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Shared media does not exist

Wait, I hear you say. Of course it exists. SHIFT even published a book with shared media in the title. Well, it’s true. There isn’t really a shared media as an entity, not in the same sense as paid, earned, and owned media. To some degree, shared media is redundant with earned media in that if someone is talking about you and sharing your stuff, then it’s implicitly earned media.

More than that, paid, earned, and owned media are locations, are places where content lives, but shared media doesn’t live in any one place. Think of it this way: you could put examples of paid media you’ve created on a flash drive. You could do the same for earned and owned media as well. But you couldn’t put shared media on a flash drive because something being shared has to be content from one of the other three media types. A piece of content on your Facebook Page that was wildly shared is still owned media. An article in the New York Times is still earned media, whether it’s been shared a million times or not at all.

Bear in mind as well that shared media exists outside of just social media, because sharing exists in every conceivable way that human beings communicate. A hairdresser talking to a client about a product or service is participating in shared media. A bartender listening to a client ramble over a gin and tonic is participating in shared media. A hand-written note passed in class by a 9 year old girl, if it’s referencing your product or service, is participating in shared media. A neighbor talking over a fence holding a flyer they got in the mail (paid media) is participating in shared media.

How do you put that on a flash drive?

So what, then, is shared media? It clearly exists, but it’s not an actual form of media, so what it is?

Shared media is a behavior

Shared media is the glue that binds the different media types and helps transform audiences from one media channel to another. A piece of owned media that lives on your blog, when shared, can quickly become earned media as other bloggers and influencers share it, talk about it, perhaps even write commentary about it. A piece of paid media, when shared, might inspire you to create a variation of it for your owned media properties. Any hot piece of earned media should, of course, always find its way to your website in some form, and sharing is the indicator that you’ve got something worth capturing.

Once we understand that shared media is a behavior that arises from paid, earned, and owned media, then our view of shared media changes. Instead of being a thing that we’re supposed to create, we understand it to be a behavior we want to incentivize. We can ask people why they did or did not perform the behavior we’re looking to create, and adjust the roots of that behavior – paid, earned, and owned media – to increase our chances of being shared. Most of all, we understand that shared media a quantifiable outcome, and that means it can legitimately be measured as a goal to be achieved.

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