Twitter Meltdown part 2: Don't fall in love with a platform
They can change on you. Even Substack. It's time to get control over your access to communities and networks.
This morning, I readWritten Wardand found out that Substack will be rolling out a “bestseller badge” to highlight Substackers with paid subscribers. Perhaps this was Substack’s attempt to show up Twitter after their #TwitterBlue disaster, but they will be rolling out not one, but three checkmarks:
Purple: tens of thousands of paid subscribers
Orange: thousands of paid subscribers
White: hundreds of paid subscribers.
Basically, accounts with, say, hundreds of paid subscribers will receive a white checkmark and so on. I already see it on some people’s profiles.
At the time of this writing, the reaction is mostly negative. Most of the 500+ comments in the article slammed the move.
I’m one of them. It’s a dispiriting, short-sighted move that will rob the platform of its current vibrancy and uniqueness, turning it into yet another social media platform where one needs to compete to be seen. The people who stand to benefit from these will be the high producers, the good marketers, the ones with already large audiences.
Substacks with small audiences will be the most affected.
As a reader, I’m not here to subscribe to the Stephen Kings or the Paolo Coelhos. I’m here to find newsletters written by Joe and Jane Nobody. I want to read the voices of ordinary people, and I don’t want a digital class system to sift out the “haves” from the “have-nots”.
Now, you’re probably wondering why I’m talking about Substack in an issue about Twitter, but Substack’s disappointing move is yet another reminder that we creatives need to be vigilant about the platforms we’re working from. That we just can’t be in love with a platform. And that we need control over our access to communities and networks.
Rented land will shift on you. Here’s what to do instead.
It's sad but true — there are very few alternatives to Twitter. The chaotic town square where we can laugh, cry and mock each other will be difficult to replicate. Until now, I entertained the thought that Substack was different, that it was going to commit to remaining algorithm-free, to prioritise good writing above profits. But its bestseller badge move has shaken my confidence — they have to make money after all.
More than ever, there's an urgent for creatives to gain control over their access to communities.
We need a service or a platform that is free of "algorithmically curated feeds", that won't ghostban, reduce visibility or remove features unless they pay up.
#1 Build a website
Despite Google's ever-deteriorating search function and their prioritisation of advertising dollars, a website remains one of the most important platforms for any creative to set up. Organic SEO still works. For now.
#2 Build a mailing list
Despite its recent move, Substack is still a great tool that can help creatives build their mailing list. And if Substack goes the way of Twitter (and the bestseller badge seems like a bad omen of things to come), I can always port over this list of emails to another service.
The good thing about mailing lists, is that there won’t be an algorithm that will stand between you and your subscribers. If you have to choose between a website and a mailing list, I’d say, build that mailing list.
#3 Leave Twitter and build elsewhere
My friend Sharmila, an NFT poet who relies on Twitter to interact with fellow poets is thinking about abandoning Twitter for Substack. She hates how Elon is running Twitter.
“On principle, I don’t agree with what Elon Musk is doing since he took over Twitter but I fear losing the sense of community and the friendships I’ve built with other poets on Twitter,” she said.
But the alternatives, even Substack, don’t have the dynamic community that has given her the opportunities, networking/open mics that Twitter has given her.
#4 Stay on Twitter. Build stronger elsewhere
This is what I’ll do. At the end of the day, Twitter is just one channel of many for me. I’ll miss it terribly if it crashes and burns, but I’ll continue to update my website and build my mailing list and hope for a day when a Twitter alternative rises from the ashes.
Reminder: Don't be too invested in one channel. Be everywhere.
Ok, maybe not eeeeverywhere, but diversify your rented-land channels as much as possible.
I admit it, I was getting close to falling completely in love with Substack. To the point of abandoning my website blog completely. I’m glad I got that wake-up call.
John Scalzi is a great example of someone who knows how to keep in touch with his readers. Have a look at his post, Where I am online and you can see that he's almost everywhere.
I'm the least worried about him losing touch with his network because he has spent decades building his community on his blog, a channel which he has complete control over.
At the end of the day, Substack will do what’s good for them, and I have to do the same to make sure I’ll continue to have access to my audience.
For authors, writers and journalists, the best we can do is to diversify our communication channels and keep the conversation going.
And Substack? I hope you’re listening and learning lessons from the Twitter Meltdown. We don’t need you to be another Twitter. We just want you to be Substack.
More reads has a lively discussion about Twitter.
Written Ward writes about the Substack move - I'm glad he agrees with me!
Oh Me, Oh My, Twitter Is Going to Die. Goodbye, Goodbye, Goodbye by Elan Morgan.