This guide will help professionals in all fields use Twitter to find collaborators, generate ideas, build a brand, and more.
last update 3 years ago
Fadeke Adegbuyi (Doist)
Jackie Luo (Square)
Visakan Veerasamy (JIBABOM!)
Kevin Simler (Hexagon Bio)
Sahil Lavingia (Gumroad)
Arianna Simpson (Autonomous Partners)
Nikhil Krishnan (TrialSpark)
I think of Twitter as a manifestation of the internet, which has been something I have loved deeply ever since I discovered it. (It was libraries and books before that. All part of the Great Web.) Twitter specifically, well it has allowed me to get in touch with all sorts of people who I would’ve been far less likely to meet or talk to otherwise, from all over the world. I’m currently doing consulting work for a startup—I got to know the founder through the startup marketing community on forums and such, and he reached out to me on Twitter. All of my favorite people are online, all of the work I do is online. And Twitter is very intimately tied up in all of that. Visakan Veerasamy (@visakanv), co-founder, JIBABOM!*
In Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, Steven Johnson describes the way centers of innovation throughout history were places that allowed different people to trade ideas. Among these “hot spots” are the eighteenth-century English coffeehouse, twentieth-century Greenwich Village, and the 1970s Homebrew Computer Club. All had something in common: curious people from a wide range of disciplines came together to discuss ideas and instigate that era’s mental march—toward political change, scientific discovery, technological advancement, or artistic movement. Hubs of innovation have always been defined by the collision of ideas.
They were also all in person. You needed to be in close proximity to these places or have the means to travel to and between them. They were marked by exclusivity—only a select few had the means or connections to join these intellectual clubs.
Knowledge networks have since largely been democratized: anyone, from London to Lagos, can join the discussion or simply listen in. Knowledge bytes are globally shared, 280 characters at a time, by physicists, historians, technologists, comedians, entrepreneurs, journalists, and celebrities.
It’s happening on Twitter. Sometimes Twitter is the site of innovation itself, the city center, and sometimes it’s the map that leads you to the right neighborhood. Regular people can use Twitter to find meaningful work and meet collaborators. It’s not uncommon to take part in discussions with renowned authors, scientists, and entrepreneurs. Many make lifelong friends.
Twitter is the primary way I meet people. It’s instant credibility and it’s a great way to know who’s going to align with you on something you want to do together before meeting. Passive vs. active networking!Sahil Lavingia (@shl), founder and CEO, Gumroad*
Twitter can be used just like any other social network: maintaining ties with friends, family, and colleagues, posting daily updates and photos, following celebrities and influencers, and keeping up with the news (or that platform’s version of it). Used differently, Twitter offers users something that other social networks don’t:
Access to some of the most interesting people and ideas, allowing us to engage with and learn from people we admire.
The opportunity to share our own ideas, allowing us to stress-test our opinions in real-time and connect with like-minded individuals.
A door to career opportunities that are often not found elsewhere. An estimated 70–80% of jobs are only available through the hidden job market; many of these invisible jobs are surfaced on Twitter.
Twitter has been hugely valuable to me in a variety of ways. I’ve met CEOs I ended up investing in, had investors reach out to invest in my fund, and learned a huge amount. I’ve even gotten multiple jobs from it! I think the possibilities are truly endless.Arianna Simpson (@AriannaSimpson), founder and Managing Partner, Autonomous Partners*
Professional growth isn’t limited to the job you’ll get next, the credentials you acquire, or raising your salary by X% in the next few months. While it can certainly include those things, it’s also largely about everything that comes before and after these milestones. Professional growth includes the activities that enable you to move to the next step of your career, side step to another career entirely, and/or develop as an individual contributor, manager, or entrepreneur.
This includes any of the following:
Clarifying your opinions and becoming a better thinker.
Exposure to new ideas that inform your professional choices.
Finding people whose work, career trajectory, or advice inspires you to act.
Building a network of future collaborators and colleagues.
Discovering new frameworks that help you solve problems in your role.
Obtaining and strengthening job-related skills and moving towards mastery.
Twitter can be used as a search engine, a massive knowledge network with years of accumulated data. Knowing how to use Twitter this way can give you a lot of leverage in your career—you’ll be able to locate information (like specific topics you want to weigh in on, or job postings) and people who tweet on certain topics (#crypto, #UX, #DevOps, et cetera). Understanding how to use Twitter to accomplish any of these goals can yield powerful results. Having this tool in your arsenal will propel you forward, both personally and professionally.
Of course, a platform with 126 million daily active users inevitably captures—and sometimes encourages and amplifies—the bad we see in the world. Negative attention, personal attacks, sexual harassment, mob abuse, death threats, and doxxing, are all common. Sharing your thoughts and ideas on Twitter comes with real risk.
For better or worse, Twitter is immensely impactful. Learning how to leverage the benefits of the platform, while being cognizant of the drawbacks, has the potential to help your career.
But taking part in Twitter’s knowledge network requires more than a passive use of the platform. This mini Guide will discuss approaching the platform with intention and gaining the most value while side-stepping the negatives, with advice from people who have managed to do the same.
If you’re just getting started navigating social media and presenting yourself online, or are hoping to enter a new professional field or community, you want to show people who you really are. Use your real name and, in most cases, make your professional affiliations and interests known.
Your Name and Handle
Your handle is what follows the “@” on Twitter. Try to keep it short and simple. There are a few options for your handle:
Your real name (if it’s not taken)
A made-up handle associated with you
A handle (or username) you’ve used on existing social media or blogs.
Your name on Twitter is changeable and precedes the handle when you tweet; they are usually different. People generally use their real name for their Twitter name, and you can easily modify the name field to include details you might want to communicate to your followers at different times, like being at a specific conference or being on vacation:
“Tina Jenkins in SF for TC Disrupt (Oct 2-4)” or
“Kevin Lee OOO until March 3”
Fair warning: your Twitter handle may become a nickname in real life, so choose something you can live with. (Holloway’s co-founder and CEO, Andy Sparks, is frequently called IRL by his Twitter name, @SparksZilla.)
