Inside the Elon-Substack drama

This week, Substack rolled out Notes, a new way to share short-form content on the platform to help drive discovery.

Not the quiet product launch they were expecting!

Elon dubbed it ‘the Twitter clone,’ which they deny – and apparently began to restrict promo and visibility for tweets with links to Substack posts (The Verge).

So much for Twitter being the platform of free speech.

How bizarre to block links to ‘competitors’. He’s cutting off his friends and allies publishing on the platform. How are writers/journos supposed to market their work?

“Twitter Files” journalist Matt Taibbi said he’s leaving the platform after Elon’s latest changes have made it ‘unusable’ for him. NPR has also quit over the government-funded label.

It doesn’t spread goodwill towards Twitter or make you inclined to pay for it, even with Creators Subscriptions to earn income from writing. They shut down Revue!  

Political battles and, once again, writers take the hit. It’s also backfired and given a tiny product launch full-scale media coverage. It’s not often we see a product story hit the headlines.

Shakespearian shenanigans! The ‘battle of the bros’ – Elon Vs Matt, Hamish and Chris 😉

Check out this interview with Kara Swisher (New York Magazine). No names mentioned, but Kara doesn’t shy away.

Chris and Hamish handled themselves well; you can read between the lines. They also discuss the challenging business model of newsletters. 

I am surprised Substack has gone into the social space, but I can see the logic. They are building “a subscription network”, and this will reduce their reliance on other platforms.

But building an ecosystem around social media is very different to running a paid newsletter – and content moderation is a big job.

I published my first note last night. It looks like Twitter, but doesn’t feel like it… much calmer, with no ads and a hospitable welcome from the team, appreciated. Less friction – you can subscribe directly from a note.

Substack is positioning Notes as a tool to help writers more easily get subscribers. It’s early days, so let’s see. Not keen to spend more time online, but if it’s fun to use and helps get more eyeballs on your work, all well and good.

Yet another reminder about the importance of owning your list and not building your biz on rented land.

I’ve redirected my Substack URL to my website, which will hopefully get around any Twitter nonsense.

Well, at least we’re not bored!!

Nika 🙂

The Shift Hot 5 🔥    

The 2023 Unsung Content Entrepreneurs. Usually, the 1% making the big bucks get all the attention. Great to see The Tilt spotlighting ‘middle-class’ creators who are making money from their content biz. A diverse and inspiring list!

Google’s latest update evaluates product reviews about services, media, and other things – articles, blog posts, pages. Worth keeping an eye on if you publish reviews beyond product reviews on your site.

Lofi Girl’s universe grows! French YouTube channel and music label Lofi Girl released a 24/7 livestream featuring Lofi Boy – a new character. Official title: “Synthwave – beats to chill/game to”. A new realm of retro-futuristic sounds to work to!

Is there life after influencing? Internet personality Lee From America wanted to see what life was like as plain old Lee Tilghman. How easy is it to leave lucrative brand partnerships and high follower counts behind? NYT profiles her move from TikTok creator to corporate (got round the paywall on Reddit).

Lee’s new creative outlet is a Substack called ‘Offline Time’ – interesting comment about having to take the app off her phone: “Oh god, this is becoming a social media app”… 🤦🏻‍♀️

Bionic Reading – become a super reader. Oh, to read a book a day again! Shallow forms of reading can dominate the internet. Read faster and retain info better. A typographical trick that works by highlighting certain words in the text – your brain reads faster than your eyes. Free to download.

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Thinking about a rebrand

Test your brand name; Own a piece of Substack; The Shift Hot 5

‘What’s in a Name? Gift Cards, more than just a gift’ – a panel session at a industry conference I worked on recently. New research and a whitepaper exploring whether the name ‘gift card’ is still relevant today.

Gift cards are much more than a physical card and being used innovatively to help with the cost-of-living crisis. Employee rewards and incentives, as a tool for budgeting and saving, and self-gifting is on the rise… ‘You Card’ is one suggestion.

Turns out people still like the ‘gift card’ name though – it has a nice ring to it. Simple and obvious. 

It got me thinking about my name for this project: The Shift – and whether it still fits. The newsletter has evolved since I started it three years ago. It was ‘WorkLife Shift’, which I shortened to The Shift. It had a broader focus, exploring the future of work and living, remote work trends, and freelancing.  

The name was an impulse decision. I looked down at my keyboard and saw the ‘shift’ key. Made me think of freelance shifts and the gig economy. I like the transformation aspect, go solo – #MakeTheShift is my hashtag.

