On the New Medium, You Are a Publication

Medium’s recent updates have meant a lot of changes for creators. One of the biggest shifts has been from a transactional model that emphasizes discrete units of content (and where the specific author is less important) to a relational model that encourages readers to follow and engage with specific writers.

The platform’s new model emphasizes developing a following, and Medium has said that followers will matter a lot more going forward. This is implemented on the platform in a variety of ways. But one of the most compelling is a shift toward treating publications and individual writers essentially the same.

Just as publications could brand themselves in a deliberate way and build a following on the old Medium, individual creators can now do the same thing on the updated platform. In short, on the new Medium, you are a publication.

Let’s look at what this means for writers — from a design and strategy perspective.

Design

Medium’s changes are a broad-reaching set of updates to the platform. They affect back end processes (like how the stories that each reader sees are chosen), as well as the site’s front end design (how stories are actually displayed).

Medium goes into detail about these design changes in several recent blog posts and shares some valuable information about what they mean for individual creators. The biggest change is that when you publish a story outside of a publication, your own branding now appears at the top of the story.

Here’s an example. I published this story with no publication. As a result, information about me is now displaying in the header — my name, my number of followers, an About link which goes to my profile, etc. If I wasn’t signed into Medium as myself, the page would also display a button encouraging readers to follow me.

Images courtesy of the author.

This is a big shift. Before, this page would have displayed the categories that the story had been curated in. Instead of information about me as a creator at the top of the page, readers would have seen info on a specific topic like Writing or Productivity. Again, this was the transactional model where Medium assumed that readers were mostly interested in specific topics, not specific people.

This design shift may seem subtle, but it’s actually a big deal. It’s saying that if you don’t publish your story in a publication, Medium is going to essentially treat your own profile and Medium persona as a publication. The platform is going to encourage readers to follow you instead of following a topic and will make it easy for readers to click through from the story to your own profile page.

That Profile page looks different now, too. In fact, it looks a lot like a publication’s homepage.

Readers see information about you at the top of the screen (including a custom image that you can choose) and then a feed of your most recent stories. The page looks almost identical to if you had clicked through to the homepage for The Startup or Better Marketing. I’d be willing to bet that in time, Medium will let you “curate” your own stories into topics or menus, just as publications can do today.

These design changes take the concept of making Medium more relational and implement that concept as a set of concrete changes to the site’s user experience and appearance.

As a creator, how can you make these changes work for you? There are several things you should do right now:

  • Make sure your profile information is up to date. Connect your Twitter and other social media if you want to do so. Lots more people are going to be seeing your profile with Medium’s changes and you want to push them to your social platforms.
  • Make sure you have a compelling author photo. Your author photo is going to appear much more frequently in Medium’s new design, and you should make sure yours looks great. Consider hiring a professional photographer for a socially-distanced headshot session if you don’t have a professional headshot already.
  • Go to the new Design section of Medium and make some updates to ensure that your Profile page reflects your own brand. Consider uploading a header image (you can find one on Unsplash or use your own), customizing your font, or choosing a background color for your page. These small changes give your page more of a branded feel. Make sure your updates are subtle and professional — a bright, neon background might make your text hard to read, for example.
  • Consider choosing a custom logo. This will now display at the top of your stories and on your Profile page. I’ve kept my text-based logo, but if you have a logo for your personal brand, you can now use it on Medium. Ideally, the logo should say your name in it.

These design choices are very similar to the choices you would want to make if you launched a new publication. Again, with the new Medium, creators are being treated like their own publications.

Strategy

Those are the design elements of the new change. But Medium’s changes are more than skin-deep. The platform has indicated that its move toward prioritizing individual creators also means shifts in how Medium’s algorithms recommend and surface content on the site.

Again, the changes are geared toward treating creators more like publications. On the platform, followers have always been among the primary currencies by which publications judge their success and reach. The Startup’s description, for example, highlights the fact that it’s “Medium’s largest active publication, followed by 717k people.” When publications reach out to me and ask me to send them stories, they almost always talk about how many followers they have.

Why? Because Medium has always pushed stories out to a publication’s followers. If you publish a story in a big publication, it’s likely to find an audience, even if it’s not curated. And recently, Medium had begun allowing some publication editors to curate stories themselves — a foreshadowing of the new changes we’re seeing implemented today that de-emphasize curation overall.

With Medium’s new changes, they’re still pushing out stories to publications’ followers (and probably doing this more than ever). But they’re also pushing out stories much more aggressively to writers’ own followers. This happens through “shelves” on the Medium homepage (like the collection of author photos you see at the top right of your homepage), and it is likely happening on the back end with Daily Digests as well. Again, that’s a move toward treating writers like their own publications and weighing their followings as highly as publications’ followings were weighed before.

What does this mean, strategy-wise? As a Medium creator, you should put a lot more emphasis into building your following if you haven’t already. I’ve covered this in detail in other articles.

But you should also plan to publish a lot more content. Publications have long known that publishing lots of stories is an important way to build influence and a following on Medium. Sand Farnia of the Writing Cooperative says in a recent article about growing their publication:

“I think the most important way to attract followers is consistency in publishing. There needs to be a steady flow of articles published, preferably every day.”

With Medium’s new move to treat individual writers more like publications, individuals should aim to publish as frequently as possible, too. Frequent publishing achieves a few things. Since recent works from writers and publications now appear front and center on readers’ homepages, publishing frequently maximizes the chances that your followers will see one of your stories when they come to Medium.

With the new “More From Medium” section — which highlights more of your work when someone finishes reading one of your articles — there’s also an incentive to have more stories on the platform. Having more work on Medium maximizes the number of related stories that the platform can show a reader when they finish one of your pieces. With Medium’s changes, I’ve already started to see an increase in traffic to my older stories.

With frequent publishing, you have to make sure the quality of your articles doesn’t suffer — you still have to provide value to your audience. But Medium is providing several ways to make frequent publishing easier and more valuable.

A big one is shifting toward encouraging shorter-form posts in addition to Medium’s bread and butter of long-form articles. Medium has said clearly that tools for short-form posts are coming. These are already being Beta tested. You’ve probably already seen short-form posts from some of the publications and creators you follow — Ev Williams included.

But the move away from curation is also a major tacit acknowledgment that short-form, experimental content is welcome on the platform — at least from established writers. Before, pieces less than three minutes were very unlikely to be curated, creating an incentive to write longer articles (and thus, in most cases, to publish less often, because long-form stories often take longer to produce).

Creators also had to worry about things like “curation jail,” where creators said that if a certain number of their pieces weren’t curated in a row, they would be locked out of curation for a period of time. Now that curation has become less important than building a following, Medium creators can feel freer to try new things, test more experimental content, and otherwise step outside their comfort zones without worrying about “jail.”

All these things make frequent publishing easier and less risky. Your ideas don’t have to be perfect for you to hit the “Publish” button. You’re no longer as accountable to curators — if you’re delivering value to your audience with each piece you write, that’s what matters most under Medium’s new framework — even if you publish three or more pieces per day.

If you’ve run a publication on Medium before, the platform’s new changes (especially around the design of Profile pages) will feel very familiar. So, too, will strategies like maximizing the number of quality articles you publish.

If you’ve never run a publication, now’s the time to learn more about what’s involved because your own brand on Medium is effectively a publication now. Read up on creating custom logos and headers, polish up your profile, and think about what you’d publish in the short-form world that is likely just around the corner.

You’re a publication now. Optimize your design and strategy to leverage Medium’s new changes, and go publish great things.

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