#31: Will Twitter's Super Follows Feature Be a Hit?
Twitter will soon allow you to charge your followers for premium content - but is the move a promising one for creators?
Welcome to the 31st edition of the Marketing Mind Meld, a dive deeper into a new question about marketing, technology, and human behavior 🧠
This week, I collaborated with my friends Joey DeBruin and Rapha Menezes, the brilliant minds behind Product Kitchen and creator space enthusiasts, on the piece below. Also excited to share that I’ll be working with them and a few others on a new project, a bundle called Creative Kitchen. More to come soon!
Will Twitter's Super Follows Feature Be a Hit?
There’s a fun scene in 2008’s Dark Knight where Heath Ledger’s Joker approaches a group of mob bosses, proposing that they kill Batman.
It has a line that has since become quite famous. Mob boss Sal Maroni quips in response to the proposal: “If it’s so simple, why haven't you done it already?”
The Joker responds:
In some ways, this has become the anthem of the newest platforms in the creator economy: help creators monetize at all costs.
Where the threshold was once a fancy service or a particularly intricate piece of creative work, now people can invest in anything from burps to short poems to silly Youtube stunts.
At the high-level, there has never been a better time to think about monetization.
Former a16z investor Li Jin has launched Atelier Ventures dedicated to investing in the “passion economy”, companies like Stir and Patreon have garnered lots of investor interest, and tech culture reporter Taylor Lorenz wrote about the birth of new platforms like NewNew and PearPop, that allow any creator to put their life on sale through creative dare-based polls.
In late February, Twitter entered the fray with plans for a new feature called Super Follows.
The premise is simple - a user can charge $4.99 a month for premium content, opening up a new revenue stream and a new opportunity to reward their most ardent followers. It seemed like a creator’s dream. If you’re good at something, never do it for free. For some of us who spend hours experimenting with Twitter and getting some regular hits out of it, it seems like a natural next step.
But people were not so sure that paying for tweets was the answer.
The feedback varied but largely compounded on the idea that the feature was elitist, reeked of backdoor commercialization, and made Twitter seem less like a dive bar with friends and more like a conference.
One interesting pattern we observed: The feedback largely came from the consumer side - not creators excited to use the feature but consumers who wouldn’t.
But given what we know about the energy of the creator economy, where does Super Follows fit in?
Is this something consumers are just doomed to hate? A feature that will transform how creators and their audience use Twitter?
We decided we would try and unpack both: the bull and bear case for Twitter’s Super Follows.
First up .. Twitter Super Follows and why it’s a brilliant move.
Could Twitter's Super Follows Be a Brilliant Move?
Super Follows as a concept is built from the same psychology loyalty programs have used for decades - if you love a person or brand, you should be rewarded for it. The consumer incentive here is clear. You can get rewarded for your loyalty.
Based on Twitter’s philosophy behind the move, it could also be a masterstroke for creators.
In Taylor Lorenz’s piece on the Creator Economy, NewNew Founder Courtne Smith brings up an interesting hypothesis:
“It doesn’t matter how boring you think you are, there’s someone out there who would find your life interesting to the point that they’re willing to pay.”
Considering the size of audiences on Twitter, it doesn’t matter how weird or unconventional your Twitter is. Boring is relative. A niche gets you a fan.
But even more incentivizing is the idea that your content isn’t limited to tweets.
Kayvon Beykpour, Twitter’s Head of Consumer Product, states in a Verge piece that it could be a medley of offers: Tweets and DMs to everything from subscriber-only Spaces, subscriber-only newsletters, and subscriber-only Fleets.
This all paints a larger narrative: Twitter is betting on the growth of a diverse creator ecosystem.
Super Follows fits in well when you consider its value among Twitter’s recent bets. Twitter has begun to groom a unique set of products targeted towards the creator market, acquiring newsletter subscription service Revue - an alternative to Substack - and starting to build out its own audio chat feature, a Clubhouse competitor called Twitter Spaces.
Reddit Product Lead Peter Yang, who writes an amazing newsletter on the Creator Economy and sourced the image above, said in early February that Twitter can be “the full-stack platform for expert creators”.
