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You Think You Want Followers on Medium? What You Actually Want Is Getting Paid!

  • 8 min read

Here’s an example from the most successful non-native Medium writer.

I still remember my first day on Medium.

It was a Thursday afternoon. I had put my baby to bed and started exploring the platform.

Back then, Medium not only looked a bit different but also worked differently.

I still remember I jumped from one story to the next and exclaimed excitingly:

“I love this platform. So many inspiring writers! And Tim Denning’s stories seem to be everywhere”

“I told you Medium is great”, my husband answered with a smile on his face.

He was the one who recommended Medium to me. He heard of it from legend Tim Denning.

Tim Denning seemed to be a superstar. His stories were everywhere. In almost every topic I found one of his stories with hundreds of claps and comments. He also had more than 100,000 (can’t remember the exact number) followers.

100,000 followers was a huge number for me.

As a former travel blogger, I used Instagram on a daily basis to share perfect photos of my part-time travel life…here’s an example:

photo credit: Kristina God former YouTube channel

I used YouTube to share travel videos:

photo credit: Kristina God former YouTube channel

After about a year of part-time travel blogging, we quit.

We = me and my husband.

We were getting married. Our focus changed. I was taking on a new role as a marketing manager in an international company. My husband as well.

The outcome of one year:

  • More than 1M views of our Insta channel.
  • About 250,000 views on YouTube.

In total across all platforms (including our Facebook site) we had about 6,000 followers.

Back then, 6,000 followers was huge. Starting at 1,000 you could get brand deals and were invited into fancy restaurants and cozy hotels.

Whenever I see all those picture-perfect images now, I skip them.

“Been there. Done that”, is what I think.

I know how exhausting it can be but that’s another story.

Anne is living proof that you can be a smart travel blogger

Let’s come back to this Thursday afternoon when I explored Medium for the first time. I think it was three months later when I first came across Anne Bonfert.

She was living proof that you can be a smart travel blogger by sharing your stories on Medium and being successful by NOT editing the pictures till they are perfect (they never are; side note: today it’s super easy with AI to edit your pictures, fake them, etc.) and she was growing rapidly!

When she shared in one of her stories that she comes from Germany (as I do) and is a non-native writer on this platform, I left a comment, subscribed to her newsletter and the rest is history.

I’m glad Anne is still having a lot of fun sharing her stories on Medium and having so much success with it.

Fast forward to today, Anne has 181,000 followers!


That’s a crazy number, don’t you think? I bet if you see her profile (similar to me checking Tim’s profile) you’ll think:

“WOW! She made it. I want to be where she is. Oh,…maybe I’m even a little bit jealous… this is crazy successful. Will I ever reach this goal?” A whirlwind of questions spinning in your head.

And one thing is for sure you’d think:

“I‘m expecting she’s making more than 5-fig per year from writing on Medium!”

If this is you, let me drop a bombshell.

I interviewed Anne Bonfert for my YouTube channel and she told me that she “only” makes a few hundred dollars with 181,000 followers.

Tim Denning who started writing on Medium in 2016 recently shared that he made 1,000,000 USD (before taxes!) writing on the internet (he didn’t say “only on Medium”).

What can you learn from this?

Within the next few days, I’ll share more exciting details about Anne and how she grew from zero to more than 180,000, got brand deals, and was featured in Medium’s newsletter “The Edition”.

I wanted to kick off my series by talking about vanity metrics. Because that’s what a follower count is. A vanity metric.

I wanted to give you a feeling for the vague number next to the word “followers.”

What are vanity metrics?

“Vanity metrics are statistics that look spectacular on the surface but don’t necessarily translate to any meaningful business results.”

As a brand manager, I learned:

“Don’t look for the quick-and-dirty win with vanity metrics — it’s simply not there.”

Let’s transfer this to writing online.

It means you can’t build an accurate picture of a person online.

Getting more than 100,000 followers (depending on the platform) can be a quick win, too.

You have one viral hit on TikTok and BOOM you have hundreds of thousands of followers. Sometimes that’s just how social media platforms work and reward viral hits and content people like.

Often people can’t replicate this success but still have hundreds of thousands of followers although the engagement is low.

When people stay for many years on a platform, most of their followers have already quit.

But again, also engagement (claps and comments) can be a vanity metric.

Medium used to pay writers for reading time! No one could and can see the actual reading time of a story — except the writer shares a screenshot of the backend (hint: you can also fake them).

So what you actually want is getting paid!

Reading time is still very important on Medium. But so is engagement and whether you get Boosted or not.

Instead of focusing on getting more and more followers and growing this “vanity metric”, make sure to find ways to get paid.

  • This can mean you have to become a better writer.
  • You need to iterate over and over again.
  • You simply have to promote your stories on other platforms.
  • You repurpose your stories on other platforms and get paid twice. Often stories that don’t perform on one platform, perform better on another.
  • You write in a specific niche.

In fact, especially as a writer with less than 100 or 1,000 followers getting Boosted can accelerate your follower count and your earnings but it won’t last until you get the next Boost.

Within the past months, I’ve seen in the backends of my students and friends that although their follower count is rising the views aren’t increasing.

This is really weird because the idea is that you get more followers so that potentially more people are gonna see your post.

(In fact, I once wrote that only less than 1% of your followers on Medium see your stories in their feeds.)

Don’t try to measure another writer’s success based on the follower count.

I tell ya.

I made the same amount of money writing here with 1,000 followers than with 5,000.

I’ve also made more than Anne.

But I think with Medium’s Boost system this will change. Medium is pushing Boosted stories in our feeds making people click them.

Anne already got Boosted 15 (!) times and sees a nice increase in her earnings. It’s still not 4-figures but it’s a start.

photo credit: Anne Bonfert; changed by Kristina God with Canva Magic Studio

And besides follower count as a vanity metric and earning money, from a product manager standpoint 180,000 followers is huge.

Anne was so kind to share those insights with me but if for instance, a publisher comes across Anne’s profile she could get offered a book deal because of her huge following.

Or Anne wants to publish her upcoming book with a publisher. Her following can definitely help.

There are non-transactional marketing goals such as brand awareness that are important. But that’s a story for another day.

Final Takeaways

To sum it up, don’t try to measure the success of another writer on Medium based on engagement metrics. Those metrics are vanity metrics.

Focus on your writing. Focus on what you love and enjoy writing about.

Have fun writing.

If you want to gain followers (and have short-term success) try to get Boosted. Write what Medium wants and incentivizes.

You could also follow 10,000 writers and hope they follow you back — just kidding 😀

Anne enjoys what she does. She lives in New Zealand with her hubby and has fun writing stories for Medium. Her getting so many followers is just nice but in regard to earnings it wouldn’t make much of a difference if she “only” had 1,000 or 10,000 followers.

You don’t get paid for followers.

How do you perceive the impact of growing follower counts on your earnings?

YouTube video with interview Anne and Kristina

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