Medium: A New Play for Sharing Ideas

We have been pushing forward on a new way of storytelling we call collaborative journalism on behalf of a number of our clients. Our goal is to put news where it earns attention, where readers can access it on every device and interact with it. We’re meeting our clients’ audiences where they are instead of asking them to come to us. Increasingly, that means hosting the content on social blogging sites like Medium. More and more readers are finding important and interesting content through platforms like Facebook, Twitter and now Medium, rather than traditional publishers.

Medium gained significant attention when it became the battlefield of choice for former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, now chief communicator for Amazon. He responded in a scathing manner to an investigative piece by The New York Times. Right back came the Times executive editor Dean Baquet, still on Medium. Why go there for the duel? The platform gets about 25 million unique visitors a month, with more than 20,000 people contributing content every week. Much of the traffic comes via Facebook or Twitter. Medium has raised $82 million since it was founded in 2012.

“Medium is a beautiful container for graphics, videos, and writing.”-Tyler Gray, Edelman Global Editorial Director

The next phase for Medium is “to steer the service toward big brand dollars,” according to an interview with founder Evan Williams (he of Twitter fame) in The Verge. Williams aims to connect “writers with brands, with Medium acting as the go-between. That means a native advertising hub filled with long-tail content.” An example is The Moment, brought to readers by Samsung Galaxy S6 edge, with personal essays by influencers such as Summer Sanders. Another is reForm, a BMW-sponsored Medium publication with articles from IDEO, Fast Company and Wired contributor John Pavlus, and others. The platform is also transitioning from long form to shorter form journalism. As Williams said, “Think about it like a magazine: a couple of feature articles that are pages long; a one-page column; little blurbs and all that stuff goes together.”

We are going in a different, more content-oriented direction with several Edelman clients, among them REI. Tyler Gray, who runs our Collaborative Journalism Network, ex-Fast Company editorial director, listed several advantages for the Medium platform: it’s authentic; it’s an easy way to kick start a journalistic approach to brand stories with a low barrier to entry (it’s free); and its elegant design and content management system obligate contributors to think deeply. Gray said, “Medium is a beautiful container for graphics, videos, and writing. There are almost no editorial limitations and no paid promotional options. It is a self-governing system — the best stuff gets the most views.”

“It’s a great first step in getting started creating content that does not require you to launch a whole web site.”-Steve Rubel, Edelman Chief Content Strategist

Steve Rubel, our own media futurist, added some other advantages: it’s tied to the social graph given that most log in via Facebook or Twitter; it’s a great first step in getting started creating content that does not require you to launch a whole web site; and it’s a mobile-first platform that is about both creation and conversation; many people spend time on each of their Medium posts.

The site is heavy on technology and workplace issues. It offers a simple way into the content via a daily email digest, Top Stories, where you can recommend the content, highlight your favorite passages, or comment in response to a story. There is a technology publication that sits inside Medium, called Backchannel. Its editor, author and former Newsweek and Wired scribe Steve Levy, did a terrific interview with Aaron Sorkin, writer of the recent movie on Steve Jobs. Product Hunt supplements its web hub with news on Medium about the “best new products, every day” including a recent interview with tech investor Chris Sacca.

The REI story with Medium is instructive. The coop decided that it would close its stores and pay its employees to not work the day after Thanksgiving, affectionately known as Black Friday. Instead it would ask its employees, members and others to #OptOutside, to go hiking or engage in other outdoor activities. The first communication was a letter to employees and then the lead story with USA Today broke. What followed was ground-breaking. To build on the earned and social momentum, we created a Medium publication that comprised first-person stories from several employees who were inspired by the coop’s decision. Then, influential outdoor organizations contributed their own Medium articles (example: Rue Mapp from Outdoor Afro and Jose Gonzalez from Latino Outdoors). Other outdoor organizations have since reached out and are currently drafting their own pieces to bolster the #OptOutside movement on Medium. The moment continues to build into a movement.

It is early days for us on this platform, but it seems built for people interested in ideas by encouraging peer comment, harnessing top editorial talent and with flexibility in design.