I’ve niched down some more and am now focusing on content entrepreneurship and the booming creator economy. For those interested in creating a lifestyle-first, one-person biz. I’ve set some goals to motivate myself – earning six figures / 10K month / workations – I’m not a nomad, but will travel when I can.

The Shift is too generic – not obvious or specific enough for SEO and discoverability. I mentioned it to a friend and she said, “Well, it doesn’t really tell me what it’s about.” Ugh.

I need a catchier brand name.

I like ‘The Content Entrepreneur’, but that’s registered to The Tilt as Joe has a book coming out on it this year – yay! The Digital Entrepreneur? Or something with Creator in the title. I can’t have ‘The Sunday Solopreneur’ as Justin is rocking that on Saturdays. Six-figure Small is great, but too close to Brian Clark | Unemployables.

Names are important. I realise this is holding me back. Someone asked me to speak at an event the other day, and I hesitated. It’s the name. I can’t imagine being announced as “Nika from The Shift” or writing a book with that in the title. Too many other books using it. I also associate it with the gig economy and grind – not what I want to communicate!

I’ll sit with it for a bit.

Lots to think about – domain names, social handles, trademarks, personal brand Vs brand name. I’ve asked ChatGPT for a few suggestions – pretty good, but nothing I love.

I listened to Jay Clouse talk about his rebrand from Creative Companion to Creator Science. Great name, like the juxtaposition. Excellent episode – well worth a listen.

You can test your brand name here.

Own a piece of Substack

Big news from Substack. They’ve launched a community funding round opportunity asking people to invest (donate) in the platform. Here’s the pitch email. They believe the future of media and the internet’s next chapter is the ‘subscription network.’

I’ve made a reservation. I believe in what Substack is trying to do – change a broken media model. I like the product and community they’ve built over the last five years. It’s an ambitious mission and they want to build with writers.

I like that it’s accessible – the minimum donation is $100. The fundraiser is almost sold out, which is a good sign.

It’s a matter of principle and a loyalty move, really. I don’t expect to get my money back. It’s an interesting opportunity (I’ve never been offered this in the writing biz), and I want to be part of it.

I would like to see the financials (coming in the next couple of weeks they say), and have a few questions. Do we have voting rights? Do they plan to go public or sell at some point? Nothing lasts forever – especially in startup land. I would rather have actual shares in Substack…

It’s easy to be cynical – they didn’t make their funding round last year, and the market is tough. But it’s a simple decision. I like what they’re doing for writers, and I’ve benefited from the platform and community over the last four years. 

I’m happy to give back, and I want them to succeed.

I also want more from them. A Substack conference, a magazine for writers, more help with marketing and distribution (Sparkloop style, Beehiiv), local meetups and events, which all require more $$ – maybe even a Substack gift card? 😉

Comment in The Verge (some data they didn’t include) – Oooof. I’ve seen many posts from backers – Emma Gannon, Polina Pompliano and this one by The Honest Broker.

Good luck to the team – and thank you for an excellent product.

The Shift Hot 5 🔥

How I’ve doubled my following on LinkedIn in the last few months – Jay Clouse shares his strategy for how he’s growing on LinkedIn based on current algo research and best practices. I love these solo episodes – practical, actionable advice. Grab a notebook and pen! 

Teach Me to Pin – free training w/ Jenna Kutcher. Pinterest is her #1 traffic referral source and a huge part of her marketing strategy. Pinterest is a search engine, not a social media platform, which means people actively search for keywords in your niche. The average post lifespan is 4 mo Vs 18 mins on Twitter!! Worth your time.

Prompt Crafting – become an expert on using generative AI for marketing content creation. A handbook from – learn the art of prompt writing, how to personalise your content for audiences, optimise for SEO and more.

A Guide to Writing Well by Julian Shapiro – learn how to write better non-fiction books and blogs. “There’s a science to non-fiction that I believe has been overlooked.”

A ‘Manifesto for Slow Learning’ including a ‘Bill of Rights’ for the slow learner. A project that Idler editor Tom Hodgkinson took part in and shared in his excellent newsletter. A path to a mindful and meaningful future of learning… feels right with the AI insanity.

Listening to this today. Have a great (rest of) Sunday.  

Keep moving –


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Become a next-gen writer now

Take a stand on how you will – and won’t – use AI

“Why learn anything when you can get AI to do it for you?”

I saw that comment on a LinkedIn post by writer Yessica Klein on the back of the ChatGPT4 release this week. 

She said her heart skipped a beat as a lifelong learner and curious person. Her job as a writer is to make AI work in her favour and ALWAYS use critical thinking and fact-checking to ensure accurate information. “Yes, I’m a fan of OpenAI – but what will happen to critical thinking? Can we trust the feedback loop?”

