Rand Paul medium
Rand Paul’s digital strategist Vincent Harris says he expects the team will use Medium more often in the coming months to debate policy issues. Rand Paul/Medium Screenshot

In 2008, U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama took to the growing video site YouTube to disseminate a speech on race at a time when the press was criticizing his connection to a radical pastor. In 2012, social networks Facebook and Twitter became key platforms for the incumbent Obama and the challenger Mitt Romney to promote their messages and connect with supporters.

In 2016, new tools such as Instagram, Meerkat, Periscope and Snapchat will abound, but perhaps the most interesting social network being embraced by nascent presidential candidacies is the blogging site Medium.

Presumptive Republican front-runner Jeb Bush joined and used Medium last month to dispute Hillary Clinton’s view on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership. Marco Rubio published his campaign announcement there. Rand Paul reposted his submission to a Tea Party Express book. Mike Huckabee blogged about his reactions to events in the U.S. Congress. Clinton has created a Medium account, but hasn’t yet published. Meanwhile, Dr. Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina and Bernie Sanders have yet to establish accounts.

Medium is far from the first blogging site, but its accessibility and seamless integration with other social networks have guaranteed its entrance into the 2016 presidential race. Early on, it’s being used to wage substantive debate. Cooler than a campaign website and enabling posts more lengthy than those on either Facebook or Twitter, Medium has become the delivery method of choice for the think piece, position paper, manifesto or counterpoint article. It’s bringing substance to a world of social missives and links, as well as a badge of digital sophistication.

“Being on Facebook became a big deal in 2012 with how candidates were trying to engage. Now just being on Medium is an indicator of their relevance and technical fluency,” said Chris Royalty, the executive creative director at Blue State Digital who worked on Obama’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns.

Debates On Medium

Launched in October 2012 by Biz Stone and Evan Williams, co-founders of the microblogging site Twitter, Medium is a long-form blogging site that anyone can join by connecting a Facebook or Twitter account. The site provides easy-to-use publishing tools, such as the ability to create pull quotes, overlay graphics and text, and insert videos, while being free of advertising.

During the past three years, Medium has risen as a popular blogging site for tech company CEOs, startup founders and media-elite personalities, primarily those in San Francisco and New York. High-profile leaders ranging from Tesla Motors Inc. CEO Elon Musk to President Barack Obama have repeatedly posted on Medium. This year, Mitt Romney joined and has since shared photographs of a family vacation, published a letter to his wife and formally ended his undeclared presidential candidacy in 2016.

Now boasting 90 employees, Medium has responded with increased outreach to Washington. This year, the company hired D.C.-based Matt Higginson, youth mobilization director of the ONE campaign, for outreach in politics, government and advocacy. Higginson is tasked with recruiting politicians and government affiliates, assisting them in using the site and also publishing a monthly roundup of political content called “It Happened on Medium.”

A Medium post can call attention to itself by serving as a candidate’s own press release, an alternative to posting a blog on a media site or engaging in a newspaper interview. Indeed, Bush’s call-out of Clinton via Medium was promoted via his Facebook and Twitter accounts, later to be reported by Reuters and the Washington Post.

“Medium has broken out for think pieces. It fills a gap for a certain type of content. Literally medium-form, thoughtful pieces,” Blue State Digital’s Royalty said. “Articles on Medium are meant to be read all the way through. It’s not meant to be immediately gratifying.”

Candidates have taken to Medium for different purposes. Some have re-published their own content from elsewhere, and others have simply dropped text from speeches. Bush has engaged in the storytelling aspect with his three-minute takedown -- 465 words with photos, bolded subheads and pull quotes -- of Clinton’s view on trade agreements.

Shareable Press Releases

Medium posts are easily shareable as individual links on a candidate’s Facebook or Twitter accounts. Before its creation, candidates could and did create blogs on their own campaign websites, but Medium adds attractive storytelling elements.

For example, each post on Medium includes an estimate of how long it would take a reader to complete perusing it. The site’s analytics will also tell a blogger how many people clicked to the post versus how many read through it. Back-end data include how many times and where the posts have been shared. Additionally, the site draws from users’ Twitter accounts their followers and minibios so they can instantly have followings, should they choose to link accounts.

Last month, the political-action group Tea Party Express released a book called “Tea Party Solutions for America” in hard copy, and it has been rolling out the 33 individual chapters on Medium. “We don’t have a large budget to help with promotion. Medium is so simple to use and organic because it pulls from your Twitter following,” said Taylor Budowich, the 25-year-old Californian who serves as executive director of Tea Party Express.

Candidate Paul’s campaign plans to use Medium to post issue- and policy-related content more as the “debates heat up,” Paul’s digital strategist Vincent Harris wrote in an email. Budowich of the Tea Party Express said his team plans to reshare content from its side. “[Our] campaign has set up accounts on almost every platform that exists. It’s smart for search practices and [optimizing] for the senator to have his brand on each platform,” Harris wrote.

In 2008, the candidates were unclear as to how to use YouTube and in their understanding of how ultimately it would be useful. “The question was, ‘Are we making 30-minute documentaries with this or five-minute profiles or 20-second clips?’” Royalty said. “Now people have figured out YouTube, and here we have Medium.”