The Proper Way to Grow an Audience on Medium

What does a boy band pop group called Jerod Morris and the Sponge Bags have to do with content marketing? More than you might think.

In this episode of the Lede we introduce you to the perfect illustration for understanding content syndication.

Content syndication is nothing more than circulating the same article, video, or podcast across multiple pubs. For example, our host Demian Farnworth could take a Copyblogger article he wrote and try to get it published on Business Insider, Fast Company, and Huffington Post.

How could this be a good thing? Easy: it broadens your reach and exposure to new audiences without demanding you invest more time in creating new content.

You can do the same thing on new social media sites, too, like Medium and LinkedIn. These platforms give you a publishing opportunity without the gatekeepers at big media sites.

But there are risks involved. Our hosts focus on Medium first.

In this 22-minute episode Demian Farnworth and Jerod Morris discuss:

  • Number one reason Demian failed on Medium
  • The curious 130-year history of content syndication
  • Do this to actually grow a responsive audience on Medium
  • Publishing on Medium: the good, bad, and ugly
  • The man who figured out how to make Medium work


The Show Notes



The Proper Way to Grow an Audience on Medium

Jerod Morris: This is Rainmaker.FM, the digital marketing podcast network. It’s built on the Rainmaker Platform, which empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales platform. Start your free 14-day trial at

Demian Farnworth: Imagine, Jerod, we formed a band. Let’s call that band Jerod Morris and the Sponge Bags.

Jerod Morris: Whoa, whoa. Sponge Bags?

Demian Farnworth: Now, Sponge Bags, yes. It’s okay because ‘sponge bags’ are a very cool type of pants that men used to wear. They’re old-fashioned, but they’re very cool, I promise you. This is not a bad thing.

Jerod Morris: Am I the lead singer? Surely I am.

Demian Farnworth: Of course. Yes, you are not only the lead singer, but the fashion model, the vest-wearing stud. You lead the band.

Jerod Morris: What kind of music are we?

Demian Farnworth: I don’t know. You tell me.

Welcome back everybody to The Lede, a podcast about content marketing by Copyblogger Media. The Lede, as always, is hosted by me, Demian Farnworth, and my co-host, Jerod Morris, VP of Rainmaker.FM.

If you like The Lede, if you like me, if you like Jerod, and you would like more of us in some capacity, it’s only fair to mention that you can check out our personal podcasts on the Rainmaker.FM network –which, in my opinion, is the greatest digital marketing podcast network in the world — by jumping over to Showrunner.FM. That’s Jerod’s podcast about podcasting. You can find mine at Roughdraft.FM, where I drop essential web writing advice in less than 10 minutes a day, four days a week.

While you’re snooping around our podcast collection, check out a few more of the shows. For instance, Robert Bruce’s Allegorical, where he delivers the business wisdom you need wrapped up in the most powerful form of communication human beings have ever devised. I’m talking about stories — stories of the Aesop, the Grimms, the Bunyan, and the Orwell variety. Original stories by Bruce, spoken with that velvet voice. Subscribe to Allegorical today.

By the way, all of our shows are brought to you by Rainmaker.FM, the digital marketing podcast network built on the Rainmaker Platform, a platform that empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales empire. Yes, we all know you want to take over the world. The cool thing is, for the next 14 days, you can actually give dominating the universe the old college try with the Rainmaker Platform for free. That’s right. You can get your hands on the Rainmaker Platform for 14 days without paying a dime. Just visit to start your free trial.

Now, on to the show.

Jerod Morris: Well, Demian, I have to say, to start out here, it was great seeing you last week in Denver at Authority Rainmaker.

Demian Farnworth: Indeed.

Jerod Morris: Had a lot of fun.

Demian Farnworth: Yeah, indeed. Good seeing you, too, and everyone else.

Jerod Morris: It was a great week, as always.

Let’s jump right into this, because you literally just emailed me five minutes ago with an idea for the show that we should record today, and I like it. I like the idea. I like the series that you’re proposing, so I think we should just jump into it. Do you want to introduce the idea, and then we’ll hop into what you have here for the first episode?

