By Mike Kaput published April 21, 2014

What Medium Means for Content Marketing

image-Medium-storytellingBack in the day, you’d buy meat from a butcher, veggies from a grocer, and maybe swing by a dry goods store on your way home. Grocery shopping was a multi-stop affair.

Now, you visit a local supermarket or a big-box retailer that has everything you need in one place.

A similar change is taking place in how people consume content. 

Before, we relied exclusively on a collection of blogs and websites to provide us with the content we wanted and needed. Brands then entered the game, but the model didn’t change much: They just produced their own content, instead of relying on publications to write about them.

Now, something else is happening. In a world of nearly infinite content, consumers are looking to one-stop shop. Platforms are retooling or being created to serve those needs. And that has powerful implications for content marketers.

The age of big-box content retailers?

There’s too much noise. It’s getting harder for content consumers to separate what matters to them from what doesn’t. The problem is so bad that Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google are all working on solutions:

  • Facebook made algorithm changes that gutted brand reach in favor of “high quality” content. The company’s Paper app aims to be a one-stop destination for curated content.
  • LinkedIn started an influencer program that delivers high-quality content from people you trust. And, it just opened this publishing platform up to everyone, adding a new twist to the platform-as-curator idea.
  • Google increasingly rewards rich, relevant content. 

Startups are working on it, too. Tools like Nuzzel aim to curate your Twitter or Facebook feed, and Flipboard allows you to create your own personal magazine cribbed from sources across the internet.

We’re starting to consume content like we grocery shop. Instead of visiting a collection of blogs, media properties or brands to find what we need, we increasingly find carefully curated content in just a handful of places.

Few platforms better showcase these changes — and the challenges they pose to content marketers — than Medium, a social publishing platform created by Twitter co-founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone.

By understanding what Medium is, how it works, and why it matters, content marketers can gain some insight into what’s coming next — and how to prepare for it. 

What is Medium?

There’s disagreement over what Medium actually is. Slate called it a content management system, but has since reconsidered. Anil Dash calls it “the YouTube of blogging,” where consumers “graze through the site,” and also refers to it as a sort of crowd-sourced magazine. Medium’s founders call it a place to start finding interesting content.

Medium’s recommendation rating system echoes Reddit‘s front page. And the site’s algorithms and human curators bring to mind some of the content discovery tools out there.

At it’s most basic, Medium is a way to publish stories. While Williams’ previous company, Blogger, let you own those stories at a unique URL, Medium’s stories all live on the same site.

How does Medium work? 

Stories are organized into Collections, which are created both by Medium and by its users. Posts do not display a publishing date or time and, unlike many blogs, are not organized by publish date, either. Instead, consumers follow Collections to populate their reading lists with material. When users find a post they like, they would then click “Recommend.” This action influences the story’s visibility both within Collections and on Medium’s Top 100 list — a central catalog of the month’s best content, as determined by Medium’s algorithms and editors.

To create blog content on Medium yourself, click “New Story” and start writing directly into the platform’s minimalist text editor. Technically, you could also easily copy an existing post into Medium’s text editor and republish it (though in doing this, you may risk running afoul of Google’s duplicate content rules, depending on the type of content you’re putting out there).

Once you publish, others can comment on each section of your post. Medium’s analytics measure the following:

  • Views: The eyes that saw your story
  • Reads: Whether or not the story was read, based on Medium’s algorithms
  • Read Ratio: The percentage of the post a user actually read (based on Medium’s judgment criteria)
  • Recs: How many times the story was recommended

These stats are available when you publish a post on Medium. However, because Medium’s algorithm is not public, we can’t judge how accurately stats related to Reads and Read Ratio are calculated.

It’s both an evolution of and a departure from blogging — and one that’s attracted attention. Medium secured a $25 million investment round led by Silicon Valley venture capital firm Greylock Partners, and participation from Google Ventures, Tim O’Reilly, and Gary Vaynerchuk.

So, why does Medium matter? 

Medium is a platform that content marketers should definitely investigate, with interesting potential and useful metrics on how many people actually read our content.

But, more importantly, Medium provides a glimpse of how content is likely to be created and consumed in the future.

How will your company stand out in a world where content delivery is increasingly contextualized and filtered? Quality content will continue to attract qualified prospects, build your business, and increase your marketing ROI. But it’s no longer just about hosting content on your site and amplifying it via social.

