these individuals based on their consumer spending habits reported by the credit bureaus.

“Each contact will come with their full name, postal address and a matching email if available for that contact. Lists take 3-4 business days to process after payment is made.  The list will come to your email in a Microsoft excel file 3-4 days after payment is made.”

Note that you will get email addresses too, where available. No slaving away to capture one email subscriber at a time for your blog.

According to Jeff, 3-9% of direct mail pieces get a response while email solicitations get a 1-5% response.

Earned media,paid media, owned media, social mediaIt’s usually a good idea to have product that is somewhat unique to sell so I looked up gardening tools. On one site I discovered that the Royal Dutch Hoe by Sneeboer, made in Holland, is sold out. I’m assuming it’s a popular gardening tool. It retails for $84.30 so there seems to be room for a nice profit, after your all-in costs. Suppose those costs are 50% of your selling price.

If you mailed out 20,000 pieces, and got an average response rate of 5%, that’s 1,000 responses x $42.15 – or $4,215 in profit. These are back-of-the-envelope calculations. But I’m using this example to make a point.

Social media is just one piece of the marketing mix. It isn’t a silver bullet that will make you rich overnight. Let’s not forget there are other ways to reach your targets that have been tested over many years. Why not try them to see if they work for you, too?

Leave a Reply


  1. Social media does take commitment. You can’t just try it once and say, see, it didn’t work. That said, many of the busiest people don’t have the time or don’t want to learn. And yes, a more traditional method may work as well. Thank you for all the good information, Jeannette.

    • Leora — You said the key word “commitment.” I’m high on on social media, as you know. But each business has to evaluate the sales channels that will work for them. That could include social media.

  2. Wow Jeannette, the social media info just keeps coming and changing and I am getting more boggled by the minute. I do think it’s unfair of any site (or service) to change the rules just because they can as Facebook did. I know that businesses were partially responsible by only using Facebook but if something has worked for years you tend not to change it. I’ll just keep plugging away, reading all these informative posts and hope that some of the info will stick.

    • Lenie — Social media keeps changing the rules and so does Google. What worked yesterday is taboo today. We have to remember that social media is still in its infancy. It’s dynamic and the changes will always be one step ahead of us!

  3. Nice diagram at the top of this post. Very useful way to describe different media and their uses to a client who is new to the concepts of marketing. I would like to save it and use it with my SCORE clients. (I’m a volunteer mentor with SCORE, the nonprofit that helps startups and small businesses.) I will include a credit line if you will provide that info

    • Nancy — glad this will be helpful to your SCORE clients. My featured image doesn’t enable a caption (or I don’t know how to insert one), but the credit line would be “image courtesy Business Wire.”

  4. Interesting points. Social media is becoming more important for businesses to engage in, but you’re right – it may not be right for everyone and is not the only way to attract customers. As some other readers pointed out, there is a level of commitment needed. I think it depends on your business and your audience. There are still a lot of people not engaged on social media. And the particular platform of those who are varies by demographic as well. I have gone to the same hairdresser for thirty years. He has been in business longer than that. He has a loyal customer base of people who have come to him for years. New customers are referred by that loyal base. He likes what he does and is comfortable with the level of business. He doesn’t advertise at all – social media, direct mail, or print ads.

    • Donna – you make a very interesting point. Hairdressers and other service providers still get most of their business through referrals. However, if you’re just starting out without a following you need to attract customers. Possibly a new hairdresser could send cards to a list in her immediate area offering a one-time free haircut.

  5. No one thing is the silver bullet is it Jeannette? Direct mail used to work for me when I was a corporate trainer: got several long term clients through a paper newsletter I used to mail waaaay back. When I first started doing some business online my website was a magnet. Remember when websites were static? Yep; that took me across the world for training engagements. But at the same time, some of my associates were finding OTHER things working for them. My thinking is first, we have our own beliefs about what will and will not work. From the get go we might now believe social media is the way to promote our business, so, we use it and it doesn’t. Or else maybe we aren’t where our customers are. It’s this piece – where are our customers, which would be the best road to travel to help us decide.

    • Pat — good point about where are your customers? If you are providing a personal service — you can’t cut someone’s hair if they’re sitting 20 miles away — then you need to be promoting in a narrow geographic area. Maybe sticking a sign outside your door with an incentive would work. Or maybe a newsletter. There are so many — too many — choices!

  6. Hi Jeannette, After the Facebook announcement last month I think a lot of people will be seriously reconsidering their advertising. I can’t imagine if FB had been the backbone of my marketing plan. You make many valid points. Having been in the direct mail industry for many years, I can say it does work and is not simply junk mail as most people tend to view it as. It is an viable option that could be considered. I think it is really just about finding the right mix of advertising that works for you and one that you won’t lose entire control of like FB. 🙂

    • Susan — The percentage of a Facebook Page’s news feed that people actually see is miniscule. I know there are many Facebook success stories but I would advise anyone who chooses that route to be very careful and not depend on the “free” option to grow their business.

  7. Each business is different and should have its marketing plan tailored to its unique needs. I like social media but I don’t depend on it alone and I have have favorites for my specific business. Local businesses are an entirely different situation – so many options there.

  8. You know, this process is the same one that everyone goes through as they refine any product. Even machinery evolves. But now there are so many choices and you have to gear towards multiple products that achieve like results. It’s a challenge, but evolution often is, right? Laugh!

    • Jacquie — It’s true that social networks are still evolving. That’s why I think it’s a mistake to put all your eggs in that basket. There are still other sales funnels that have worked in the past and continue to work.

