Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and the world’s richest man, made headlines this month for a unusually frank statement about an alleged blackmailing scheme from an American tabloid. Almost as interesting as the content of the message was the place where he chose to publish the content. Rather than go on national TV or even put a statement on his own website, Bezos chose Medium, the online publishing platform.
While Medium isn’t new, it has been constantly changing in tone and focus since its launch seven years ago, landing somewhere between a blogging service, a social network, and now an independent publisher. In its own words:
We've been working with an increasing number of clients, particularly those in the tech space, where Medium is a key channel. Not only can it host their thought leadership content, but it can also transmit their ideas to other thought leaders and new audiences. Is this something that you should also be considering? To help you decide, here's an explanation of how the platform works.
Creating content and sharing ideas
Born from the brain of Twitter founder Evan Williams, the initial intention was to create a platform for expressing opinions and ideas longer than 140 characters. Any member can contribute content (called ‘stories’ by the platform), and other members can ‘applaud’ stories. Any single user can applaud an article more than once (up to 50 times per post), but there’s a calculation in place to moderate out the over-enthusiastic: when ranking stories, the Medium algorithm takes into account the number of claps any given user normally gives out, assessing their applause for a particular post relative to the number of claps they typically give.
Users can also leave responses to stories, which tend to be much more thoughtful and detailed than an average comment section.
While reading, users will highlight parts of your story which they find particularly interesting - great to understand what parts of your message really resonate with your audience:
If someone has connected their Twitter account with Medium, then the user will be able to share the highlighted passage to their Twitter following.
Ensuring quality: Editorial guidelines
In their words, “Stories published on Medium should foster thinking that educates, inspires and moves understanding forward.” They have a set of editorial guidelines, but broadly they say:
Make it yours: All writing and images must be your own, or must be used with permission or citation
Keep it ad-free: Medium doesn’t accept advertising. Please don’t market yourself or other products, feature advertisements, or include requests for claps, donations or email sign ups
Raise the bar: Medium readers seek depth and nuance. So we recommend publishing your best analysis, reporting, essays, and ideas - and avoiding listicles or fluff pieces
When you’re uploading an article to Medium, you can tag it under a variety of topics (up to 5), which will allow you to share your story with your followers, and allow it to be discoverable through search.
Checking this box also gives you a shot at the big time - your story becomes eligible for assessement by Medium’s content curators and published on their topic channels. These channels can be followed by users, who will see the best (curated) stories on their homepage or in their inboxes on a regular basis. If your article is picked up by curators, your potential reach is increased.
If your story is successfully curated, you’ll get a badge like this in your story stats panel:
It also gets marked on your views graph - see below for the impact it can have on your reach and subsequent number of views.
Every month, Medium also have special collections to pull together themed content, announcing these topics in their monthly emails and inviting submissions. To give you a flavour of what these can be, these were the ones for January 2019:
The February issue of their magazine was entitled 'Reasonable Doubt'
A collection on navigating awkward work social events - “Making the most of a bad boss. Dating a coworker without getting fired. Out Office Politics collection features stories with actionable advice on how to find your way in the workplace, no matter where you fall in the company hierarchy”
Joint Accounts - a new weekly advice column from writer Kristen Wong, covering the intersection of finance and interpersonal relationships.
For each story you publish, you get a stats panel - as well as flagging your curation status, it will also tell you:
Total number of views, read ratio (people who read all the way to the end) and your earnings on the piece so far:
Where your traffic came from and the interests that your readers have opted in to - this can help you work out who you appeal to.
Medium is becoming increasingly committed as an independent publisher, and has been busy building out a team of editors in recent months. They've even started reaching out to writers on the platform to commission content.
Publications are shared spaces for stories written around a common theme or topic, usually by multiple authors. This creates a channel/magazine type feel - here’s a great example. This means brands on Medium can, as well as publishing their own content, start curating the expertise and viewpoints of others. An opportunity to piggyback on the content of others to improve your reputation, and a new way to build relationships with influencers and thought leaders.
Can I advertise on Medium?
Medium’s ethos is about promoting quality content through a subscription model rather than that of advertising, so the opportunities for explicit promotion are limited. As of September 2018, their rules are:
First-party promotion is allowed. You can promote your own work or goods and services you provide, like a link to your website or your book. For posts or publications run by a company (like company blogs), you can promote goods or services provided by your company.
Third-party advertising and sponsorships are not allowed. You may not advertise or promote third-party products, services, or brands through Medium posts, publications, or letters. This includes images that indicate brand sponsorship in a post or letter, or as part of a publication name or logo.
Images functioning as third-party ads are not allowed. Inline images or embeds that link out and function as banner ads for third-party brands will no longer be allowed.
You must disclose affiliate links or payment for a post. Affiliate links, such as link out to Amazon with your code, or any other link out where you will receive a commission or other value, are allowed in posts. But, you must disclose somewhere in the post that it includes affiliate links. If you have received payment, goods or services, or something else of value in exchange for writing a post, you must still disclose this fact in writing within your post.
How does this relate to me?
Whilst Medium has long been convenient for independent writers who wished to self-publish, its recent evolution into a publisher along with an increasing subscriber base means that brands are beginning to see it as a golden opportunity to share content with new audiences. With a growing editorial team that's choosing high quality content to promote, your blog post can organically transform into a byline being pushed out to thousands of highly engaged users.
As there's still a focus on the individual writer, it's also an opportunity to tangibly showcase the expertise in your business, by curating employee content that shows off just how passionate and knowledgeable they are about their field. Supercharge, a product development studio and current client, is a great example of this.
Gabrielle Reason is a senior digital manager in Cognito's London office