Saku Panditharatne uses @asteroid_saku, which associates her with the company she founded, Asteroid AR.
Diana Fleischman uses @sentientist, which underscore her belief in the value of all living and sentient organisms, something she discusses and tweets about frequently.
Jessi Hempel uses @jessiwrites, which emphasizes her work as a writer and journalist.
There’s a case to be made for keeping your profile picture the same over the years, even if it means it’s not always up to date. The Founder and CEO of Product Hunt, Ryan Hoover, keeps his profile picture the same, saying, “On Twitter, your @username is secondary to your profile pic. People recognize you by your avatar. Once changed, followers need to re-associate the new photo with your person.”
While the safest bet is to use a photo of yourself, some people opt for cartoon avatars or an illustration.
This practice is more common if you’re already well known. Here are a few examples:
Naval Ravikant, an investor and Co-Founder of Angel List and Epinions.
Kim-Mai Cutler, a Partner at Initialized Capital and a Contributor at Tech Crunch.
If you don’t fall into one of these two categories, and your goal is to help people get to know you, it’s probably best to use a photo of yourself.
Your Twitter bio serves to give people a reason to follow you. It’s common to mention where you currently work and where you’ve worked in the past. You can list these companies in plain text or, if the company you work for is lesser known, @mention them. In most cases, it’s a good idea to give people a sneak peek on the kind of tweets they might expect if they were to follow you.
caution Try not to be self-aggrandizing—watch out for words that make people cringe: “thought leader,” “provocateur,” “innovator,” or “contrarian.” Often a one-liner on the type of work you do and what interests you will be more effective than those cliches. Use the link section of your bio to link to your company’s website, personal website, online portfolio (i.e. Dribbble), or your newsletter subscription page.
A Twitter bio can signal which professional community you belong to or the corner of Twitter you inhabit (like “Design Twitter” (#designtwitter), “History Twitter (#twitterstorians),” or “Black Tech Twitter” (#BlackTechTwitter). Different corners of Twitter or Twitter “communities” have different Twitter bio conventions, for example:
Members of “Writer Twitter” will include the books they’ve written or where their bylines are featured online (like @IjeomaOluo or @CherylStrayed)
Members of “VC Twitter” will include the investment firm they work for and a list of their investments (like @BrianNorgard or @bgurley)
Here are a few other conventions to keep in mind:
Users sometimes disclose their significant other and tag them, often mutually (like couple @briannekimmel and @andrewchen) as a way of supporting each other’s work.
It’s common to add the phrase “Views my own” to the end of a bio. This denotes your tweets and thoughts are not reflective of the affiliations you may have mentioned. You may also see the phrase, “Retweets are not endorsements.”
Sparking conversations in real life is different from doing so on Twitter. The results are magnified; saying something that resonates with your group of friends is different from saying the same on Twitter and having it spread—liked, RTd, and commented on—by tens of thousands of people.
For the most part, using Twitter is an asymmetric risk. Posting is generally low-effort and will yield few responses or nothing at all. On the other hand, if an idea you share is embraced, you might get thousands of comments and a host of new followers. Enough of this over time, as the community around your tweets grows, leads to new relationships and potentially being viewed as someone to follow. On the flip side, on a platform where people can be equally compelled to engage with positive and negative, and someone disagreeing with you can lead to Twitter mobbing.
Anonymous accounts provide a viable solution; they allow you to express yourself freely without any of the potential downside. However, none of these benefits of Twitter are gained if you shrink under the pressure and anxiety of potentially being called out and opt, instead, for an anonymous account. To a lesser extent, this is also true of having a private account. Posting as yourself is often the best way to establish an online presence that helps you meet others and learn about opportunities. Test out saying things under your own name and owning your opinions and ideas. Without this skin in the game, you won’t be afforded any of the upsides of being on the platform.
At the same time, anonymous accounts are increasingly common and can earn acclaim for their creators once unmasked.
@StartupLJackson, an anonymous satire account taking aim at Silicon Valley culture, was started by Parker Thompson (@pt) as an experiment to see whether ideas from an anonymous account could gain traction.
Parody accounts can be interesting to follow because their creators, under the veil of anonymity, often bring light to unexamined phenomena or feel comfortable enough discussing topics outside the Overton window.
Tells that an account is either anonymous or parody on Twitter include the following:
A profile picture that is a stock photo, random graphic, or in the likeness of a well-known historical figure or celebrity.
Their name is non-specific and doesn’t belong to someone who can easily be Googled or affiliated with a certain workplace or association.
The tweets on their timeline can be categorized under a singular theme or idea.
The tone of their tweets is often marked by humor, sarcasm, hyperbole, nihilism, or solemness.
Parody and anonymous accounts are distinct from fake accounts, those which purposefully impersonate someone, or bots, computer-generated accounts.
I mute the nitpickers, block the outraged, like the kind, follow the insightful.Naval Ravikant (@naval), founder, AngelList and Epinions, investor*
Who you follow matters. The thoughts, likes, and retweets of those you follow will make up nearly the entirety of your timeline. Beyond that, who you follow will determine the recommendations you see, the ads you’re exposed to, the content that percolates into your mind and shapes your opinions and points of view.*
Have at least loose criteria on who you want to follow. It can be as simple as “people who make me laugh,” “people who help me question my deeply held beliefs,” or “people with insider information and interesting insights.”
Some questions to ponder as you develop the list of people you follow:
Who is saying things I agree with?
Who is saying things I disagree with?
Who is saying things that nobody else is saying?
Always follow people in each category. This will help steel man your own beliefs and expose you to new ideas.
I try to follow people who demonstrate sincere curiosity, willingness to share, have signs that they’re playing a long game, and are open to criticism and admit when they’re wrong.Visakan Veerasamy (@visakanv), co-founder, JIBABOM!*
Favorites and Industry Leaders
If you have favorite authors, podcasters, thinkers, or creators, look them up on Twitter. Often, Twitter is a great space for these people to write short insightful bits in between their long-form work. Following people you admire on Twitter can lead you to other interesting people and ideas. They will often retweet, share, or like the work of other community members, providing you intel about prominent or thoughtful people in your field. This can unveil entire communities you didn’t know existed, and concepts you’ve never pondered.
