The risk of social media marketing

Ecommerce marketing decisions are tough. Advertising, search engine optimization, social media, content marketing, all involve delivering a message to an audience. But depending on the channel, the marketer may not be in control of the message, its delivery, or even the audience.

Thus, a media channel classification model can help marketers think of communications in an integrated way. One of these models is PESO – paid, earned, shared, owned.

By organizing tactics in paid, earned, shared, and owned media, you gain a better understanding of who creates the promotions, who owns the promotion audience, and who controls distribution.

Media Contents Public Distribution
Paid Your business creates the content, advertising or promotion. A third developed the audience A third party controls the delivery of your content.
Won A client, business or journalist creates the content. The client or journalist has developed the audience. The client or journalist controls or influences the broadcast.
share Your business creates the content or the promotion. Your company and a third party co-developed the audience. A third party controls the delivery of your content.
Possesses Your business creates the content or the promotion. Your business has grown the audience. Your business controls the delivery of your content.


Social media platforms are an important part of integrated “shared” marketing.

However, some social-minded marketers disagree, favoring three media distinctions over PESO’s four and grouping together shared media platforms – for example, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok – in the “owned” category.

One could argue that reducing PESO to PEO still achieves the goal of helping people think about communication strategies. But it’s a mistake to assume that a business owns its social media content. And it’s detrimental if it means that a company is placing too much emphasis on a channel beyond their control.

Point of distinction

When marketers apply the PESO model, it’s important to consider content, audience, and distribution. These three points differentiate media channels and help identify how content and ads work together.

As the table above shows, “your business creates” content for both owned and shared media. In both cases, “your business” worked to develop the audience. But your business doesn’t control what social media platforms do with content, and despite the growing number of subscribers, the business can’t easily take or transfer that audience to other channels.

In 2017, I wrote, “Shared media describes content that your business creates that is distributed to an audience that your business has developed through a platform that someone else owns or controls. “

This control is the main difference, and that is why social media is not “owned”.

Organizing marketing materials into paid, earned, shared, and owned provides an understanding of who creates promotions, owns audience, and controls distribution.

Account suspensions

As proof that businesses don’t own their social media channels, consider account suspensions.

All social media platforms reserve the right to suspend, block or delete accounts. Particular policies will differ, but any business could post mounds of great content, create thousands of subscribers, and suddenly lose access to the account, content, and audience.

It happens every day to small businesses.

Content removal

Social media platforms can remove individual posts. This is common for YouTube creators, for example.

When a YouTube creator reviews content, it’s common for the criticized party to file a copyright infringement complaint, instantly suspending the review and forcing the creator to go through an arbitration process.

Businesses, too, are facing suspensions. And, the fact that YouTube and other platforms have content restrictions and often remove individual posts confirms that social media is not “owned” media in the normal sense.

Economics of creators

Creators and the so-called designer economy also demonstrate that the social is not something that companies or individuals can “own”.

While creators can monetize their content on any given channel, they don’t own their audience or the distribution of their content. YouTube does. Or TikTok does. Or Instagram does, and so on.

For example, in 2019, many YouTube creators complained that the platform’s efforts to comply with U.S. children’s online privacy law were unfairly impacting creators’ earnings. YouTube could limit advertising and, therefore, revenue sharing on any content it deemed “made for children”, regardless of the intent of the content creator.

More recently, the creators of YouTube were concerned that Google would let its contract with Roku expire, which would reduce views, ads and revenue for many channels.

Creators often encourage their audiences to sign up for email newsletters or communities to counter this problem. If they want to increase their income, creators have to get off the platform. Hence another example of why social media is never ‘owned’.

My space

A final justification against classifying social platforms as “owned” is that they may lose popularity. MySpace and Friendster, now defunct, were major competitors on Facebook at their respective heights. No more.

There is no guarantee that Facebook, Instagram or any other social site will survive the next five or 10 years. Certain legislative bodies and defenders of Web3 seek to break and replace these platforms.

Not belonging

When businesses start to think that they own social media content and audiences the same way they own a blog or mailing list, they risk losing control over content and customer relationships.

The PESO model aims to help marketers think of communications in an integrated way, to use all four channels appropriately.

Social media is most definitely a big part of the mix, but a company’s content should ultimately have a place on its website (s). The customer relationship must be direct, and not through a proxy such as Facebook or TikTok.

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