Media may be one of the most heavily modified words in the communications profession. Earned media. Paid media. Owned media. Traditional media. Social media. New media.
It’s a (fill-in-the-blank) media world.
So what about this term “shared media” that has gained some currency but is not widely understood?
Like many of these “modified media” terms, the definition may be slightly different depending on who you ask. So rather than trying to boil it down to a simple dictionary answer, let’s take a look at shared media in action.
Shared media comes about when brands invite public participation in content creation. Many like to say that it requires a company or organization to “give up control” over their message, but that’s simply not true. Brand owners are just as much in control of their message today as they ever were (which is to say, only partially). It is possible to invite public participation and still have a measure of control over the outcome and use of the content.
In recent years, shared media has frequently taken the form of user-created or user-modified paid media. There have been Super Bowl ads that were created not by ad agencies, but by individuals. And they have been successful. There are political ads that activists have assembled. And they have created buzz.
When shared media is used in this way, it brings another sibling out to play: earned media. It’s the novelty factor at play still, but even as the uniqueness wears off, there can still be great stories that justify traditional media coverage of these activities.
But shared media goes beyond just advertising. As organizations mount efforts on Facebook, that’s shared media as long as they allow visitors to add content to the pages. Virtually any social network becomes shared media as companies engage. It is important to realize, however, that not all social networking content is shared media. Companies that choose not to engage are just creating “owned media” (and that’s a subject for another piece).
Shared media requires a mutual push and pull. It’s not a megaphone, but a method of engagement that everyone can see. That visibility is also an important part of the concept. Email communications would not typically qualify as shared media because there is no audience beyond the participants. Shared media ends up engaging not just those who are actively participating, but also those who are observing from the sidelines.
What about blogs? Are blogs shared media? In some cases they can be, but only if the audience really is a major part of the content creation process. Simply turning on comments doesn’t turn a blog into shared media. Active participation by authors in the comment stream can bring it closer to being shared media, but to have a truly shared media experience would be to give the audience a chance to publish in the same space as the organization’s own representatives. Sharing isn’t about superiority, it is about equality.
Shared media scares many organizations. They are concerned that they will lose control of the message. They are concerned that the effort could backfire. And they’re right. There are risks, so shared media must be developed in such a way to mitigate those risks and to be prepared to rapidly respond to incidents that develop. GM learned this firsthand when activists upset with the company hijacked their attempt at shared media.
Structured and implemented well, however, can make shared media efforts a real win for an organization. Engaging an audience rather than just shouting at them brings the benefit of mutual promotion of new content. It introduces creative new ideas that may otherwise have gone unnoticed. It taps into public passion and energy.
In these days of tight resources for communications programs, shared media can help generate more results with fewer resources.