In order to start getting paid for writing on Medium, writers need to join the Medium Partner Program. If you’re not in the program, you can’t earn money for your writing. But, in order to join, you need to have at least 100 followers – in addition to meeting a couple of other important requirements.

When you’re first starting out, the idea of having to get to 100 followers is daunting. “How am I supposed to get that many?” you as yourself. As a shortcut, many writers turn to something called “follow for follow.” It sounds great on the surface, but in reality it’s (at best) not helpful.

Note: Medium has removed the 100 follower requirement as of August 1st, 2023. Read more here: Medium Partner Program August 2023 Changes

What is follow for follow?

Follow for follow is a term used for the practice of asking people to follow you in exchange for a follow back. Person A says to Person B, “Hey, if you follow me, I’ll follow you back.”

Sounds great, right?

Person A and Person B both gain a follower.

Person A does this over and over and builds up a list of people who are supposedly part of his audience.

It all sounds great on paper. Both people get a new follower. With enough new followers, and more followers means more people reading your content, right?

There are even several Facebook groups that promote the concept, and entire threads are dedicated to the promise that each engagement or clap or follow will be reciprocated.

Great right?

Not so much.

What’s wrong with follow for follow?

On the surface, this all sounds fantastic. Everyone benefits. Everybody’s happy.

The problem with this practice is simple: it’s all artificial, and it’s gaming the system.

Think about this with me. When people follow you just to get a follow in return, do they really care about what you have to say? Most likely not. Do you really think they’ll spend time reading your content? Doubtful.

More likely than not, all they care about is getting their own follower counts up and artificially boosting their own stats.

But it’s all fake. It’s an illusion.

Can you get followers doing this? Yes, absolutely. And for a minute I started to get caught up in it myself. I thought, “Oh, cool. This seems easy.” But then I realized through the good advice of others that this follow for follow stuff was really not helping me the way I thought it was.

These people who were following me weren’t following me because they cared about me or my content. They were following me for them. They weren’t my real fans and never will be.

Even if I were to get hundreds and thousands of followers through a follow for follow system or group or scheme, these people would have little to no interest in my content and would thus be of absolutely no benefit to me long term.

What about following hoping someone will follow back?

This is a bit different, and I hope I can make this distinction. There is a difference between follow for follow and following someone who has not promised to follow you back hoping that he or she will follow you back.

For example, there are lots of great writers on Medium who write content in my niche. Would I love for them to follow me? Absolutely! And I have more than once followed some of them hoping that they’d check out my content and want to follow me as well. But this is quite a bit different than following someone with the expectation that he or she will follow me in return.

In the case of follow for follow, a returned follow is expected. The person I follow is obligated to follow me back.

In the second case, a returned follow would be great, but there’s no expectation or obligation. The other person might follow me back or he might not. I can hope, but there was no prior agreement that he absolutely would return the follow, you see.

This, I believe, is a perfectly acceptable use for the “follow” feature on Medium. When you click that “follow” button, you’re telling Medium, “Hey, I like what this person has written. Show me more of his writing and more like it.” It is, in effect, a vote in favor of that writer and a request to see more content like what he produces.

That’s a powerful feature that shouldn’t be misused.

Understand how Medium pays its writers.

Here’s the thing: when it comes to getting paid on Medium, it doesn’t matter if you have 105 followers or 10.5K followers. What matters is how much time paying Medium members spend reading your content (and also how many people you’ve referred to be paying Medium members, if applicable.)

It doesn’t matter if you have just enough followers to be in the Medium Partner Program or if you have thousands. If your content isn’t being read, you don’t get paid. Even if you are able to gain hundreds or thousands of followers through follow for follow, you’re wasting your time those followers don’t actually interact with your content. Period.

On the other hand, building a following of people who actually do care about what you have to say and who will read your content when they see it come across their feeds… that’s something that’s extremely valuable.

It’s not worth it to rush to get to 100 followers if those 100 followers don’t care about you. It’s far better to build an audience of people who will spend time reading your content.

Focus on writing great content. The followers will come.

Whether you’re writing on Medium, blogging, or creating content elsewhere, your focus needs to be on creating value and speaking to the needs of your audience. That’s what drives engagement. If you don’t have many followers right now, first realize a couple of things:

  1. Not having many followers doesn’t mean your content isn’t good. It just means you haven’t been discovered yet.
  2. Everyone started in the same place. Even those who have thousands of followers today once had none.

It’s easy to get discouraged when you look at the huge follower counts of some Medium writers and then compare them to your own – especially if you’re in the sub-100 range. But don’t let that stop you from creating valuable content that helps others because that is how you bump those follower numbers up in a healthy way.

As you write the kind of content that you would want to follow someone to read and really put time and effort into crafting stories that deserve to be read, the followers will come. It may take time, or you may see massive jumps quickly. A lot depends on your niche, the kind of content you write, how often you post, and how much time and effort you’re willing to put in.

But especially when you’re just starting out, I want to encourage you to focus less on your follower count and more on the quality of the content you create. If the content is high quality and can stand above the ocean of mediocre content out there, the people you want to reach will find it a breath of fresh air.

Don’t rush the process with follow for follow.

Follow for follow is something that seems to get suggested a lot for new Medium writers – both on Medium and elsewhere. It’s tempting. I know. But hopefully this post will encourage you to not take shortcuts and instead build your audience up right from the start.

Maybe you think I’m crazy for suggesting you take a bit slower. But trust me on this: it’s far better to be building a real audience – and I would give you that same advice on any other platform as well. Focus on acquiring fans, not just followers.