Monthly Archives: July 2015

Why every blog post should be crossposted to LinkedIn and Medium

medium plus linkedin

Earlier this month, I completed a 1,500 word feature story on why the scholarly publisher PLOS is teaming up with Reddit on an ongoing science interview series. I had put a good deal of work into the piece, interviewing editors at PLOS, scientists who had been published in its journals, and moderators at Reddit. If I had written this article a year ago I would have simply published it to my blog and then devoted all my energy toward directing my social media followers to the piece. If I was lucky, a tweet of mine would float across the screen of someone influential on Twitter who had thousands of followers, and his or her retweet would direct a flood of readers to the article. But just as often as not, my article wouldn’t attract much notice and it’d lay stagnant on my blog, boasting only a handful of tweets and likes.

But my philosophy on web publishing has changed drastically in recent months, so in addition to publishing the story to my blog, I also uploaded it to LinkedIn’s publishing platform and to Medium.  The version on my blog did rack up a few influential shares, including a retweet from Gawker founder Nick Denton, but it ultimately attracted only about 100 views, which by itself would have rendered the piece a failure.

But on LinkedIn and Medium, the results were much more encouraging. A few hours after I uploaded it, an editor at LinkedIn plugged my piece into its Pulse channel on education, which currently boasts hundreds of thousands of followers. Within moments, my LinkedIn app on my phone began pinging me with updates as the story racked up comments and likes. Overall, it generated 106 likes, five comments, and 1,075 views.

While most the activity on LinkedIn occurred within the first 24 hours after posting, Medium was more of a slow burn. For the first day the article slowly collected recommends (Medium’s internal share function), and then began picking up traction on the second day after I submitted it to the influential Thoughts on Journalism publication. Ultimately, the article attracted 12 recommends, but because Medium is an influencer platform, it led to shares from outside networks. Of the 1,500 views of my article, 500 came from Facebook, 400 from email, and nearly 300 from Twitter.

All together, the piece attracted over 2,600 views, and that was before it went on to be reprinted by MediaShift and the Daily Dot. If you work at a major publication like BuzzFeed or the New York Times, 2,600 views might not seem like a lot, but for an independent writer who has no institutional backing, it’s a respectable audience (some of my articles on Medium have gone as high as 5,000 views and one article of mine on LinkedIn received over 50,000).

Increasingly, I’m seeing more and more writers follow this strategy — continuing to publish posts to their own websites but then crossposting to LinkedIn, Medium, or both. For years, we’ve been warned away from such tactics. You may have heard the term “digital sharecropping,” which Copyblogger once called “the most dangerous threat to your content marketing strategy.”  Put simply, digital sharecropping is when you place too many resources into growing your following on outside platforms you don’t completely own rather than focusing on your own website, of which you have complete control. And this makes some sense; in a world in which Facebook regularly changes its algorithm and Twitter can revoke API access, placing all your eggs in another company’s basket exposes you to a certain amount of risk.

But at the same time, anyone who has had any experience in publishing knows how difficult it is to drive traffic to a standalone website, especially if that website isn’t updated 20 times a day. The harsh reality is that only a tiny fraction of your social media followers will click on a link to an outside website, and most prefer to interact and consume content that’s native to the platform they’re browsing. So if you’re only publishing, at most, a few articles per week and don’t have an enormous social following, chances are your content is getting lost in the noise.

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The opportunity that platforms like LinkedIn and Medium offer is they have an already existing audience and they allow you to amass a following that will increase your content’s likelihood of discovery. Millions of people visit the home pages of LinkedIn and Medium each day, and their publishing tools provide you the opportunity to place your content in front of those readers and generate real engagement when they click into your article.

There’s another argument typically made against digital sharecropping: that it hurts your SEO. The thinking goes that if you post the same content across multiple sites, Google will penalize your personal website and only index the content that you crossposted on more authoritative sites. This argument was recently boosted when Google changed its algorithm to punish aggressive guest posting.

