Hacking Substack Engagement Numbers
... by doing something completely unexpected.
[You can already see that I need help. Hold the smirk. I’m serious.]
I have a plan, soooo cunning you could pin a tail on it and call it a ..
The Invisible Barrier
There exists a 100 subscriber level invisible barrier over the 1000 subscriber mark which this newsletter has hit. I don't care that SS (Substack) do this, its their platform and they can do whatever they want.
Wait, what? You can't through lines like "invisible barrier" around without evidence, YesXorNo!
[The Y-axis is subscribers. The vertical grid size is 10 subscribers. The X-axis is time.]
The graph shows an increase of 14 subscribers in just over 2 months. I spent half an hour recording subscriber statistics from all of the articles published in that period from 2023-09-21 to up to just published "Any Other Result is Better Than a War", which corresponds to the period to the right of the leftmost vertical green line. With me?
During that period the subscribe button has been clicked 55 times. I didn't start adding a 'Subscribe' button until about half way through this period. Seriously, I added the button because people were signing up (or trying to) anyway. Well, one subscriber also asked me to, as well.
Lets assume that a few of the subscribe buttons were pressed a few times by the same persons before they got fed up with only different versions of the 'pay money' option. So, how about 45 individual attempts for less than 15 successes or a > 67% frustration rate on people trying to sign up.
This is the invisible "pay me" barrier. Its been pissing me off for a while.
I thought this was because I wanted subscribers, which is true. But that is not what was pissing me off. What was annoying the hell out of me was that people COULD NOT sign up when they WANTED TO. This sucks. And, with your help, I think we can find a solution.
The "25%" Solution to the "75%" Problem
I want people to be able to sign up for notifications without being forced to pay money. The "simplest" solution to this is to move YesXorNo to a platform which I control. But, I don't have the money for that, yet. Plus, it's quite an operation (I know this, IT is my professional background).
So, I've hunted my brain for a solution. I present two ideas, below, and invite you to be involved. 🙊
The goal is to increase the level of participation in the subscriber community rather than to increase the number of subscribers. Or, to put it another way, the focus is on engagement, not absolute numbers.
The ideas ...
There are actually two barriers running in parallel. One is imposed by the good people at SS. This is the absolute number of "free" subscribers limit. The other is imposed by subscribers who don't use their subscription.
Before I propose this idea, I would like to be very clear about this.
If you have a subscription to YxN and you like it, for whatever reasons, you do with that as you see fit. Its yours. You do you.
If, however, you think that the peeps at SS are being a bit nasty. If you feel that what they're doing is forcing people into their funding model (which is 5% of subscription fees) rather than allowing people to join up without handing over their money AND financial details. If you are not really using your subscription. Ya know, you could just junk it. Toss it into the ether and make way for others.
Before you hang up, please read on. You might like where this goes.
Now, I dont know what is going to happen. But, I'll make this promise. If a large collection of you, lets say 200 or 300 or more even, get on board with this idea and then other people sign up to replace you over time, then ..
I'll do this again, on the proviso that the objective is achieved. That objective is an increase in the percentage of subscribers who follow the work.
We're at 25%.
[This is not a pick and choose graphic. These are contiguous series of recent publications with the “enagement” numer as a percentage, published in the “Author” dashboard at Stubstack (with a bit of screenshotting and crappy graphic editing to compose it).]
If we hit a consistent 30%, I'll make the announcement to do this again. Hopefully, people will again participate and Ta Da! you could sign up again if you'd like to. Thus, you discard something you're not using for a good purpose and then, if you come back in a few months, you'll see the chance to just sign up again!
You might even like taking a break from the email notifications of the crazy stuff which this newsletter publishes, and then decide, no, I actually quite liked that annoyance. A bit of crazy is good for me. Who knows?
So, there's idea one.
What we're really doing is what the originators of the verb 'to hack' meant before it was hijacked by the media into a pluralized noun 'hacker'. We are looking for creative ways around the impediments which system designers build into their systems. We are trying to playfully hacking the system. And, if we're successful, we can call ourselves happy hackers.
Participation: Part 1
Let me know what you think, via a comment or Like. I'll take notice.
If we get 10 likes, which would be a record, then I'll take this a vote of approval.
Remember, the idea is that some of the 75% of "I don't really read this anymore" are meant to de-subscribe. I'd appreciate the loyalists, the YxNers, hanging around. Solidarity and all that.
You may see an obvious flaw in this strategy, that the disinterested don't see the announcement which encourages them to de-subscribe.
But, you could help with that too, in two ways! But first, the other idea ...
2: Smash Through the Invisible Barrier
This potential solution is far less likely to succeed. The idea is that the active subscribers advertise the newsletters to friends/colleagues etc.. This would generate a pressure on the invisible barrier and somehow it may be surpassed.
