Is Twitter the biggest driver of newsletter subscriptions?
Twitter plays an outsized role in content discovery that isn’t necessarily reflected in website analytics.
Hello there! This is the latest edition of my Q&A series where readers ask me questions and I do my best to answer them.
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Ok, let’s jump into it…
Does Twitter drive most newsletter subscriptions?
The first question comes from Jonathan Rick:
You Tweet your articles a lot; do most of your subscribers come from Twitter?
If you read any article about the rise of paid newsletters, you’ll inevitably see the claim that a newsletter’s success directly correlates with the size of the writer’s Twitter following. This makes sense given that journalists spend an enormous amount of time on Twitter and it’s where most of them build up their social capital.
If you look at the Substack leaderboards, you’ll see that all the top newsletter writers have at least 100,000 followers. Here are the top five for politics, for instance:
Heather Cox Richardson: 292,000 followers (though it’s worth noting that she also has a hugely popular Facebook page)
Matt Taibbi: 588,000 followers
Glenn Greenwald: 1.7 million followers
Bari Weiss: 393,000 followers
Andrew Sullivan: 252,000
This is why it was such a big deal when Twitter acquired newsletter platform Revue. Why go to all the trouble of sending your followers off-platform when Twitter could just build all sorts of discovery mechanisms within its own app, to the point where a user doesn’t even need to enter their email address when signing up for a Revue newsletter within a Twitter profile? I’ve even noticed some Substack writers set up dummy Revue newsletters just so they can more easily collect email addresses and then import them into Substack.
However, when I look at my own analytics, the truth is much messier. When you rank traffic sources to my Substack account over the last 90 days, here are the top three:
Google traffic is roughly three times the Twitter traffic, with direct traffic sitting at the halfway point between them. Now, it’s worth pointing out that “direct” traffic is any visit where the referral source can’t be traced. So think of it as traffic that comes from places like Slack, messenger apps, and email. Some people refer to this kind of traffic as “dark social.”
But more important than raw traffic is how effective those referral sources are at converting visitors into newsletter signups. According to Substack, here’s how they stack up:
In other words, 3% of “direct” visitors who land on my Substack convert into a newsletter signup. For Google and Twitter, it’s less than 1%.
I get similar findings when I look at my Google Analytics. Whenever someone lands on one of my articles and then clicks to look at my newsletter, Substack sends them to a special “welcome” page. People who land on the welcome page have a high propensity to convert into newsletters signups. When I track referrals specifically to that welcome page, here’s how they rank:
It makes sense to me that direct traffic drives the most conversions, since much of that comes from other newsletters that are linking to mine. You’re much more likely to subscribe to my newsletter if it’s recommended by one of your favorite newsletter writers.
That being said, I still get most of my personal validation from Twitter shares. There’s no bigger thrill for me than when a blue checkmark user with tens of thousands of followers tweets out my article, even if it ultimately doesn’t drive that much traffic.
I’ve also long believed that Twitter plays an outsized role in content discovery that isn’t necessarily reflected in website analytics. Whenever an article takes off on platforms like Facebook and Reddit, it’s usually because it first caught fire on Twitter. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if most newsletter writers who end up sharing my articles first discovered them in their own Twitter feeds.
As for my strategy for sharing my own articles on Twitter, here it is:
After publishing my article, I immediately tweet it out, making sure to tag anyone I interviewed for the piece.
After about an hour, I retweet that original tweet.
I closely monitor Twitter search for other people who share the article. I’ll then retweet any of their tweets.
I keep a spreadsheet that logs all my most recent articles. Every Monday, I’ll use Hootsuite to schedule the most recent 25, spread out across every weekday. Then on Fridays I’ll schedule out the most recent 10 articles across Saturday and Sunday.
This might sound like a lot, but any given tweet you send is only seen by about 2% of your total following. I think too many writers and publishers only tweet out their articles once or twice and don’t do enough to promote their evergreen content.
Using this strategy, it’s common for an article of mine to “pop” on Twitter a few months after I initially published it. Take my profile of Judd Legum as an example. I published it all the way back in October, but a recent tweet of mine was retweeted by Axios media editor Sara Fischer to her 35,000 followers. From there it was retweeted by several other large accounts, including the main Substack profile with its 66,000 followers.
Remember, attention spans are short on the internet and people are constantly distracted, so don’t just assume that someone saw a piece of media the first time you shared it.
Where’s the best place to find freelance writers?
