I’m Changing How I Use Medium After a Three Month Trial
I’m a writer these days but I have two degrees in computing and one of the things I love about running my own blog and publishing my own nonfiction books is the ability to examine the data and analyze my reader base, discover which stories connected, and to evolve my quest to find readers who love obscure English words as much as I do.
Today I sat down with a simple list of questions and drilled down into the results of my Medium trial period. The results have been illuminating for me. Who was it said that an unexamined life wasn’t worth living? [It was Socrates, btw]. Well, a writing experiment unexamined isn’t worth doing, in my opinion.
What, exactly, was my experiment? I joined Medium on the 1st of March 2021 and posted an article about etymology, the history of words, English words in my case, each Monday over the course of three months. Actually, I re-posted articles I had already published on my Wordfoolery blog on the same day, usually with some minor editing to make them more relevant to a Medium audience. This is allowed on Medium, by the way (the import stories button is very handy), and ensured that my copyright of the articles remained with me — something which is very important to me as I may use blog posts to feed into my word books, radio slot, or in other articles. The last thing I want, or need, is to lose editorial control of my writing.
I decided not to go behind the Medium paywall as a) this was an experiment and b) I’ve always liked the idea of sharing my word articles freely online for other word nerds to enjoy. I do charge for my other writing of course, but my word geekery is something I do for the fun of it. I accept that paywalls are needed for certain publications (newspapers, I’m looking at you) but I don’t enjoy them as a reader and hesitated to join one as a writer.
Aim of the experiment? To explore how Medium works for a small scale blogger and to see if it gained me any new readers either on Medium itself or over on my blog.
I produced, as always, carefully researched and written pieces exploring the history of specific words (the creator of the Celsius temperature scale, the history of tipping your waiter and its link to a venerable London tea shop, how a man called Freelove invented the fuel pump which led to gas/petrol stations, etc.). I attached one clear image in each post and linked, very politely to my blog/books at the bottom of each post in case readers wanted to explore further. I used my tags wisely and yes, etymology does appear regularly as a topic on Medium, so maybe, just maybe I might find some of my tribe on the platform. I’ve been writing on this topic since 2009 and have published two books so far (another one due out later this year) so I know the articles were of a good standard.
One recommended step I did not take was to link my Medium account directly to my social media. Yes my links are in my profile, but as I already promote my own blog’s posts via those channels, I didn’t want to spam my friends and readers. I’m always wary of interconnecting too many sites in this way as it can be a method to simply use you to gain access to your contact list. If you don’t think this happens, you may need to do some research about the ethics of Big Data.
The first couple of posts got a handful of views. No claps, no comments. I acquired one follower. “Don’t panic,” I thought to myself in the words of the wonderful Douglas Adams, who would never have managed to post every Monday. Deadlines weren’t his thing. “It’s early days, nobody knows I’m here yet.”
I let my own platform know my work would be available on Medium, I blogged about it, I put out the word, shared links, and kept posting my wordy articles.
Views and reads didn’t improve.
It might be different if you’ve built up a huge following elsewhere and you are willing to be a relentless self-promoter, but Medium wasn’t helping readers to find my work. Even which I searched for it myself, I couldn’t barely find it. Not a good sign.
That’s not a sweeping statement, by the way. I’ve dug through the stats for each article both on Medium (whose post level stats are good, I must admit) and on Wordpress (my blog-hosting platform). Articles which got great levels of reads, shares, likes etc via my blog both from loyal subscribers and random people who stumbled across them, simply died a death on Medium. Those that got any interaction on Medium did so primarily thanks to my own social media promotional efforts, not via Medium’s internal promotion algorithms. I might be on their site, but I wasn’t appearing on their radar. The one time I got an article selected for “further distribution” it still got more reads thanks to my own work rather than through the Medium promotion.
My secondary objective of finding a few new readers for my blog didn’t work either. My subscription rate for that time period was exactly the same as similar periods when I wasn’t a Medium user. I can only conclude that none of the people who read my work on Medium bothered clicking on to the Wordfoolery blog. Of course, they’re not obliged to, but if the platform doesn’t connect me to readers, then what is the point?
Advice online suggests that Medium readers like their articles to come from a personal space and to articulate your own opinion on a topic, perhaps mine are too factual. I posted a variety of lengths, wondering if shorter concise articles would win out over longer, in-depth items, but I honestly don’t have enough data from my experiment to draw a solid conclusion on that one and with plenty of other writing to be getting on with, I don’t have time for it either.
Despite all the stats I haven’t been able to identify why one article, about the inventor of the Celsius scale, would prove more attractive to readers than the one about the woman who invented the Apgar Score for newborns and saved thousands of newborns in the process. I really and truly hope that doesn’t come down to a lack of interest in female scientists/”female” topics. Even statistics will only get you so far in analyzing the results of an experiment.
My trial period is over now and I had four possible outcomes -
a) Continue to cross-post my blog each Monday
b) Stop cross-posting but leave existing posts live on Medium
c) Delete my Medium account
d) Continue for another three months and see if matters improve
I’ve decided to go with option b. If you’re looking for the inside scoop on the strange stories behind English words like scurryfunge, floccinocinihilipilification, and bamboozle then head over to www.wordfoolery.wordpress.com/ or find me as Wordfoolery on Twitter. I may still post here now and then but it will be about my writing, and yes, it still won’t be behind that paywall.
Thanks for reading about my experience. I hope it helps you if you’re a small-time blogger thinking about using Medium to get a leg up. I’m sure it works for some (perhaps best for those with huge platforms to begin with that they can connect to here), but it wasn’t for me. Not all experiments are successful as no doubt Celsius and Apgar would tell us. I did learn to work harder on my blog headlines to draw in readers. That’s one tip I’ll use more in future.
Until next time, happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,
Grace (a.k.a. Wordfoolery)