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.

Thoughts, questions, or topic suggestions? Email or follow me on LinkedIn for content tips.

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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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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!

Thoughts, questions, or topic suggestions?

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The blueprint for building your 7-figure newsletter business

Learn from some of the top minds in the creator space 🔥

Here’s an inside look at how 7-figure newsletters make money from

It’s packed with lessons they’ve learned from growing their email list to 2m+ readers and millions of $$ in annual revenue.

And the wisdom of many other successful newsletter publishers – from Morning Brew to Axios to AppSumo and more.

The goal is to demystify the newsletter business and teach you what works through a visual method they call ‘The Newsletter Engine.’

How to stand out, grow, profit, and influence like never before.

Thanks to Ethan Brooks, lead researcher, for your hard work on this. It’s an absolute gem! 🤗

It was meant to be a premium report for Trends subscribers, but the project was shelved when they got acquired by Hubspot.

Hubspot doesn’t need the money, so it’s now FREE for you to download here, in glorious PDF chapters – part 4 is just out.

I heard about it on the Content is Profit podcast (fun, high energy!) – listen to the 3-part interview with Ethan here. Scroll down recent episodes, and you’ll see them all.

One thing Ethan said blew me away: size doesn’t matter.

He mentioned a niche newsletter that’s turning over 6-figures with a 1K audience. 

Farming? Nope. Fish? Nope.

It’s a newsletter for photo booth business owners. There can’t be that many of those!

The riches are in the niches. You will be the trusted source when “these people don’t have that many options.”

Good to start with content strategy. If you don’t have good content, nothing else will happen. Storytelling, personality, research and reporting. Your brand needs a heart and a soul to move hearts and souls – and to inspire and empower readers.

There’s no growth hack or pricing strategy that can overcome bad content.” 💯

Know your niche and audience value (and get to 10K subs!!) before you even think about paid growth strategies.

Thanks to the Trends team for making this free and accessible.

What else? I’m working on my content diet because Inbox Hell. 30K emails 😱 I can’t get out of the abyss – calendar invites, press releases, newsletters, random links I send myself.

Send me your tips and I’ll include them next time – just found a fantastic tool that might save me!

I’m setting up a website for TS. Substack is great, but it sucks re SEO. I don’t see many Substacks on Google search. I want to get everything on to my own site and build my content library. SEO, search, opportunity.

As Joe Pulizzi says: “Don’t build your content house on rented land.

Speaking of Joe, he’s offering a fantastic discount for the Creator Expo Show (CEX) in May. I have an affiliate code, but his deal is much better – you can get $200 off via his newsletter here.

I’m buying a virtual ticket, but next year it has to be in person. The magic happens in the room 💫

Keep moving!

Nika 🙂

🔥5 things to know

What’s inspired me this week.

Submit your publication RSS feed to the Google Publisher Center. It’s an interface that helps publishers submit, manage and monetise their content in Google News through Subscribe with Google. Speaking of search and SEO – just done it.

Learn how to build an email list – a proven system for getting 1K+ subscribers from Brian Harris at Growth Tools. The strategy around newsletters and some promotion tactics. Long but worth it. A little challenge for the next eight weeks!

Read newsletters for newsletters. Yes, it’s meta, but if you run a newsletter, there are a growing number of places to find out what’s happening on Planet Newsletter—roundup from Paul Metcalfe, the founder of Lettergrowth and Newsletter Blueprint.

Join YATM Creator Day 2023 at Lighthouse, Poole, on Thursday 27 April. A day for direction focused on your content and message. Audience building, personal brand, creativity, biz growth and cheerleading. This time others are paying for (most) of it 😉

Collaborate with Scott Britton, a tech entrepreneur who has just set up Creator Experiments on Substack. He sent me his newsletter growth experiment and would love your feedback and help. And some quick wins to help you reach more people.

Thoughts, questions, or topic suggestions?

Get in touch. I’d love to hear from you! Email or DM @nikatalbot

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