Influence Weekly #247 - Dystopian Influencer Farms Are Fueling China’s Live Shopping Industry

Influence Weekly #247
August 26th, 2022
Executive Summary
  • Dystopian Influencer Farms Are Fueling China’s Live Shopping Industry
  • How Fender Struck A Chord With 33 Million Aspiring Musicians On TikTok
  • The First Insurance For Instagram
  • VTubers are making millions on YouTube and Twitch

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Great Reads

Rafael Broshi, CEO And Co-Founder Of Notch, The First Insurance For Instagram
“I would say that the first thing we’re probably going to add onto the product will deal with suspensions, which are the second most common problem in Instagram. It’s actually much more common than being hacked, but in most likelihood and much faster, those cases get resolved and people get their account back at the end of the day.”

In the future, Notch is also looking to expand their coverage into other social media platforms, such as TikTok or YouTube. Rafael notes that YouTube will likely be the next platform the Notch team expands their services to. 

Rafael shares that the Notch team is excited to continue building a new type of insurance that has never been done before. 

“The insurance is very, very tailored to small businesses, so we started with creators. Creators are only a small sub-segment of small businesses in general, right? And cyber insurance is a product that doesn’t necessarily fit those very small businesses… Second, it’s [cyber insurance] is usually expensive. Third, it will not always cover what you really want.”

He also advises creators to ask their traditional insurance companies offering cyber insurance if these policies will help them when their social media accounts get hacked, which is uncommon with traditional coverage. 

VTubers are making millions on YouTube and Twitch
It’s rare for a VTuber to reveal their human body like Code Miko — for many of these streamers, the anonymity is the whole point.

You don’t have to sign to a major agency like HoloLive to become a VTuber. Though Code Miko’s technology is ultra-advanced and puts Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse to shame, it’s not the norm. With only an iPhone, a new streamer can create a face-tracked, 2D virtual persona.

Now, there’s a growing community of trans VTubers, some of whom say that adopting an avatar has helped them navigate gender dysphoria. Unlike the TikTok side of social media, where showing your face is almost non-negotiable, VTubers can show another side of themselves onscreen. VTuber Ironmouse, for example, is the most-subscribed female streamer on Twitch. But in real life, the Puerto Rican gamer is chronically ill and sometimes bed-ridden, so VTubing helps her have fun and socialize, especially when isolating from the coronavirus.

For some streamers, these avatars are also barriers against harassment.

“I don’t get the same amount of bad treatment online as my female coworkers do,” Yuna told TechCrunch. “It’s harder to troll somebody that’s a cartoon.”

Then again, in a recent stream where she showed off her state-of-the-art mocap suit, she called out a viewer for commenting that her technology was “the future of porn.” While some VTubers do get a bit racy — it is the internet, after all — there’s more to these digital personas than sex appeal.

“I think for people who watch VTubers, a lot of them don’t even care about who is behind the avatar, who is the voice actor,” explained Zhicong Lu, an assistant professor at the City University of Hong Kong who has studied VTubers. “It’s more about the persona, the avatar, and they know very little about the real life of that voice actor.”

Campaign Insights

How beauty is leveraging Shopify's new influencer platform
On August 16, Shopify unveiled its Shopify Collabs tool, which allows approved creators to partner with Shopify merchants and earn revenue. Open to U.S. and Canada-based creators and brands, the platform launch is the latest development to come out of Shopify’s April acquisition of Dovetale, an influencer marketing software startup. The move comes as influencers are increasingly evolving into merchants, with a growing number of affiliate programs enabling brands to directly track their sales.

The beauty category is “near the top of where we’re seeing traction with this today,” said Daniel Debow, vp of product at Shopify. Following Shopify’s acquisition of Dovetale in April, existing Dovetale clients with Shopify were offered Dovetale services for free. Now, its platform has been fully integrated into the Shopify dashboard.

Among these clients is body-care brand Nécessaire, which has ramped up its influencer marketing spend as first a Dovetale and now a Shopify Collabs user. When the brand launched in 2018, it had no budget allocated for influencer marketing for nine months. Now, influencer marketing makes up 20% of its marketing spending.

“The first year, we were living in Excel sheets with lists of people that were texting, emailing and DMing us, ‘Can we be an ambassador of the brand?’” said Randi Christiansen, co-founder and CEO of Nécessaire. Shopify Collabs is “a tool that allows companies to create a community very effectively,” and manage creator marketing in “a way more systematic approach than if it was done in-house.” Beyond its website, Nécessaire is sold at retailers including Sephora, Violet Grey, Nordstrom and Net-a-Porter.

Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s ask Twitch community to help build new menu item
Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s teamed with Twitch on a series of sponsored livestreams around a new menu item, according to a press release.

