One of the most important tools in growing your Substack is using social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Quora and other platforms.
Using social media over the past two months, we've gone from adding less than five new free subscribers a week to averaging more than thirty, including one day where we added more than forty.
Our email list just passed 1000 sign-ups, with more than 50 paid subscriptions.
I've been asked quite a bit how we do that without being spammy, so I thought I'd share some of my observations.
Look at what social media platforms you’re already active on and decide which one or two make the most sense for you to grow your Substack. This might be because you’re already active on them. Or because there is something about your Substack that would fit especially well there.
For us the answer was clearly Facebook since I was already very active on several relevant groups. Some I have been active on for years.
If you’re already active on groups that are right for you, begin thinking about how you can start converting some of those participants to newsletter subscribers (more on that in a moment). If you’re not already active on relevant groups, become active on them so you can begin appropriately sharing your content.
At the same start thinking about what other platforms might be relevant and useful for you.
Based on Substack’s own suggestion, I created a Reddit account and gradually became more active there. I’ll have more to say on that in a bit. I’ve now done the same with Quora as well.
We were also somewhat active on Twitter but over the month have considerably ramped up our efforts there.
It isn’t enough to just a join a Facebook group or subreddit, tell people you have a newsletter, and expect people to sign up.
First you need to join groups that are actually relevant to you and with which you can genuinely interact. If you can’t do be genuine, you’re pretty much doomed to fail.
Our Substack is about our lives as a gay digital nomad couple traveling the world. So I’m not going to join a Facebook group for people into sailing or extreme sports or dating after the age of fifty, pretend I’m interested, and then leave a comment or two and a link. Instead, I belong to groups that either specifically relate to being a digital nomad, travelers in their fifties (our age), long-term travelers, and gay related topics.
Being genuine also means that before you begin trying to get people to sign up, you need to respond to other people's posts with real comments and contribute appropriate things of value to the group that don't include you pitching your newsletter.
People can usually smell a fake a mile away.
Also be sure to follow the rules. One group to which I belong allows businesses to post links to their business every Tuesday, so that is exactly what I do by sharing a newsletter I think will be genuinely helpful. (And also interacting the rest of the week with other people’s comments and sharing relevant posts that aren’t our newsletter.)
And if you’re in doubt about sharing something, contact the moderator. This is helpful in two ways. First, it shows them you aren’t there to just spam their group. Second, it makes them aware of you and much more likely to take you seriously, which is always a good thing.
Then begin posting.
Which brings me to...
Growing your Substack will take time, just like growing anything worthwhile.
In terms of using groups to grow your following, being patient will serve you well. Take the time to become a genuine member without focusing on how many folks follow you. If you do that, I pretty much guarantee that as people learn more about you -- and see the value in what you share without your trying to sell them something -- over time they will start to sign up.
Plus, the more you get to know the groups, the more you'll discover opportunities to actually pitch your newsletter without it seeming like that's what you're doing.
And keep doing it. I know you’re busy and just writing your content takes time. But you’re not just a writer on Substack. You’re also a marketer!
The general advice in using social media is to give more than you take to each group — and to provide actual value. I cannot stress enough how much I agree with this.
My rule of thumb is that I do ten things that do not promote our newsletter for every one thing I do that does promote it. Over time, as the groups get to know me more and appreciate my content, I can start doing one thing to promote our newsletter to every five that do not.
In one digital nomad group, I recently wrote up a lengthy post about why I thought Romania was an underappreciated digital nomad destination. I shared our experiences there, offered some suggestions, and posted some pictures. At no point did I mention I have a newsletter.
Several days later -- after continuing to participate in the group -- I contributed a post about our finances as digital nomads (something people are always curious about.) Once again, this had information that would actually be of value to people. But instead of just including all of the info in the post, I did direct people to our newsletter, though without pitching it.
The response was great.
I recently did something similar in another Facebook group that I had just joined. First, I simply shared some information I thought the group would find valuable. Then after getting a positive response, I went ahead the next day and shared a link to our actual Substack after first checking with the moderator.
