Influencers are taking advantage of the Substack craze, using newsletters to express themselves and connect more deeply with their audiences.
Liz Joy of Pure Joy Home has been creating content about family, home, and motherhood on Instagram for over a decade. Despite having 333,000 dedicated followers on the platform, Joy announced she would be shifting away from social media and focusing on writing her newsletter earlier this year.
“A lot of us were bloggers back in the day before Instagram, and we were talking about how nice it was to have your coffee on a Sunday and catch up on your favorite blogs,” Joy says in an Instagram Story.
For Joy, this shift from Instagram to newsletter writing is about appreciating a “slower year” with “less checking social media every second [and] more life,” and she’s certainly not the only creator to make the leap in 2021.
According to Wired, readers and writers on the newsletter platform Substack doubled during the pandemic, and, earlier this year, the company revealed that it has more than 500,000 paid subscriptions. Email marketing and newsletter service Mailchimp similarly saw an 11% increase in signups in 2020, according to the Washington Post, spiking most significantly in the early months of the pandemic.
For journalists, the newsletter boom allows for a new method of publishing that’s free from the pressures of clicks and advertising. However, online content creators are using newsletters to expand beyond platforms like Instagram, fostering deeper relationships with their audiences and relieving some of the pressure of typical social media.
“My newsletter is a way of having a longer term relationship with the subscriber and offering more than what I can on Instagram,” Pyal Patel, a dermatologist with over 26,000 Instagram followers tells us. “It will feature extended versions of what I share on Instagram.”
Patel uses Linktree’s Email Signup link feature to help capture emails and grow her subscriber base, joining the 8% of Linktree PRO accounts who use the feature. This link field is displayed as a button that looks just like your other links, but when visitors click it, instead of sending them off to another page, it turns into an email input field. It’s an effortless way to get more subscribers.
Some creators have embraced newsletters as another avenue to share highlights of their life. Chloe Bruderer has over 5,000 followers on her personal Instagram, where she posts about lifestyle, fashion, and food, but also frequently uses her posts and stories to direct followers to her newsletter. Bruderer started Here’s The Thing in March 2020, and has grown the newsletter to around 2,000 subscribers by documenting her “best life possible.” This includes anything from song recommendations to career advice. Similar to Joy, Bruderer was motivated by nostalgia for the days of blogging.
“I was (and still am) big into blogs and long-form content, and I thought that a newsletter would be a fun way to express myself,” Bruderer tells us over email. “I wanted to post about life, growth, fashion, and art, but you can’t really do all that in the way I want to on Instagram.”
Besides nostalgia and a love for long-form editorial, many of today’s creators have other reasons for starting a newsletter. Creators like 24-year-old Chloe Williams use newsletters as another way to connect with their audiences, such as by integrating newsletters with current social media trends using TikTok. Williams, who initially started her newsletter in November 2020 as a portfolio for potential employers, now posts excerpts of her writing as audio clips on TikTok, and gives writing advice to her 25,000 followers.
“TikTok is a really great place because just about everybody is trying to connect to art,” she tells us over the phone.
Her TikTok bio directs users to her newsletter, as well as her Instagram where she also promotes her writing. So far, she has 1,400 subscribers for her newsletter.
While platforms like Instagram and TikTok incentivize users to grow their followers, both Bruderer and Williams believe that their relationships with newsletter subscribers are far more important than the numbers.
“It’s definitely like a slower trickle, but I genuinely love any audience that I can get,” Williams says. “I would do this for 300 people, if that’s all it ever became.”
“I would do this for 300 people, if that's all it ever became.”
“I love love love feeling connected to people,” Bruderer says. “I actually run my own art business and hardly ever use my newsletter to advertise it. It’s not the smartest marketing move, but I wouldn’t change the genuine relationship with my readers for the world.”
If you’re a full-time content creator, a newsletter alone may not be enough to sustain you (yet), unless you have thousands of followers paying for subscriptions. For instance, Substack’s own publication, The Dispatch, passed $1M in annual revenue in 2020. While influencers can make money by turning on paid subscriptions for their newsletters, many choose not to. Currently Williams and Bruderer both say their Substack income is mostly just a perk.
However, as the newsletter boom evolves, other newsletter creators are finding additional ways to monetize beyond subscriptions, which could potentially allow for the medium to provide steady income. Some creators, like Garbage Day, have taken to posting classified ads in their dispatches, and others, like Alicia Kennedy, have recently opened themselves up to sponsorships.
So far, at least, what’s bringing influencers to newsletters is a desire to forge a better, deeper connection with their audiences, away from the pressures of typical social media. This trend, similar to the 2000s blogging era, also goes hand in hand with the recent influencer shift towards subscription income services, like Patreon and OnlyFans. Rather than attempting to rapidly scale their audiences, creators are laying the groundwork for a new path supporting thoughtful, long-form content that prioritizes quality over quantity.