Medium, the popular blogging platform that made long-form content cool, poses something of a conundrum for many digital marketers.
On the one hand, publishing on Medium is an excellent way to boost your reach and increase your credibility as a thought leader in your industry.
On the other, building a solid following on Medium can be highly resource-intensive, because Medium isn’t about short, snappy posts that work in a few SEO keywords and some cool images. No – Medium is about great writing, and nothing less.
So how do you know whether it’s worth it to dedicate the time and effort to building a publication on the internet’s most writerly social media platform? Here are 6 things you can do to help you decide.
First of all, what is Medium, anyway?
Although it doesn’t quite have the name recognition of Twitter or Facebook, Medium is a hugely popular platform. According to CNN, it had 30 million monthly visitors as of the beginning of 2016. And judging from the number of followers of the Editors’ Picks collection, which every Medium user follows by default, Medium has more than 650,000 users.
Medium was founded by Ev Williams, a Twitter co-founder who was looking to give people a place where they could create something more substantial than a 140-character tweet. It’s worked: in keeping with general content marketing trends, which are favoring longer posts, the most-recommended posts on Medium generally fall between a 6- and 7-minute read time (which translates roughly to 1,600 to 1,800 words).
Just like Twitter and Facebook, anyone – including brands – can sign up for a Medium account and start writing right away. You’ve got several options for how to publish content, and you can follow other people and brands.
Social sharing goes a little bit deeper on Medium, though. In addition to seeing stories from accounts that you follow, you can see ones that your friends recommend, too. The commenting feature is richer, as you can highlight sentences or sections that you find most interesting and leave comments at specific points within each story.
The thing that is most distinctive about Medium, however, is that it prioritizes great writing over an author’s number of followers, clickbait headlines, or SEO keywords in its ranking.
A person with zero followers and no name recognition could write a single Medium story and post it around the same time as someone with 50,000 followers and a New York Times bestseller to her name. And if the zero-follower writer’s work is better, it will make its way to the top of more readers’ pages than the one by the famous writer.
Now that that intro to Medium is out of the way, let’s move on to deciding whether your brand should start publishing on the platform.
#1 Realistically evaluate your resources.
Content marketing is always a resource-heavy investment because the content has to be good in order to be effective.
However, keeping up a presence on Medium could very well take more time and effort than simply writing on your blog or publishing on other social media platforms. This is because of that “great writing” provision mentioned earlier.
Ideally, every piece of content you put out should be useful, well-written, and purposeful – but if you want your brand to succeed on Medium, it absolutely has to be.
So the first step in deciding whether to jump on to Medium is to take a look at your content marketing resources. Do you have a solid writer on staff who has the time to post long-form stories on a regular basis? If not, do you have an agency that knows your brand well enough to create a strong presence on Medium?
If you do, write a few test posts and see how they do. Then you’ll know if Medium is a good fit for your brand.
#2 Start by cross-posting your own blog posts.
A good way to try out Medium without spending hours and hours creating new content is to post some of your company blog posts to your account.
This is easy to do with Medium’s import tool. You can find it by clicking on your user icon and selecting “Stories,” then selecting “Import a Story.”
via Medium Support
It’s important to use the import tool rather than simply copying and pasting because importing won’t hurt your website’s SEO.
To explain: When you post content on your own blog or website, there’s just a single, authoritative source for that content. This is important for search engine ranking purposes.
When you begin posting off-site, you can hurt your own SEO because people aren’t being directed back to the original location where the content first appeared, or the “canonical link” (aka the link to the content on your site or blog).
With Medium’s import tool, however, the canonical link is maintained. What this means is that duplicating your content on your blog and on Medium has few, if any risks. At worst, your content will sit on Medium without gaining much traction. At best, you’ll expose your brand to thousands of new followers who might never have stumbled upon your blog.
#3 Ask yourself whether Medium’s format is conducive to telling your brand story.
Medium is an excellent platform for all kinds of brands, from tech to retail, foodservice to finances. REI, Starbucks, and Amazon are all on Medium, and all maintain fairly robust profiles.
While there are lots of creative, unique ways you can use Medium, the fact that the platform is a great one doesn’t, by itself, necessarily mean that you have to focus on it.
Fashion brands, for example, may already be telling their stories really well through a visual platform like Instagram. If you’ve built up a strong following there, you have to consider closely whether expanding your brand onto Medium will overextend your resources.
You don’t want to take time away from a tried-and-tested content marketing strategy for another that may end up not being right for you. This just another reason to give Medium a test run by simply cross-posting your blog posts at first.
#4 Explore other industry thought leaders’ channels.
When you’re considering what approach to take with Medium, spend some time looking through the profiles of other thought leaders in your industry.
Not only will this give you a better feel for the content landscape which your brand will be entering, but it will also give you a chance to start building your own profile by recommending, highlighting, and commenting on stories you find interesting.
At MZ, for example, we look to other thought leaders in the digital marketing space.
One of the SEO leaders we like to read is Rand Fishkin of Moz. Fishkin is a skilled, entertaining writer who writes stories that are both very personal and highly informative – and fairly long, too. He also recommends good stories, so there’s always something to read even if Fishkin doesn’t have anything particularly new.
Looking at what other people are writing can give you a good idea of how what you have to say will fit into the existing conversation.
#5 Look into creating a publication.
If you’re interested in starting a profile on Medium, but writing regular stories isn’t quite exciting enough for you, you should consider creating a publication.
Essentially, these are collections of stories along with a similar theme – regular people doing extraordinary things (Starbucks’ Upstanders), startup life and work (The Startup), and plain old great stories (The Coffeelicious).
Think of it as an online magazine. You can incorporate images, audio, and video along with your text to create rich, satisfying content – the kind readers will want to spend some time with.
Publications need editors and writers to get started on Medium, although the same person can be a writer and an editor.
You’ll want to make sure you have at least one person who’s ready to contribute to the publication on a regular basis, and if you can create a detailed editorial calendar before your publication goes live, you’ll be way ahead of the game. The more cohesive and planned your content is, the better your publication will be.
#6 See how your stories are doing and consider paid distribution.
After you’ve spent some time publishing on Medium, whether original content or cross-posted content from another of your sites, sit back and take a good look at how that content is performing.
Medium is famous for its internal metric Total Time Reading, or TTR. This is the measure of how long a reader spends on a page, and it’s still one of the most important ways that the platform measures engagement.
The platform also offers paid distribution, which can give you access to highly targeted audiences.
Content marketing is a complex game, and not every platform is right for every brand.
The idea behind content marketing on Medium, of course, is that readers will stay with your content for a longer amount of time – hopefully, much longer than it takes to read a tweet, say, or a Facebook status update.
This should – “should” being the operative word – translate to higher-quality engagement. Whether it actually does is something you’ll have to judge for yourself.