In thinking of paid media vs. earned media from a digital perspective, one could categorize them as follows:
Paid media is the media you buy online regardless of how well you think it may perform. This includes relevant media placement that continues to hold water as the result of optimization, fresh messaging, engaging creative, and overall impact for that which historically has performed the best at driving engagement, site traffic, signups, sales, or anything else marketers are asking from consumers.
“At the end of the day, however, paid media is just that: media purchased which allows markets to buy the right to say what it is they have to say and ultimately end up asking us to do something.
However, earned media goes beyond advertising that can be tracked by DART, Atlas, brand studies, or other ways of justifying ROI in the short run. Becoming more than a message, earned media is created as the result of a service, something useful that brands can give to their audience that the consumer can take and make their own, something they will want to propagate among the collective crowd and share because of its utility.
Whatever the idea is, the brand responsible for it will earn a lot more than share of voice, reach, and the title of Sponsor. Rather, it will earn respect, plenty of attention in the blogosphere, and ultimately influence consumers in news ways in digital space, all of which cannot bear a price tag.