The Medium Algorithm Is a Beautiful Thing!
Up until 2017, the last time I heard the word ‘Algorithm’ was A-Level Maths in 2007. It had been ten years since those classes, and yet the word struck fear into my very soul much in the same way it had all those years before.
The Instagram Algorithm became the talk of the E-town almost overnight. YouTube influencers promising viewers that their way was the only way to gain more followers. Posts on Facebook claiming that using the platform a certain way was the only way to guarantee success. If you didn’t follow these tips, then you may as well delete your account and hurl your phone into an active volcano. Whole groups were dedicating themselves to cracking the code, with one overhanging question; how can we make the algorithm work in our favour? How can we be sure that the work we are putting out there is being seen by our followers?
I myself put many hours into trying new posting tactics. The first area of experimentation was to post at different times of the day. Maybe posting at 2:47am on a Thursday was the way to go? How about 4:06pm on the first and third Monday of the month? Maybe at sunset every day?
The next thing was the hashtags. How many hashtags should I use? 30? 15? Should they be in the post itself or should I post them as a comment under the post? Tell us how to please you, oh glorious Algorithm!
And then inevitably, after a few weeks had gone by, those three dreaded words would resurface across the internet…
“The Algorithm’s changed.”
Dear God, why!?
And so the cycle would repeat itself. I’d wade through the groups amongst the other pilgrims, desperate for a glimpse at the inner sanctum of our oppressive Lord Algorithm. The zealots would cry advice from atop the towering social media mountain.
“Saturdays are the best day to post now!”
“Post more than one photo in a single post!”
“Hold your phone upside down while facing North-East before hitting the post button with your pinky finger!”
For all the good it did, I may have well tried that last one.
But slowly it began to dawn on me that I was putting more time and effort into decrypting the Instagram algorithm than I was into the actual photography in the first place! So entrenched in the need for MAXIMUM ENGAGEMENT was I that I had lost sight of why I was even on the platform in the first place.
In March 2018, I began writing on Medium. Taking the lessons I had learned from my time on Instagram, I knew that all I needed to focus on was the work itself. There was no point in wasting my time trying to work out an algorithm designed to make consuming content on the platform a pleasant experience.
If only that wasn’t a massive lie.
Sure enough, I retraced the exact same steps I had with Instagram. How often should I publish an article? When was the best time to post? What was the best length of article? What topics were best to write about?
Luckily my foray into the hunting of the secret sauce for success on Medium was short-lived. I remembered my former obsession and realised that if my main concern was tricking a platform into putting my work in front of others, then my writing was never going to improve. Trying to trick the Instagram algorithm had never made me a better photographer, so why was I trying to take the same approach with Medium?
In short, I focused less on seeking success on Medium and more on improving my craft.
And what do you know, my views went up, my reads went up, and my claps went up.
I’m glad that no-one can make heads nor tails of the Medium Algorithm because I’ve realised that actually, I don’t want to know how it works at all! If we all had a blueprint for success, then all we would see is the same cookie-cutter, box-ticking articles. Fewer people would write about what they wanted to write about, which would mean we’d see less passion, less interest and yes, less traffic.
So don’t worry too much about what’s happening behind the scenes of your favourite platform. If there’s one thing I know about algorithms like these, it’s that they are designed to make the platform work as intended, putting great work in front of readers or viewers.
So just make great work!
The rest should sort itself out.