For B2B tech PR teams in particular, it’s crucial to stay on top of emerging platforms and tools. The digital media landscape changes all the time and new resources come up often that can help us enhance skills or drive results. One platform that has gained significant attention in recent years is Substack. Substack has had a real impact on the media landscape, and PR people can take advantage of that.
Substack is a newsletter platform that allows writers, journalists, and content creators to publish and monetize their work directly to a specific audience. It’s user-friendly for both writers and their readers and enables creators to build a dedicated audience and potentially earn revenue through paid subscriptions or sponsorships. There are other, similar platforms, but Substack is probably the most suitable for B2B topics and technology issues.
The most popular writer on Substack is Heather Cox Richardson, who publishes Letters from an American. Richardson is a Boston College professor who offers a daily analysis of U.S. politics and history. Her newsletter has over a million subscribers, making her, as of December 2020, the most successful individual author of a paid publication on Substack. Other popular newsletters on the platform are by conservative writers and journalists like Bari Weiss, Michael Tracey and Andrew Sullivan as well as more left-leaning voices like Roxane Gay and Ari Melber.
While Substack gained popularity for political commentary, it’s not limited to politics. The platform features a wide range of topics, including technology, parenting, finance, self-improvement, culture, and more. One of the more popular Substack newsletters is Casey Newton’s Platformer, a fascinating read about the intersection of tech and media. Non-political writers and journalists can absolutely create something of interest on Substack by providing valuable insights, advice, or industry-specific analysis.
PR teams should subscribe to individual Substack newsletters to stay informed, of course. But we can also leverage it to enhance our work. Because Substack newsletters often feature exclusive content, interviews, and analysis, PR people can identify influential Substack writers, get to know their work, and suggest story ideas or interviews. Many freelancers take advantage of Substack to establish their personal brand and gain a following, so it’s a fertile area for identifying specific writers. And because many prominent opinion writers and columnists have migrated to the platform, it’s useful for building relationships.
Communicators can also use the platform as an internal tool to keep employees, stakeholders, or clients informed about industry trends, company updates, or thought leadership content written by executives. And if an organization wants to convey its expertise on a relevant issue like climate change or an emerging topic like Web3, it can develop its own newsletter to build a following around its POV.
Substack doesn’t have the SEO tools that most blog platforms offer, including those on publishing sites like Medium. As an email newsletter platform, its content is not as searchable, yet an audience of subscribers is likely to be a more engaged one. Also, Substack does feature some large and active communities and discussion threads that let readers interact with creators and with one another.
Substack lets anyone with insights create their own platform. This encourages diversity and allows many different voices to be heard. Because Substack is a subscription-based model, it has attracted established journalists, writers, and entire publications. It’s biggest impact might be due to its relative success; Substack has sparked discussion around alternative revenue models for journalists, which could influence the future of media funding.
Substack was originally developed for individual creators, and it has become something of a destination for controversial writers due to the relative lack of editorial constraints on content. Yet it has navigated criticism and controversy by remaining a neutral platform for many kinds of content.
So if a specific Substack writer is relevant to a PR team’s clients or audience, they should definitely try incorporating it into their pitching strategies. This includes assessing whether the topic, format, and audience align with their goals and target demographics. If so, Substack can open doors and provoke new ideas for PR professionals.