Demian Farnworth: What we’re trying to do online is get more exposure for our brands. We talk about this idea of popularity, exposure, getting authority. This is not unlike what a new band does. Imagine, Jerod, you formed a band, and let’s call that band Jerod Morris and the Sponge Bags.

Jerod Morris: Whoa, whoa. Sponge Bags?

Demian Farnworth: Now, Sponge Bags, yes. It’s okay because ‘sponge bags’ are a very cool type of pants that men used to wear. They’re old-fashioned, but they’re very cool, I promise you. This is not a bad thing.

Jerod Morris: Am I the lead singer? Surely I am.

Demian Farnworth: Of course. Yes, you are not only the lead singer, but the fashion model, the vest-wearing stud. You lead the band.

Jerod Morris: What kind of music are we?

Demian Farnworth: I don’t know. You tell me.

Jerod Morris: I’ll have to think about that.

Demian Farnworth: Maybe the audience should tell us. I guess it’d probably have to be more like — what is that song that we sung at our first meeting together with Chris Thompson?

Jerod Morris: I believe that was a Backstreet Boys song.

Demian Farnworth: Backstreet Boys, yeah. So boy bands — a boy band.

Jerod Morris: It’s a boy band. Okay.

Demian Farnworth: Yeah. Your first objective is to write some songs. Say you write some songs, and they’re original songs. Maybe you even cut an album or an EP with a few singles. Your next objective is to get people to listen to those songs. So what’s the best way to do that?

Jerod Morris: A new lead singer?

Demian Farnworth: No, you could do radio play, but also, we always tour. The band always tours.

Jerod Morris: Right.

Demian Farnworth: So this band, Jerod Morris and the Sponge Bags, makes the rounds. They visit small clubs from Miami, to Buffalo, to Vancouver, to Albuquerque, and they’re growing in size as they’re getting more exposure. More people are hearing their songs. They basically play the same set of songs, though. They might mix up the song list to test to see what the best reaction is, but for the most part, they play the same number of songs. The same songs off of the album that they’re featuring.

Jerod Morris: Mm-hmm.

Demian Farnworth: So, this is exactly what a content producer like you or I or our listeners can and should do. It’s what we call ‘syndication.’

Jerod Morris: Interesting.

Demian Farnworth: Yes.

Jerod Morris: I like where you’re going with this.

The Curious 130-Year History of Content Syndication

Demian Farnworth: Okay. The concept got started, according to Shane Snow, who’s the CEO of Contently, in 1884 when a 27-year-old man named Samuel Sidney McClure launched a start-up that would define the media industry for 130 years.

After college, McClure moved to New York City to be a newsman, and — I’m quoting Snow here — “he began paying writers for what present-day pundits would call ‘slow journalism.’ That’s long-form investigations, books, and deeply reported features. Instead of publishing the stories himself, McClure bought the rights and sold the stories to publishers around the world. McClure called this concept ‘syndication.’”

This practice is still alive today, as I mentioned. For example, when you see a small regional newspaper who can’t afford to send a reporter to, say, Syria, they’ll buy a story from the AP about Syria and publish it in their newspaper. In our digital world, and in content marketing in particular, syndication is also alive, but the writers are not getting paid. Instead, value exchange exists in the exposure to a wider, bigger audience.

Jerod Morris: Okay, so no one is getting paid. Explain that.

Demian Farnworth: No. This is what happens. For instance, I could shop any one of the articles I write for my personal site to editors at Business Insider, the Next Web, Fast Company, or at Huffington Post. Now, these big pubs have a high demand for content. We writers, we small guys from smaller sites, we supply the demand. In exchange, we get exposure to a larger audience.

In other words, back to the band metaphor, we are touring the nation, so to speak, when I take one of my articles from The Copybot and then share it — get Business Insider, the Next Web, Fast Company, Huffington Post to actually publish on their site. So it’s the same article, different sites, but with a bigger audience.

