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The Top 5 Posts on Medium: A Content Crash Course

Setting new standards for great content and simple design, Medium’s top performing posts say a lot about what people are interested in reading—and about our society today. With more than 650,000 users, this rapidly growing channel has an algorithm that considers views, reads, and recommendations when pushing the best content to top of users’ feeds. Which means that the best-performing posts on Medium offer marketers some instructive insights on content.

Medium isn’t a replacement for your owned channels, like your blog. It’s a place where you have an opportunity to connect with a large audience—especially if you follow the example set by the best-performing content. To better understand what content works best on Medium, I dug into the top-rated stories so far in 2015. Here are the most recommended posts:

While all are compelling headlines, the interesting thing about these top five stories is that there’s no consistent commonality. Because they’re so different, we’re going to take one content marketing lesson from each.

Insights from Medium’s top 5 most recommended stories of 2015, so far

A Teenager’s View on Social Media, Written by an Actual Teen

This post offers us a rare, authentic view into what young Millennials are interested in on social media. Representing about a fourth of the entire American population, they have a lot of influence over trends and future buying power. That’s why this teen’s analysis struck a chord. What did he have to say? In short, “Facebook is something we all got in middle school because it was cool but now is seen as an awkward family dinner party we can’t really leave,” while Instagram and Snapchat satisfy the daily need to share the beautiful or raw tidbits of their lives.

Be authentic and share your opinion. Opinion pieces, whose author acts as a representative for a new audience or harder-to-reach demographic, make for fantastic reads. This author recognized that his authentic perspective could make a unique contribution to an ongoing conversation about demographic trends among social media users. As millennials begin to set trends and sway markets, every smart entrepreneur, marketer, and business person right now wants to know what young people care about and how they’re connecting.

+300 Awesome Free Things for Entrepreneurs and Startups. A Massive List of Free Stuff Made by Awesome People

It’s exactly that: A free list of useful and current apps and sites to help you succeed in content generation, ideation and inspiration, design, coding, and productivity.

Reward your readers with something useful. (Preferably a lot of it.) We know that a big list of free, helpful things will get clicks and shares. So it should follow that a really big list will get even more clicks and shares. Well, it’s not always that simple, but this post proves that sometimes bigger really is better. This post is classic content marketing, done at a huge scale: by guiding your customer or readers to helpful materials, you established a trust and confidence that perhaps wasn’t there before. When it comes to gaining readers and producing content, sharing is caring.

Coding Like a Girl

This story looks at what it’s like to be a “feminine” programmer today. The author accounts a story that Tracy Chou, an engineer at Pinterest, shared with her about a time when she wore a dress to a technical conference and was completely overlooked. This inspirational piece suggests that we need to value individuality, celebrate femininity, and let go of any preconceived notions or biases.

Offer fresh perspectives and solutions to greater issues. These opinion pieces touch on greater issues and offer new perspectives to conversations already taking place. Joining in on big, controversial discussions is a surefire way to connect with large audiences—just be sure you choose the right venue. Instead of weighing-in on your company blog, Medium is a great place to find your voice.

Why Can’t We Read Anymore? Or, Can Books Save Us from what Digital does to our Brains?

In this piece, the author shares both scientific reasoning and emotional experiences behind why reading books and being present is so important. McGuire says that “new information creates a rush of dopamine to the brain, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel good,” meaning that our brains are physically addicted to getting a text or social update.

Passion is contagious. After recounting his all-too-familiar experience of struggling to read more than a sentence or two of a book, he describes an equally familiar scenario when his four-year-old daughter fought for his attention. While reading an online article about North Korea, his daughter grabbed the author’s face in her hands and said: “Look at me, when I’m talking to you.” From this moment onward, the author shares his journey toward being more present and emotionally engaged—and finally finishing a book.

Slack’s $2.8 Billion Dollar Secret Sauce—How Slack Stole a Multi-Billion Dollar Market by Becoming Everyone’s Favorite Sassy Robot Sidekick

This story gives us an exclusive insider perspective into one of the hottest software products on the market right now, Slack. The author of the article, Andrew Wilkinson, is also the founder of MetaLab, the design agency that turned Slack’s early prototype into the $2.8 billion dollar valued product it is today.

Great content is timely and relevant. Timeliness is key to the success of pieces like this—if published only a few months later, it probably wouldn’t have had the same virality. Among a sea of startups, new applications, products, and services, people are always curious to know what makes the hottest new tech company so different from the others—and how they might do the same.

Another big reason for this story’s success is because of who the author is and what he can offer us. It’s not every day that Medium users can read an insider’s account on a hot new startup.

The importance of relevance, opinion, and benefit

Finding great content today is like panning for gold. While each article is unique and often hard to find, it’s composed of similar elements that make it stand out. Great content is many things: it’s authentic and has an opinion, it’s useful, it offers a fresh perspective on greater issues, it’s approachable and relatable, and it’s timely and relevant. Because Medium is designed to let the most resonant posts rise to the top, it gives us the opportunity to put them under the microscope and examine their metallurgy.