A guide to identifying and engaging your readers on Substack: from threads and online Q&As to live meetups, advice columns and contests.
I think my most successful reader engagement tactic so far is asking subscribers to submit photos of weird trash heaps they’ve spotted on the street for a regularly occurring “weird trash heap” feature in which I analyze the trash heap contents and speculate on the back story. Readers tell me they are always keeping an eye out now for weird trash—which I think helps keep my newsletter top of mind.
I've been writing a daily music recommendation Substack this past month and I've used the following points to build an audience (would love to have you! <3):
1. Who would like to subscribe to my 'stack?: People who don't like curated genre playlists and want to discover different music more organically.
2. What is my differentiation factor?: I give my readers ONE track a day. No long playlists. People have limited time and I respect that. I give a short write-up to add why that song means so much to me. It's crisp, yet personal.
3. Periodicity and consistency: I do daily. This is a LOT more effort, but I've nearly figured out a system to sustain long term. I want to be part of my readers' day/evening. You earn respect for showing up everyday. It's almost a month in; if I do this 11 more times, that's a solid year!
4. Showing gratitude and having fun: I do shout-outs to my readers on occasion (only first names!) Although I haven't yet asked officially, a fellow 'Stacker linked to me in one of their posts. That was nice of them!
5. Understanding that building an audience takes time and it will be anxiety-inducing: Easier said than done, but try not to stress over page visits and subscriber numbers. This is a long-term engagement. Focus on getting 10 sign-ups first. Celebrate 50. Go nuts when you hit 100. Faint when you hit 250. Full blown asthma attack when you reach 500. People will drop off along the way and that's ok too!
Hope these tips help!
AFTER I finished reading this, I IMMEDIATELY (OK, at 5:53 pm) posted a question about "The Slap Heard Round the World." 58 comments in 48 minutes! Thank you for this marvelous tip! https://ejeancarroll.substack.com/p/the-slap-heard-round-the-world?s=w
Okay, I have a TINY readership but my partner encouraged me to add a "call to action" question at the end of my last post, and the two comments I received were so many more than "a mere two" - they both really made me smile : )
Badass tips. So useful. I’ll be integrating three of these ideas this week.
Great feed and I love having some new ideas and thoughts to play with. One way I've engaged with my community is to get them to submit ideas and answers for my posts. I put together an "Ultra tips from Ultra Runners piece" that had 29 runners submit their ideas. If they weren't on the mailing list already, they were as soon as the post went up :)
I've got another piece coming out this week where I've done something similar, and had great luck getting new subscribers and some great participation from current ones.
Historically speaking, Substack is more like broadcasting than magazines or books. Radio stations developed a HUGE variety of clever interactive promotional methods. Look through the archive of Broadcasting Magazine, especially in the late 1930s. Each issue has a 'Merchandising and Promotion' column about 2/3 of the way from the start, and each column is packed with real ideas.
Great advice. I’m just starting out and my target reader is probably not very engaged on social media, so I have fewer options for connecting with like-minded people. I’m open to suggestions…
This is easier said than done. As someone with autism, I've been trying to "find my community" for decades. Part of the problem is it's hard for me even to accept myself. My fear is that after I put in all this work, I'll have nothing to show for it. It's absolutely happened before.
This is wonderful advice.
Once in a while I’ll ask my readers for feedback about what’s working, what isn’t, etc. I’m always pleasantly surprised at what they say. It has proven to be incredibly helpful! I also tend to pose questions or writing prompts at the end of each newsletter/story to help build engagement.
I am the person who disagrees with something in everyone's "target" audience because the truth is hardly ever found in one place, unless it is a perfect truffle. I am the person who's always had friends in all sorts of groups and belonged to none. I am the one who wants to build a bridge across the divides, not through compromising but through uncompromising love of truth and a value on speaking the truth in love, with love, for love. Hence the name of my substack. I also swear sometimes. This began when I was five, standing on my chair in the middle of a restaurant. It's one of the few times I've been really peer influenced.
I’m a true crime writer. Having read this I have an idea to do some unsolved cases and then start a discussion thread as to who the readers thought did it. Thanks for the inspirational article and comments.
Wow, this community is more than a group of crazy writers and readers are the most important part. We write for them!!
Thanks for the advices, I will pick some ideas to grow my little pile.
Love the list of ideas here!! The [NBA] prediction thread could be my next experiment!
You’ve given me plenty to think about- I’ll need to return to this👏
I really enjoy these posts.