Jerod Morris: When me and the Sponge Bags are touring across the country, as you say, syndicating these songs, we are doing it to expose ourselves to a new audience, but there is a way to get paid because people can pay for the albums. They can pay for merch, that kind of thing. When we pull this into content marketing, you’re saying as writers, we can syndicate. It’s not like the Huffington Post would pay you for the article, necessarily, but they’re giving you exposure. The next question, then would be, to make that worth it, you have to have a way of monetizing the exposure when people come back to your site? Is that the next step? Or maybe I’m jumping way ahead.

Demian Farnworth: No, it’s true. That should be in place before you even go touring really. What we’re talking about, you should have the media asset — your site — already in place. Possibly it’s a landing page that would then, when you have that traffic from Business Insider, circle back through your byline to your site. You can capture that traffic via the email and then elevate that relationship. Then you’ll ultimately have a product membership site, whatever you’re monetizing through that way. The syndication is to get more exposure. It’s basically just another traffic-generating scheme. Does that make sense?

Jerod Morris: Yeah. Makes sense.

Demian Farnworth: In this sense, a syndication is the same songs, different cities, but new audiences, so more exposure.

So, we also see this. That’s the larger spectrum of syndication, where you go to these different huge pubs. The thing is, you’re not always guaranteed that your article is going to get accepted. You might have to find other ways to do this. Other ways people have been finding an outlet for this sort of syndication idea is republishing original content on sites like Medium and LinkedIn or even Facebook or Google+.

This is what this episode’s all about: somewhere, Gary Vaynerchuck said Medium was the social platform to pay attention to. He, at that time, was giving it his best college try by publishing content on it. After reading that — I think it was in his book Jab Jab Right Hook — that got me thinking to try a little experiment.

Jerod Morris: You were going to go on tour at Medium?

Demian Farnworth: Yeah, so to speak. As your opening act.

Jerod Morris: Yeah, okay.

Demian Farnworth: Which is Demian and the Stallions.

Jerod Morris: You’re ‘stallions’ and I’m ‘sponge bags?’

Demian Farnworth: You can’t wear stallions.

Jerod Morris: Are you riding on a horse while you’re singing?

Demian Farnworth: Long hair, everything. No shirt.

Jerod Morris: That’s actually not a bad idea.

Demian Farnworth: Romantic ballads is what I sing.

Jerod Morris: Like monster ballads from the ‘80s.

Demian Farnworth: Right. Anyway, this is my goal. It was kind of a half-baked idea, but I had this idea to spend about a month there, publish some posts. I had this ground rule, because I wanted to see what the internal environment was like inside Medium. I wanted to see if I could get any traction inside Medium.

What I was finding, doing some research, is that everybody was saying you publish to Medium, and you promote it outside with your other social networks. So in a sense, there’s no audience there. You have to bring your own audience. I was like, “So what’s the point? That’s why Gary Vaynerchuk can pull this off. You can publish an article there and get thousands of reads and hits on it.”

Jerod Morris: Wait, I’m a little confused though. You’re talking about syndication. You’re going to publish only new content.

Demian Farnworth: No, this was original content. I’m sorry.

Jerod Morris: Okay. You were going to publish original content.

Demian Farnworth: No, I’m sorry — same content from my site on there. Not new content. Old content. I’m sorry.

Jerod Morris: Okay, got you.

Demian Farnworth: My bad. Anyway, my one ground rule is, do not share what I’m publishing on Medium, which was from my site, on any of the other social sites. So any traction I get should come from inside Medium.

Jerod Morris: Got you. Okay. Makes sense why you’d do that.

Demian Farnworth: Yeah.

Jerod Morris: So what happened?

Publishing on Medium: The Good, Bad, and Ugly

Demian Farnworth: Only after I published four posts did I pull the plug on this. I just couldn’t figure it out. I loved Medium because the writing experience was really beautiful. It was sublime. The editor was on page. This is the page you’re looking at, and that’s what you’re actually editing. It was truly ‘what you see is what you get.’

