When Success Depends on the Network Effect

Back at the beginning of the year I mentioned I was no longer going to be either cross-posting material on Medium or publishing anything original there. Doing so, I reasoned at the time, was no longer in line with the goals I had set for my blog writing and in fact might be detracting from what I was doing here and on other owned platforms.

Part of that decision was simply it was a lot of work and I wasn’t seeing much success. The one time my “Read” stats spiked was when something I submitted to a publication on Medium was published, but that didn’t result in any influx of new followers or other gains, so it wasn’t something I repeated.

“Get your posts added to publications” is often one of the key tactics offered to or by those looking to make a name for themselves on Medium. I continue to have issues with the idea of being so narrow in your thinking about success but understand it’s a byproduct of our platform-centric social media era where people are “YouTube stars” and “Instagram influencers” and so on.

The problem is that “get added to publications” seems to me to be just a new spin on the kind of gatekeeping model blogging was originally intended to disrupt and innovate around. Additionally, this whole idea of relying on platforms to help surface your material and help you win is one that’s rapidly being exposed for the pipe dream it always has been.

In both cases, you are putting your future in someone else’s hands. You may see a bounce in your stats when you submit a piece to a publication, but everyone else is doing the same thing. Your material still has to rise above the rest to be noticed, Not only that, but months ago I saw a popular writing-focused publication boot everyone out so it could start fresh. All the work people had done to be accepted as a contributor (which they weren’t paid for, btw) was undone. [shrug emoji]

Similarly, counting on a platform’s proprietary algorithm to aid in exposure is not and never has been a good idea. While everyone may crow about how much Medium is helping them now, what happens tomorrow? It’s a question I’ve often asked when discussing this topic, but it’s a question we have an answer for when we look at the outrage by YouTube and Instagram stars who feel they’re being censored because the platform has changed how material is displayed or altered the terms of their monetization agreements.

Just as YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and other social networks have changed the deals made with creators on those platforms in ways that are often disadvantageous to those creators, it’s hard to believe Medium won’t do likewise. That’s especially true when you consider how often Medium has “pivoted” its business model and structure just in the last three years.

Staking your future to finding success on any platform you don’t own is never a great idea. It’s somewhat inevitable – even independent bloggers using their own hand-rolled sites are dependent on the whims of search to a great extent – but you can at least mitigate the risks.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Author: Chris Thilk

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist with over 15 years of experience in online strategy and content marketing. He lives in the Chicago suburbs.