There’s something that wasn’t sitting quite right with me about this post that was published to The Writing Collective, a showcase publication for writers on Medium. The writer, whose intentions are good and who shares some solid (if anecdotal) advice on content promotion, essentially makes the case that by publishing – or republishing – posts on other platforms other writers can achieve better spread of their material and expose it to a broader audience.
What seemed to irritate me about the advice is that it comes from a place where content reach is so dependent on different platforms to begin with.
We’ve apparently completely lost the notion that you should be writing for 1) an audience and 2) the web as a whole. Those were core principles in the early days of blog writing and management. You wrote for both a select group and for anyone online because you wanted the former to engage, share and take your material seriously, while the latter were addressed through core search optimization tactics that would bring your material to the forefront *because* that first group had already helped it become a go-to resource.
Now we have to talk about platforms. But platforms are antithetical in many ways to the open web and inherently limit the audience that can see it.
If you publish on Medium, good for you, but by doing so you’re saying your primary audience is made up of Medium users. The same goes for Tumblr, LinkedIn and other owned platforms. Those sites – specifically the companies behind them – have set up “surface to other users” as the primary value proposition to those they want to attract or retain as content creators. Facebook makes the same pitch whenever it rolls out a new native content offering such as Facebook Watch and others.
You may distribute links to what you create on those platforms on Twitter or elsewhere, but the advantages of doing so seem to diminish every day and will only continue to do so.
That’s because it’s not in the interest of those platform-owning companies to encourage interoperability with competitors. At some point Medium will turn off the ability to easily share material with Facebook. Or Facebook will stop displaying links to Medium in an optimal way.
This platform-centric environment we find ourselves in isn’t doing anyone any favors. Managing the kind of promotional system the writer of the linked post outlines sounds like a full-time job in and of itself. And as I’ve said repeatedly, the companies that own the platforms are not guaranteed long and fruitful corporate lives. When Yahoo finally sunsets Tumblr people will find they’ve lost years and years of content, engagement history and more. Less serious, though no less real, are the consequences of the platforms making changes to their discovery algorithms, which can turn a top-performer into a nobody with the flick of a switch as the system they had optimized for is no longer in place.
WordPress, which I use almost exclusively, is indeed a platform. And it’s no more assured in perpetuity than any other piece of software. But while it does have a “Follow” feature that is meant for other WordPress publishers and users to easily track their favorite blogs and sites, that’s never been a main component or aspect of the value of using it. Instead that value is derived from the fact that it uses URLs, encourages linking and otherwise has at its heart a commitment to open access and freedom from the tyranny of the network.
There are advantages to cross-posting material across platforms, I know. I recently did just that with my recent story of my experiences working at Starbucks for the last two years, publishing that in full here as well as on Medium and LinkedIn because I wanted to give my story the maximum possible audience.
Even as I understood that tapping into that spread would be advantageous I felt the necessity of doing so was, for lack of a better word, icky. Those platforms aren’t where I want people to solely engage with me or find my content in full. Instead I want those external networks, in particular LinkedIn, to drive traffic back to this site, where I control more of the experience and where people can find out more about me.
It’s essential that we return to the “write for the open web” ideal that was prevalent so many years ago. This isn’t just a longing for the good old days, it’s a plea for us as writers – and creators of all sorts – to understand and embrace that doing so has long-term benefits that vastly outweigh the short-term spikes in engagement and readership we might see elsewhere. Platforms that want to own the entire user experience remove us from the rest of the web, exercising too much control over our entire online life.
As writers, we have the power to unshackle ourselves and our readers from that kind of control.