Is Evan Williams’ Medium really that important? (Medium Part 2)

Every social media platform seems to have a moment when it becomes important for more than just sharing cat videos. For blogging platform Medium, 2016 was that moment. Between 2015 and 2016, Medium became the site of a spat between the New York Times and Amazon, a scathing open letter to the CEO of Yelp, and the full text of the State of the Union address. Why did these posts end up on Medium and what can they teach us about how to write an effective viral post? (If you’re wondering what Medium is, check out my last post.)

The New York Times decided to use Medium when Amazon attacked their article. (Photo courtesy of Jason Kuffer)

The New York Times decided to use Medium when Amazon attacked their article. (Photo courtesy of Jason Kuffer)

When newspapers want a conversation

In August of 2015, the New York Times published an incriminating article about Amazon’s corporate culture, accusing the retail giant of having a “bruising workplace.” Two months later, after conducting its own investigation, Amazon responded to the Times with an open letter on Medium from senior VP Jay Carney. A few hours after Carney’s post went live, Times executive editor Dean Baquet responded with his own post on Medium.

Why did these two organizations decide to hash out their disagreement on Medium? The New York Times is one of the most widely read newspapers in the world, and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post. It wouldn’t have been difficult for Carney or Baquet to publish an editorial in one of those publications. However, the advantage that Medium has over traditional publishing platforms is that it allows writers to receive instant feedback. Had Baquet wanted to respond to Carney’s letter in the Times, he likely would have had to wait a few days, during which time Amazon could have gained more control of the story. Using Medium allowed both Amazon and the New York Times more exposure and an immediate response.

The lesson? Use Medium when you want to have a lengthy, detailed conversation with your publics. This is likely why the White House, which frequently publishes news releases on Medium, released the full text of the 2016 State of the Union address before President Barack Obama delivered it to Congress. Medium users responded with their own posts about the Obama administration and their opinions on his policies and efforts. This allows the White House to hear from influencers and citizens who might otherwise not share their thoughts and feelings toward these policies.

It’s a place for opinions to be heard

Talia Jane’s relationship with Yelp had an ugly ending. (Embedded from Twitter)

Talia Jane’s relationship with Yelp had an ugly ending. (Embedded from Twitter)

Even if your key publics aren’t on Medium, you still might want to make sure that you are monitoring the content posted there, because someone else just might write about you. That’s what happened to Yelp when Talia Jane wrote an angry open letter to CEO Jeremy Stoppelman. Jane was woking as a customer service representative for Eat24, Yelp’s food-ordering app. Jane claimed she was overworked, underpaid and struggling to pay her bills in San Francisco. Frustrated with her living situation, she began tweeting at Stoppelman but didn’t get a response.

Finally, Jane vented all her frustration in a lengthy open letter on Medium. Two hours after her post went live, Jane was fired for violating Yelp’s terms of conduct. Yelp declined to comment directly on the incident, citing company policy, but Stoppelman responded to Jane’s letter in a series of tweets, saying Yelp would be moving wage-level positions out of San Francisco and that Jane was not fired on his authority.

Thanks to an active presence on social media, Yelp was able to successfully control the incident. Jane was heavily criticized for her lifestyle and decision to live by herself in San Francisco on a minimum-wage job, and her post sparked a conversation about the cost of living in the Silicon Valley and “entitled millennials.” The lesson? Keep up with what people are saying about you on Medium and be ready to join the conversation if necessary.

“The web’s fountain pen”

“In an Internet of hurried, scruffy ballpoints, Medium is the web’s fountain pen,” wrote BBC reporter Dave Lee. Indeed, Medium has become a place for anyone to share his or her ideas in full. “The truth is,” says co-founder Evan Williams, “people still read all day long.” Thanks to Medium, you can be sure that your all your thoughts will be heard. So what are you waiting for? Get on Medium and give your publics something to read!

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