The CKE Restaurants brands polled social media followers over the past several weeks about their favorite ingredients. The findings laid the groundwork for a Culinary Showdown livestream on Aug. 22 where Twitch partner Storymodebae and CKE Chef Owen Klein will devise limited-run menu items based on the results.

Following that event, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s are supporting weekly livestreams from other creators who will taste-test the creations and ask viewers to vote on their favorites. A final stream on Oct. 24 with Storymodebae asks Twitch chat to decode clues that uncover the winning offering, which will be sold in two select markets.

How Fender Struck A Chord With 33 Million Aspiring Musicians On TikTok
For Fender, part of its transition from a trade-based to a consumer-led company was to boost its presence on TikTok. Fender’s chief marketing officer Evan Jones explains: “TikTok, with its foundation originally in music, has become a pretty amazing destination for aspiring artists, but also for creators and influencers and, frankly, a whole new generation who are just playing guitar for fun. That was why, when we [joined TikTok] in September last year, we partnered closely with artists to make that happen.”

It helps that the demographic of TikTok matches the audiences that Fender had already identified as among the fastest growing segments for guitar ownership and Jones notes that there has been “a pretty seismic shift in the profile of the artists who are coming into guitar music,” saying that they are more diverse and more female than ever before.

Loudwire’s research demonstrates that there is a substantial revenue opportunity for the brand on TikTok. It notes that 58% of people looking to purchase a guitar visit a creator on TikTok as part of their pre-purchase research and that 60% of new players turn to TikTok for inspiration. It was with this knowledge that the #GuitarTok campaign came to be.

“Our job is to amplify and support, which is really important – especially when you’re working with younger artists who have such a unique take and perspective,” says Jones. ”And, frankly, many of them probably understand the platform better than we do ourselves, because they’re so connected with their audiences on a day-to-day basis.”
Interesting People
Dystopian Influencer Farms Are Fueling China’s Live Shopping Industry
Competition to be the next star influencer is hot, thanks in part to high visibility, healthy paychecks, and the outwardly glamorous lifestyle it affords. (Research from Chinese tech company Tencent shows that 54 percent of college-aged respondents picked “online celebrity” as their top career choice.) Ruhan executives tend to favor up-and-coming young women who appeal to their own demographic. Perhaps the most famous is Viya, whose success was bolstered in large part by incubator Xinhe. With more than 80 million followers, the 36-year-old celebrity was able to sell $8 billion worth of goods on Taobao—equivalent to a third of the global sales reported by the American department store Macy’s—before authorities removed her account and fined her $210 million for tax evasion as part of a broader crackdown. 

“You have companies that are literally trying to train thousands of young women to become live-streamers, teaching them how to talk, how to do more flattering lighting or whatever it is,” Kim Leitzes, the founder of KOL marketplace ParkLu, tells Business of Fashion. “Then you have Ruhan—its history and core is an apparel manufacturer, and so what they provide is the whole supply chain, products, merchandising, research, support, and manufacturing, and the value added was having genuine, authentic marketing face to front each brand, and they build a brand around each KOL.” 

OnlyFans content creator who made $5 million invests in rival platform
An OnlyFans adult content creator who made over $5 million (£4.2 million) from the site has decided to jump ship and invest her earnings in a rival platform.

Florida-based Bryce Adams became the most-liked page on OnlyFans after tentatively creating an account with her boyfriend in January 2021.

Adams told the Standard: “We started looking around at the competition and bought some of their stuff and thought we can do this better than them.”

“We did a bunch of tests to see what works and what doesn’t, and we approached it as a business.”

Adams has used the proceeds to make a six-figure investment in rival Fanvue, which showcases the work of creators in music, art, fashion and film alongside content for a more adult audience.

“This has been really cool because now they’re offering creatives to be able to take part in the company and that’s the first time I’ve ever seen that,” she said. “They are looking to hear from creators and move quickly on what are the features they would like to see.”

International Influencer Yi Zhou on Her Career as an Artist, Entrepreneur and Filmmaker
I became an influencer in 2012 when I started my social media in China and was nominated as the honorary ambassador of Weibo, a Chinese microblogging website.

I grew up in Europe and attended fashion shows just as people in L.A. attend screenings. One day, I recall, I was invited to a Chanel fashion show in Paris, but instead of sitting with the French talent at the front row, I was placed with Chinese celebrities. Even though I was European, I had become an influencer in China.

I started my Weibo posts as an emotional outlet about my new life in China and my past life in Europe. I would speak about my days, ideas, the people I met, the things I experienced and make photo collages. I did not think it would have brought me the influencer status — I was just being honest and authentic with my words and feelings.
Industry News

Twitch's new YouTube, TikTok simulcast policy
Becoming a Twitch partner means many things: additional monetization options, channel customization, a shiny verified badge. For a time, it also meant live-streaming exclusively on Twitch. On Tuesday, the live-streaming platform announced an end to that requirement, though in reality it hadn’t enforced that rule for quite some time.

