Speaking From the Pulpit

How executives can best use Medium for thought leadership

Brand executives tend to have rich life and career experiences — we’ve seen compelling stories from those who have served in Iraq, competed in the Olympics, and volunteered in sub-Saharan Africa. It’s those experiences that often draw reader interest; however, I’ve spoken with dozens of C-suiters who are still hesitant to abandon their stock, PR-approved statements for a more honest form of storytelling.

At its core, Medium is a personal platform. People come here to connect with people. As brands increasingly become part of the conversation on Medium, there is an incredibly powerful opportunity embedded in executive thought leadership on the platform. Medium readers gravitate to individual voices, so by publishing compelling content, these executives drive engagement with both their own stories and those of their associated brands.

Below are some best practices about how to use Medium as a brand executive, largely demonstrated through successful examples of various thought leaders leveraging Medium to drive readership and engagement.

Write as an individual, not a brand

Medium’s audience responds to personal voices and first-person perspectives, not brand speak. So, whenever possible, we advise executives to publish posts from individual accounts. And, more importantly, to publish posts that present an individual point of view rather than generic corporate messaging.

That’s not to say these posts can’t further tangible corporate goals. One great use of Medium is the amplification of corporate initiatives through executive communication. That’s what Marco Annunziata, GE’s chief economist, did in his post about GE’s 2016 Global Innovation Barometer. Marco’s post generated a great deal of interest and conversation, including a response from Gary Vaynerchuk, because it was written from his expert point of view. And following The New York Times’ controversial article about Amazon’s workplace culture, Jay Carney used Medium to defend Amazon — making the brand’s response feel more authentic.

Our readers are also very interested in what executives have to say when it pertains to their individual moral values or those of their organizations. Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s post about the importance of diversity (and immigration) to both himself and Google is one of our highest-performing posts by an executive. Apple VP of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives Lisa P. Jackson co-wrote a post with the President of The Conservation Fund, Larry Selzer, about their joint efforts to protect working forests. The piece was picked up by a handful of media outlets around the world and generated significant discussion on Medium.

Then there’s the value that brand executives can drive by giving Medium’s audience a glimpse into their unique worldviews. One of the best examples of this is AirBnb CEO Brian Chesky’s post about the seven rejections he received while trying to raise $150k for AirBnb in 2008. The post is simple, primarily populated by screenshots from his rejection emails. But it gives readers a lens into the world of startup fundraising, and how difficult it is to pick winners. Of course, there’s also the more universal takeaway: don’t give up. Brian’s piece got over 8,000 recommends, including many from prominent people in business and tech, and it generated organic press coverage on Fortune, Business Insider, Quartz, Vox, and others.

True thought leadership requires dialogue — not monologue

Yes, the first step is publishing content. But the true key to success on Medium is using your content to create a dialogue that stretches beyond its own arc. And, on Medium, one of the best ways to do this is by both inviting responses to your content and interacting with other content by responding. Responses on Medium are unique — they’re never anonymous, they exist as stand-alone posts, and they often lead to an entirely different type of high-value dialogue than we’re used to online.

When Bono wrote a post about his modern Marshall Plan for Africa, Melinda Gates penned an equally thoughtful response. And a few weeks ago, Mark Cuban responded to a smart post by venture capitalist David Pakman about disruption in the music industry — which Pakman then responded to in turn. These high-value dialogues are commonplace on Medium, and they are a definitive best practice for executives looking to build their brands and contribute to thought leadership on a given topic.

How to weave executive thought leadership into a broader brand content strategy

Medium publications make it so that brand executive content can exist as a distinct component of a broader content strategy. Publications can feature content from multiple executives, the brand itself, customers, and the community at large. For example, the White House’s publication includes content from no less than President Barack Obama, Vice President Biden, The White House itself, and actress Kristen Bell.

Foursquare Direct is another good example of a branded publication that leverages a variety of voices. It has included posts from co-founder Dennis Crowley, CEO Jeff Glueck, and President Steven Rosenblatt, among others. These posts draw from each executive’s own unique knowledge sets, lending interesting POVs to Foursquare-related topics. Another example of this is real estate startup CompassCompass Quarterly, which is the digital version of its print publication, aimed at weaving together technology, data, entrepreneurship, and design. It features content from its own strategy team, independent writers, and the brand.

Of course, individual executives can also have publications of their own, outside of their parent brands, that focus on specific segments of their jobs. Elegant Tools is a publication run by Facebook’s design team, including VP of Product Design Margaret Gould Stewart, that is all about exploring design’s role in the everyday world.

Brands benefit when their executives use communication to drive thought leadership. And Medium is a platform dedicated to fostering communication of consequence. By leveraging the power of individual voices, dialogue, and community on Medium, both executives and brands can ensure that their content has an impact.