Leveraging PESO: Making the Most of Shared Media
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Leveraging PESO: Making the Most of Shared Media
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by CHELSEA HINKEL

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Understanding the Shared moderately-controlled and mediated communications channel to engage directly with audiences and create deeper connections

For brands, communicating should be in their DNA, hard-wired into the brand from its conception. It’s how meaning gets conveyed and how connections get made. Carl Alviani, design strategist and writer, puts it this way: “Human beings have been telling stories as long as there’s been a language to tell them in. We think in stories, remember in stories, and turn just about everything we experience into a story… In a business context, the degree to which a product or communications strategy fits a strong narrative is often the differentiator between success and failure; between ‘Just Do It’ and the also-ran campaign for a forgotten shoe brand.”

So vital is this function, there are countless ways to organize, plan for and think about communicating, yet for us one stands head-and-shoulders above the rest. One of the most powerful models for brand communication is Gini Dietrich’s PESO Model, which we outlined in How to Build Brand Messaging through Channel Communications. More than merely populating a message on a medium, the best brand communicators lean into both channel and communication, uncovering and unleashing the strengths of each, fostering greater brand engagement and experiences.

Understanding how to use each channel is as important as crafting the right message for it. Knowing that an overt sales message doesn’t belong on social comes from a deeper understanding of both medium and message. In her PESO course, Gini Dietrich says, “Typically, the ‘result’ of most communications efforts, is awareness or, at best, proven market leadership and/or increased and unaided brand recognition. In a PESO model you begin to build authority and thought leadership, which allow you to prove your work in an investment versus an expense.”

Shared, Not (Only) Social

With two channels in particular – Shared and Owned – there is a higher level of control and authorship brands can lean on and into. Both build connections and credibility and permit brands to speak directly to their audiences, but they are different in both form and function than Owned media, which is the highest-control channel. While it may be tempting to think of Shared as “social” and totally under brand control, there is a reason Dietrich categorizes as Shared Media and not the more off-handed “social” label. The first step toward leveraging Shared effectively is understanding that it’s a moderated medium.

According to Harvard Business Review, “Social media is usually treated as [a hybrid of] owned and earned. The rationale is that brands own their own social channels and audiences, then try to earn sharing and word-of-mouth. But don’t be fooled. Social media is not owned media.” To understand why Shared is not Owned and shouldn’t be treated as such, think about any social media scandal. The brands at the center of a crisis don’t get to merely shut down negative conversations or moderate them out of existence on social platforms. That’s because the what a brand says on the channel is mediated by both the platform and the audience.

Shared Messaging

With Shared media, brands must balance what they want to say with how the audience will hear it on the platform. Brands surely get direct access to their audiences here, but they’re not in control of conversations around their brand. They can spark dialogue, but shouldn’t exercise dominance over them. They get to have their say – and it is a powerful say – but they don’t get to dictate how others hear them. What they can do, however, is create resonant messaging for the platform. Understanding the purpose of Shared – authentic engagement – and how to use brand voice here is key.

Leveraging PESO: Making the Most of Shared Media

Through Shared Media, a brand’s mission – its reason for being – is on display and up for discussion. Shared is an external expression of brand promise, demonstrated through conversation. Here brands aren’t selling; that’s for Paid Media. Instead, Shared should focus on delivering value to audiences in an organic, authentic way. It's not corporate speak or a sales pitch. As Sprout Social says, “Some posts serve to help you meet bigger marketing goals. But even promotional content should be on brand and true to your voice. Remember that your audience began following you for a reason.”

In crafting meaningful messaging, it’s critical to have a consistent brand voice but keep in mind that Shared Media is essentially a modern version of word-of-mouth. According to Brandpoint, “Once you share something to your social media channels, what happens next is out of your hands. The engagements, comments, and shares your content receives is up to your audience. It’s online word-of-mouth, so you lose the ability to control exactly who is sharing your content, what they’re saying about it, and where it’s happening.” Shared is a place to foster relationships and build advocacy.

No exploration of the PESO model would be complete without a discussion of strategy and subsequent development of content to populate on channels. The more highly-controlled channels – Shared and Owned Media – have a unique relationship to each other, where they can be successfully leveraged and laddered together to mean more and engage more. In our next Perspective article on the PESO Model, we’ll take a deep dive into successful strategies for the high-control Owned channel and approaches for creating targeted, meaningful content for audiences

For powerful examples of financial brands communicating in our current COVID environment, visit Sharing Successes on Believe in Banking. If you’d like to speak with one of our brand communication experts, contact us at info@adrenalineagency.com.


Adrenaline is an experience design agency that creates and implements end-to-end branded experiences through creative and environmental design. We enhance our clients’ customer experiences across digital and physical channels, from their branding and advertising to design and technology in their spaces. After transforming an organization’s brand, Adrenaline extends it across all touchpoints — from employees to the market to in-store environments. And, we focus on serving industries that sell human experiences including financial, healthcare, sports and entertainment.

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