The Medium is the message. Or is it?

By Posted in - Blogging & Content Marketing on July 5th, 2016 2 Comments

Medium was launched in 2012 by Twitter founders Ev Williams and Biz Stone. In January 2016, it reported 30 million monthly visitors and there have been reports of significant funding over the past 9 months. Is it one to consider as part of your digital strategy? Here we look at what makes it different, as well as examples of how some institutions are using it.

Medium describes itself as “a community of readers and writers offering unique perspectives on ideas large and small”. Cynics might say it’s “a dumping ground for a different generation’s press releases.”. Either way, it’s another platform for schools, colleges and universities to consider when thinking about presenting stories to audiences in new and innovative ways.

So why consider Medium?

– The Medium homepage is a curated collection of articles, selected by the Medium algorithm apparently valuing quality over any other factors:

In a post (on Medium) Ev said “What we’re doing is ordering things by our best guess of the relative quality/interestingness of the different items—according to the people who have seen them. It’s not a direct popularity ranking. It takes in a variety of factors, including whether or not a post seems to actually have been read (not just clicked on) and whether people click the “Recommend” button at the bottom of posts.”

– If you sign up with Twitter or Facebook, Medium imports any followers or friends already on Medium so you have an immediate audience.

– Medium is a great platform for publishing long-form content that can be promoted on your other channels, and they have built in some useful analytics to help you assess the performance of your content.

– For each article Medium helpfully adds an estimated read time which is scientifically proven to increase engagement.

– In-line commenting and highlighting gives readers more opportunities to engage with your content, rather than just presenting users with a comment box at the end of the post. The “recommend” button also allows readers to become curators and adds credibility to your content.

– Your Medium channel can have multiple “publications” giving you the opportunity to categorise your content in different ways for different audiences or purposes.

As with all third-party platforms, you need to be aware that further down the line Medium may change their business model, charge for the service, or alter their licensing arrangements. But for the time being, it provides a great look, an easy-to-use CMS and access to a wider audience making it a good platform to consider for long-form storytelling.

So, who’s using it well?

My favourite example has to be Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin –

Marquette have really taken advantage of the opportunity to create multiple publications, with channels for student and alumni stories, research and magazine content (from their in-house publications).

Here’s a snapshot of some of their top performing posts from 2016 (thanks to their Director of Social Media, Tim Cigelske ‏@TeecycleTim)

As a Catholic, Jesuit university, they have also created a publication called #JesuitEducated – “A weekly series of reflections on lives transformed by Jesuit education” thinking beyond Marquette, and really positioning themselves as a leading Jesuit institution, providing content that will appeal to their audiences’ beliefs and spiritual needs.

Jesuit Educated Marquette

Back in the UK, the University of Cambridge have amassed 9k followers on their Medium account –

Unlike Marquette, Cambridge have focused on one particular publication with their channel – the Cambridge Animal Alphabet – which was created between July and November 2015.

Celebrating Cambridge’s connections with animals through literature, art, science and society, the Alphabet presents university research in a creative way. The individual articles also include a great mix of audio from the University’s Soundcloud account, video from YouTube and imagery from their archives, so the content is rich and varied. Careful thought has gone into planning and creating this mini-series, and the Medium platform is a great way to publish this collection.

Cambridge Animal Alphabet

Back to the USA, and the University of Portland this time –

Like Marquette, Portland have created a number of publications including one for their award-winning University magazine, a couple for student orientation, and one for September 11.

The September 11 publication is similar to the Cambridge Animal Alphabet in that it’s a discrete channel for a series of stories on a theme – in this instance, the 9/11 terrorist attack on America. The stories in this publication were authored by Brian Doyle, Editor of the university magazine and were all published on September 5th 2015, in the lead up to the anniversary – as you might see with a special edition print publication.

They all use the same style of black and white imagery giving the publication a coherence. One of the stories combines an embedded Soundcloud clip and video giving readers another way to experience the content.

Portland - Briand Doyle on September 11

The Portland Orientation publication #UP19 was created on the run up to the start of the academic year in August 2015, and features student-focused articles to help new students joining the University. Stories include things to do in Portland, tips on understanding the lingo, and advice on making friends and getting set up with technology on campus.

They’ve set up a new publication for Orientation #UP20 and have started replicating some of the articles there for new students joining in 2016. I wonder whether they would have been better sticking with one channel and just adding to it rather than creating a new one but I can see how they would like the content to look fresh for the new Pilots.

Our final example is the University of Northampton who have also embraced the channel –

Of all the channels mentioned here, this one seems to be the most regularly (and recently) updated. There is also a lot of variety, with recent stories including:


They also have commentary from staff on news events such as the EU referendum and the murder of Jo Cox MP and the medieval march through Northamptonshire from Magna Carta to Parliamentary Democracy.

They have also established a number of publications including:

The English and Creative Writing account features stories about department activities and events such as “Subject Futures Week”. I would love to see more student-authored creative writing on a channel like this, but maybe that’s another idea or opportunity to be pursued.

Do you use Medium at your institution? Is it something you might consider? Before you jump in, think about why you might want to choose a third party platform like Medium. If you’re positioning your institution as a thought-leader or publishing content that doesn’t suit your normal website style then a site like this is great. But if you’re trying to encourage people to engage with services and information on your own site then you may not want to draw them away to another platform. Instead, think about how you can incorporate that content on your own site.

We would love to hear more examples of institutions using Medium to publish quality, long-form content for engaging audiences. Or if you need help getting started with Medium or need ideas for how you could use it, drop us a line and we’d be happy to chat.


(2) awesome folk have had something to say...

  • Nathan Monk - Reply

    July 5, 2016 at 1:17 pm

    There are presumably the same legal problems (but most will disregard ala tumblr) but I wonder more about the long term payoff.

    Is there any indicative data to show how using Medium increases key metrics at universities?

  • Ellie Lovell - Reply

    July 6, 2016 at 10:57 am

    Hi Nathan. It’s a good (and tricky) question! Of course it depends on what the metrics are, but there’s also the case that it’s very difficult – some would say impossible – to show cause and effect when it comes to social media and content marketing. How can you pinpoint activity on Medium (or other social channels) to contributing directly to student recruitment for example when we know it’s such a complex decision making process? Where there are clearer metrics like with fundraising, it can be easier to map out how content has played a direct role in contributing to that donation, but again there will likely be other factors that are harder to determine. Trackable urls are useful to see how many people are progressing from Medium to key pages on your website (if there’s a specific goal in mind for the content) and metrics like those provided by Tim at Marquette are useful to indicate levels of engagement with the institution, but how those metrics relate to specific objectives is a much bigger question.

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