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