This is, to my assessment, magical thinking. The barrier is there for a reason. It costs SS money to run this service and they need to earn money to run it. Apart from selling all their data to Alphabet Inc. (I'm just guessing about that 😆) their model is a cut of subscriptions, and this is the purpose of the invisible barrier, to force creators to force 'subscribers' to pay. So, I don't think it can be 'smashed through'.
However, there is another solution lurking below the surface.
We put #1 and #2 together! The disinterested de-sub and the loyalists advertise the newsletter so that its their friends who are more likely to obtain a free sub.
Not bad or what? Do we like this dastardly plan? Can we see a clever hack?
So, that help which you loyalist YxNers could offer is a headline, and even better, a graphic, which uses a nifty head-line, which will grab the attention of the disinterested. To my understanding the headline, or article title, has to begin:
Public Service Announcement: ...
But, this is just little old me. You are free to come up with whatever you like. And, if y'all have fun with this you can vote in the comments for each others' ideas too!
So, once people have decided to engage with the idea, it will be run. A new article will be published using the best eye-grabbing headline with the most eye-catching graphic. That article will ask the 75%ers to de-subscribe for the cause.
And here is the very sneaky part of the plan. When you Like a post it does two things. It makes me feel good, which is nice. Thank you, I do appreciate it. However, Likes have another function. The silly people at SS use them to prioritize articles. I think you can see where I'm going here.
The current record for likes is maybe 5. So, here is the complete, integrated, nifty hack plan:
Go to the comments and give me a hand to work out a good Title to get the attention of the 75% who might want to join the hack by de-sub'ing.
If you're a graphics person, roll up your sleeves and make the most eye catching graphic you can, possibly using the best of the Titles which you or other YxNers suggest.
If your creative juices aren't flowing, just Like this article, meaning you like this nifty, subversive plan, but aren't in the creative mood at the moment.
If THIS article gets likes and a good eye-grabbing title, and hopefully a graphic too, then a NEW article will be issued with the eye-grabbing stuff. It will merely ask the 75%'ers to join the hack (using the language above of "If you think the peeps at SS are being nasty ..." as above.
Then, you YxNers Like the Crap Out Of It to push it to the top of the list. This gives the 75%ers the maximum chance of joining in the fun.
Waddaya reckon? We could make a nice little communal hack!
[Technically, I could 'pin' the announcement article to the top. But, I dont like doing stuff like that. You are the readers. You should be able to use the Like facility for its purposes. That is your territory, as is the comments area.]
If we pull this off (that is we get to a 30% participation rate), then also I offer the following:
I will turn on chat at SS for 4 hours. It will preference Europe and the US timezones. It will be announced at least one week in advance. I will answer all questions which relate to the topics raised in the newsletter, but probably refuse to answer any questions about my personal or family details.
Preference will be given to accounts which have, in this order: made a suggestion as to the attention grabbing graphic, or title or Liked this or the "announcement" article.
Obviously, the way to use the "chat" time well is to think about any questions you may have ahead of time. If the participation rate is high, I will publish however many articles are needed to answer all submitted questions by accounts which meet the above preferencing.
So. Over to you!
Juices flowing? Gimme an eye catching headline or graphic. Dry on creativity but think this might be fun? Hit this article with a Like.
Have fun out there!
PS: I'll add an "Update" to this article and stick Update in the title if there is sufficient approval for the plan and add any salient details in the update. It should be pretty obvious if this plan is going to go ahead based on the Comments and Likes numbers.
Hey, that might even get the attention of a few 75%ers!
STOP PRESS: After the winning graphic submission, as preference in the reward chat, come the first 10 of the 75%ers who de-sub (unsubscribe) after the announcement asking for the de-subbing is published.
75%ers, feel free to de-sub away whenever you wish. But, there's a shitty prize on offer for de-sub'ing after the announcement asks you to do so. Following that means you've joined the hack, and thus, you are acknowledged with a big thank you!
“Creative ideas can be uncontrollable and dangerous, but they sure as hell are fun.”
Also, regards to Richard Stallman and all of the other surviving original hackers. I was thinking of y’all when I concocted this bat-shit stupid plan.
No, you are not meant to look at or read this stuff. Its meant to confuse the email notification systems into actually doing its job. YxN.
The Jargon File, Eric S. Raymond
Julian Assange: Wikileaks will give details of CIA hacking tools to tech companies, PBS News Hour, 6 years ago
Jacob Appelbaum at University of Luxembourg talking about Tor anonymity network and censorship, CIRCL Luxemborg, 11 years ago
Mandated Crypto Backdoors: Legal Update [DragonCon 2018], EFF at DragonCon, 5 years ago (whatever that means)
Free software, free society: Richard Stallman at TEDxGeneva 2014