It’s about vying with all the other shiny brands, publishers, and independent voices — on the same shelf. Instead of coming into your store, prospects are going to big-box content retailers, where everyone is displayed.

What happens when, instead of using these platforms to drive traffic back to owned media, the platforms become the primary place where content is consumed?

How are you going to catch their eye?

How do you make your voice heard when someone else owns the megaphone — and decides when to turn it off and on?

What Medium can teach content marketers

We don’t know all the answers, and this trend is still evolving. But the nature of Medium suggests a few takeaways that can help content marketers start to make sense of it all:

  1. Brand storytelling will matter more than ever: Utilitarian content will always provide value to prospects and customers. But brands are going to need storytellers-in-residence who can inspire, entertain, invoke feeling and provide downright amazing content to compete on these platforms.
  2. It’s time to start taking risks: New platforms — and new applications for existing ones — mean content marketers need to experiment, adapt, and push outside their comfort zones. We don’t have the luxury of owning our content anymore. Brands can’t hold back if they want to succeed. They’ll need to become more comfortable with taking a few knocks and falling down a couple of times while they learn the best ways to tell their stories in this new landscape.
  3. Long-form content and thought leadership are going to be your best friends: Product- and service-facing content that helps prospects evaluate and make purchasing decisions likely won’t go far on these platforms; longer-form content and thought leadership — with powerful human interest, cutting-edge insight, or in-depth analysis that consumers can’t get anywhere else — will. 

Have you used Medium? What do you think of the trends described here? How do you see content consumption changing?

For more great ideas, insights, and examples for advancing your content marketing, read Epic Content Marketing, by Joe Pulizzi.

Author: Mike Kaput

Mike Kaput is an inbound marketing consultant at PR 20/20, a Cleveland-based inbound marketing agency, where he also contributes to the PR 20/20 blog. Follow Mike on Twitter and contact him at mike@pr2020.com.

Other posts by Mike Kaput

  • http://www.markevans.ca/ Mark Evans

    A big question facing people consider Medium is whether it makes sense from an “asset management” and SEO perspective to post content on someone else’s platform. There will be benefits to having content on a popular platform but how can brands benefit using Medium vs. using WordPress internally?

    • http://www.twitter.com/amritachandra Amrita Chandra

      I look at Medium as a syndication option for content – it’s a good place to cross post if you are trying to reach the folks that read Medium content (mostly startup and media folks it seems).

      • Mike Kaput

        Amrita, that’s a great point. I, too, have noticed the heavy startup and media presence on the platform. I’ll be interested to see if that diversifies going forward. Thanks for reading!

    • Mike Kaput

      Mark, thanks for commenting! Those are great questions. I think Medium has some serious potential to amplify your brand’s reach and introduce new audiences to your content. I’d be wary of committing fully to a platform one doesn’t own. But that’s also something to balance with how content consumption is changing online, and I think that every brand is going to have a different “tolerance of risk,” if you will. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject!

      • Richard Hussey

        Fascinating stuff! Like most things in content marketing the landscape changes quickly and there are no hard and fast rules. My guess is that these types of platforms will be great for finding a new audience, but my advice for brands would be to pull that audience into their own domains as quickly as possible. It will be interesting to see whether Medium, or its competitors make this easy in the way that G+ does.

        Think of it like a new e-commerce business that uses the Amazon or eBay marketplaces to access a pool of potential customers. Great to get you established but you want to get those customers into your own marketing environment as soon as possible.

        • Mike Kaput

          Richard, what a great point! Thanks for sharing.

  • PeterJ42

    The internet has created a truly collaborative environment. “Wisdom of Crowds” time, with people working together to build things, idea on idea, into something more special than any one person could ever achieve.

    We were trained by schools and colleges for a different way of working. One which rewards hiding yourself away with only books – which tend to be linear – to work from.

    We are used to going to physical meetings which may take hours of our time, just for a few minor snippets of information. Often 90% of the information transfer could be done before the meeting so it focused on the relationship building – but no – we treat it like a classroom, with one person standing at the front telling others. After all, that is what we were taught is right.

    We are used to longform methods of information too, aimed at replicating the teacher-class relationship. The slide deck. The speech. The book, brochure or video. All put us in front of a class who aren’t allowed to talk back until it is finished.

    And we are used to presenting finished, thought through ideas, complete with references. Something which shows our mind’s working out, which has a beginning, middle and end and which creates an answer, not a collaborative first thought.

