Your ideas might matter, but they matter a lot more if you have followers or connections
I’ve put 4,000+ hours into indie game development, an industry where most projects fail. So entering the world of Medium, I was no stranger to the challenges and tribulations that come with freelance content creation. I do believe that in the end, those with skill and dedication find success.
But I also know systematic issues often make success much harder, especially for those who choose the less trodden routes.
It’s usually better to join the establishment and then break off, even if you had never wanted to be part of the establishment in the first place. Having industry connections can be a huge advantage if you want to freelance. It makes you appear credible to collaborators, funders, and customers alike.
My First Week at Medium
I’ve actually had pretty good results for a newbie, based on the statistical metrics I’ve found for Medium. My first story was distributed by curators in 3 tags. It has a 38% Read ratio despite being a 12 minute read, a length where 20–30% seems more typical (although read % would likely drop with more views).
I was pretty excited. It seemed Medium gave high visibility even for new writers. I didn’t have a gaggle of Twitter followers, or a writing reputation that preceded me. I find self-promotion boring or even scummy, and I’d rather focus on writing instead.
But just with publishing my first article, I started to notice behavior in the story feeds that seemed strange compared to other sites. I was using the politics tag(+4 others). So right after I published, I visited the politics portal from the homepage to see how my story was displayed there. I scrolled through all the “latest” stories, and mine was nowhere to be found.
About 5 hours after publishing the story, it finally showed up. But it was already pretty far down the list, so users would have to scroll some to find it. I felt that delay had somewhat hurt my chances to reach readers. The story kept falling, and a day later I had to scroll 3+ screen lengths to see my article (which I doubt anyone would do).
I thought that maybe, as a new user, Medium staff wanted to manually ‘vet’ my article before it was added to the feeds. So I hoped this type of delay would be temporary.
But then my 2nd story got no traction… only 4 views. I considered, of course, that my story was total trash and not even worth a click to anyone.
But I checked the politics feed again, and the story had never appeared. I was told by Medium support that ‘your stories don’t show up in your own feed’. But I had definitely seen my first story in that feed, and logging out didn’t make my 2nd story show up.
Navigating the site, I found only one way I could discover my story among the other recently published stories. It is a 3 step process. Manually type in and search for a term, then click on ‘tags’, then click on ‘latest stories’.
But why would I, or anyone else, jump through those hoops when there was a section with ‘latest stories’ just one click away? Users usually stick to the path of least resistance, especially if they are new or casual users. UI is specifically designed to nudge them towards certain destinations.
That’s when I started to think, that in order for your story to be shown on the main pages, you need some strong social promotion. You are at an extreme handicap if you cannot quickly collect claps or curator endorsements. High quality writing wouldn’t do the job, because almost no one would see the story to judge it as either good or bad.
If you have certain connections in the news/writing industries, it seems you might be a shoo-in for this exclusive front page exposure. Otherwise, your best bet might be sticking with less popular tags, since your story wouldn’t be buried as deeply or quickly there.
I made a little comparison chart for a few websites on how easy I think it is to gain exposure to users who are not your friends/followers.