Following people whose work or career paths you respect can be a form of mentorship. Often they’ll share insights into their process, mistakes they’ve made along the way, how they’ve gone from early career to industry leader. Follow these individuals and pay close attention.
Following industry leaders—whether or not they are your favorites—is also a good way to stay informed about what’s happening in your field by following some of the figures who are often at the center of industry news. Here are a few examples of people considered community leaders:
If you’re a product designer. Charli Marie (@charliprangley), Marketing Design Lead at Convert Kit, has a YouTube Channel about design and belongs to “Design Twitter”
If you’re a community builder. David Spinks (@DavidSpinks), Founder of CMX is part of “Community Management Twitter”
If you’re interested in cryptocurrency. Jill Carson (@jillruthcarlson), the co-host of the What Grinds My Gears podcast, co-founder of the Open Money Initiative, and a Principal at Slow Ventures, is part of “Crypto Twitter”
By continually honing your own professional skills and taking part in sharing your ideas with the wider community, you’ll reach a point where you’re viewed as a leader both in your wider professional community and its subsection on Twitter. There may come a point where you become someone whose work and expertise is appreciated, and your heroes become your peers.
Now I’m at a more mature stage of my career, and I have a pretty strong community of people around me, including some of the brilliant, well-known people I admired from afar when I was younger. It’s pretty surreal, in a lot of ways.Jackie Luo (@jackiehluo), software engineer, Square*
caution While following industry leaders can give you great perspective and insights into the industry, being a “leader” sometimes means “having a lot of followers.” It’s important to remember that a high follower count can lead to an individual developing a persona and posting what they believe people want to hear. Absorb what you find valuable but take everything with a level of skepticism. Here are a few things that should create doubt:
Complex language. The best people to follow have a way of simplifying complex concepts in the style of the Feynman Technique. If you’re following people whose tweets use overly complex language, don’t automatically assume you’re ignorant. Instead, entertain the idea they may not know the subject matter well enough to communicate clearly.
Black and white thinking. People who speak in extremes are generally oversimplifying something complex. You would be wise to assume that what they’re discussing actually has many shades of gray. Twitter’s algorithm amplifies extreme rhetoric and these tweets will often have high engagement. Don’t be persuaded by lots of retweets and likes. Exploring nuance on Twitter is less likely to gain the tweeter as much attention as a bunch of hot takes. However, people who speak in a measured manner are often the ones you’ll learn the most from.
Fawning praise. Everyone praising and sharing the same article, tweet, or product doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good and you should do the same. Be suspicious if you read superlatives like, “This is the best thing I’ve ever read on X,” or, “I’ve never seen X this well articulated.” Often this is simply people signaling they belong to a particular community and keep up with the latest developments. In the same vein, it’s important to be cognizant of relationships: close friends of an author will provide high praise of their friend’s book and a venture capitalist will hype up (or defend) a company in their portfolio. Take care to read and investigate things before you share them. Often sharing something, while also highlighting the tensions you see, is more impactful than jumping on a praise bandwagon.
Uncover Interesting People
The first step is following people you find interesting and starting to engage by commenting and replying to tweets—that way you start to find your voice. Pay attention to what kind of tweets you (and others) enjoy reading, and what kind of formats work well.Arianna Simpson (@AriannaSimpson), founder and Managing Partner, Autonomous Partners*
When you first start using Twitter, you’ll often follow people you’re familiar with. Spend enough time on the platform and you’ll find more and more people you’ve never heard of that are worthwhile to follow. Finding interesting people can be done a number of ways:
Look up who the people you follow follow. If there’s a Twitter user whose insights you find valuable, navigate to their profile and click on “X following,” with X being the number of people they follow. If you take the time to investigate this list, you’ll find who they find interesting and can increase the amount of astute people you follow too.
Browse the likes of interesting people. Check the “likes” on the profiles of people whose tweets you enjoy. Often following these chains is what leads to finding communities of people who are all loosely or tightly interlinked in some way or another.
Step outside your bubble. Be careful not to be too submerged in a bubble. If someone you respect names someone they heavily disagree with about something in your field, you might follow that person too. It will help you avoid insular thinking. Professional growth spawns from personal growth, and it’s interesting where you can land with shifts in your thinking.
I follow people who are interesting on Twitter. I think a huge mistake for new Twitter users is following people you think you’re supposed to follow—well-known industry people, famous celebrities, et cetera. None of that means that their tweets will be good! Obviously, that presents its own problem. If you’re new, and you’re supposed to find people to follow, where do you start? My advice is to find one person with excellent tweets (whatever that means to you) and then find people they follow, and go from there.Jackie Luo (@jackiehluo), software engineer, Square*
Companies, Organizations, and News Outlets
While individuals will likely make up the majority of the people you follow, there’s also value in following accounts run by companies, organizations, and news outlets.
Following companies. Follow brands and products you admire to stay aware of what they’re doing, get inspired to think bigger about your own work, learn more about their company culture, or find out when they’re hiring. If they provide a service you use, you can also stay up to date with new releases or changes, and even ask questions in your Tweets about specific product features, tagging the company for a response. While you can also follow competitors, it’s best to use a private list for this purpose. Remember that companies use Twitter to sell and convey a positive image of their company. A company’s Twitter account is a highlight reel and most often won’t disclose negative aspects about the company.
It’s always a great idea to follow companies you might be interested in working for (and some of the people who already work for them); we’ll talk about that more in Finding Professional Opportunities.
Following organizations or projects. A little different from companies, these accounts may be non-profit entities, professional associations, or represent projects or social movements. These accounts will often give you insights into areas you’re interested in professionally or personally.
Venkatesh Rao’s (@vgr) account for his newsletter, The Art of the Gig (@artofgig), shares helpful advice for independent consultants.
80,000 Hours (@80000Hours), a non-profit organization researching the world’s most important problems, and encouraging people to address these problems through their careers, shares their content and tangential research.
