How To Build a Community for Your App on Medium — 3 Case Studies
August 30, 2017
Lessons learned from content strategies by Doist, Evernote, and Product Hunt
Medium is a great opportunity for apps to build their brands and drive downloads, but the blogging rules are different.
List posts, keyword stuffing, and header tags mean nothing on Medium. Value is everything.
We analyzed three apps that are currently growing their Medium publication — the right way: Doist, Evernote, and Product Hunt. We extrapolated lessons that you can use to grow any app, regardless of the platform.
Thoughts on more fulfilling ways to work and live.
Doist, the company behind one of the most popular to-do list apps (ToDoist), and recently, a team communication platform (Twist), is behind the medium publication, Ambition and Balance.
Here’s what Becky Kane, the content editor at Doist had to say about their strategy:
“With the recent launch of Twist, we became a multi-product company and our content strategy needed to change to fit. With both Todoist and Twist, we realized we’re not just selling software — we’re selling a fundamentally different way of approaching work and life.
That’s why we named the publication Ambition & Balance; it conveys the “why” behind what we do. We want all of our content to communicate that balanced perspective of meaningful productivity and teamwork. The flexibility of Medium allows us to test out our assumptions and try new things much more quickly than if we were building and maintaining our own network.”
— Becky Kane
Just like all of their touch points, Doist maintains a clean brand aesthetic on Medium. Their cover images appear to be custom and follow a cohesive aesthetic — despite not having an obvious color scheme like Evernote.
The graphics used in each of their posts are also well designed. These images are custom designed for Medium, and takes advantage of Medium’s preset image formats.
Takeaway: There’s a very clear difference between accounts that design graphics specifically for Medium, and those that don’t — professionalism.
Doist chose to pay the $75 fee to set up their Medium account on a custom domain. This makes it so they can leverage the built in audience of Medium, but still keep their publication closely aligned to their brand.
At first glance, it looks like the majority of the company’s posts are just product promotions, which is true. However, they also provide a lot of value.
Designing Twist: The challenge of making teamwork less stressful is a very popular post with 1.4K claps. While the entire post is showcasing their new product, it also gives in-depth insights into their design process, giving readers tactical advice and knowledge on how to design a product with core values in mind.
On Medium, this style works.
Another example is Signal v. Noise. This publication is one of the most popular publications on Medium because they give everything away for free. They open source their business processes so future startups can iterate and improve upon them.
With any platform, it’s crucial to tailor content for the ideal reader. And Doist does this well. They combine the experience of their employees, the persona of their target audience, and categories that do well on Medium. The article, Why “deep work” is becoming a competitive advantage for companies, is a perfect example.
Over-promoting a product makes content seem spammy and much harder to read. It’s crucial that you promote within context.
Take this screenshot (below) from How Exceptionally Productive People End The Workday. The only place it mentions the app ToDoist, is on the top of the window in the computer. No promotions, just a relevant screenshot explaining that section.
Outlining the storied history, personalities, and styles of note-taking, creativity, and collaboration.
Evernote, the notepad of the internet, has been building an avid community around their brand for a while. One of the cornerstones of this brand is their publication, Taking Note.
Evernote highlights their brand aesthetic throughout the publication. Each image is carefully designed to fit their unique style, and utilizes the shade of green that their brand is known for. In each corner of their cover images they include an Evernote logo as well.
There are rarely images within the body of each post, but a quick glance at the overall publication is visually appealing.
Like Doist, Evernote has specifically tailored their content for both a combination of their target audience and the average Medium user. In this case their content is focused on creativity, productivity, and writing. Each of these categories are very popular on Medium, and it’s fair to say that these personas would be interested in their product as well.
Evernote is more subtle with promoting their products than Doist. Both are viable approaches — as long as you provide value. There are some subtle product placements, such as screenshots of notes taken on their platform. But note, there is no company logo or any other reference to the brand on the picture.
However, because they have already built a strong brand, Evernote is able to post less overt promotional content than Doist. It’s not necessary for the reader to see more than the Evernote elephant to recognize the brand.
Unlike the other two publications Evernote chose not to create a custom domain. It is possible that this was a strategic decision, in order to blend in even more with the Medium platform. This makes sense alongside their lack of self promotion in their posts
The place to discover your next favorite thing.
Product Hunt is the number one platform for launching any software product. Early adopters visit this site frequently so they can use new products before they go mainstream. Product Hunt has extended this community to Medium with their Product Hunt Blog.
Product Hunt makes it very easy to embed posts from their platform into Medium. Just paste the link and press enter. These embeds act as deep links to both the Product Hunt web and mobile app.
The Product Hunt blog mixes in a number of these embeds into every post. This is a great way to drive traffic back to their website while being contextual and redirecting people to content they actually want to learn more about.
Product Hunt also chose to pay the $75 fee to set up a custom domain. This helps them align their blog even more closely with their brand.
Product Hunt’s emoji-filled, casual aesthetic seems to be a strategic move based on the audience they want to attract. And it seems to be working for them. Product Hunt boasts over 39K followers, more than Evernote and Doist.
Product Hunt caters to “early adopters” so they don’t necessarily need a fully polished brand like Evernote and Doist. Early adopters are known for their ability to consider function over form. As with any product, a big part of successful marketing is knowing the lexical and visual languages that appeal to your specific target audience.
Product Hunt does a great job with the content strategy for their publication. All of the articles are highly engaging and tailored for their brand. Their articles are also based on content from their Product Hunt platform (new apps, product updates, etc.). This works very well with their embeds, and most likely drives a significant amount of traffic back to their website.
One post that is particularly effective is, The reason Bitcoin & Ethereum are surging. This post is “an explainer on tokens, including blockchain product recommendations from Naval Ravikant.” By leveraging recommendations from a big name in the startup & blockchain community, this post received more traffic than it probably would have otherwise. Each product recommendation by Naval was linked back to their platform through their custom embeds.
Doist, Evernote, and Product Hunt, found success through understanding the subset of Medium users that are in their target audience, and creating content that is unique to the value proposition of their company.
This strategy may require more time and energy than posting photos on social media, however, it can prove to be immensely valuable, and much longer lasting — if you can understand how every piece of the puzzle comes together.