  9. Hi Jeannette – I simplify social media advertising, etc to this: It’s a way to educate, inform, and entertain and if you happen to get a sale, it’s a bonus. People get to know your brand and YOU if you don’t worry about selling all the time. It’s a give mentality for sure and once you have given till it hurts – you can “ask” for the sale. I believe in still using the old-fashioned approach. Follow up via a phone call, got to networking meetings, try to book speaking engagements and be seen and heard in the flesh, if possible. That is why I have added video marketing to my mix. People can watch if they are interested and get to know me. It’s a wild, wild, world out there in social media land – I agree with you – try mixing other ways to attract your customers into the mix.

  10. The whole Facebook page thing is such a sore subject these days. I have a page and update it regularly because as an author readers expect it but I no longer put much effort into attempting to build engagement. And speaking of Amazon, you are SO right about what’s happening with the price of eBooks these days. Every author I know has experienced a significant drop in book sales – me included. I like your point about revisiting other promotional sources, and while I will continue writing books, I now consider them to be resources to build my platform and credibility rather than a meaningful source of revenue. Just a sign of the times and you either learn to roll with the punches or get left behind. 🙂

    • Marquita — I have a friend who has written several books that have been published by established publishers. But she never did it for the money. They were designed to build her brand and also to get speaking engagements and media interviews. I think you’re wise to recognize that your books still hold great importance to build your authority.

  11. I might say that my publisher pushed me into social media in promoting my novel. It has been a disaster. I have blogs, website, Twitter, FB page, other pages and the results are not worth the outcome I put into it.

    • William — I’m so sorry to hear that. It is so difficult for authors to get recognized nowadays, especially when the big publishers are putting most of their money into the “blockbuster” novels.

  12. Yes, it is a commitment to be part of the social media. I didn’t own Twitter or Linkedin until I was told by my contact at Iceland. He said, I MUST! So , I did. But, wow! What a commitment to be connected and involved. But are we really connected? Just my two cents.

    • Mahal — yes, it’s a big commitment when you join a social network. That’s why you need to choose carefully.

  13. Interesting Post. Social media advertising isn’t right for everyone and neither is it the only way to attract customers. e.g.for DIY kind of business’s recommendations and word of mouth seem to work better. Catering too is also one of those business’s.

    • Mina — I assume you mentioned catering because of your great interest in food. It’s true that I probably wouldn’t pick a caterer unless I know someone who was satisfied with their food and service.

  14. Great post, Jeannette. Agree with you completely that how you promote your business depends on what you do.

    In my case, for instance, ads on Facebook to reach company owners wanting to export to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States or get investment from there would have limited, if any, value.

    The best thing so far has been the seminars about me and how to succeed in Saudi Arabia that are being organized by a leading business organisation.

    Adwords is something I have thought of but I have yet to figure out a way to avoid getting unemployed people to click on such ads. Seems you have services in the US that facilitate reaching “only” your target group.

    There’s the added complication that I need to meet the company owners and determine if they and their product/s are suitable for region. One company owner I decided not to do business with for the simple reason that his way of communicating would be a disaster and look bad for me. But the good news is that I don’t need many deals a year to have a substantial income.

    • Catarina — you have obviously built a fine reputation based on your successful work for organizations that wish to invest in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. Word of mouth is still the best form of advertising.

  15. Hello Jeannette, unfortunately I know nothing about direct response marketing (other than Frank Kern says he’s the best at it in the entire planet) but what I do know is, direct response marketing for online entrepreneurs gives you a huge advantage over the competence.

    If I tell somebody who uses the Internet quite frequently that I can build them a very cool business website for only $500 USD chances are, they are going to say they can get something even better at a much lower price.

    But if I go to a person who has never used the Internet before and explain how I can build a business website for $2,000 USD with everything they need to get a better ROI for their offline business and get them a lot more clients, etc; chances are they are going to ask when can I start.

    Sergio Felix

    • Sergio — I think what I’m hearing is that many people who are selling services will come up against experienced customers who are getting smarter and understand the market for your services. So what you are selling becomes a commodity for those in the know. Unfortunately, that’s the trend. You can now crowd source designs (including websites) via services like 99Designs. So how do you add value to the experienced buyer?

      • That’s exactly my point Jeannette, so I’ll answer with a question:

        How do you compete when the quality is the same (let’s assume this part) and you’re solely competing on price?

        This is not a problem you’ll have to face when you take your business offline and I know this because I have experienced this myself.


        PS. The company I work for (the biggest e-commerce store in Latin America) has this exact problem, they can’t compete on price with the competence because they simply refuse to lower their prices.

        What they do is, they add value by other benefits such as: free delivery, two years guarantee instead of one, highly personal attention in every store, etc, etc.

        • Sergio — One of my services is writing blogs. Companies could go to Elance and find bloggers for less money but they won’t get my experience, writing skills or my knowledge of branding and marketing. It’s more than just putting words on paper. You have to appreciate your value. It appears your company recognizes that.

  16. What an incredibly solid example Jeanette!

    I love your straight forward direct response marketing example! Of course, any typical small business owner and or service provider, that can consistently average somewhere between 3-9% on their direct mail campaigns. is probably in the wrong business!

    Because they could literally be making a fortune (both) charging for their copy writing/marketing expertise and receiving back end royalties on the gross as well!LOL!

    Ah but I digress! Anyway, I really like the math you demonstrated, because its straight forward, and demonstrates a lot of totally overlooked, yet extremely critical marketing concepts and strategies!

    That you could easily do a two hour on or offline workshop on and still barely scratch the surface! Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Thanks,Mark. We just need to remember that the “old-fashioned” communications channels such as advertising, direct response and PR still work.