Following news outlets. Following publications like The New York Times or The Atlantic can free you from subscribing to their newsletter and overloading your inbox. You can find interesting stories that pop up in your timeline and save them for later reading. This can also be a good way to find content you can share on Twitter or retweet with added insights. Unfortunately, following news outlets also comes with the risk of having your timeline filled with a lot of gloomy news about the world. Consider if this is the space where you want to learn about or engage with breaking news and politics.
What’s the Magic Number?
Following too few people can reinforce a narrow point of view and keep you stuck in a monoculture. Too many people can have the same result, in which you only see a handful of those people based on engagement. Following over a 1,000 people likely means you’re missing much of the activity on your timeline.
There’s little consensus about exactly how many people you should follow. Much of the advice surrounding follower counts is related to brand and company accounts or influencers, and not particularly relevant for regular individuals.
However, there is consensus about ideal following ratio. It’s desirable to have more followers than people you follow. This is a positive ratio. The larger the ratio, the better. This serves as a signal that many people are interested in hearing from you and you’re worth following.
caution This is something you may eventually work toward, but be careful about intentionally creating or artificially inflating this number. People desperate for a positive ratio may pay for followers—which presents specific dangers to your brand and account—defollow two people for every one who follows them, or follow hundreds of people and then immediately unfollow when they get followed back. Rather, a positive ratio is often just a consequence of fame.
If you’re just getting started on Twitter, don’t try to avoid a negative ratio, in which you follow more people than follow you. In the beginning, your aim should be to hear many interesting perspectives from many people, so use the follow button liberally. As you hone your list and learn the people you want to hear from, you can unfollow people and aim for a positive ratio.
If a person has more followers than they are following, they’re probably a good person to at least consider following. If they are following more than they have followers, the opposite may be true. The greater the discrepancy between the two numbers, the more likely each of those is true.M.G. Siegler (@mgsiegler), General Partner, Google Ventures*
Use Twitter Lists
There’s very little transparency from Twitter regarding exactly how the algorithmic (where you see the top tweets) or chronological (where you see the most recent tweets) timelines on Twitter work. However, if you follow a lot of people, you’re bound to miss tweets from a number of them.
Twitter lists are an underused but powerful way to dip in and out of different Twitter universes (“#cypherpunks,” “#keto,” “#mindfulness”) while maintaining a fairly uncluttered feed. Create new Twitter lists, or follow existing ones, so you can stay up to date with a number of people without directly visiting their pages.
confusion Twitter lists are distinct from the list of people you follow. Tweets from the people on the lists you follow will not show up in your timeline unless you actually follow them.
Many interesting people create and maintain Twitter lists that you can follow and subscribe to, which can help you find new people to follow or engage with. These lists may contain people the list creator finds interesting or occupy a certain field or area of interest they want to monitor. Here are examples of lists you can follow if relevant to your professional or personal interests:
You can also create your own public lists. This will serve to congregate interesting groups of people together so you can follow their musings closely. Creating a collection of thematically-aligned individuals will also help you see common threads and observable trends. You’ll start to notice patterns like the blogs certain people curate information from, the podcasts they listen to, and crucial details like where there may be disagreements in an industry. Creating public lists also serves as curation for others. You may find people subscribing to your lists—and then following you—because they’re interested in the same kind of content as you.
Create Private Lists
If you’re wary of creating a public list, private lists are also an option. These can be helpful if you want to privately track individuals or entities without following them. For instance, you can use private lists to track competing companies and their leadership teams. Alternately, you can use private lists to track politicians and controversial figures without making that known or letting their tweets interfere with your timeline.
If you’ve just signed up for a Twitter account or dusted off an old one, beginning to tweet can feel like shouting into the abyss. Heads up: it is. If you’re starting from zero with only a few followers, it’s unlikely your tweets will be seen or you’ll get any feedback that will compel you to keep sharing. Posting on Twitter is a positive feedback loop where positive interactions drive you to share more. Instead of starting from scratch, build a small initial following by tapping into your existing networks.
These strategies won’t net you thousands of followers, but they’ll give you an initial boost of viewership so you’re not yelling at the wind. You will hone the people you follow on Twitter over time; this is simply a starting point to get over the mental barrier of tweeting to nobody. Don’t feel bad about eventually pruning your list and deleting people.
If you belong to professional online communities, follow fellow community members on Twitter. “Online communities” may sound ephemeral, and “professional online communities” may sound extremely lame. But the best of these are gathering places for people with shared passions, interests, and experiences—and they absolutely have the power to help you in your career. They can be a good way to stay abreast of what’s happening in your industry, meet professionals peers, and find new opportunities.
You can find these communities in a number of ways:
Google phrases like “top online communities for developers”; “Slack groups for designers in San Francisco”; or “Facebook groups for freelance writers.” You’ll often find articles that list several groups for your area of interest.
Use the search query on sites like Facebook or Linkedin to find relevant groups on those platforms.
Ask friends and colleagues about the professional online communities they belong to and have found value in.
Online communities you can consider joining and eventually following its members include:
Some communities are open to anyone, while others may require you to answer a few questions about your interest in the community or apply in some other way before allowing you to join. Most online communities are free to join, but some may require a one-time or monthly subscription fee. Additionally, while many online communities are global, you can also find communities with people in your specific city or state by adapting your search queries.
important It’s wise to use the same image, handle, and name if possible across platforms to help people become familiar with you and your presence in and across communities.
To translate these community connections to Twitter, you might start a thread or topic where you ask everyone to share their handles. You can also check to see if this thread already exists—it is not uncommon or strange to do so. People who enjoy each other’s online company in one community often want to follow each other on other parts of the web.
Colleagues and Industry Peers
Depending on your industry, your colleagues and industry peers may be active on Twitter and are likely to follow you back. Follow the people you work with as well as individuals you may know through previous roles, industry meetings, and more. Often people name the Twitter handle of the company they work at in their bio, so search something like (“@intel”) for people who may work at your company.
