Let Your Message Fly on a Platform You Don’t Own

In the past year, the blogging platform Medium has become increasingly important as a way to distribute ideas without filtration. That growth, particularly in the political sector, highlights the need to think beyond your own website when it comes to content marketing and advocacy.

Friday was a typical day on the centralized blogging platform Medium.

People were flocking to a post by Foursquare cofounder Dennis Crowley, in which he announced that the company was taking $45 million in new funding (bringing its valuation to half of what it was at its previous funding round) and that he was giving up his CEO role to become the firm’s executive chairman.

“It frees up my time from operational and management duties and allows me get back to the ‘let’s just make something awesome that people love’ spirit that got us here,” he wrote, in a way that allowed him to get around the negative press floating around the valuation story.

Meanwhile, a guy from Seattle named Ben Haggerty was preparing his next big career move. Haggerty, whom you might be more familiar with as Macklemore, used Medium to announce the name of his latest album with his creative partner, Ryan Lewis: This Unruly Mess I’ve Made.

“Even if it’s not perfect, or politically correct, you have to speak up and you have to listen,” Haggerty wrote in his post.

And journalist Tim Carmody saw his obituary of Alan Rickman—a post that made the case that Rickman’s roles in Die Hard and Harry Potter weren’t nearly as perfect as his performance in Sense and Sensibility—break through with a level of thoughtfulness usually set aside for the back page of a magazine.

“Everything Alan Rickman did, everything he was, every part he played and every idea we had of him, was a thing achieved. What a life,” he wrote.

The diversity of ideas floating in this platform is hard to ignore.

A Megaphone for Messages

These posts, in their own ways, highlight Medium’s strength as a platform—not as a news site or a publication, but as a way of telling a story without filtration.

It’s a flexible, malleable thing that allows for both freedom and reach. In none of these cases did any of the authors need Medium to tell their stories. There’s no reason Dennis Crowley couldn’t have posted what he did on the Foursquare blog—or included it in a press release, as many companies and associations do. Macklemore, being a Grammy winner and man of many hits, could easily have put his message on his website and Twitter feed. And Carmody’s message, sweet as it is, could have been a great entry on a personal blog.

But Medium is a megaphone for messages, and these messages aren’t going through another layer, another media outlet, or even a dedicated website.

That makes it perfect for sharing an opinion, a well-articulated piece of research, or a piece of breaking news in your own world. And by tagging it correctly and building up your follower base (I recommend following Buffer’s suggestions), it can be a powerful way to send a message into the world.

“The Individual Website Won’t Matter”

A couple weeks back, Politico reported that many political figures had started using Medium as a way to get an unfiltered message out to the public, including bigwigs such as House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina. Medium has encouraged this by putting staffers in Washington, DC, and has gone so far as to hire former Mitt Romney staffer Jack Gerard Jr., son of the American Petroleum Institute CEO.

The Obama administration kicked off the trend a year ago by publishing the president’s 2015 State of the Union address on the website, breaking its own embargo in the process.

It’s notable is how far the trend has snowballed beyond the White House in the past 12 months. It’s now a bona fide strategy that’s becoming more difficult to ignore—like Twitter during the 2012 presidential campaign and YouTube in the 2008 race. Is this going to be a wider trend that you need to consider in your content marketing plan?

Evan Williams, cofounder of both Medium and Twitter, certainly thinks so. At Sovrn’s I-Squared Publisher Summit in September, he predicted that independent publishing through blogs or other outlets would eventually lose steam. This is particularly notable because Williams founded Blogger, the company that kicked off the blogging revolution.

“The idea won’t be to start a website. That will be dead,” Williams explained, according to Forbes. “The individual website won’t matter. The internet is not going to be about billions of people going to millions of websites. It will be about getting it from centralized websites.”

Now, if you’re familiar with the RSS feeds of years past—the ones Google stabbed in the heart when it killed off Reader a few years back—this description might sound familiar. You never had a reason to go to the website in an RSS reader, did you? Williams, without saying it, has positioned Medium to be the new RSS feed. But it’s far from the only one out there.

In the past year, Facebook has improved its own Notes functionality so it’s more like Medium’s, and LinkedIn has become a major content hub of its own (though some have questioned whether the platform’s quality is dipping). And there are other competitors, like Svbtle and (if you’re thinking bigger) even Apple News.

Grow Your Message Like a Weed

But ultimately, it has to be said: If you’re looking to get your association’s message noticed beyond your own walled garden, you’re going to have to start planting seeds outside of its borders. I won’t go as far as Williams did—you still need a website, and independent publishing certainly isn’t going away—but there is a lot of opportunity for sites like Medium and LinkedIn Pulse to kill the press release, or at least hurt its value, by changing what we expect out of corporate messaging and political advocacy.

I think part of the reason for that goes back to Dennis Crowley’s post last week. Rather than simply announcing the leadership change in a standard-issue press release—the kind your association may have sent out at the start of the new year—the Foursquare cofounder was able to contextualize the move in his own voice, rather than the PR-speak that has become common in both journalists’ inboxes and PR newswires.

“Our new executive team is the strongest we’ve had in place in the history of the company. That’s a huge deal,” he wrote.

Your association has likely had a change nearly as big as this in the past couple of years. Why are you relying on a press release to make it stand out?


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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