But it turns out many of these concerns were overblown. Google engineers have repeatedly said the search engine only aims to punish spammy guest posting that exists to build backlinks. Blogger Ryan Battles recently conducted an experiment in which he consistently crossposted his content to both LinkedIn and Medium and found that all versions of the article continued to be indexed.

Of course, if your create content in order to sell advertising against it, publishing to Medium and LinkedIn will do nothing to generate new revenue and may even decrease traffic to the website where you’re selling said advertising. But the vast majority of people who create content on the internet do so either to elevate their own personal brands or to market a product or service. For those content producers, the goal is to expand their audience, regardless of where that audience consumes the content. If you fit into this latter category, then by ignoring Medium and LinkedIn you’re potentially turning away thousands of readers for each article you write. You should go to where the readers are, not assume they’ll come flocking to you.

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FULL DISCLOSURE: Want to know how I was paid to write this article? I explain it in this video.

Why the media has become more reactive to Twitter

nick denton

Over at Ryot News I wrote about the current Gawker controversy and how Twitter forced the company’s hand into removing the post outing Conde Nast’s CFO:

Ben Mullin, a writer at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, suggested that Twitter’s rising impact on news is a sign that the social platform has finally democratized conversation, giving power to previously-marginalized voices. It’s not a coincidence that all the backlash mentioned above stemmed from communities — transgender, gay, racial minorities — that have been historically discriminated against. “The possibility of a real time blowback on Twitter has prompted news organizations into being more cautious of the people whom they’re talking about,” he said. “And I think that’s a good thing.”

Image via The Guardian

Why academic journals are teaming up with Reddit

reddit science

The Public Library of Science, the academic publisher more commonly known as PLOS, doesn’t lack for media coverage. Launched in the early 2000s, PLOS was one of the pioneers in what’s called open access scholarly publishing. For decades, the scholarly journal industry has been coalescing into a handful of behemoth corporate entities who have leveraged their clout to raise subscription fees and force university library budgets into the millions of dollars. PLOS, through the launch of seven journals ranging from PLOS Biology to PLOS Genetics, operates under the overarching principle that access to its articles should be completely free, and its staff has made every effort to ease the mode of discovery for the science it publishes. And it’s been rewarded for those efforts; in a little over a decade it has become one of the highest impact scholarly publishers, with many of its articles generating national headlines. A quick search on Google News reveals that, in just the last week, thousands of mainstream news articles have referenced its work.

But someone like Victoria Costello, who is the senior social media and community editor of all of PLOS, knows the company isn’t adhering to its open access ethos if it’s merely penetrating the traditional media. So she spends a fair amount of time thinking about how to leverage online communities to generate interest in PLOS articles, even if it means bringing the scientists who penned the articles directly to those communities. And that’s how she found herself emailing one day with a moderator at Reddit, which through its r/science subreddit hosts one of the largest science-focused forums on the internet. “I think that we have become increasingly aware of how many of our readers and authors are regular redditors and follow r/science in particular,” Costello told me in a phone interview. “We also noticed that whenever one of our articles or blog posts lands on that page and gets upvoted, we have enormous spikes in visits. On more than one occasion it’s caused our entire site to crash.”

Last year, I profiled r/science’s launch of a regular Science AMA series. Short for “ask me anything,” AMAs have been a major bedrock of the Reddit community for years, allowing everyday users to interview A-list celebrities and even world leaders (Barack Obama’s 2012 AMA was so popular it temporarily broke the website). Launched by Nathan Allen, a longtime moderator — or mod — for r/science, the Science AMA series was geared toward inviting in some of the world’s most highly-regarded scientists to take questions from the Reddit masses. With its subscribership of over 8 million redditors, r/science provided these scientists with a mode of one-to-one interaction they had never before experienced, thereby allowing them to further bridge the science communication divide.

These AMAs didn’t go unnoticed in the larger scientific community, least of all by Costello. She reached out to Allen earlier this year, and through their back-and-forth conversations they decided to launch what would be called PLOS Science Wednesdays (a wink wink reference to public radio’s Science Friday), a weekly AMA that would feature a scientist who had recently been published in a PLOS journal. The first of these debuted a little over two months ago, and about a dozen total have been held since then. “I think a lot of scientists certainly feel that they’re very concerned about the disconnect in science when it comes to the larger issues,” she said, citing widely-held misconceptions about GMOs and climate science. “We’ve sort of taken it on that we need to do a better of job of putting the science out there.”