Conferences and Events
If you attend a few conferences or events each year, you’ll meet interesting people that you can follow online. Often there will be a conference Slack group where everyone attending can chat. A link and instructions to join this group are typically provided in an email after event registration, generally weeks before an event is slated to start. Join it. Add folks to Twitter that you’re looking forward to meeting or you’ve had interesting conversations with. If you’re at a larger event, temporarily add it directly to your name on Twitter.
For example, if your Twitter name is normally “Alfred Lin,” change it to “Alfred Lin at Cool Eng Event Dec 6-10” so people know you’re going. You might also temporarily pin a tweet to your profile about being there.
Life is about relationships with people. It’s about building things together and exploring ideas others have and integrating them into your ideas about the world. So, if you want to connect with people, you need to be a person, not a robot. People are messy, they have mundane parts of their life like waiting for their friends to get ready, they get frustrated in traffic, and they have good ideas that are wise and witty and worthy of many retweets.Andy Sparks (@SparksZilla), co-founder and CEO, Holloway*
Posting on Twitter initially feels daunting. People will judge your feed based on what you post and will make quick decisions—on whether to follow you, message you, hire you, and work with you—based on your presence on Twitter. Like anything else, it gets easier the more you do it.
You might think of Twitter as your online storybook and resume, showing people who you are and what you do. On Twitter, your title, current company, and even past jobs might be considered when people choose to follow you or not, but they’re not the most important factor. Instead, it’s how you explain what you’re working on, thinking about, and interested in that will help you connect with others in a meaningful way and lead to potential opportunities. Whether it’s true or not, an inactive feed or one filled with retweets can signal that you’re not doing much. Making Twitter work for you, personally and professionally, relies on you sharing aspects of your work and life, your original insights, and the ideas you’re exploring.
caution It’s tempting to play the imitation game. If you want follows, why not just repeat the insights of those you follow? Many Twitter users start out just retweeting (“RTing”) others without their own words, posting the same type of content (or identical content!), and commenting, commenting, commenting on the same few people’s Tweets, trying to get attention. As a rule of thumb, if your approach feels inauthentic, it will be read as such.
Your Twitter feed and overall strategy should simply be an extension of your current and evolving ideas. Post what you’re going through and thinking about in the here and now. Be open about your interests, what you’re pondering or working through, and what you’d like input and feedback on.
As you tweet more often, you will start to find what resonates most with others and gets the most engagement with comments and retweets. Don’t fall into the trap of only posting what you think might be popular. Attempting to anticipate what will do well inevitably takes the joy—and effectiveness—out of sharing for sharing’s sake.
Bring Your Interests Online
Tweet about the things you find interesting, but it’s helpful if you stick to a couple main topics (it’s helpful for people to know what they’re going to get when they follow you). And have fun—it’s a terrific medium for learning and connecting with people you might not otherwise have access to.Arianna Simpson (@AriannaSimpson), founder and Managing Partner, Autonomous Partners*
Twitter works best when you’re sharing what you do off Twitter. Rather than passively discussing what finds its way onto the platform, join the conversation with your own experiences. Consider your job, your hobbies, and the information you consume and think about. Share about that.
What you share on social media is a signal others pick up on—but different people will pick up different signals from the same posts. That’s why your best recourse is to simply post about what really interests you, what’s really going on in your life offline, things that surprise or delight you, and forget about trying to please a wide swath of people. You never will. But, your posts can serve as a beacon, shining a light out to other like-minded individuals, to help them find you and their own way through the morass.
I tweet about what matters to me! It’s not much more strategic than that. I go through different phases of what interests me, what excites me, what enrages me, and that’s typically reflected pretty well in my Twitter. I will say that I was much more conscious of tweeting ‘professionally’ when I was in college or just starting out in my career. Everything was about tech and wanting to sound smart and in-the-know. I shared lots of articles about tech news. It was a reflection of what I wanted to project into the world at the time.Jackie Luo (@jackiehluo), software engineer, Square*
Promote Your Work Authentically
Twitter can feel like more work than play. Agents and publishers encourage their authors to use social media to promote their work. As an entrepreneur, Twitter can be a key marketing channel to earn your first customers. Promoting your work is an entirely valid use case for Twitter, but that doesn’t mean you should approach the platform like your own personal ad channel.
Using Twitter properly requires authenticity. Just as for IRL relationships, connecting with others depends on being genuine. People get annoyed with the acquaintances who invite them to coffee only to introduce them to sign up for a multilevel marketing scam. It doesn’t feel good to hear from someone for the first time in years, only to be told about their great investment opportunity. The same rules apply on Twitter. So represent yourself as a whole person, not “Person who works for X and you should try our…” or “Individual who started X and you should use my…” Don’t sell, share: your interests, thoughts, ideas, et cetera.
Treat Twitter like a shared community space, not a commercial.Rachel Jepsen (@DidYouWriteThat), senior editor, Holloway*
caution Don’t fall into the trap of feeling compelled to build a “personal brand.” The problem with personal brands is that they need to be consistent; they allow people to sum you up in a handful of words. Attaching your tweets to a personal brand necessarily forces you to tweet about the narrow scope of things: only tech, only video games, only writing. While it’s great to have a focus or an interest that people come to you to hear about, followers will stick around for a multidimensional and eclectic presence. Luckily, pretty much everyone is more than a simple brand. Using Twitter properly only asks that you present this multidimensionality through your feed.
There may come a time when you want to promote something: an event, a book, a product, your part in a big project. Doing the work beforehand of organically building community and engaging with others on Twitter will only make this feel more natural when that time comes.
Again, this can be paralleled to offline relationships. Attending a good friend’s book signing, contributing to their Kickstarter campaign, or spreading the word about their new company is a no-brainer. They’ve put in the work: insightful conversations over the years, help moving out of your apartment, and introductions to people in their professional network. Providing your followers with a version of this value online will be helpful for when you need their support in return, and make those moments feel less transactional. In other words, play the long game when it comes to Twitter: as always, invest in lines, not dots.
Ask yourself these questions to serve as good fodder on what to share:
What nitty gritty details or behind the scenes information would be interesting or bring clarity to what you do?
What’s something non-obvious about what you do that would surprise people?