There is a reason so many creators feature their Twitter profile URL as the main link on all other platforms, from Substack to Clubhouse to Discord - Twitter is the front page for creators, the place where they can market their content to their audience. Packy McCormick, author of newsletter Not Boring, has even gone on record to say Twitter is the #1 tool he has used to grow Not Boring.
This points at the unique value of Twitter: discovery. How can Substack and Clubhouse connect people with relevant content as the amount of content goes through the roof?
That’s the exact problem that Twitter has already spent a decade and a half solving, and it seems much simpler than it actually is.
Simple ideas and interests translate into relationships that compound quickly.
Given how quick it is to write a tweet, you could write ten tweets, make twenty friends, and join a network of people who resonate with those tweets quicker than you could publish a solid Substack article.
The production velocity of Twitter, the time it takes for any creator to produce and publish any idea, is faster than any other competitor product. It allows interest-based networks to grow rapidly.
So while Twitter is far behind in terms of their newsletter or audio product, the bet is that it takes longer for Twitter’s competitors to build an interest-based network than for Twitter to build a valuable live audio or newsletter product.
People’s interests are a major aspect of their identity and big indicators of their decisions. Twitter has thus far used interest graphs (similar to the one above) to try and tailor ads, with only middling success.
But Super Follows gives the interest graph new life. People may not love forced promotions but they’ll gladly listen to people they know and willingly trust!
As the Lorenz piece above shows, creators aren’t a one-trick pony - they will continue to leverage lots of different platforms and tools to make their business work. But Twitter is the most obvious place where this all comes together.
People share their Substack articles on Twitter. People share their TikToks on Twitter. People share their Etsy gadgets, NFT creations, and vlogs on Twitter.
It’s a central hub where creators are connecting the dots across their many different personas and creations online. It is the only place with a built-in audience and unrivaled distribution.
There’s also another kernel for creators to be optimistic about Super Follows - the cost to participate.
In the same Verge interview we cited above, Beykpour provides unique insight into this:
“For Superfollows, our goal is not for Twitter to make money. Our goal is for creators to make money. I think Twitter may incidentally participate in the transaction in some way to sort of cover our cost, but our goal isn’t to maximize revenue.”
This isn’t Twitter’s first rodeo in the creator earnings debate - it positioned its Revue product to take a far smaller cut (5% vs. 10%) than Substack for newsletters. But the sentiment from Beykpour is enticing.
Youtube and Twitch take a large chunk, sometimes amounting up to 30% of total revenue - Twitter is suddenly an appealing option.
The time has come: Twitter’s interest graph has always felt underutilized, but the fruit also hasn’t hung quite as low or looked quite as ripe as it does now. If you’re feeling jazzed as a Twitter bull, you should be.
But, before everyone locks up your Twitter account to subscriber-only content, consider the other case: Why Super Follows might actually be a bad idea.
Could Twitter's Super Follows Be a Bad Move?
So far we’ve focused on the incentive for creators - creator earnings, creator organization, and creator rewards are all made easier for the creator.
But what about the consumer?
It’s hard to find any stats on what consumers pay in total for creator platforms. An old Substack article suggests that most consumers pay about $80 per year for Substack subscriptions and that over 6,000 patrons are supporting ten or more creators. When you factor in merchandise, event fees, and donations, you’re spending a lot for your favorite creators.
We talk a lot about creator burnout and how each new tool a creator adopts stretches their ability to be effective everywhere.
Rarely do we talk enough about subscriber burnout.
If you’re supporting friends on Patreon, Substack, Youtube, events, and online courses, the simple addition of a new avenue for premium content might make you excited.
It might also make your brain explode.
The closest corollary to consider here is Dunbar’s Number, a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships.
British anthropologist Robin Dunbar proposes that we can have 150 meaningful relationships max, beyond which point we lose our ability to function effectively.
Could there be a Dunbar number for creator subscriptions?
If you subscribe to about 80 newsletters on Substack and follow roughly 2,000 people on Twitter, you might already be overwhelmed. But the sunk cost is low. If you miss a tweet or miss a week’s newsletter, there is no associated economic loss.
