This article might cost me my ConvertKit affiliate account and potentially my subscription, but so be it. I hope they're reading this and take what I'm about to say constructively. I absolutely want to be wrong about this, so if you can refute my points here and convince me this is a net positive, please do in the comments!
I've been a ConvertKit user since 2015. The software has been great and I couldn't have gotten where I am with my internet businesses without it. So, when they recently announced their new Creator Network, I was pumped! The idea on the surface seemed like an ultimate growth hack. Almost too good to be true.
I hardly questioned it at first since some of my favorite creators were using it. The people who taught me marketing like Pat Flynn and Neville Medhora. Big names I respect like James Clear and Ryan Holiday.
Unfortunately, my excitement was short lived and devolved into pretty serious frustration and disappointment with the program and the creators who are endorsing it.
Let's break it all down...
What Is the ConvertKit Creator Network?
The program is pretty straight forward.
Here's how it works.
Step #2 Once a member subscribes, they're shown up to 5 other "fellow creators" that the original creator recommend they follow. Follow, in this sense, means opting in to their newsletters.
These creators are people who made profiles on the Creator Network which makes their newsletters available for others to recommend.
The subscriber can click subscribe and will automatically be added to the email lists of the other creators, which are selected by default.
The user can also decline the recommendations by choosing "maybe later" or selecting specific newsletters that they want to subscribe to and deselecting those that they don't.
The value for the creators is not that they're growing other people's lists though, it's that other people will do the same for them and recommend their newsletters whenever someone subscribes to theirs.
There are over 3,000+ creators on the network at the time of this writing, so the odds of being added organically to someone's referral list are slim unless you're already well known in your industry.
However, a little bit of networking and "quid pro quo" is clearly the name of the game here.
"You recommend me and I'll recommend you."
This creates a symbiotic process where a conversion for a fellow creator can easily turn into subscribers for you and anyone else they recommend.
The second I saw this, I knew that the conversion rates were likely fantastic. I started signing up immediately.
There is no doubt in my mind that every creator that is using this method is getting more email opt-ins every day. The numbers I've seen seem to show about 20%+ average opt-in rates for the referral recommendations. Some are even higher than that.
The math makes this insanely sexy.
Here’s an example: If you have 10 people promoting you and they combine for 1,000 opt-ins per day, and you’re getting 20% conversion rates, that is 200 email opt-ins per day for you!
I almost stubbed my fingers rushing to message my good friend and business partner Chris Grant. Thankfully, he immediately brought me back to reality.
As is often the case in the marketing world, the excitement of growth blinded me to the less appealing reality that there might be more too it.
I started to think critically about it and tested it out by enrolling in some other creator's network referrals.
The issues, to me, show that this program is at best, not as appealing as it seems at first and at worst, newsletter suicide that is an existential threat to the ConvertKit platform.
Here are the issues with the program.
#1 Instant Inbox Flooding (Attention Canibalization)
This is by far the biggest issue.
All smart email marketers have onboarding sequences. These are usually triggered almost instantly when someone joins the newsletter.
These first emails have, by far, the highest open and engagement rates of any emails you will ever send. This is a very important part of the email marketing process. You need people to engage early and often so their email service provider whitelists you going forward. If they don't engage, you'll eventually end up in their junk folders.
The problem...All of these emails are going out at the same time!
For example, this is what happened within 7 minutes of signing up for the recommended followers from the example I showed above.
What a mess...
Also, onboarding sequences rarely mean just one email. You'll likely be sending emails in sync with your referrals. Especially if the sequence is set to the generic "send in 24 hours" style, which most likely are, instead of a specific time of day.
Even worse, if these referrals really are in the same niche as you, as they should be, they probably are selling similar products or services.
It is something that can be fixed if ConvertKit makes it so that recommend creators aren't allowed to send instant email automations to new subscribers, but that's also not likely.
The argument here might be "yes, my broadcasts are losing value, but the referrals from other creators offset it."
I don't love that. It feels gross to me.
#2 Subscribe Is the Default
Since this feature is relatively new to all of us, I’d venture to guess a good percentage of people who do click subscribe didn’t realize what they just did.
An accidental subscriber is far worse than no subscriber.
- They probably won't open your emails, which can negatively impact open rates across the board long term.
- They are more likely to report your email to SPAM.
- You're annoying someone, which is rude.
See what I mean?
#3 Dubious Future (Legally) and Macro Negative Impact
Back to the point of increased SPAM, there is no doubt in my mind that the total number of SPAM complaints for the ConvertKit servers will go up as a result of this.
This is a problem for all of us.
When the server reputation is harmed, all ConvertKit broadcasts will be more prone to going to the junk folder. Yes, even for those people who aren't using the creator program.
Legally, I'm sure that ConvertKit dotted their i's and crossed their t's here. However, I don't see this method as being something that will last forever.
Anything that leads to more SPAM complaints is at risk of being thwarted by a new law.
Losing all subscribers who opted-in with a referral method like this some time down the road is not a completely unrealistic possibility.
This is cynical of me, but I did some testing to see for myself and, without naming names, many of the big name creators in the creator network AREN'T USING THE NETWORK TO REFER OTHERS!
They're getting the benefit of referrals but not referring others themselves.
I can only assume that this is because they know that this method is a mess, but they'll gladly take other people's subscribers.
I feel like ConvertKit should make it mandatory to add this to all newsletters if you're being referred by others. Even if they did though, there are easy workarounds like using Zapier or an integration to ConvertKit instead of ConvertKit forms.
Oh and Another Thing...
There is a lot of money in this for ConvertKit so trusting that they have everyone's best interest in mind is more difficult.
They would love if every single one of their users had 100,000+ subscribers. Why? Tiered pricing. They make more money when you have more subscribers.
This ecosystem they built is brilliant for that. They're adding more total subscribers across the board. They've already claimed to have added over 305,000 email subscribers through the program. That's a lot of bread.
If the overall server reputation is harmed, this extra cashflow should more than offset it. Also, the problem with server reputation is that most email marketers have no idea how to even monitor it. Few people have tried multiple email marketing platforms and most people won't correlate reduced open rates with a decrease in overall server reputation.
The Only Way I'd Feel Comfortable Using the Creator Network
Assuming that I don't get banned from the platform, there is one way that I'd use this method.
I'd recommend only people who are business partners OR other newsletters I own.
For instance, Chris Grant (mentioned earlier) and I have a business together. If my list grows, he makes money. If his list grows, I make money. We could strategically synchronize our onboarding sequences to not send immediately so we don't cannibalize each other's subscribers.
If I have another newsletter (I currently don't) and had another Creator Network profile, I'd perhaps recommend myself and say "join this newsletter if you are interested in (X) topic." Even that is a stretch.
So, what do you think? Do the "free" subscribers you'll get from the program offset the downsides? Let me know in the comments!