This week Twitch sent out an email informing partnered streamers that they now have the option to create live content — that is, host streams — on other platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.

“We still believe that Twitch is the best place for creators to build and engage with their community,” the Amazon-owned company wrote. (Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post.) “We also recognize that the digital landscape has changed since we first introduced the Partner Program and that many of you engage with your communities in many different places. So we are updating our policy. We will no longer be enforcing this portion of your agreement and will be updating terms early next year.”

Twitch added that streamers are now allowed to simulcast — that is, stream across Twitch and additional platforms at the same time — but only on “short form, mobile services” like TikTok and Instagram. These new stipulations state that while streamers can turn off their Twitch streams and begin broadcasting on YouTube and/or Facebook, they’re not allowed to simulcast on Twitch’s direct rivals: “[We] believe engaging with two streams at once can lead to a suboptimal experience for your community,” reads the email from Twitch to partnered streamers.

TikTok is testing a new ‘Nearby’ feed to display local content
TikTok is testing a new ‘Nearby’ feed that is designed to display local content to users. A spokesperson for the company told TechCrunch that the new feed is being tested with select users in Southeast Asia and that the test is currently limited in scope. Users who are part of the limited test will see the new feed tab displayed alongside the “Following” and “For You” feeds on the app’s homepage.

“We’re always thinking about new ways to bring value to our community and enrich the TikTok experience,” a spokesperson for TikTok told TechCrunch in an email.

The new feed, which was first reported by social media consultant Matt Navarra, is being tested alongside a feature that gives creators the ability to add location tags to their videos. The TikTok spokesperson said that the ability to add location tags is gradually rolling out to creators. When asked if the Nearby feed only displays videos that have location tags, the spokesperson said it was too early to say based on the current limited scope of the feed.

TikTok’s Nearby feed would offer a similar experience but be paired with the app’s already-successful recommendation algorithm. In theory, the feed should display local content that you actually want to see. For example, if your For You page often displays restaurant recommendations or must-see hiking spots, the Nearby feed should show you videos of restaurants and hiking trails that are near you.

Walmart explores matchmaker marketplace for social media influencers
Walmart may launch a platform that will use social media influencers to help the retailer and its 100,000 third-party sellers promote their goods and services online, according to trademark filings.

Walmart filed trademarks for "Walmart Creator" and "Walmart Creator Collective," which would provide social media consulting and "the promotion of goods and services of others through influencers," according to the July 27 documents seen by Reuters.

Walmart currently works with influencers to promote its groceries and apparel, as well as its Walmart+ loyalty program. Influencers often have large followings on Instagram, YouTube and TikTok and recommend products by posting affiliate links. They earn a commission when a customer uses the link to make a purchase.

Brand advocacy platform Duel raises £2.5m to track influencer impact
UK brand advocacy platform Duel has closed a $3m (£2.5m) seed funding round to support company growth and bring on additional staff.

Duel is looking to capitalise on the boom in influencer marketing by providing companies with a suite of tools to keep track of the performance of brand advocates.

Duel works with consumer brands, including ASOS, Dove, and make-up seller Charlotte Tilbury.

The company claims its influencer-focused digital marketing solutions can be more effective than traditional advertising methods and at a reduced cost. Data from Accenture predicted the social commerce market would be worth $1.2tn by 2025.

“We’re in the depths of a people-powered revolution when it comes to growing consumer brands, as now content created by real people influences so many of our purchase decisions, not ads generated by businesses,” said Duel co-founder and CEO, Paul Archer.

“If brands want to capitalise on the fact that commerce is rapidly moving to social, they need to tap into their own communities of people, identifying their most social, influential, and highly passionate brand fans, and then grow through them.”

YouTube launches a dedicated podcasts homepage for US users
Earlier this year, reports emerged that YouTube would soon add a dedicated podcasts homepage — a signal the company was getting more serious about its investments in podcasts and the potential ad revenue they could deliver. Today, YouTube confirmed to TechCrunch the new podcasts destination is now live for U.S. users, after the URL was discovered to be live ahead of any formal announcement.

According to a report by 9to5Google, the dedicated podcast page went live sometime last month and is now linked, at least for some users, on YouTube’s existing Explore page alongside other top destinations like Gaming, Sports, Learning, Fashion and others. It did not appear in the website’s sidebar navigation, however.

Reached for comment, YouTube told TechCrucnh the URL is not globally available at this time.

“The podcast destination page on YouTube helps users explore new and popular podcast episodes, shows and creators, as well as recommend podcast content,” said YouTube spokesperson, Paul Pennigton. “It’s currently available in the U.S. only.”

