A few months ago, Medium announced the cut down of one-third of their staff. The content platform started by Ev Williams, founder of Twitter and Blogger, also closed down its New York office. While many users and industry leaders believe that the media giant is on shaky ground, a young marketer has been leveraging Medium to reach millions of readers.
Silvia Li Sam is a 22-year old viral marketer who launched one of the largest publications on Medium, which since has grown to more than a quarter million followers. She has built 4 publications from scratch totaling almost half a million readers. Her secret? Provide value to your audience.
Though this advice is the first lesson that every marketer learns, few are able to execute on it. For Li Sam, it took hundreds of conversations with readers and writers to figure out what providing value really meant. Her first viral success came from meeting serial angel investor Chris Sacca, who invested in the seeds rounds of Uber and Instagram. He thinks that every person should learn how to tell a good story. She wrote a story on Medium about the biggest lesson she learned from the legendary investor: that successful people learned how to sell anything through stories. She went on to write stories that would be read by nearly 1 million people.
Here is what Li Sam recommends for anyone who wants to build an audience on Medium:
1. Narrative over facts
Don’t just mention who you are and how great your company is. Share why you care so much about what you’re doing. Share your backstory, your life theme, or your defining moments. Here’s an excerpt from one of Li Sam’s articles to make readers relate more to the story:
“With no knowledge of the culture and language, my parents saved money and emigrated to Peru with few belongings and the desire to have a brighter future. Growing up, I always felt like an outsider. At home, I had to be Chinese and at school, I had to be Peruvian. Because of that, high school was tough, though I was still getting good grades. I moved to Los Angeles to attend USC, and I was working in a nonprofit that taught design thinking and Lean Startup to underserved communities. Here, I realized that the American education system shared similarities to the Peruvian one. A lot of immigrant students shared a similar story to mine. I thought to myself: “I wish I had a way to share my problems with other people when I was young. I wish I had a platform to connect with others who felt the same way.” Education is so important to me because it is the foundation of the future. To make it better, we need to hear the voices of every single person in this country to provide them all opportunities to succeed.”
Now, after reading this, imagine if she had just said: “ Education is so important to me because it is the foundation of the future. To make it better, we need to hear the voices of every single person in this country to provide them all opportunities to succeed.” By itself, this sentence would sound generic, right? You need to create a narrative behind every story, and try to empathize with others’ experiences. By focusing on my narrative, She has had articles get shared hundreds of thousands times.
2. Build strong relationships with writers
When Li Sam worked at Startup Grind, the largest independent startup publication in the world inspiring and connecting 1,000,000 entrepreneurs, she learned the importance of building strong relationships with writers. “We worked with hundreds of writers, who shared a passion with us: entrepreneurship. Find writers that care about the work you’re doing and work with them to figure out your content plan. Get them involved, but don’t overask,” Li Sam stated.
“When we launched and grew the largest Medium publication about technology from zero to now 250,000+ readers in 90 days, the writers played a key role. Besides writing articles that provided value, they shared it with their network. We returned the favor back and made sure that those articles would get more reach.” According to Li Sam, the numbers helped them recruit more writers and now Startup Grind has writers like technologist and New York Times best seller Steve Blank and Twitter’s co-founder Biz Stone as contributors.
3. Talk to your readers
Just like startups talk to users to build a minimum viable product, your job is to also figure out what your readers want by talking to them. This step is crucial to build a content strategy. It’ll help you figure out what type of content your users read, at what time they read, and how often do they read.
“At Hostfully, we treated our Medium publication as if was our product. We launched a simple blog and started talking to existing and new writers about their needs. We started launching that content and proving if it was actually something that people wanted. It turned out it did, so we focused on writing pieces that would fit into the criterias we created.”
All these tips took time to execute, but in a matter of 3 months, Li Sam’s publications were on the Top 20 of every list.
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