However, everything after that, though, the bad outpaced the good very quickly. Like I said, I could not figure out how to get attention inside Medium. One thing I didn’t want to do was spend my time commenting on other articles. Say I published an article in Medium. What you were after is getting a collection, which was like a group. Someone starts a collection, and it’s basically a group surrounding a certain topic, and that editor builds an audience. He only publishes certain stuff underneath that certain topic.

Jerod Morris: It’s like curating articles in Medium.

Demian Farnworth: Yeah. Right. You couldn’t submit to a collection. I guess you could have emailed them, but I never got that far. You were at the whim of the collector in that sense. You had to wait to be chosen in a sense, which we know we love to do, right? Choose yourself.

Jerod Morris: You love getting that into every episode somehow.

The Number One Reason Demian Failed on Medium

Demian Farnworth: The comments were funky. I didn’t like the comments. It had really poor social proof. The bottom line is, it was kind of geared to a special niche. Medium is geared to a special kind of audience. I wasn’t that audience. I wasn’t giving the right content for that audience.

Jerod Morris: What do you mean by that? What kind of niche was it geared toward?

Demian Farnworth: It was start-up culture, productivity, traveling content, and I hardly have any of those kinds of content. I wasn’t publishing that.

Jerod Morris: So it wasn’t the right fit.

Demian Farnworth: No. It was not the right fit. I was playing in the wrong theater.

Jerod Morris: So someone who does write about culture, productivity, traveling, that kind of thing, they might have a different experience?

Demian Farnworth: Exactly.

Jerod Morris: You’re not saying this to write off Medium.

The Man Who Figured Out How to Make Medium Work

Demian Farnworth: No. Because the counter example to that is a guy named Sean Smith. He published an article on our blog, I think last year, and he was talking about basically traffic generating ways.

One of his points, though, was about the traffic that he generated from Medium. His lessons — we’ll drop show notes to this particular article — but his lessons from his experience with Medium were a lot more positive and a lot more encouraging than my experience was.

His lessons though: he said one, write for the right audience, and you’ll get a decent amount of traffic. If you’re in productivity, start-up culture, traveling, those types of content work. He himself had created — this was the key, though — a collection. He started his own group as a curator. He had gathered over 1,000 followers. That’s an audience immediately. Anything that gets published there is automatically in front of their eyes. That naturally gives a jolt, a boost, to getting the social traction that you might need.

Jerod Morris: Do you know how much time he has to invest to do that and what benefits he got out of owning that collection?

Demian Farnworth: That’s a good question. I asked Sean about this on Twitter, and he said that his collection, which is called Coffee Time, reached about 1,500 followers three to five months after starting it. The last 500 came after six to seven months. He had a totally of 2,000 followers in less than a year — probably 10 months.

He said what helped the sudden growth was that he had a bunch of articles go pretty explosive. He did point out that publications in general on Medium were growing quickly at the time, too. I asked — a lot of them where Sean’s personal posts, they were original. He wasn’t really syndicating. He did spend at least one to two hours writing, curating, editing, promoting sometimes more.

Jerod Morris: Yeah. Again, he’s creating this audience over there, but it’s an audience on Medium as opposed to curating at where Brian Clark is creating his own audience.

Demian Farnworth: Right. I think it’s no different than you and I cultivating audiences on Twitter or Facebook. That’s why you would republish old content and not put new content on there. If you are, then you’re then going back and putting it on your own digital media asset.

Jerod Morris: Ah, okay. Back to the whole idea of syndication.

Demian Farnworth: He did say, though, that the negative part was that Medium actually had less referral traffic than sites like Reddit or Stumble Upon, yet the traffic that he got from Medium converted better than Reddit, StumbleUpon, Facebook, and Twitter combined.

Jerod Morris: This kind of hits into your idea about the special niches.

Demian Farnworth: It really does.

Jerod Morris: If you can tap into a special niche.

Demian Farnworth: Yes.

