- 04/15/2014


Medium vs. LinkedIn: The Publishing Platform Battle

Influencers looking for places for their writing to be read online have never had it so good.

While SumAll’s blog is great (we like it a lot), the race between Medium vs. LinkedIn to become the entrepreneur’s publishing platform of choice is paying big dividends. And depending on who you’re trying to reach, choosing between the two is an important decision. Both Medium and LinkedIn offer powerful, and very different, content management systems (CMSes). Depending on what you want to write and who you want to reach, the choice could make big differences for your business’ future.

Blogs and How to Reach an Audience

Many people want a venue for reaching a wide readership online. Many of those people, crucially, can actually write. But cultivating and maintaining an online audience requires a deliberate strategy; a crucial part of this strategy is deciding what platform to write on.

For most influencers, deciding on a platform requires careful weighing of autonomy, audience, and economics. While a blog (either self-hosted or through an external host like Squarespace) offers the most autonomy for appearance and aesthetics, it’s often difficult to attract readers. Tumblr is too visual, Twitter is too in-the-moment, and Facebook is better for brand voices than individual thought leaders.

While there are other useful platforms such as Quora, LinkedIn and Medium offer the best opportunities for thought leaders.

LinkedIn: Narrowcasting with Engagement

For the past few years, LinkedIn users have been able to read blog posts from their “Influencers” program, where big names like Richard Branson and Ari Emanuel posted thoughts and essays. In February, LinkedIn opened the influencers program to all users. The move was part of a conscious decision to build LinkedIn into a larger destination site where users would stay and consume original content, rather than just hunting for a job or figuring out the relevant contact at a company.

LinkedIn offers a simple but powerful publishing engine to users looking to write blog posts. Posts go directly to LinkedIn’s stream, where they can be seen by a larger public. Although the company will not go into detail about how exactly their algorithms work, we do know that they tend to show up in the news feeds of the people users share the most connections with—and especially shared connections who are on LinkedIn frequently. The social networking service thrives on a small minority of users who are on the site or their mobile app frequently; in a lucky coincidence, these power users often have lots of money to spend or have influential roles at their organization.

Dave Kerpen, a media strategist and longtime publisher on LinkedIn’s influencer program, wrote in Inc. Magazine that he had 16 million LinkedIn blog readers last year. According to Kerpen, he acquired 300,000 followers, thousands of sales leads and more than $1 million in revenue from his LinkedIn audience—not too shabby.

While Kerpen might be an outlier, he understands the use of LinkedIn to reach a highly engaged audience. Because LinkedIn is acceptable in most office environments (unlike, say, Facebook or Twitter), it offers the perfect venue for reaching people on the job. Posting to LinkedIn guarantees a large potential audience; once an article is up, the only challenge is finding the words and thoughts that will get them to click on that link.

Medium: Getting Literary

While LinkedIn is a household name, Medium is still in the process of making themselves known. A blogging service owned by Twitter founder Ev Williams, the site is closely integrated into Twitter but has a different readership.

For the past year or so, Medium has functioned as an invite-only site dedicated to longer, more literary blog posts. Compared to LinkedIn’s more utilitarian CMS, Medium’s is a bit more ornate—lots of space to put in high-resolution pictures, more attractive text, and even the ability for readers to annotate individual paragraphs.

In a blog post, Williams described Medium as “a beautiful space for reading and writing—and little else. The words are central. They can be accompanied by images to help illustrate your point. But there are no gratuitous sidebars, plug-ins, or widgets. There is nothing to set up or customize.”

This ease of use and Twitter integration means that Medium is the perfect place for longer articles and thought pieces. While Medium has a smaller potential audience than LinkedIn, it also makes longer pieces of writing look much better.

Interestingly, Medium maintains a stable of in-house editors who solicit stories even while the site tries to attract posters from the larger internet. While Medium pays a small roster of freelancers for marquee stories, anyone can use Medium’s platform—and get page views from the readers who come to see the marquee stories.

But there’s also a lot of bad writing on Medium that occasionally pollutes the bandwidth—readers occasionally get scared off by regurgitated publicist press releases and poorly edited rants. Unlike LinkedIn, which broadcasts to a smaller but more engaged audience, success on Medium requires relentless image-honing.

The Battle Royale

However, there’s one kicker: Neither Medium nor LinkedIn Influencers is better than the other as a platform. Both are very different products, suited to very different needs, with somewhat different audiences, that serve a common goal.

LinkedIn is best for short posts that are under 750 words: Quick, read-it-while-you-wait-for-a-phone-call meditations on business and leadership. Instead of a complicated essay or mini book, LinkedIn’s strong suit is presenting quick thoughts that spur clicks and reader comments.

Meanwhile, Medium is a different beast altogether that’s perfect for longer business leadership thoughts. The beauty of Medium’s interface lends itself to longer essays and more nuanced writing—and the fact that it’s deeply integrated with Twitter helps when it is time to have a thought goes viral.

Both services are free, and both services reach different audiences. Do the smart thing, and use both.