What to Consider When the Platforms Show Up with Money

Over at Nieman Lab, Laura Hazard Owen has written an interesting breakdown of how Medium wooed five different publishers over to its platform, and how it’s going so far. Unfortunately (not Laura’s fault; blame the NDAs!), it’s missing a critical piece of the wooing, which is a financial breakdown of what each of them might have been promised.

It’s a time-tested strategy for social networks to pay influential early adopters to use their service, in the hopes of convincing regular folks to create content on it for free. And this is a volatile time for the media business. If you’re a publisher, and Medium is offering you guaranteed revenue in exchange for sponsored content, or Facebook is paying you to create live videos, or maybe Snapchat is paying you to create some video, why say no to those opportunities? In the case of Facebook’s live videos, for example, it’s great to see more reporting on the actual price tag, and how these content deals actually work. That can empower other publishers as they go into these meetings. It’s not merely about “exposure.”

I’m biased, because I work for Automattic, and Medium now seems to be pitching itself as a replacement for WordPress or WordPress.com. But I think it’s a stretch to suggest a proprietary social network can or should replace one’s website. First, aesthetically, there’s this branding problem:


Second, and more importantly, there’s the question of what happens to the audience you’re building there. Is it your audience, or Medium’s? Can you communicate with them on your own terms, and can you take them with you if you decide to leave?

My own case study, for what it’s worth: I started Longreads on a proprietary social network: Twitter! It resided there exclusively for the first year of its life. The fact is that Longreads could not have taken off without Twitter’s already existing community. But as we grew, I found that we definitely needed our own website — and to put our entire existence under one social network’s control seemed crazy. We wanted to design a more unique experience catering to our readers and add more context to our story recommendations.

We also started an email newsletter, which is the second best thing any small publisher can ever do. With WordPress and something awesome like MailChimp, publishers retain total control, not to mention how and when they communicate with their readers.

Here are just few other considerations for any proprietary platform:

  • Can your content be easily exported from the platform if you decide to stop using it, or if they decide to pivot?
  • Can you collect email subscribers, and can they be easily exported from the platform should you decide to move?
  • Can you syndicate your content, in full, via feeds like RSS?
  • Can you dictate the terms of when your followers see your content, or are you subject to the whims of algorithmic surfacing?
  • When a visitor comes to your site, is your name or brand the hero? Or is it the platform’s brand?
  • Do you have control over the comments section and who gets a voice in your world?

Maybe some of these matter to you, and some don’t matter at all! It really depends on your own goals and why you’re publishing in the first place. But they’re all worth considering, especially if you want to build your own business, versus building someone else’s.

3 responses to “What to Consider When the Platforms Show Up with Money”

  1. Will this be cross-posted to Medium at any point? I see a lot of things on Medium that were published somewhere else first. 😉

  2. This resonates with a blog post I read recently about the power dynamics (creators vs. distributors) in the music industry:


    Disclosure: my name is Mark. I work with Mark. We share a state. I’ll stop there.

  3. Mark,

    As the Digital Strategy Coach at Mountain BizWorks, a lending and learning nonprofit in Asheville, just today I found myself advising one of my coaching clients on the pitfalls of tying yourself to Amazon or Etsy to sell crafts. I can’t knock Medium, as it’s a unique content creation platform giving voice to a fair amount of authoritative content. However, what happens if Medium goes away, pivots, deletes or loses your content, or does something else that – like you said – you cannot control.

    It is super important to control your brand identity and your content on the Internet. Sure, you can publish on LinkedIn in the hopes that your contacts will share your content in that network. Or, you can publish to Medium and get some share of voice there. Ultimately, when people are looking for your and your ideas, they are going to look for your home base. For your website where you publish and where you can have a one to one relationship with those who follow you. You can’t monetize Medium in the traditional sense. You have to build a voice there, but then push people to your own site where you book the speaking engagement or sell the webinar. Medium can’t do that…yet. Will they? Not sure. But proprietary systems always have competing interests and can only serve a segment and not the broader population. That’s what makes WordPress so powerful, is that while there are a set of standards around WordPress, the ability to plug and play any plugin or theme to get you to where you need to be and owning your content is far more powerful.

    All these platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Medium, Pinterest, Instagram, SnapChat) give you the ability to connect with a ton of people, but at the end of the day, it’s those who take the step to engage with you in your website that is going to support your business or personal branding campaign. But you have to leverage your platform and certainly WordPress and all the 3rd party plugins and themes that are out there give you far more opportunity to control your footprint than a Medium or Twitter does. Facebook is a very powerful platform, but not everyone is on Facebook; there are those who simply refuse to engage in that social network. Having a mobile responsive website connected to Google Webmaster Tools with a sitemap and stellar, rich, deep, authoritative content is going to separate you.

    Everyone runs to the next best thing, but when they realize they don’t have the flexibility, they always to their own site. I see it everyday. WordPress and it’s huge ecosystem provide the tool and technology to win in the end. I will always recommend this path forward to my clients – sometimes in tandem with other services. But they shouldn’t forego the power of WordPress to control their footprint on the Internet, their content within that footprint, and the opportunity to generate revenue on their own terms.

Leave a Reply