What’s something people have entirely wrong about the work you do?
Austen Kleon’s Show Your Work! has compelling advice on the idea of people “consistently posting bits and pieces of their work, their ideas, and what they’re learning online” as a direct replacement of “networking.” In this model, people find your work and seek you out for conversation, opportunities, and collaboration. Many of these lessons are ideal for applying to what you’ll share on Twitter:
Rather than feeling doubtful about your insights or abilities, be comfortable about being an amateur: adopt a beginner’s mind and be someone who’s not afraid to “take chances, experiment, and follow their whims.”
Become a documentarian of your own work. Show process instead of progress, regularly, and “turn the invisible into something other people can see.”*
While your career shouldn’t make up your whole life, it makes up a sizable portion that can often be shared and explored on Twitter. If what you’re working on at your job isn’t confidential, post about it. These are the posts that showcase precisely what you can do and give people an insight into how you think, what you’re excited about, what frustrates you, and what you want to do.
If you’re a product designer, share sketches or mockups of upcoming work to reveal your progress.
If you’re a product manager, share a list of questions you’ve successfully used to get great insights from users.
If you’re a developer share steps you took to get better at a particular area of your job (i.e. debugging).
If you’re an editor share common mistakes you see writers make when pitching articles to your publication.
Sharing insights into your work shouldn’t equate to marketing. Teasing an upcoming product release or simply sharing something you want people to buy isn’t the same as posting something insightful about your work. The latter serves to give people new ideas about how to approach work problems, help people refine their own processes, spark conversations, or simply lend inspiration.
This can be extraordinarily powerful because all these things can be hard to decipher through a resume, cover letter, or job interview, where there is more formality and perhaps less expectation that one would speak freely.
When choosing what to share about what you’re building keep these tips in mind:
Share details. Don’t be vague or make people fill in the blanks. Provide particulars about your work that people would find helpful.
Share wins. Highlight your successes. People will generally be happy for you, especially if you often provide value through your tweets. Additionally, showcasing wins can motivate others to forge their own achievements.
Share losses. It’s just as important to highlight what doesn’t work and where you’ve failed. Package this with something you may have learned. Often sharing losses in the moment feels far too raw. It can be helpful to share these when you have some distance from the situation. (i.e. Alex Turnbull, the CEO and Founder of Groove, shared mistakes he made while building his company.)
Share process. Show the creation process behind what you do, not only the final product.
Build in Public
One of the beauties of Twitter is getting detailed glimpses into what was previously hidden or unknown. It’s the dispelling of myths and the broadcasting of secrets that often keeps people coming back. Give your own followers an inside look into what you do.
This is often called “building in public.” If you’re a founder, the strategy can help you create a network of fellow entrepreneurs who can understand the opportunities and challenges of growing a business.
Sahil Lavingia (@shl), the CEO and Founder of Gumroad, often shares intimate details about his company including a video of an open board meeting, his company’s public roadmap, key business metrics, and more.
Stephanie Hurlburt (@sehurlburt), the Co-Founder of Binomial, shared insights into signing their first seven-figure deal.
But anyone can build in public, not just founders—engineers tweeting about tackling a project they’re working on, designers showing drafts of a new product, all of these can help people see you as real and motivated by craft, not just “success.” Anyone from students to the self-employed can showcase their work on Twitter.
Tania Rascia (@taniarascia), a Web Developer and writer, frequently shares what she’s learning and developing, including side projects.
Share What You’re Learning
Tweet whatever is top of mind, no matter what that is. Share what you happen to be reading or interested in, no matter what that is.Austen Allred (@Austen, co-founder and CEO, Lambda School*
Twitter is filled with individuals who value peer learning and having interesting and novel information curated for them that helps expand their minds and knowledge base. Twitter can be a wonderful place to think aloud and learn in public. We feel a magnetism to people who aren’t fearful of looking stupid. People are often happy to join in the learning process if you take the first step in this micro risk. When you’re open to sharing what you’re learning, people will start to see you as at once a teacher and a peer—they’ll be learning along with you, as you help them learn.
Think of areas where you’re currently learning:
What interesting offline conversations have you been thinking about?
Often, sharing your latest obsessions can lead to people chiming in with additional recommendations and ideas you hadn’t thought of. Their replies will help you strengthen your own belief or force you to think differently. Successfully pulling knowledge from others, on topics you care about, can expedite your learning and introduce you to new information.
Ideas to get you started learning in public:
Talk about your favorite authors who have informed your worldview.
Share about portions of interesting books or essays or blog posts you’re reading with photos of highlights or Kindle captures.
Mention the podcast episodes that have inspired you to think differently, and explain how.
Post links to article and blog posts you found thoughtful, and let people know why they should consider reading.
Highlighting interesting people and ideas also serves as a form of curation and others may follow you because you regularly find insightful and interesting information. If you’re retweeting an article or someone else’s take on it, add your own analysis and opinion.
important It’s always a good idea to amplify the work of people who have been helpful to you as you learn about a certain subject. This can be a good way to provide accreditation and also share the work of others that have been influential and thought-provoking. If you say something really insightful, you might even get a follow from the person out of it.
I will usually @ people to cite them when I’m drawing on their work. I will also reply to their tweets when I feel I have something to contribute to the discussion.Kevin Simler (@KevinSimler), software, data, and automation, Hexagon Bio, author
Use Twitter as a Testing Ground
Often Twitter can be a powerful tool for getting a sense of what you should build, write, or do. If you’re concerned about investing time, energy, and/or money into a project, using Twitter to gauge initial interest can provide you with a “yes” or “no” on whether to move forward. For instance, if you want to write a blog post on a topic, testing a potential response by formulating a few tweets on the topic can be an indicator of how people might receive your ideas in long-form. David Perell is one great example: “The genesis of my own writing course came from Twitter.”
caution While your followers can provide valuable information to consider, we do not suggest making decisions based solely on what your followers and Twitter at large find interesting. Feedback you receive on the platform should only serve as data, among other data points, that ultimately allows you to make the best decision.
