Substack is adding a new feature to make its platform feel more like a social network, as the company announced on Tuesday that users can now follow writers. The new feature gives users a way to keep up with what a writer is doing without having to subscribe to their newsletter.
The company says that since launching its Twitter-like Notes feature in April, following has been one of the most requested features from writers and readers. Users can find friends to follow by syncing their phone contacts with Substack.
“Following helps writers grow their audience via the Substack network, which is already home to millions of the world’s most valuable readers,” Substack wrote in a blog post. “We built this feature to help maximize — and not replace — subscriptions, which will always be the most important type of relationship on Substack. A follow offers a lightweight way to start a relationship with a writer or reader, with the option to convert it into a subscription at any time.”
By following a writer, you can can stay up to date with what they’re reading, liking, publishing, and subscribing to — through the Notes feed and on their profiles.
Substack says that although the “Subscribe” button will remain the primary focus when you encounter writers you’re not already following, users will now see a smaller “Follow” button on individual notes and profiles. You will also see Follow buttons on lists of suggested accounts.
The platform will encourage users who follow writers to also subscribe to their newsletters. For instance, each time a writer publishes a note, their followers will see it and be prompted to subscribe. In the future, Substack will make “upsells” to subscriptions easier by automatically notifying followers about trending posts and other milestones.
“In addition to creating this new subscription pathway, the follow feature will help readers more easily share your writing,” Substack notes. “For example, if a reader likes or restacks one of your posts, their followers may see that activity in their Notes feed. That means that writers will benefit from these new features even if they’re not active on Notes.”
Although Substack is best known as a newsletter platform, the company has been working on developing traditional social networking features. The addition of a Follow button indicates that the platform is serious about branching out beyond a newsletter platform.
Substack has been looking to take on X (formerly known as Twitter) ever since Elon Musk took the reins of the company last year. The company took a direct shot at X last year, when it warned in a post that “Twitter is changing, and it’s tough to predict what might be next.” The post had encouraged creators of all sorts to port their Twitter follower base to Substack. Today’s announcement brings the Substack user experience more in line with X’s.