YouTube declined to answer further questions about the company’s plans for podcasts in general or the destination itself — hinting that a broader announcement was still to come. (It’s possible this will be one of the announcements planned for a YouTube creator event scheduled for next month, if we had to guess.)
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Instagram’s newest copycat target is BeReal - Insider Intelligence
Meta is testing yet another feature on Instagram that copies directly from a competitor. This week’s target? BeReal, the impromptu social media app that’s exploded in popularity and shoved Facebook off the Top 10 apps on the App Store.

What’s being copied?  Instagram’s new feature, called “Candid Challenges,” copies this almost exactly. Rather than be featured in their own feed, Candid Challenge photos will be posted on a user’s Instagram story.

BeReal skyrocketed in popularity thanks to its focus on authenticity. Photos are unfiltered, unedited, and given an asterisk if they were retaken. In a way, BeReal is what Snapchat and Instagram stories were supposed to be before they eventually morphed into the often highly staged and curated pages they are today.

While it doesn’t yet have any ads, BeReal’s popularity has caught the attention of brands like Chipotle and PacSun, which have started experimenting with the platform. Meta, which is hungry for advertiser dollars and trying hard to keep brands on board with Instagram, wants some of that attention for itself.

What is a Niche Internet Micro Celebrity? - The Washington Post
The term niche internet micro celebrity first emerged on Instagram meme pages last spring. Since then, it has seeped into broader culture as an effective shorthand for describing a new type of online fame or notoriety and signifying a shift in how people think about internet-driven influence.

“If the internet was high school, these are the most notable kids in class,” said Ena Da, a Brooklyn-based niche internet micro celebrity who goes by @Park_Slope_Arsonist and is known for her humorous meme edits on Instagram.

While influencers use their online followings to make money, “for a niche internet micro celebrity, the goal is purely to entertain, versus an influencer,” said Da. “I think this term emerged to distinguish people doing a similar thing to influencers, but for completely different motivations. Being a niche internet micro celebrity feels less capitalist, less ‘I’m a brand.’ ”

When Lauren Schiller, 25, and Angela Ruis, 27, two digital creators in Los Angeles, decided to launch their online clothing brand OGBFF last year, their first collection included a T-shirt emblazoned with the phrase “niche internet micro celebrity.” “Especially on apps like TikTok, everyone is a celebrity in their own right,” said Schiller. “The way we vlog our lives and act like influencers online, as if our audience is dying to see our new lip liner routine or whatever.”

PacSun sparks backlash after announcing virtual influencer Lil Miquela as its newest ambassador - The Independent
PacSun has sparked backlash after revealing that its latest spokesperson is virtual influencer Lil Miquela, a CGI avatar who exists solely on the internet.

The American retailer announced its partnership with the self-proclaimed “queen of the metaverse” on 12 August in an effort to strengthen the brand’s digital presence. Miquela (aka Lil Miquela) will collaborate on social content for the California clothing company by amplifying PacSun’s back-to-school and 2022 holiday campaigns.

"I’m so excited to be working with PacSun on this campaign," Miquela said in a press release. "As a fan of their fits, vibe and vision, I couldn’t be happier to partner up as we explore what the future of fashion and culture looks like for a new generation."

“They could have chosen a woman in real life to be their ‘female advocate’ but instead chose a CGI personality who is probably ran by a team of 10 guys,” one person tweeted.

Another said: “Study after study shows social media’s negative influence on young girls’ mental health. They now introduced a CGI generated, impossibly perfect young girl for them to model their look after. This is disgusting.”

“Yes, let’s use a fake person to model real clothes, that will be digitally altered to fit perfectly on the fake model, and never ever look the same on an actual human. Yes, that is how we’ll sell clothing and be relatable as a brand,” someone else wrote.

Making Matilda Djerf a Household Name - The New York Times
"“We try to be more than a fashion brand,” said Ms. Djerf (the D is silent). “We are just as focused on building a community.”

Tanned with rosebud lips and a ski jump nose, she wore diamond hoop earrings that bounced against her shaggy bangs as she gestured to the screen. “We communicate with customers constantly on social media,” she said. “Many of them find new friends through Djerf Avenue as well as new clothes.”

Ms. Djerf flicked through shots that would later be uploaded to the brand’s Instagram account. The girls, in a range of shapes, sizes and skin tones, beamed in sellout styles like the Dream Dress ($199) or Tie Tank Tops ($119). Nearby, Djerf Avenue employees, identically dressed in oversize poplin shirts and loosely tailored black slacks that mirrored Ms. Djerf’s masculine-meets-feminine style, tapped away on laptops.

“A lot of customers apply to be models,” Ms. Djerf said. “They are so loyal and so devoted. We call them our Djerf Angels. They love to be part of our world.”"
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