I agree. It sets alarm bells ringing. Shallow thinking patterns? SEO-stuffing? Will we rely on AI too much for decision-making? I worry that short-sighted decisions are being made (letting writers/marketers go etc) based on new technology we don’t completely understand yet. 

The AI space is moving at a dizzying pace. We need to let the dust settle and see the bigger picture. Integrate AI into our workflow and, learn more, upskill teams – right now, it seems to be solo writers and marketers tinkering around with it.  

Had to chuckle at this piece by Digiday on the AI race – all the latest developments. Pretty soon, we’ll need our own AI to keep up with – and make sense of – the updates.  

Imagine when GPT5 rolls out… we’ll be queueing up for brain transplants.

Fascinating to see some of the use cases – personalised learning – Duolingo’s new AI-powered virtual tutor for £20 a month. The Icelandic government is using AI to preserve the country’s language – fantastic.

I’m experimenting with ChatGPT – as a digital assistant. I’m excited to see how it can help me to be more productive and creative, but I can’t see how it will save me time (too much fun). It reminds me of an ex who refuses to use Sat Nav because it sends you round the houses – the journey takes longer. He likes map-reading and using his brain. 

Very sensible 🙂 Good to set some boundaries around it.

There are also copyright issues to resolve re creators’ images and works, unintentional plagiarism etc. 

WIRED just published a piece on how they will and won’t use generative AI tools – aggressive against its use. Smart move. Good to see them taking a stand. 

Writers must do the same and say how they use AI in their content. I should add it to my Terms of Service and website. One for #CopywritersUnite.

Interesting perspective from Paul Roetzer, founder and CEO of Marketing AI Institute. He says as more shiny tools flood the market, real content, human-made, will become more valuable. People will crave content that comes from human hearts and minds. 

I find that reassuring. It also means we can potentially charge more for our work 😉 Can you afford real human content?

I like the idea of having a ‘Certified Human Content‘ badge or watermark for authenticity. I can’t do that on my Substack posts – be interesting if a tech platform like Substack, as WIRED has, took a stand on it.

He also said we’re having the wrong conversation. It’s not about AI taking our jobs (it will create more work). LLMs are getting all the media attention right now, but AI goes much deeper than ChatGPT. We’re talking about the personalisation of experience, content, and decision-making.

Autonomous human robots – one robot for every human on the planet – are the end goal.

Personalised newsletters – yes! I see the value in that. But what I really want to know is how AI will give us back time, extend our lives, and help our productivity and happiness?

I want to live to a ripe old age. A happy, healthy life frolicking in the Italian countryside. Reading books and writing with the sun on my back. Making olive oil, drinking local wine and eating tomatoes that taste like tomatoes… 

If AI can help me get there, I’m interested!! 

Companies need to make a shift in content strategy – a more human approach. 

And part of my strategy is saying no to things.

I’ve signed up for MAI’s AI for Writers Summit on March 30 to learn more about ChatGPT and other tools – you can sign up here for free (courtesy of 

Nika 🦾

🔥The Shift Hot 5

LinkedIn launches ‘Collaborative Articles’ – using AI to expand its content, beginning with a new initiative, which will use AI prompts to call on users for expertise and input. Smart move. It’s harder to start a conversation than join one. To incentivise, they’re also adding a Community Top Voice badge. Play the LinkedIn game! 

The Solo Author – Diego’s Pineda’s new book for solopreneurs. Enjoying this – actionable advice and exciting ideas on content marketing and thought leadership evolution. His niche is how to write a book and leverage it for your business. Check it out at (free chapter). 

Newsletter Growth Tips from Josh Spector. 13 bite-sized videos on YouTube. Advice on finding your niche, free vs paid, building a content system, pricing ads, client acquisition and more. Super handy to have all this in one place – thanks, Josh. 

Building in Public Definitive Guide 2022 – a free guide to the ‘building in public’ movement from content creator Kevon Cheung. Benefits, channels, writing tips and his Public Lab. I’m enjoying Kevin’s column in Courier on audience-building and growing an online business. 

LinkedIn Podcast Academy: what does this mean for B2B creators? LinkedIn has launched an in-house podcast network featuring B2B-related news hosted by some of the platform’s biggest B2B creators. Going all in on empowering B2B creators in ’23 – great to see!

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The Newsletter Grand National ’23

Get ready for the world’s most famous steeplechase…

Afternoon, all. Here we are, then, the Newsletter Grand National! 

AND THEY’RE OFF AND RACING! Substack into the lead, the clear favourite. 

There’s LinkedIn hot on its heels, looking determined. Beehiiv coming up on the inside…

We have some serious contenders in this race. WhatsApp coming up fast on the outside with its handy template! He’s got big ambitions and wants to be the winner – in a league of his own with a 98% open rate. 