    This is part of our ego. We need recognition from the class for our homework. This is never discussed, just marked and held against us for ever.

    Of course the books and learning methods, which we learned first, must be right and all this new collaboration stuff wrong!

    But actually it is the other way round. No one person ever had all the knowledge – that was just an ego-trip we were told to keep us at our studies. When we see things from lots of different viewpoints, we get a much better picture.

    Collaboration is like Lean Startup thinking for ideas. You create a minimum viable thought – a hypothesis – then put it out there for others to improve on. You don’t tie your ego to it (I’m right, everyone else is wrong) – you ask for improvements and different viewpoints. You rapidly work with others to heap idea on idea until the overall thought is fully worked out – probably in half the time it takes to read the book, endure the PowerPoint or watch the video. And everyone is engaged in the outcome – we all know how we got there, the compromises and trade-offs we needed to make and the assumptions which underpin it.

    But we don’t collaborate by sitting in meetings – just a business version of school. We do so by chucking out part finished ideas on forums like this for others to build on.

    • https://medium.com/@leslienuccio Leslie Nuccio

      Yeah, totally agree – Medium is super interesting. I wrote a couple about the democratization of content marketing and Medium’s role in it awhile back:

      http://www.meltwater.com/social-media-blog/content-marketing-democratized-with-twitter-timelines/

      http://www.meltwater.com/social-media-blog/influencer-marketing-and-citizen-editors-web-2-1/

      What’s *really* interesting is how training citizens to be content marketers is going to affect both marketing and the way we communicate as a whole.

    • Roger Stone

      Thanks, I had not thought of this before and really like the “minimum viable thought” idea. It works for building collaborative ideas & sharing but do you think it carries through to the use of content by companies and brands for marketing?

      • PeterJ42

        Yes it does. But in a different way.
        Instead of “This is how you do that” talk at pieces, run it like a wiki. Let people contribute, criticize and change. They will feel more engaged with the company, and readers feel it is more authoritative.
        Company mindset is still publishing – the expert author. People don’t respect that any more – they want to hear the verdict of the group.

  • http://www.friv5games.org/ Friv 5

    Hi. i agree with author. Thanks you for share this article. Very good.

  • Storewars News

    Nice read! Very informative. Did you know that? General Mills
    abandons mandatory arbitration after consumer. Full story here: http://bit.ly/1fi70h3

  • http://thethinkingdrone.com Hannah Pearson

    Great article Mike – I’m surprised it’s taken CMI so long to comment on Medium (unless I missed it somewhere…) I agree with point (3), longform is definitely the way forward – look at Automattic buying Longreads.com last week – they must see some future in it too, otherwise they wouldn’t have bothered. I wrote an analysis on the acquisition last week if you missed it: http://thethinkingdrone.com/life/longform-is-the-future/

  • William Holland

    I am still not sure exactly how ‘Medium’ contributes to any revolution effectively embodying an advanced stage of content marketing, especially when compared to Linkedin. As I see it, ‘Medium’ fails to provide serious readership. Ditto for Linkedin’s ‘Influencer’ program. As far as I can see, the Op-Ed at the WSJ or the Claremont Review is light years ahead. When platforms get serious about the quality of their writing/topics published then I’m on board, until then, the vast majority of digital platforms are simple novelties that don’t address serious topics in a manner worthy of (my) time.

  • http://dorfmanwords.com Peter Dorfman

    I like Medium. I’ll take a serious look at the relative merits of
    LinkedIn’s publishing platform when it becomes available to regular
    folks like me — which, contrary to hype you may have heard, it is NOT.

  • Rick Wolfe

    Brands will thrive in the world Mike Kaput describes.
    Feathers will be ruffled. That’s no terrible thing.
    As they always have, brands will be quick to learn the new rules and adapt to them.
    Readers, users, citizens, consumers, and just plain people will be the winners.
    Content will be better. It will be fresher, better written, more meaningful. There will be less rehash. There will be way less yada yada. I can hardly wait for less yada yada!
    Curation will be thicker and richer. Discovery will be faster.
    Why shouldn’t it be just as easy to discover cool content as it is to find a good hotel on tripadvisor?
    What will the new content look like? A bunch of it will look a lot like this article by MK. Thoughtful. Unexpected. Useful. Like this article, it will generate a stream of really good comment.
    Many thanks for this, Mike.