But if everyone you followed or subscribed to via email started a paid subscription, that changes things: that means you theoretically have to invest.
It’s no longer just following Joey’s twitter or reading his blog. It’s putting your time commitment where your money is.
Let’s say you pay $4.99 a month for three creators and they’re all hosting Spaces at the same time. Do you join each for a few minutes? Join only one? Roll up into a ball and cry?
There’s no clear answer.
Sure, you can also just pay creators and not consume any of their content. After all, we regularly do that for Netflix, where you pay a subscription but don’t use it every day or watch every movie.
But, if you begin to pay a fixed cost to rent a single movie for a month, it suddenly adds up. Regardless of how much you love Ethan Hawke, is it worth watching Blaze ten times a month?
Bottom line: This has all the potential to drive consumers insane.
There’s also the question of Twitter’s ultimate objective and how well Super Follows fits in. In If I Ruled The Tweets, Packy describes Twitter’s core job as a platform for ideas:
For Netflix, the JBTD is “I need to be entertained.” For Facebook, it’s “I need to connect with friends and family.” For Google, it’s “I need to find something on the internet.”
What is Twitter’s JTBD for Creators? “I need to get my ideas in front of people.”
Fleets are actually a good use case for this exact job. Fleets are free, unfiltered, and regularly begging for your attention on top of your Twitter mobile feed.
But does Super Follows achieve this?
Yes, theoretically, you’re still getting your ideas in front of people.
Now consider the fact that your distribution is filtered down to only people who would actually pay for your ideas. It does increase the burden of quality - nobody is going to pay $4.99 for crappy memes and asides.
But even with less people, you’re still getting your ideas in front of people.
Now consider that someone could be paying for multiple people’s ideas and then it’s up to Twitter’s algorithm to decide which Super Follow will be prioritized.
It turns someone who specifically chose to follow your work into another product of a black box. Are your ideas now actually getting in front of people?
If you’re on Substack or Patreon, you don’t have this same issue. Substack will send paid and free newsletters to the inbox every time and Patreon will give you updates every time at tiered levels.
Twitter still hasn’t shown how Super Follows would interact with the everyday, untethered pleasantry of a natural feed.
It’s a reliance double whammy and one that essentially puts creators totally at the whim of how Twitter wants to evolve this strategy.
Big Tech has pulled the algorithmic rug out from brands before, like when Facebook drastically limited the free reach of a FB Page even to that Page’s followers — many marketers wasted millions on growing their followers only to wake up and find that suddenly those followers were worth way less than they had cost to acquire. It’s not impossible to think it could happen again.
All of this points to a complex question: As a creator, how much of the control you have over your audience with a Super Follow is an illusion?
Twitter has no real interest in helping you take your "super followers" wherever you go next. Building that relationship with your audience on Twitter's terms is very risky, especially if your livelihood depends on that.
Creators who jump on this train are agreeing to become more commoditized, so to speak, as their brand fades more into the background with Twitter's intermediation and with the next creator just one-click away. This lower friction will cut both ways … for acquiring Super Follows as well as losing them.
If a creator’s currency is their audience, it might seem simpler to store it all in the bank of Twitter. The irony here is that diversification might be the best bet, as long as the future is still nebulous.
In sum: This could become quite the rat race for creators.
First off, let’s not forget to pay close attention to the details that will make these products successful. The theory of layering new products on top of Twitter’s graph is interesting, but there’s a whole lot of craft that stands between the realization of that theory one way or another.
We join the chorus of people that are excited “Twitter is shipping again” but we’re not yet prepared to put them in the category of some of the other elite product development orgs.
The initial version of Spaces is buggy and lacking some critical aspects of Clubhouse — and Revue also lacks any real differentiating feature for writers.
But, we’re grateful it has started a new conversation.
It’s definitely time to pop some popcorn and sit back to watch some product teams under pressure and in the spotlight try to deliver one of the biggest bets Twitter has made in years.
Thoughts? Are you excited? Annoyed? Indifferent? Let us know in the comments!
Hope you enjoyed the collaboration - definitely something I’m hoping to do more of in 2021.
If you enjoyed this issue, hit the like button below and I’ll keep similar ones coming!