Mobile newsletters, what a novelty! As they say, go where your customers are. Will he take it? 

15 fences to run, and no one’s fallen yet. Substack holding it steady. 

OUT! Revue, Bulletin fall at the ninth. Revue and Bulletin both gone. Medium has drifted out to 100/1… struggling at the back of the field. LinkedIn leaning in… gathering pace, could she take the race? 

There’s Oatly Spam. An outsider! With a giant billboard ad for its new brand newsletter. Stopping us all in our tracks. What a cheeky move. A brand newsletter, of all things – what a workhorse. 

Here’s the famous fence, Becher’s Brook – and they’re all over! All cleared it safely.

My money’s on Substack, but I’ve stuck a quid on LinkedIn because of the promotion (900M members) if she can sort the paid element. Not an easy job with data and privacy issues – still no subscriber list… 

But if she puts her mind to it, she could win. Can LinkedIn compete? Let’s see! 

It’s a beautiful day at Aintree. What a race! Big ambitions for the newsletter and creator space. Who will be riding into the sunset a Grand National champion? 

The world is watching!

Two to jump and Substack holding steady… we’re in for a great finish! 

Over the last hurdle, the final fence and it’s Substack who heads down towards the last. LinkedIn second, WhatsApp in third. Bunching up in the Grand National! The final 150 yards… here we go!

SUBSTACK WINS THE NATIONAL! 20M+ monthly active subscribers and 2M paid subscriptions. 

What a turn-up for the books! 

Substack is the winner. LinkedIn was second, and WhatsApp fell away to third. Convert Kit fourth. Beehiiv fifth.

And congratulations to the winning jockey, Rachael Blackmore, who is making phenomenal strides in a male-dominated sport. 

Good news! All horses and jockeys are back safe. No fatalities. Well done to the BHA for investing in safety and improvements to the course.

Another gripping Grand National – the world’s most famous steeplechase and what a story. I hope you had a placed horse. Good day! 

Substack posted this on their blog: A new economic engine for culture, a position piece on what comes after social media as we know it. And where Substack is headed. 

20M+ monthly active subscribers and 2M paid subscriptions to writers on Substack is a fantastic achievement. Well done to the team 👏

It’s inspiring to look at the leaderboard for different sections and see writers making thousands each month from their work.

There are many publishing platforms, and I’ve stuck around because of the mission and manifesto – and the community. They are constantly innovating and trying new things to help make writers’ lives easier. 

And because I like to keep my tech stack and workflow simple! 

But I am republishing posts later on WordPress and LinkedIn – and keeping an eye on what LinkedIn does next for newsletters… 

Good discussion about it on This Old Marketing – how Substack is becoming the WordPress of how to create an audience these days. Joe says he can’t fault the business model. “Letting writers be entrepreneurs – it could be the new WordPress.”

PS, Joe needs some help with The Tilt’s creator economy survey – they are 23 responses short of 1K. You’ll get access to final report, and a chance at $250 or AirPods – fill it in here

Last call to nominate someone (or yourself!) for their list of content creators doing good work who deserve a shoutout. 

Keep moving!
Nika 🙂

The Shift Hot 5 🔥

In Praise of (Brand) Newsletters. What Oatly did next – launched its newsletter, Spam, on a giant ad billboard. A poke-in-the-eye to current marketing trends and the latest cheeky move from a company breaking conventions. Here are a few lessons Angela has learned through trial and error. I’ve moved on to pea milk.

Remote Work Spain Guide to LinkedIn. How to use LinkedIn to find employed or freelance work. Google now indexes LinkedIn post content, which can help you get discovered. Check out Maya’s Facebook group for remote job opportunities and tips. Spain’s digital nomad visa is (just about) here! 

WhatsApp is working on a private newsletter tool for a future app update. Choose who you want to hear from and follow broadcasters of your choice right within WhatsApp. They are giving people a new feature they’ve been asking for. Mobile newsletters have a much higher open rate of 90% than email newsletters at 22% (Gartner). Worth experimenting!

The Publisher Newsletter Awards – now open for entries. A new programme from Media Voices celebrating newsletter excellence, sharing best practices, and elevating publishers’ work. Free to enter – here are the categories. Entries close on April 24th. 

7 Modern Writing Tools That Changed My Life – recommended tools to keep the writing struggles away. Writing online is self-care. “Each article is a little seed that you plant, which will grow into trees and take care of you.” Stop overcomplicating things. Experiment. Keep it simple and have fun. 

I enjoyed listening to Snoop Dogg read this post!

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