The results of our Medium experiment
How we found new readers during the US elections
The American election gave us an opportunity to do two things. First, to build awareness for The Economist’s analysis especially in America. Second, to raise the quality of the political debate.
This led us to Medium, where we decided to re-publish posts from our American politics blog in the run-up to the election. We chose Medium because although its number of monthly active users, at 30m, is just a fraction of Twitter’s 320m and Facebook’s 1bn, they are people who (we think) ought to know about The Economist. They are concentrated in urban areas in America, nearly half are female, and they are highly engaged readers who seek long-form, analytical journalism and commentary.
We built our Medium publication to replicate the Democracy in America blog on our own website, carrying over the name and the artwork our designers developed especially for the election. We also planned to publish some archive articles and hoped writers would contribute extra behind-the-scenes content which we named “correspondents’ notebooks”.
Since we were new to Medium, and publishing there in order to find people who were new to us, we decided not to promote our publication on other social platforms. After connecting our Twitter account to our Medium user account — to capture our Twitter followers who also use Medium as followers on Medium — we didn’t drive any traffic to it from Twitter. Or even Facebook. We wanted to see the publication grow organically within Medium.
And I’m happy to report that it did. In the 100 days our blog was live, our following grew from zero to 229k on the user account — a big jump thanks to the Twitter following we brought over. But without any support, our publication account itself notched up 8.9k followers.
The crucial number is how many new people saw our content. We totalled up the page views for Democracy in America on our website and on Medium. Those on Medium represented around 5% of the total. We’re happy with this. Think about all the infrastructure in economist.com, such as all the other content we publish there beyond that single blog, and the fact that we drive so much social traffic to it all day every day. Economist.com is very busy and heavily used. Our Medium publication was publishing one post per day at most and received no promotion. So we think that 5% number looks pretty good: within that 5% are thousands of people who would not have consumed Economist content if they weren’t on Medium.
Medium’s quirky stats dashboard also provides a metric known as TTR, or total time reading. This tells us that our readers spent a total of 5,456 hours reading the Medium version of our blog. If we were continuing to publish at the same rate, that is one figure we’d like to increase: it would mean more people are reading us, or those who read us are reading for longer.
Some aspects of our publication were disappointing. The archive posts didn’t perform well, probably because we simply pasted in screengrabs or photos of our old stories. The post was essentially an image, which is potentially confusing because people come to Medium primarily to read. We also found it difficult to get writers to contribute to the correspondents’ notebooks section. We’ve learnt a lesson and now have a better idea of how to get more from them for our next phase.
We’re happy with how we’re doing on Medium so far. It’s unusual for a subscription-based newspaper and website like ours to give away so much content for free, but right now it’s worth it. The next stage is for us to publish a collection of stories that is entirely different to the American election blog. Our final issue of every year, known as the Christmas issue, is packed with longform feature articles on as wide a range of topics as you could imagine. In recent years they’ve covered New York’s flower business, the decline of golf, Edward Snowden’s predecessor and the genius of Gujaratis. Our writers and editors love working on these stories. They involve in-depth reporting on the ground in archives, on trains or up trees. The topics are often close to the writers’ hearts. I can’t wait to share them with you.
Very soon we’ll be posting some of these longform features on Medium and producing bonus content exclusively for our loyal Medium audience around this year’s features. So stay tuned — and don’t forget to follow us on Medium.
Adam Smith is deputy community editor at The Economist.