Innovation

Medium is huge: Why publishers are betting big on branded social content

By offloading technology challenges to Medium, publishers and brands are able to operate more efficiently, improve margins, and create better content.

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Image: Medium

Medium is huge. The social network and publishing platform is also low key. "We try to be the low-overhead, least-annoying CMS the world," laughed Edward Lichty, Medium's Head of Corporate Development and Strategy, during a phone interview. "A lot our team members have a high appreciation for the media industry," he said. "We think one of the best places publishers can win is in the margins, so we tried to make a CMS that's technically cool, but really easy to use."

Medium sidestepped pitfalls that plague pure social network competitors by staying focused on high-quality content and a simple user experience. Growth has been substantial. Medium was first available as a private beta to a small group of writers in 2012 and was released to the public in 2013.

According to a company spokesperson, today the site draws 25 million monthly unique visitors and has over 2 million cumulative posts on the site. This averages out to more than 75 thousand posts per week. In the past year readership has grown 97% to 2 million hours per month. Over the life of the site, users spent more than 3.5 millennia reading on the site.

Large publishers like Time, Inc.'s Money and Fortune will soon migrate to Medium, and sites like Human Parts, The Awl, Pacific Standard, and Backchannel are using the publishing tools to produce high quality, thoughtful content.

READ: Seven ways to build brand awareness into your digital strategy (Tech Pro Research report)

Medium's pitch to publishers is anchored in efficiency. The advantages of a speedy CMS are clear, Lichty said. "In our experience, publishers want to focus on publishing. We give publishers control of their content and let them offload the technology burden to us." The theory is that if the CMS is easier to use, publishers can devote more money and time to editorial business.

Medium recently released a suite of tools designed to help publishers reduce inefficiencies and improve margins by speeding up the publishing process.

Technology

The faster pages load, the faster readers read and share content. This is particularly important on mobile devices, where readers are likely to encounter content. Medium pages are compatible with Google Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) and Facebook Instant Articles. By centralizing technology services on the platform, Medium benefits from content and data, and publishers benefit from integrations like AMP and Instant Articles without assuming developer time and costs.

Content and branding

The company rolled out several content management and design tools created specifically for publishers. These tools make content migration fast, with easy HTML import and export controls.

The design suite is intended to make pages readable and distinct. The new tools emphasize styling options and tools publishers need, like masthead and logo design, a deeper range of image manipulation choices, and design that highlights audience membership conversation.

Monetization tools

Medium will run advertising—display units called "Promoted Stories"—with a small group of users and publishers. These native advertising units will look similar to organic recommendation links on sites hosted by Medium.com but feature a prominent "promoted story" label. Promoted ad units will link to sponsored stories paid for by brand partners that include Bose, SoFi, Nest, Intel, and Volpi Foods.

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Example of a promoted story. Image: Medium.

The company is also testing a monetization product called Membership. Like similar offerings from Patreon, Kickstarter, and YouTube, Medium Membership will allow publishers to sell subscriptions to readers.

"Large media companies and small companies use Medium and benefit from economies of scale," Lichty said. "We want to be the platform publishers rely on."

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About Dan Patterson

Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.

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