But what I think is especially interesting is that the very first post -- which did not include mention of our Substack -- generated multiple requests for more information about who we are and what we do. And my responses did include links to our newsletter.
More so, two different people asked if they could share the second post with the link to our newsletter to their Facebook groups. Of course, I agreed. After they shared the post, I joined the groups, thanked the moderator for sharing my post, then introduced myself more fully, including another link to our Substack.
One of those shared links led to 80 new email signups!
We continued sharing this post — and others continued sharing it as well — so even though it was our very first newsletter and we had one email signup, this newsletter has since wound up generating 121 free signups and six shares. And that doesn’t count the shares it received from other folks’ posts on their Facebook groups.
I continued to post in another of the groups I had joined and they found my posts so helpful and relevant that they asked me to become their official Digital Nomad Correspondent, I agreed with their understanding I would be able to link to our newsletter now and then. So I now have the official imprimatur of the group as a valuable resource, which makes it even easier to sell our newsletter.
By the way, I do think there is even a way to do one-offs to different Facebook groups. LIke this post for example:
I thought it might be relevant to a large Jewish Facebook group. I asked to join, and once I was accepted, I asked the moderator if it would be appropriate to share this newsletter. They agreed. It was very well received and it generated several new subscribers.
I previously mentioned that based on Substack’s own recommendations, I joined Reddit. When I started I had zero karma. (Karma gives you authority and makes it more likely people will pay attention to what you post.) I began participating in the relevant subreddits, slowly building my karma.
But I also happened to have a lot of cat pictures from when we lived in Istanbul. So just for the heck of it, I joined the r/cats subreddit and posted a picture of my husband with a cat. It had nothing to do with our newsletter and made no mention of it.
The post took off like a rocket. It was upvoted 32 thousand times, landed on the front page of Reddit, was the number one What’s Hot post for the day, and boosted my karma to over 10,000.
That increased karma now let’s me post on relevant subreddits with much more authority.
Obviously, this was lightning in a bottle and you can’t duplicate it. But my point is that you should cast your net widely and cast it often. Eventually, you’ll catch something worthwhile that you didn’t expect.
I’ll use Twitter as another example, but it also touches on several of my other points here including being genuine and being patient.
Before we started our Substack, there were several travel podcasts I listened to and sort of followed on Twitter. After starting our Substack, I began more actively engaging with their content, tweeting out podcasts I especially liked and responding to their own tweets.
Over time — and I mean months — I began to build a relationship with them. One in particular began responding frequently, including liking and commenting on our own tweets. So recently I offered her a free subscription to our newsletter, which she gladly accepted. She also asked if we’d like to be on her podcast, something I was very keen to do.
I keep a Google spreadsheet with all of the groups I belong to on one axis, and along the other all of the relevant newsletters we’ve written that I could potentially share with them. There is a surprising amount of overlap.
As I participate in the different groups, I tick off what article I share and where. This makes it much easier to A) know what I have shared where B) to not run afoul of the rules and C) not look I’m spamming the group.
As I said above, growing a Substack is something that takes a long time. And if you are serious about it, doing so can be a full time job.
It’s very important to not let yourself get overwhelmed. Because with so many different things to do, it can get overwhelming fast. So don’t try and do everything at once.
Pick one or two things that you think will pay the most dividends for you. If you love Twitter and find that it suits your personality, then focus on that. Once you’ve really got that going, then start thinking about doing more.
Finally, be kind to yourself. You will try things that don’t work and you will have times when you feel discouraged. That’s okay. We all feel that. But don’t let that stop you from pushing through. Even if you do just one thing the day you’re feeling that way, you’ll have done one more thing. And who knows? That just might be thing that pays huge dividends you didn’t expect.
Okay, that’s the wisdom I have gleaned on how to use social media to grow your own Substack. I’d love to hear what has worked — or not — for you. And I’m happy to answer any questions.
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