In early September, Twitter officially introduced Super Follows, the highly anticipated subscription level that allows users to create and bill for exclusive content. Basically: OnlyFans – or Substack, or Patreon, or Cameo – for tweets (as well as the death knell for that evergreen joke about how the Crazy Bird website stayed free). At this point, the only thing that’s pretty surprising about Twitter joining the subscriber-based movement in 2021 is that the platform has taken as long as Salman rushdie to get with the program.
The specifics of Super Follows differ slightly from a now familiar model: There are three price points at which you can set your monthly subscription rate, plus a special badge to mark out who is a Super Follower and what content is exclusive. Twitter’s initial use cases for Super Follow content ranged from college admissions advice To Tarot questions and answers. Importantly, the big blue bird pointed to the feature’s potential to unleash “additional special access,” previews, and subscriber-only conversations galore. It’s a big sleight of hand: if all goes according to plan, Super Follows won’t just be about getting more of the same from a given account, but gaining access to a more exclusive Twitter experience, to starting at $ 2.99 per month.
Of all the ways we have dissected the subscription internet – how it is both empowering and able to replicate existing power dynamics – a curious consequence is how the ability of everyone’s creator to monetize the internet exclusivity has also standardized the ability to segment its subscribers between paying and non-paying members. Celebrities have always done this: They rely on real superfans, not casual listeners, to join their mailing lists and purchase their VIP concert packages. Now anyone on Patreon (or Substack, or OnlyFans, etc.) can also stand out and sell to their own personal fan club. You couldn’t do this before, even though you had a spectacularly large Twitter audience, because what follows was always a flat, monolithic bunch that more or less put your high school English teacher and your co-workers on the same. walk to see your 2 in the morning. drunk tweets (speaking theoretically here) for free.
Audience segmentation is undoubtedly the whole point of Substack, of course. You, the writer, can create “free” content available to anyone who signs up for your newsletter (or who encounters the link in the wild), and you can create “subscriber-only” content that is sent to your paying readers. The art of successful sub-stacking lies in balancing the personalization of content for both audiences: Free posts need to be engaging, accessible, and optimized for maximum exposure, because you want the post to be shared and seen by many. new potential readers. Meanwhile, paid posts are said to offer enough value to satisfy monthly subscribers and potentially convince freeloaders to feel like they’re missing something (and therefore winning). Where a typical writer had a general audience in mind (usually that of their employer), a successful Substacker is for at least two.
What’s also interesting is that the professionalized ability to divide your online subscribers into paid and unpaid tiers also coincides with increasingly formalized pathways to separate your internet presence between what is public and what is. private. For anyone who maintains a public figure online, the appeal of keeping parts of their internet at least semi-private in the age of instant cancellations, cyberbullying, and truly toxic troll culture is obvious.
I would say the Close Friends feature on Instagram Stories, which launched in 2018, was a crucial formal innovation here: While Myspace and Facebook have long allowed the designation of private or friends-only content, this measure was positioned as a matter of safety and save face, lest employers encounter your study abroad photos. On Instagram, where a typical individual must simultaneously care for a brand and their actual social circle, Close Friends has created a private intimate circle – connected by a special little green star, not a poop padlock – of fairly transparent way. The result: regulars got your daily stuff and close friends got the bonus thirst traps, naked, and even party invitations, all with just one click (a mixture of content that could make Tina Brown proud).
Where the line between privacy and exclusivity begins to blur is where the most interesting parts of the internet have always been, from niche blogs to LordeThe onion ring secret account of the new wave of invite-only newsletters (of course, we were always going to come back to newsletters).
The poster child for this particular kind of exclusive missives: GQ fashion critic Rachel Tashjian“Opulent Tips”, recently billed as “newsletter fashion insiders can’t get enough”. The funny thing is, “Opulent Tips” isn’t even so much a newsletter as we know it in 2021 as it is a private mailing list. Like Tashjian (who is also an elder Vanity Show staff member and contributor) told me over the phone, the style newsletter does not exist on Substack or Mailchimp but as a literal Gmail missive sent to 500 addresses (450 from his personal email, the rest from a burner account due to Gmail’s daily email limit).
For Tashjian, the invitation-only status of the newsletter started out partly as a joke and partly as an ironic dig against the cliqueism of the fashion industry and the idea of exclusivity itself. “The fashion world has cultivated this horribly exclusive attitude that makes you not realize that you can just go to the Balenciaga store and ask for the sneaker,” she explained. “It was funny to say it was by invitation only, it’s just to say that I bury a bunch of people every Sunday. There is no secret code. You can just send me a DM. and I will probably add you.
Maintaining a members-only status for the newsletter also keeps “Opulent Tips” as the “bubbly and babbling outlet” that Tashjian wanted, separate from his work covering men’s clothing for men. GQ and general pressure for any form of digital media to reach the widest possible audience. The fact that an intentionally closed newsletter could serve as a ‘reaction to content monoculture’, as she put it, was echoed in a conversation I also had with Terry Nguyen, the author of another invitation-only newsletter called “Over Lychee Martinis”.
Nguyen, who creates a lot of content for multiple audiences as a writer at Vox and editor of her “Gen Yeet” newsletter, told me that she created “Over Lychee Martinis” earlier this spring as an outlet to write about. “the culture of Asian girls”. ”Away from the pressure of the general public information cycle. “There’s a lot of pressure to write about Asian-American culture from a specific angle – it usually has to be political or newsworthy or about the portrayal or some topics that I was fed up with,” I told me. Nguyen on the phone. Unlike his other writing work, writing for the 240 subscribers of “Over Lychee Martinis” allows him to speak to a specific audience about specific cultural knowledge; a recent missive and an example of the “if you know, you know” nature of “Over Lychee Martinis” chronicled a trip to K-Town’s mainstay Mission Nightclub (which, interestingly, has a private Instagram itself).