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Chapter
8

Build a community on Substack

Writing for your audience on Substack is more than just publishing newsletters on a regular schedule — it’s about bringing your readers together and forming a community. In this step, you’ll learn how to use Substack’s platform and tools to engage your audience and build community among your readers. Subscribers who participate in comments are more likely to keep reading, become paid subscribers, and tell their friends about your work. ​​

Once you publish your first post, activate at least one of these methods of community-building to boost engagement on your Substack.

Turn your comments on, and remember to respond to them

Comments are the most direct way to get immediate feedback from your readership. Always keep them on — and remember to engage with your readers by liking and responding to their comments. Pick two days of the week where you can go into your most recent posts and check on comments, liking and responding to them. Same goes for readers who respond directly via email to you — remember to acknowledge these readers and engage them, even with a simple response.

Use discussion threads

While it’s not always feasible for an online community to meet up in person, turn on discussion threads — a Substack feature that allows people to come together to hang out and discuss a predetermined topic or conversation.

As Anne Helen Petersen of Culture Study wrote to her readers in her one-year post on Substack:

“You made the subscriber threads the highlight of my week. You shared your stories of grief and place and weird neighbors. You asked and sought advice, and reliably suggest at least 500 new books every month. You sent me tips, and interviewed your kids about their video games, and suggested and then set the agenda for the money advice column… You made the comments section a place where you might actually want to hang out again. Whether you’re the first person in the Tuesday thread or just open the email once a week and sit with it, you have made all of this feel like community.”

Make recommendations

The nature of Substack makes it easy to feel siloed, but what makes Substack powerful is how writers connect with one another, cross-pollinating their communities to one another. Endorsing and being endorsed by Substack writers you love, using Substack’s Recommendations feature, is a way to powerfully grow on Substack. This helps writers suggest other writers to their readers via the subscribe flow, on their home pages, and in automated emails. Writers who make a recommendation are three times as likely to be recommended in return, according to Substack.

Find opportunities to collaborate with other writers

Utilizing guest posts, guest features, Q&As, and interviews can help you tap into new audiences on Substack. Find other writers to collaborate with — it’s  an opportunity for writers to form connections in a pursuit that can feel solitary at times. Elizabeth Held sent cold emails to other Substack writers in her field when she started What To Read If saying she was a fan of their work. In turn, they featured her Substack and helped her find her first readers.

Add tags

Tagging your Substack with keywords helps others discover your writing from search. You can add up to three tags and change them at any time.

Become a member of Substack’s writer community

Writers come together in a discussion thread hosted on Substack every Thursday that gets sent out to all writers via email. The company answers questions about Substack and, on the first Thursday of every month, writers share what they’ve been reading and inspired by recently in something called Shoutout Thread. 

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A community of peers building alongisde you
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