It seems clear the r/science community has been largely receptive to the series. Reading through the PLOS Science Wednesday discussions, I was struck by the range of expertise that could be found in a single question-and-answer thread. In an AMA with Tom Baden and Andre Maia Chagas, two neuroscience researchers who developed laboratory equipment using 3D printers, one of the top-voted comments came from a grad student in neuroscience and chemical biology; he or she asked a question to such specificity and science-based expertise that a non-scientist would struggle to understand the question, much less know the answer. But then just a few comments down from that a user called glioblastomas asked a much broader question that wouldn’t require any specialized proficiency for those following along.

reddit science discussion

Andrew Farke, a paleontologist whose paper published in PLOS ONE last year documented the discovery of a new dinosaur, found that the questions asked to him in his AMA were easily palatable for a general audience. “The sense I got from the questions was that most [of the participants] were fairly dinosaur interested but not necessarily experts,” he told me in a phone interview. “There were a few folks who I knew from their screen names were colleagues who decided to drop in and contribute, but for the most part it was people who were science savvy but not really scientists themselves.”

Though Reddit had been on Farke’s radar for quite some time, he didn’t really consider himself a redditor, nor did he have a user account prior to his AMA. But the r/science mods and Costello had put together an easy-to-follow tutorial on how to use the site, and he found the process fairly easy to grasp. Within minutes, questions were flowing in, and his main challenge was choosing the order in which to tackle them. “Questions that got lots of upvotes, those were the ones I would target first,” he said. “It was nice because there weren’t so many posts that I couldn’t answer most of them within the allotted time window. There was some triaging of questions, determining whether a question was actually answerable, or at least asked in good faith. Most of them were.”

I asked Farke to compare his experience with, say, getting his study covered in the New York Times. His response:

The thing that’s really nice about [the AMA] is it provides access to working scientists by people who don’t necessarily have that access. There’s a long tradition with museums and universities where you can go to a talk and you can ask some questions at the end of it, and that’s good if you live in a university town close to a museum, but there are a lot of people for whatever reason who don’t necessarily have that … It’s not exactly the equivalent of having your research on the front page of the New York Times, that’s obviously different. But it does make [the research] more visible, and gives a chance for people who really want to engage with science to engage with it in a way that’s a little more personal than what’s offered by a newspaper article or a blog post.

Getting coverage in the mainstream press and on forums like Reddit has a much broader utility than simply informing the public. “If a study is written about in the Huffington Post, other scientists who happen to be reading the [news article] are going to find out about it,” said Costello. “And given the number of new papers, 2 million a year, this is really helping people find each other who want to collaborate and catch up on new science.”

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According to numbers supplied to Costello by Reddit mods, the first PLOS Science Wednesday generated 172,000 views within the Reddit thread, and the two subsequent AMAs amassed around 72,000 (the initial spike was likely due to the novelty of the series). She’s also noticed downstream effects; one of the scientists who participated saw a spike of between 1,000 and 2,000 new visitors to his blog. “Of course a smaller number go back to the article,” she said. “But it’s a significant number of readers, and it’s also a quantity, not quality, thing when it comes to actually bringing other scientists here to read papers. There’s nothing more important than having a scientist’s peers read his paper.”

Of course, it’s difficult to put such large numbers in perspective. In a world where social networks are collecting hundreds of millions of users, one can be forgiven if you become desensitized and lose sight of what it all means. Costello told me that she only really processed the impact when one of the scientists who partook in an AMA sent her this photo of a sports stadium:

stadium

“For comparison, this stadium, when full, has fewer people,” wrote the scientist. “Normally when I give a talk it is to 20-80 people…at a conference perhaps a few hundred. The internet certainly changes the scale of things!”

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FULL DISCLOSURE: Want to know how I was paid to write this article? I explain it in this video.