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Why Tech Blogs on Medium Won’t Work for Your Brand

October 11, 2018 - Content Marketing - , , , ,
By: Chris Riley

Medium, a popular platform/social network for blogging, found a natural spot in the hearts of application developers. It’s easy to use, does a great job of putting relevant content in front of people, and has that “I’m a techie” vibe. A problem is that companies are starting to turn to Medium for their technical blogs and are expecting the same outcome that individual company blogs see. It is becoming more common for companies to use Medium as their primary CMS for their developer blogs, and to represent their brand. Thus, I want to share my opinions and experience to explain why this might be a mistake.

I can see the logic in using Medium for your brand’s technical content. You know developers are there, you know they are highly engaged, and the readership numbers look good—maybe too good. In addition to the audience, using Medium also appears to reduce the publishing effort required, and therefore, the internal cost of managing a blog.

But what is hidden in this assumption is that Medium was designed originally for individuals, not brands. And for developers, when a brand shows up, the entire dynamic changes—the very dynamic that attracted people to use Medium in the first place.

What, what, what?

Let’s get more concrete. Here are the six reasons why I think using Medium for your brand’s technical blog is a mistake:

  1. There are a ton of devs. But they might not be your devs. There is a general consensus that Medium does particularly well with technical audiences. The actual numbers are not available, but if you ask any developer, there is a high chance they know about Medium, and have read at least one piece of content there. We can extrapolate a bit more to say that Medium’s developer readership tends to be younger, and more modern (say, cloud-native developers.) But that is as far as one can go. For all brands, it’s a needle in the haystack problem, particularly if your technology is niche (for example in the areas of IoT or healthcare). A self-hosted blog’s traffic is probably lower volume, but higher quality, because its content readership is self-policing.
  2. It’s designed for a personal voice. Part of the draw of Medium is its authenticity of individual voices—the ability for a techie to be candid and share what they know. This has a huge value for brands, but only when the brand itself can be guilty by association when this type of content shows up on their blog. When it shows up on Medium, the direct attribution is to the individual first, Medium second, and maybe the brand if you dig deep enough. (Medium is going to benefit more from your authentic technical content than you will.) On the other side, if the brand is publishing content about their product, that is a whole different story—because the readers on Medium expect content from individuals, not companies. If you publish about yourself, the whole dynamic shifts, perhaps even backfires. Many regular readers on Medium will meet product-specific posts with disgust when they’re published by the brand.
  3. It’s difficult to support practitioner content marketing. Fixate is all about practitioner content—It’s what we do, and nothing else. And the general author on Medium is a practitioner, which means they speak with their own voice. They speak credibly about what they know, and can impart huge value to their peers. But, as noted above, that works for them as individuals. For a brand, if you publish practitioner content on a Medium blog, then it’s very difficult to get brand association with that content (and sometimes impossible), because a good practitioner blog post will not support a product at all. In addition, unless there are direct links or there is product-specific language, you get little benefit from a Medium post. If you aren’t careful, you might actually alienate your readership.
  4. What about assets, landing pages, contests, surveys, documentation, tutorials? With self-hosted blogs, you have a lot more extensibility as it relates to healthy, complete content marketing programs (not just blogs.) For Medium-branded blogs, you are locked into the functionality they offer. So you are tailoring your marketing programs based on a CMS you have little control over. You are held back from other great programs that can live on blogs (such as documentation, tutorials, contests, landing pages, and whitepapers).
  5. It’s hard to track and measure success. If you’re focused on numbers for the sake of numbers, Medium can be a quick win. But understanding what those numbers mean takes a second layer of measurement. If you are doing Medium posts right, it means your offering does not show up very much. If you show up too much, the readership will drop like a rock, because that is not what Medium readers want—therefore diminishing the primary value of publishing there. Medium gives numbers that are big, and marketers like big numbers, especially if they tie back directly to some KPI. But there is little insight into what those numbers mean. I’ve asked people who have moved to Medium if they have seen a notable impact on signups, or site traffic, and I’ve yet to hear the word “yes.”
  6. Migration is going to be difficult. Let’s say the day comes and you have to move from Medium to a hosted blog. (This could be because you are in a public company and Medium posts a COI, or you read this post and you’ve changed your mind.) This is going to be particularly tricky. The big reason? You do not control the URLs. If you migrate from a blog you host to another blog you host, you can make sure the content moves and the redirects work fine. (If you don’t do this, you lose all historical value of backlinks and traffic to existing blogs.) But with Medium, you don’t have that level of control with URLs, and you can’t set up redirects. So you can move the content, but you are basically starting over at that point with traffic. You also can’t bring the regular audience with you.

Where it fits

I love Medium for techies who want to share what they know, without having to think about where to host it, or worry about a critical dynamic of maintaining a personal blog—which is maintaining a steady cadence of posts. When someone creates a personal blog and publishes a lot in one month, but nothing in another, they quickly lose credibility and their following. For practitioners drawn to Medium, blogging is mostly a hobby, not a job, so their personal blogs would suffer. With Medium, the negative impact of occasional blogging is far less, so the value of sharing what you know (when you want to share it) is much higher. This also helps the quality of content. Content for the sake of content, as we know all too well at Fixate, does not perform well. Medium really helps the practitioner get in front of relevant peers much faster than they could on their own.

Syndication can work, especially if you are a company with an open core product (the base technology is open source). In that case, you can publish posts directly about open source components without offending the typical Medium audience.

Brands can syndicate existing posts to Medium to give them an extra oomph. (An issue here is that you need to make sure you set up your canonical URLs correctly, otherwise posts will get dinged when indexed by search.)

The numbers can be very deceiving on Medium—and unfortunately, the numbers are one of the key catalysts for brands moving their blog. If you dig a little deeper, Medium might not do what you expect. For the brands I’ve encountered that have made the move, the common themes are:

  1. Little visibility—not sure it’s the right people
  2. It’s difficult to tie to the brand
  3. Uncertainty over what the metrics mean

The takeaway

A self-hosted blog is not a magic bullet—and while quick fixes seem attractive, if you want a successful practitioner-level technical blog, you need to do the work, or hire the right people to do it for you. If you do, the payoff is big.


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Chris Riley (@HoardingInfo) is a technologist who has spent 12 years helping organizations transition from traditional development practices to a modern set of culture, processes and tooling. In addition to being a research analyst, he is an O’Reilly author, regular speaker, and subject matter expert in the areas of DevOps strategy and culture. Chris believes the biggest challenges faced in the tech market are not tools, but rather people and planning.

1 Comment
  • MauroReply

    I don't even get why "tech" individual in the software world should use medium. It lacks support for source highlighting, to mention one important feature I expect. It doesn't allow to write in markdown directly in their web editor (I've read that you can publish using their API and that in this case you can use markdown). I've tried the import feature and it did a bad job with my blog. I don't believe it is a programmer-friendly blog platform.

    March 10, 2019
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