Twitter gives you access to an unprecedented number of people, providing an opportunity to experiment. You can be creative and thoughtful in thinking about how you can leverage a massive user base to participate in what you’re doing.
It’s not unusual for people to share their gripes on Twitter. You can generate business ideas based on the pain points that people often share about. People also use searchable phrases like “request for product (RFP)” and “free business idea”—sometimes in jest but often to generate real conversation.
You can then turn around and test these ideas on the platform, using polls or requesting feedback on something you’re thinking about: “Would anyone be interested in…?”
Start Interesting Conversations
It’s rare that you can stand in a room with strangers and get them to honestly answer questions about themselves or discuss a nuanced topic together. On Twitter, despite the character limit, people are often there precisely for the purpose of engaging in interesting conversation and revealing personal feelings and experiences; it can be easier for a lot of people to engage in this way online than IRL. For your professional growth, Twitter provides a lot of opportunity to get into people’s minds at scale. There are endless ways to spark conversations on Twitter. These are popular methods with twists and variations you can explore.
Ask Open-Ended Questions
Use Twitter to ask open-ended questions that allow people to be thoughtful. This can lead to interesting discussions in your mentions, often connecting other people (which gives you leverage as a connector), and serves to form an eclectic community around your tweets. People often feel more comfortable answering solicited questions than posting their own thoughts unprompted, giving you and your community a chance to hear from people who might have stayed off the radar otherwise. Kevin Simler often poses questions on a number of topics ranging from high preferences on particular product categories to unconventional lifestyle choices.
The goal for most of my question threads is to pose a question where people will want to read each other’s answers. I measure the success of a thread by how many “likes” the answers get. I often get the idea for a question thread when I personally have a thought that I don’t want to share apropos of nothing, but would happily share if someone asked the right question. Then I simply ask that question.Kevin Simler (@KevinSimler), software, data, and automation, Hexagon Bio, author*
Where the goal of open-ended questions is to start a conversation that could go anywhere, Twitter polls narrow responses into a few categories. This gives you and your followers a sense of general sentiment on a particular topic and can help with identifying trends, settling debates (or at least getting your community’s take on something), and it’s an easy way to get lots of engagement—all people have to do is click an answer, and they will click just to see the results. (You can always add a “Just see results” option to your poll, so your findings aren’t skewed by the votes of people who just want to see what others think.) People will often discuss their choices in the comments to expand on the reasoning behind their selection. If you want your poll to start a conversation in the comments, request that people share their reasoning, or the answer they would have chosen that wasn’t an option in the poll.
280 characters can convey a surprising amount of information when used carefully. But nuanced and more detailed thoughts often require more space. Linking together a series of tweets through a thread is a powerful way to bypass Twitter’s limitations and use the medium for longer discussions and storytelling. Before Twitter introduced tweet threads as an official feature, they were referred to as “tweet storms.”
Types of threads include:
Static threads generally form out of a single idea and have a definitive start and end. Can be pre-written within the span of minutes or free-written over the span of a few hours.
Additive threads often start as describing a phenomenon and are added to overtime as evidence mounts to support it. Can span days, months, or years.
Threads of posts can be used to collect a series of posts, whether your own or others, that are connected in some way or feed into a larger narrative.
Threads of threads collect other threads/tweetstorms, whether your own or others. Often this is simply done to keep a record. (for example, Douglas Craig (@Douglas9162) crafted a “Book Summaries Thread” which featured his own threads on books he had read and reviewed.)
A few examples of wildly popular tweet threads include the following:
You can find popular threads for inspiration using the website Thread Reader.
Nikhil Krishnan’s Tweeting Strategy
This section was written by Nikhil Krishnan (@nikillinit), Strategic Partnerships Manager at TrialSpark, 10.2K followers.
For some context, my Twitter is generally a combination of healthcare, tech, and general observations I find interesting in my daily life.
There are a few things that make communicating ideas to an audience that I’ve found particularly useful:
Humor. I can’t stress this enough. There’s enough dry content on the internet, truly funny people stand out. And Twitter as a medium is very flexible in the kinds of humor you can incorporate (image-based like a conversation, reactions, text-based stories, et cetera). If you can make your information more palatable with humor, people will remember it more and actually enjoy what you write.
Concision. Keep it short when it can be short. You don’t need to add filler if it doesn’t make sense.
Conversation. Twitter as a platform is designed for conversations. This means responding thoughtfully to other people’s tweets and also putting out interesting conversation starters and questions for people to reply to you.
Obscurity. Commenting on the same article that everyone’s already read doesn’t add a lot for most people. Instead find more interesting and obscure reads in niche parts of the internet, older reads, or excerpts from much more dense reads than are typically shared. These are likely fresher for most people and you might find interesting nuggets your audience in particular might like.
Authenticity. At the end of the day, if it feels like you’re marketing something, sucking up to someone, or flexing, then it probably reads like that to your audience too. The bar for authenticity today is so low—just showing you’re a regular person, you’re rough around the edges, and not trying to only show off your most polished version actually goes a long way. For example, I occasionally will post stuff about my dating life. It’s not related to business or my professional life but I think it makes it more fun to see another side of people.
It’s helpful to have a list of things you won’t Tweet, too:
A take or analysis that’s been said a million times already and I agree with it
Anything related to “outrage” Twitter where people are just talking past each other (most of politics Twitter)
Anything about my life that’s super mundane (“Here’s this breakfast I ate today!”)
Replies to someone that are just an emoji or like “nice!” If you respond to someone, actually say something about why you like what they said or appreciate it.
If posting is one side of the Twitter equation, responding and reaching out is the other half. You’ll gain far more from being open and forthcoming than from being a digital wallflower— you’ll find little value in Twitter if you’re only posting rather than truly interacting with others. When you do interact, it’s important to be thoughtful and avoid practices that can be viewed as negative or reflect poorly on you in professional and personal capacities.
Strategies for Positive Engagement
First and foremost, be kind and gracious. Don’t be the person who adds negativity to someone’s comments or makes them less willing to share their ideas in the first place.
