Discover more from Erica Drayton Writes
How I'm Using Substack Notes vs Chat
And how we can all "try" to avoid screaming into the void!
So much has happened since Substack announced a new feature that was coming. As someone who uses Substack on a daily basis and notices every small change and difference that they do on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour, schedule, I did find it odd that for the first time in a while they opted to announce something was coming rather than just push it out there for us to discover on our own.
Before it even become LIVE to everyone (as of today, April 11th, now every Substack user is on it) the world, from the NYT’s to The Verge and even NBC News jumped on the “Elon Musk blocks Substack links” bandwagon fast. When the train is moving best to jump on with the gotcha headlines to get those clicks and ask questions…never? Anywho, fast forward a full hour after launch and here are my immediate conclusions about what I deem to be two of the biggest features of Substack to date: Chat and Notes
Here are the main points I hope to talk out loud with you and maybe come to a viable conclusion to their use cases that we all can agree on:
What is Chat and what is Notes?
Who is Chat for?
Who is Notes for?
Pros and Cons for Chat
Pros and Cons for Notes
Why is it important for me to use Chat or Notes or both when it comes to my content?
Is it OK if I decide to just write on Substack and not use either feature?
WHAT IS “CHAT” AND WHO IS IT FOR
On November 3rd, 2022 we were introduced to the new Chat feature. Just 8 months after the Substack app was introduced on iOS only and 1 month after the Android app came on the scene in early October 2022. At the time the hype was minimal with just a little over 100 comments and replies.
At the time, and I think it still rings true today, it was defined as:
A new space for writers and creators to host conversations with their subscribers.
Chat is a community space reimagined specifically for writers and creators— it’s like having your own private social network where you make the rules. Writers set the topic and the tone for every discussion, and can turn the feature on or off at any time.
Pretty simple. A social network for creators to have with their subscribers. Keep that in mind as we continue.
WHAT IS “NOTES” AND WHO IS IT FOR
On April 5th, 2023 we were introduced to the new Notes feature. That’s just 5 months after we got the Chat feature! Hardly enough time to get to know a feature, let alone start using it properly with any real understanding. I myself have not started using Chat because I just haven’t had the time. I’m too busy writing (thank you, Substack, for making my level of export of content higher)!
In stark contrast to the just over 100 comments and replies coming from Substack users, looking at their announcement about Notes, there are over 1,000 comments and replies and over 2.5k Likes. If that doesn’t tell you just how desperate users are to jump ship from the current state of social media, I don’t know what does!
Here is how Substack defines Notes:
In Notes, writers will be able to post short-form content and share ideas with each other and their readers. Like our Recommendations feature, Notes is designed to drive discovery across Substack.
This is where I am a bit disconnected in their definition, especially after spending the last hour that it’s been Live for all of us to use. To me, Notes is for writers (ie users) of Substack to post and share ideas with each other…full stop. I don’t see where readers (ie subscribers) come into the mix here. But more on that later.
PROS AND CONS FOR CHAT
Let’s start with the PROS:
Quicker connection with subscribers to have brief discussions that might not warrant a full thread or email but you want to build on that relationship.
Now that it’s on the web as well as the app it makes using this feature much easier (for me) and less of a hassle.
Let’s look at the CONS:
In order to communicate back and forth the subscriber has to be willing to either download the app or go on the web to chat.
I’m not a fan of notifications but if I don’t have that on for CHAT then much of it goes unnoticed by me.
Not all subscribers want to have this level of communication and connection with me (or whoever they are subscribed to) and this might make them feel left out.
How to find the perfect balance between sharing brief thoughts and content in Chat and the main Substack can be tricky to navigate. This is one of the reasons why I just haven’t used it at all. Why use Chat when I can use Threads or just the comments section? If you have found some success in connecting with your subscribers by way of Chat I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.
PROS AND CONS FOR NOTES
As this feature is not yet 24hrs old for everyone, including myself, I am speaking of what I foresee as pros and cons and will circle back around to this after spending a bit more time in the weeds of this feature.
Let’s start with the PROS:
I love the fact that I am able to reach out to other users of Substack in this way that doesn’t force me into the comments hell that is the Shoutout thread posts on Thursday.
If used properly, this place can become a great haven of shared ideas for all of us to use and build upon as we are able to communicate in real time.
After just an hour of use I’ve discovered new Substack users in a way that is far different than the Explore tab that relies on my reading several of their posts before I know if I want to subscribe or not. Seeing their notes in realtime gives me a sense for that personality versus just their content.
Let’s look at the CONS:
Right off the bat it’s got some serious “is this another Twitter” vibe and a hint of “is this another Reddit” vibe for me as well. Both are places I dare not visit ever again.
This should be marketed as a hub for users of Substack and the fact that it is touted as a place for readers as well might leave this placed filled with too many “other” variables. If the point is to convert all readers into writers (whether they want to be or not) I shudder to think how quickly Notes will become a place I dare not visit ever again.
I need more filters at the top. Having just “home” filled with everyone and “subscribed” filled with those I subscribe to is all well and good but it’s still sensory overload for me. I need to be able to maybe have a “favorites” section so I can dwindle down my growing list of subscribes or even the ability to have various categories because I have some Substacks that are fiction based, some that are tech based, some that are productivity based. I’d like to see them all separately. And also, an area where I can just see my Notes that I’ve written so if there are any replies I can see them easier than now, which is that I have no idea where to do to see what I’ve…Noted?
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO USE CHAT OR NOTES AND IS IT OKAY IF I CHOOSE NOT TO USE THEM?
Depending on your content it might be very beneficial to use both for different reasons:
Chat brings you closer to your subscribers.
Notes gives you access to other Substack users who might share ideas that will help you take your own publication to another level that could lead to growth.
Trying something new can seem like a daunting task especially if you feel like you’re in a rhythm with what you’re doing already. I know I feel that way and I’m juggling 5 Substack publications at the moment. Why on Earth would I want to add another task? I wouldn’t, personally speaking. When Threads and Chat were introduced I was less than interested in trying them out. After seeing them in action I honestly still don’t understand them nor do I feel the inclination to use them. However, I can see some benefit (for now) with Notes. It will show me other users I may never come across because they write for a totally different topic than my own but they might have something equally as interesting to share and say. I look forward to these niche discoveries. But the moment it strays from that concept to one of just a bunch of talking heads speaking into their own voids (like all other social media) then it will no longer suit my needs and I will treat Notes like Threads and Chat; just not for me.
So, is it important to use Chat and Notes? Yes, until it becomes a distraction and an annoyance to the real reason any of us find ourselves using Substack in the first place: To produce content.
Thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings. I’m sure I’ll have much more to say about these features and whatever other ones Substack has up their sleeve just waiting to unleash upon us guinea pigs! Till then, how are you finding Notes so far? Have you tried it? Are you overwhelmed by it all yet? Let me know in the comments below and if you are so inclined, subscribe for more stuff like this plus some really great fiction writing too (if you like Twilight Zone and Hitchcock stuff that is…).