Content discovery is broken. It’s time to adapt.
Thanks for the kind words, Matt. This is a subject that is very much at the forefront of my mind right now, so I'm glad to see you talking about it in depth.
I think it's worth having a think, for a moment, about the context in which small companies were working up until 2019, because there were some very good reasons that people built communities on other people's platforms, but the basic one is that they grew faster.
I started the Twitter account for Ada Lovelace Day, @findingada, in late 2008. It now has 26.6k followers.
In comparison, I started the Ada Lovelace Day newsletter in September 2011 and it now has 1,871 subscribers. In fact, I've just spend an hour or so digging up monthly subscriber and open rate states from Mailchimp, Mailerlite Classic, New Mailerlite and Substack so get a clearer picture of how our subscriber numbers grew over time. In 2012 and 2013 I saw big jumps in subscriber numbers around Ada Lovelace Day itself, but from 2013 to 2019 it was just a slow slog - I gained just 300 subscribers in that period. I only started getting large jumps in subscribers just before the pandemic in 2019, when we had our most successful in-person event and I remembered to put a "do you want to subscribe?" question in Eventbrite, and then I did that for all our online events through the pandemic and for each one we added 100-200 subscribers. (Very valuable lesson that – should have learnt it sooner!)
Open rates were 20% - 30% on Mailchimp, 25% - 40% on Mailerlite, and 35% - 40% on Substack. Make of that what you will.
But the tl;dr is that building your own mailing list without any resources to put behind it was and is not easy. It's very slow to scale, people don't click much, and for years a mailing list can go nowhere. I always thought our mailing list should be bigger, given that via media engagement etc. ALD has had a reach of literally millions and has become a standard date in the diary for so many people.
It's honestly no surprise that people relied on social platforms where growth came easy. Now that social's all falling apart (well, it's been falling apart for years, it's just more noticeable now), lots of us are concerned about how we develop an audience now.
Small orgs, creators, non-profits, we're all sitting here staring at our paltry newsletter numbers and yearning for the days when one tweet could drive significant traffic to our website. These days, websites are basically invisible, but that's a whole other conversation.
Which is all a very long-winded and somewhat tangential way of saying that this is an incredibly important topic and I'm very glad you're tackling it.