From Sean Guerre:
Howdy Simon- Where is the best place to find solid b2b freelance writers? Our sector is energy tech. Thanks!
I get this question a lot from media entrepreneurs who are looking to scale up their content operations but don’t have the budget to hire full-time writers. This gets especially tricky when you’re looking for freelancers who specialize in a specific niche; you know they must be out there, but how do you find them?
Of course, you can always go with freelance marketplaces like Upwork, but the most talented writers tend to avoid them because they don’t want to compete with hundreds of less experienced freelancers who will constantly undercut them on price. They instead tend to rely more on their personal networks to funnel them new clients.
One of the best platforms for finding freelancers is Facebook Groups. If you use the search terms “freelance + [category]” then you’ll find dozens of highly active Groups for any freelance profession. Back during my freelancing days, I followed a group called “The Freelance Content Marketing Writer,” and though it was populated by plenty of newbies, I also regularly encountered thoughtful discussion from veteran writers who specialized in a pretty wide variety of content niches.
For those who do follow this route, I have two suggestions:
Read through the Group discussion first to check for quality
Some of the popular Groups aren’t well-moderated and have been overrun with spammers. If you post to one of these Groups, you’re likely to be flooded with low-quality applicants, some of whom don’t even speak English fluently. Look for Groups that require you to fill out a questionnaire before joining. They tend to weed out the wannabe freelancers who are just looking to make a quick buck.
Read the forum rules before posting a job listing
The admins for the best Facebook Groups are fiercely protective of their community and try to shield them from scam businesses that prey on freelancers. As such, they’ll often set specific parameters around posting jobs to a Group. The Freelance Content Marketing Writer group I mentioned, for instance, lists this rule:
If you are hiring for a job, contact Jennifer Goforth Gregory through PM to get approval. Jobs with professional rates only will be allowed and rates must be stated in the post. We do not allow posts for freelance positions that require an unpaid test.
Yes, they’re making you jump through hoops, but that’s a good thing because it’s that kind of stuff that ensures a pool of higher quality applicants.
Can you stream your podcasts to the TV?
From Rick Harp:
An article you shared discussed internet-only versions of FAST (free ad-supported tv). As a podcaster, I'd love to offer an audio-only version of this, i.e., livestream with ads brokered/inserted by the platform. Might such an option exist to your knowledge?
I’m not 100% sure I understand your question, but I think you’re asking if there’s a way to stream an audio-only version of your podcast to smart TV platforms like Roku?
If so, I’m afraid the marketplace for programmatic podcast advertising isn’t very mature yet, and it’s mostly only available to large shows that are part of a network. Your best option is likely YouTube; if you can meet the minimum requirement to join its partnership program (1,000 subscribers to your channel and 5,000 viewership hours in the last year), then you can simply upload a video version of your podcast, and YouTube will presumably run programmatic ads against it when people play it on their television sets.
If you truly want it to be audio only, then you can simply create a video file with a static image of your podcast logo. That’s what I do for many of my podcast episodes (see here for an example). But if you want your podcast to perform well on YouTube, then you should create a video version of it. Platforms like Zencastr and Squadcast now make it fairly easy to record video versions of your podcast interviews, and I began to experiment with them in late 2021 (see here for an example).
As I’ve written before, video podcasts are a low hanging fruit, and YouTube is the third most popular podcast platform behind Spotify and Apple. Given that we’re still a few years away before programmatic podcast advertising becomes ubiquitous, YouTube is your best shot for generating passive programmatic income.
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LinkedIn now has 95 journalists in its newsroom. They're not trying to break major news stories, but instead are focused on fostering more engagement around business news from the LinkedIn userbase. [Insider]
This is a very thorough takedown of "Web3." [Moxie]
Wow: "None of the 10 most popular podcasts in the U.S. last year debuted in the last couple years, according to Edison Research. They are an average of more than 7 years old, and three of the top five are more than a decade old." [Bloomberg]
Coming later this week…
As a CBS reporter in Los Angeles, Erica Mandy had a thriving career ahead of her in TV news. But in 2017 she quit her job and launched her own daily news podcast. Flash forward a few years, and her show, The Newsworthy, now generates over 800,000 downloads per month and has a growing team.
I spoke to Erica about why she made the jump from TV to podcasts, how she found her audience, and whether the daily news podcast space is becoming saturated. Expect that interview to hit your inboxes on Wednesday or Thursday.