Do you remember when you first found out the ‘follow me’ on social media — was it on twitter?
You frowned upon the word ‘follow’ that, for you, it always means ‘to go or come after’ when someone or something moving ahead. There is nothing personal about it, but rather a centralised direction to travel behind a leader.
I cringed and thought how weird that was that a stranger asked you to follow him/her. But it got even strange that in reality, I just said ‘follow me’ to build a new friendship. As time went by, follow me on social media became a norm, a common request from anyone.
Yes, Follow Me.
If Linkedin has the ‘connect’ button, twitter with ‘follow’ button to build a network of connection and followers, it all makes sense. Because the two are social media platform. Medium recently announced to create a relational and readership on its platform.
Things suddenly fall short. Has this social media platform proven problematic for Medium?
Just about eight years ago, the two founders of Twitter launched Medium. The entire website was back then exclusively ‘the invite-only’, but outsiders could read diverse collections of articles. Madrigal, writing for the Atlantic, in his article ‘What is Medium?’ in 2013, he quoted its founder, Ev Williams. Medium is a new place on the Internet, where people share ideas and stories that are longer than 140 characters and not just for friends.
While the intention ingenuously sounds remarkable, but does it serve its purpose?
Madrigal writes that at the time he was confused whether Medium was some publication — a genre in itself — or a platform idea for anything to do anything and find the right audience. He writes that Medium’s strategy is to create a beautiful, simple blogging platform.
From the beginning of sharing ideas and stories more than 140 characters, Medium is a social media that worships the followership as its business model. It means it treats stories and articles not more than a social media post or update. Its algorithm is data-driven. Whatever story or article you publish, it will disappear as soon as others come up on the surface. So the more often a writer publishes, the more recognition a writer gets as the story will appear regularly. Consistency and acquaintanceship mean more followers.
Social media users might need followers because they don’t bound to their post. Their identity isn’t on their posting, but rather their profile, profession, and whatever they want to represent to the domain of the platform. Their posts are temporary; it will get buried by the algorithm as soon as they posted it. Hence, users are racing for likes, retweets, and shares.
Writers don’t need followers. They need readers. Whatever stories and articles a writer publish, it is their voice. Their voice is the body of their creation. It’s similar to a film director with the film he/she directed. It is their reputation, body of art, and identity. So a writer’s responsibility is a writer’s authorship in itself. In other words, for a writer, readers are the backbone, not the followers.
So it is problematic for Medium to treat writers and readers as users similar to social media because it just doesn’t fit the spirit of the platform and it has become more problematic as the platform is growing.
Writers don’t build their authorship under the same belief of followership. The relationship is perpetually mutual. It is not how many followers a writer needs, and it is the readers’ appreciation of their stories. It is to my concern that the ‘follow’ button seems to worship ‘the followership’ instead of relational readership.
On the landing page, before you join Medium, it says Medium is the home for your best thinking. Our open platform has what you need to publish, grow your audience, and earn, all in one place. Let’s hope that Medium won’t fall victim under its own tag ‘Get smarter what it matters to you’.
But on the contrary, It is no different from social media. If the Social Media business model sees its doomsday, more people will realise that its legacy is no more than a data-driven machine. The machine feeds on data that see people as objectification of commercialism and consumerism. If you already watched ‘The Social Media Dilemma’ on Netflix, you’re familiar with it.
So many questions arise:
- Borrowing again from Madrigal, is Medium a better place on the Internet or is it any old place on the Internet?
- Does the ‘follow’ button on a writer’s profile suit a writer’s purpose to build the readership and the authorship? Or is it just the leftover social media legacy that Medium is aiming to separate from it?
- If it’s then a readership, will the data-driven algorithm get writers and readers toward the relational? Remember that we are talking about stories with such voice and quality, written concisely and beautifully and supported by research, only to find out their destinies are ephemeral and will sink because their words aren’t reaching out to the broader audience.
- The blurry line between followership and readership encourage writers to build followers, but are followers the genuine readers? Or Do they follow a writer without even read a single story? But doesn’t it contradict with a writer’s purpose to build a relational readership?
This platform has such a big vision for writers and readers, and they might not even realise it. Medium shouldn’t be a social media cliche, but a ceaseless nourishing platform for writers-readers and readers-writers, aiming for better authorship and readership.
In the meantime, I hope I am right thinking that Medium is now aiming for the objective to build a relational readership, and it means to draw an exact straight line between readership and followership. I hope. Medium is with me believing that it’s time to leave the old spirit of ‘selfishness’ social media behind, aiming towards a pure relational body of authorship.
Before this one too also sinks into obscurity because I don’t publish every day on Medium and I don't have a large number of followers, I hope Medium has the same concern as I do. Rechallenge itself whether writers are worth followership or readership?
Over to you, Medium.