Samantha Zabell

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An incomplete list of my favorites

I like to read a lot. This is a completely incomplete list of the books I’ve liked-to-loved that I would recommend you read during these quaran-times. You will notice some descriptions are better than others. I got a little tired and so I phoned a few in. My list, my rules.

My Favorite Book Of All Time

  1. Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine: This is not a recommendation for parents (though this is technically YA). …


A worksheet to help you understand your audience on a deeper level

Getty Images / Natnan Srisuwan

A while ago, I wrote about the importance of finding your ideal reader, as well as a few thought-starters to help writers build that persona. Below, a more advanced version of that exercise, with sections to help you build out that reader on multiple levels, from what their job is to what their greatest fear might be. Keep in mind, you don’t have to answer all of these questions at once, but the more you know about your audience, the easier it is to write for them and reach them!

For more context, here’s a recording of our Creator Workshop…


Do we really want to talk about this stuff?

I am feeling existential dread/internet ennui lately, which you may not see reflected in the below things. But it’s there, and I feel like sometimes writing about this is so pointless when the world is on fire (this tweet was like a gut punch). But, I suppose, routines bring us a sense of calm and control, two things I am very much seeking this week. 🙏 So I will acknowledge that there is a lot of pain and chaos and uncertainty in the world, and also acknowledge that the job I set out to do each week is talk about…


I have a lot of trouble acknowledging it’s actually August

Hi! It’s August. I personally don’t necessarily believe it’s August, but every trusted robot in my life (Siri, Alexa, the magical anchorperson behind AccuWeather) tells me it’s August. I will mull on it, and decide whether or not I choose to pursue this line of thinking.

In the meantime: a few thoughts on Clubhouse, an important discussion about accessibility, and a great example of smart, useful audience work during a local crisis.

1️⃣ Clubhouse 😬 maybe kept itself in beta for too long. Long enough that major competitors developed their own live audio features, making Clubhouse less of a must-download…


Three things and a tweet / Today’s is short and sweet

This week, a WSJ article is making the rounds, but the Twitter conversation is arguably more interesting/important than the piece. Also, Substack continues to grow and The New Yorker has a game that’s the perfect blend of trivia and snark. Let’s go!

1️⃣ Here’s a quote that made me nod vigorously: “There’s still this idea that every­one uses so­cial me­dia, so it must be easy.” Credit to Alana Visconti, social media marketing at Verizon and supreme truth-teller.

Maybe now we can finally agree that it is not easy and it is not a one-person job and it is not normal…


The 💰 edition

Sorry to depress you, but we have to talk about social media salaries. Rachel Karten, author of the Substack Link In Bio, sent out a survey several weeks ago asking social media professionals at all levels, in all industries, to self-report salaries, identities, tenure, etc. The entire spreadsheet is worth looking at, but last week, she released a TL;DR version of the survey results, complete with graphs and a nice underlying sense of existential despair. And so my first of three things is this one very big thing.

1️⃣ The TL;DR: Social media professionals are underpaid and undervalued. People who…


Instagram is testing links for *everyone* 👀

There was a lot to choose from this week! New Instagram features on the horizon, a guide to virtual programming, and some very legit questions about why the NY BOE decided to be cute during a tense mayoral election. Let us start!

1️⃣ File this under the “FINALLY” category — just let people share links if they want to share links! “Link in bio” is tedious, and I’m all for a tool that makes it easier for the non-influencer to promote their work or what they’re reading. I’m sure there are pitfalls to this strategy (misinfo, spam, etc) but overall…


The “OOO” edition 🌴

I am currently on a river, writing to you from the past and into the future thanks to the handy “schedule this post for later” feature. Forgive me if anything major has happened in the audience development world between July 2 and today. I am blissfully unaware and off the grid!

1️⃣ New feature alert: “Exclusive Stories” are being tested as Instagram’s version of member-only content. Makes sense that they’re looking for fast-follow ways to help creators monetize on their own content, instead of helping them earn affiliate revenue on selling products. Per TechCrunch:

“The Stories cannot be screenshot, either…


An amazing tomato strategy, plus two other things

Okay, the first thing is from a while ago but it absolutely DELIGHTED me and it also allows me to make a pun. Here we go:

1️⃣ How did we not realize that the key to audience growth was actual growth? I loved reading about Alex Groves’s “Garden Party” newsletter, an eight-week email course about growing t🍅mat🍅es. So specific, so useful, so on-brand. It’s any growth-minded person’s dream, on many levels! (Alt puns: You say tomato, I say audience development at its finest; good things stem from focused newsletters; I heard this through the (tomato) vine…)

2️⃣ One of the…


Yes, let’s talk about email. But also, two other things.

Back at you with more of my favorite reading on audience. Guess what? Everything you read about content is secretly (or blatantly) about audience. That is your free lesson! Speaking of free content…

1️⃣ “Everything is copy” was nice as a Nora Ephron slogan; “everything is content” feels a little bit more exhausting. When every tweet is a moneymaking opportunity, you have to go the extra mile to own your ideas, lest someone steal them from you and actually earn on that idea. I feel tired by it all. If you work in a newsroom where there’s a constant refrain…

Samantha Zabell

Audience development strategist, previously at Medium, Time Inc., Real Simple

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