Jerod Morris: Yeah. Oh, that’s what you’re going to get to next.

Do This to Actually Grow a Responsive Audience on Medium

Demian Farnworth: He was tapping into the right audience. His business’s content and the Medium audience were a perfect fit. Like I said before, I guess the folks at Medium didn’t like my songs, but they liked Sean’s songs better. I am not bitter, by the way.

Jerod Morris: I guess they weren’t down with the hair ballads, huh?

Demian Farnworth: Exactly.

Jerod Morris: Not their thing.

Demian Farnworth: Yeah. That’s the Medium experience. Like I said, the lesson that we walk away with is if you have the right content for that, if your business is within that scope that we mentioned, if you do some investigation on Medium, if you even spend some time there, if you have the time to create a collection so you’re actually building the audience so you have a readymade audience, if you produce the right content — then you can actually get some traction and probably will produce. Sean walked away with a good enough experience that he would recommend it.

Jerod Morris: Isn’t that how syndication is going to be anywhere? If you go on LinkedIn, and you’re just doing sports articles, that probably isn’t going to do much. If you’re doing business articles and sales and marketing, then syndicating on LinkedIn would do well. What you’re talking about with Medium is kind of a general concept that can be extrapolated and applied to any type of syndication, right?

Demian Farnworth: That’s exactly right. I’m glad you brought up LinkedIn. That’s actually the site we’ll pick up on in the next episode. The thing that you said, too — and this is the thing about syndication — is that for it to convert, for it to be meaningful in any sense of the word, it has to be the right audience. We’ve seen before on our own site, where we’ve had a blog post do exceptionally well through Pinterest because of an infographic we did, but the traffic in itself was worthless.

Any time you do any kind of syndication like this, you have to choose wisely. Part of my failure was I didn’t do enough research into thinking about what kind of content. I just thought, “I have the post. I can republish there and be done.” I should have put more thought into, “What kind of content do they need?” and “What would be an acceptable topic to talk about?”

Jerod Morris: Is there any chance that on the next episode of The Lede we can lead off with a demo song from Demian Farnworth and the Stallions?

Demian Farnworth: As long as we can get one from Jerod Morris and the Sponge Bags.

Jerod Morris: I’ll see what we can do about that.

Demian Farnworth: Absolutely.

Jerod Morris: There’s no way to transition out of that.

Demian Farnworth: I know, right?

In the next episode, we’ll talk about publishing on LinkedIn, and we’ll have a guest who’s done exceptionally well there syndicating content. Plus, I’ve had my own semi-experiment there, too. Yes, again, I am the foil, the failure, of that particular experiment. Anything else you want to add to this thought, this idea of syndication? This idea of syndicating on Medium, Jerod?

Jerod Morris: No, actually syndicating is not something I’ve done a lot of, frankly. I’m interested to go along on this journey with you and ask questions as someone who hasn’t done it as much as you have. This is going to be fun. I’m glad you proposed this.

Demian Farnworth: Good. Me, too. We’ll get into the larger-scale syndicating for sites like Business Insider and Fast Company and those other places that do that with some people who’ve done exceptionally well through that, too. That will be for future episodes, though.

Jerod Morris: Perfect.

Demian Farnworth: All right.

Jerod Morris: All right Mr. Farnworth, we’ll talk soon.

Demian Farnworth: All right buddy, take care.

So folks, another day, another dollar and another episode of The Lede is in the bag. If you are still with us, thank you for your time. Thank you for your attention. If you have any questions about this episode, about Medium, about syndication, about content marketing in general, drop us a note in the comments or shoot Jerod and I a Tweet on Twitter. If you like what you were hearing, one of the best ways to support our show is by leaving a rating and review on iTunes. We love hearing from you. It encourages us and makes us want to work harder.

This episode of Lede was brought to you by the Rainmaker Platform, the complete website solution for content marketers and online entrepreneurs. Find out more and take a free 14-day test drive at Rainmaker.FM/platform. Until next time, take care.