The "Real" Problem With Writing On Medium
I made the mistake I've been telling people not to make for 17 years. Now I have to fix it. Don't make the same mistake, okay?
Let me tell you a crazy story. Totally true. Several years ago, I got a strange email out of the blue. This guy was watching the Oscars and saw a couple of celebrities carrying a really distinctive handbag. So he dug around, found the designer and asked him who built his website. I did. That’s how he found me, through another client.
So he told me his very sad story. Like the designer, he also sold handbags. Unlike the designer, he did not have celebrities carrying his bag. Matter of fact, his business was dead in the water at the moment. Facebook killed it, and they didn’t care.
When he got online, he set up shop on Facebook. It was dead easy and cheaper than hiring a designer or learning to build his own site.
And for a while, all was good. He had 5000 rabid followers and was selling handbags like crazy. Until the day he woke up to find his page gone. Poof. Just gone.
In a panic, he contacted Facebook to ask why. Policy violation, they said. They wouldn’t even tell him what policy he violated and wouldn’t reinstate his page. His whole business was dead and gone.
Worse — he had no way to contact his customers.
I told him the cardinal rule of business.
Don’t build your house on someone else’s land.
I’ve been saying that since Facebook opened up to the public 17 years ago.
That’s the rule every single writer on Medium broke. Including me. And we did it for the same reason that guy built his business on Facebook. It was dead easy. Open a page and write. And get paid. Just like that guy, the going was good. For a while.
A lot of people are complaining about the changes at Medium. But the fact of the matter is, Medium was never the “real” problem. The real problem was that we built our houses on someone else’s land because it was easy. We gave up control.
People make the same mistake on social media every day. They build a following on a platform that can whack them any day. Doesn’t matter if it’s Facebook, Instagram or TikTok. One algorithm change and poof, all that lovely traffic is gone.
I saw an author who has over 100K followers on TikTok and no link to a website. Her link goes to her Amazon listing. I just cringed. She can lose that any day. Any. Day. But I get it. It was easy. Just as easy as setting up on Facebook or Medium.
Here’s what I told that guy. I’m sorry, but you have to do the hard work of building an asset you own. That no one can take away on a whim or an algorithm change.
Fancy me not taking my own advice. lol.
Nothing wrong with using an external site to fuel traffic. We all know the saying “go where the people are.” But if you aren’t funneling people to your own asset, you are at risk every damn day. It’s not if. It’s just when.
If you don’t own your followers, if you can’t download them and take them somewhere else, they’re not your followers. Never were.
On Medium, you can’t download your followers.
That’s the real problem. Not the change in algorithms, not the change in CEO, not the change in distribution rules. The real problem is that they’re not “your” followers in the first place.
That client had a good ending. I didn’t get him on the red carpet, but we did get him featured on Oprah. And when that 3 minute clip hit the air, the thousands of people who signed up for his email list were his. Not Zuckerberg’s.
That’s what writers need to do. Build an asset they own.
You can do that on a website if you want. You can do that on Substack, too, because they do let you download your list. But you can’t do it on Medium or TikTok or any other site where you don’t own your audience.
Even if Medium “fixes” the algorithm so it favors you (or me) again, it will never be “your” audience. Or mine. It’s a hard lesson to learn. But a necessary one.
I know why I made the mistake of squatting on Medium. It was easy. And for a while, the pay was good. But even when the pay was good, it was still a mistake. Squatting always is. Because it’s not your land. So now I’m in rebuilding mode.
So if you’re doing what I did and just writing on Medium without building something of your own, I hope you’ll think about building an asset you own, too.
If you have questions, I’d love to hear them.
Maybe we can figure this crap out together. :)
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