Yes, and. Overall, heed Michael Nielsen’s suggestion and use a “Yes, and…” approach (a common improv mantra) on Twitter. Rather than tearing down the ideas that people share, build them up by adding your own views and experiences.
Express appreciation or agreement. If someone posts something useful or interesting, or that mirrors or challenges your own thoughts and experiences, this is a simple way of saying thanks and encouraging them to post more.
Ask questions in the replies. Do this when you have a genuine query about a person’s tweet that you feel others might have too, not as a form of engagement-bait. Ask questions that prompt someone to provide additional information and deepen understanding; good questions show a non-surface interest in the topic. Your questions can yield an interesting response and may bring up a point of clarification that will benefit others. Rather than challenging someone’s position, you might phrase your perspective as a question:
“Interesting take. Have you thought about X?”
“How might this relate to X’s slightly different interpretation of Y?”
“Interesting, any suggested reading on this topic?”
“What might an example of this be?”
When prompted by someone to answer a specific question, do so. Prompts from those you follow can be an exercise in clarifying your own thinking and seeing how you converge or diverge from others. Answer open-ended questions thoughtfully and truthfully.
Share anecdotes. Lending an anecdote that supports or (gently) contradicts someone’s thoughts can help people learn more about you and be helpful to the original tweeter and others who follow them. People are often posting to clarify their own thinking, something you can help with. If you agree with something, provide anecdotal evidence from your own life. If your own experiences don’t align, share that too—without being argumentative or unkind.
Provide further recommendations and reading. If someone tweets praise for a book, artist, company, or whatever, it can be simple and helpful to suggest, “If you like this, you might like this.” Helping someone broaden their knowledge on a subject they’re interested in is often welcome.
Be a connector. It’s easy to get siloed off on Twitter. Helping people create connections can be quick and informal and doesn’t necessitate the overhead of a double-opt in format over email. It can be as simple as “@user and I were talking about this, they have interesting thoughts that you can find here(link).”
Be patient. Whether you’re leaving a thoughtful comment or asking a specific question, it’s important to do so without the expectation of a response. If you’re replying to the tweet of someone with a significant number of followers, it’s likely they’re bombarded with comments and questions all day. Good questions will often yield likes as people signal they have the same one, making a response much more likely. Questions are then both personally helpful and also valuable to other followers.
Avoiding Negative Engagement
We’ll cover dealing with negativity on Twitter later, but you can do your own big part by not contributing to the platform’s toxicity.
Don’t be negative. While being kind but critical in conversation is fine, being overly cynical on Twitter is off-putting to others—there’s rarely an opportunity to go back and explain “what you really meant.”
Don’t be pedantic or nit-picky. Everyone is working under the same 280 character limit when they’re sharing ideas. This leaves little room for nuance, so try to assume good intentions. If you need something clarified, ask. Being reductive or picking apart ideas is viewed as annoying. Try not to say things like, “You probably haven’t considered…,” or any reply that starts with, “Well actually…”
Don’t join pile-ons. Twitter’s allowance for people to amplify the positive is countered by its tendency for people to escalate the negative—aided by its own algorithm. Unfortunately, sometimes a certain individual or group within your industry can be a target. It’s not uncommon for someone prominent in your field to make an error or misstep. However, this often means being held to a higher standard in their professional community and experiencing outsized criticism when people disagree with them. There are compassionate ways to extend criticism that don’t include pile-ons. Don’t join in. Focus on amplifying what you like instead of jeering at what you hate. Don’t take part in dunking contests and ratios.
Don’t engage in snitch tagging. Often people want to critically talk about something or someone without notifying that individual or their following. They’ll often speak in slightly obscured language or use a screenshot to discuss a specific tweet, rather than quote tweeting. Subsequently tagging the person they’re referring to in the comments is considered bad form and can lead to the exact outcome they were trying to avoid.
Direct messages or DMs are a good way to contact someone 1:1. On Twitter, if you follow someone and they also follow you, you can send them a DM. Many people have their DMs open for everyone, meaning you can send them a message even if they don’t follow you. This means you might have the ability to contact some of the most interesting and influential people you follow.
You can use DMs in a similar way to how you would use comments: sharing appreciation for someone’s work, providing anecdotal support for something they’ve said, sharing recommendations, et cetera. In all these instances, again, it’s important to hold low expectations for a response—but it’s always worth a try. It’ll happen someday.
DMs can have a few use cases:
Cold compliments. Provide positive feedback on someone’s work—whether a great blog post, podcast episode, design work—without asking for anything in return. If they respond, you have the option of extending the conversation, either now or in the future.
Extending conversations. If you’re having an interesting conversation in Twitter comments, that well may be a chance to move that conversation organically to direct messages. This can deepen conversation because messages are obviously private (at least purportedly so) and don’t have the character count restrictions of tweets and replies.
Cold outreach. With some of the greatest minds available to you, messaging people you respect and asking for their help or guidance is always an option. Cold messaging can be effective if your ask is short and specific. This means not rambling or asking things that can easily be Googled. A surprising number of people will help you if you just ask. Write messages that are short, concise, and to the point. Couple this with a compliment that demonstrates appreciation and familiarity with their work so it’s clear why you’re reaching out to them specifically. Outreach on Twitter can be more effective than email—some people include in their bios or on their personal websites that DMs are open and the best way to reach them. They may follow up with an email, so it’s ok to include yours in the DM. As always, don’t expect a response. It’s OK to follow up twice, but after that, move on.
I think people underestimate how far a message just to show appreciation can go. There are several people I thought I would never get to meet in person until I was more senior that I was able to grab coffee with just from DMing them some appreciation for stuff they’ve written. It’s so little effort to send that message and it goes such a long way. It’s even better if you disagree with something they’ve written or have follow-up questions, because then it opens a dialogue naturally. A thoughtful DM can go an extremely long way.Nikhil Krishnan (@nikillinit), Strategic Partnerships Manager, TrialSpark*
Scrolling through someone’s timeline will give you information about them as an individual. This is helpful for finding something in common and showing you’ve done some homework when you DM them, meet in person, or apply for or interview for a role.
caution However, there is a thin line between demonstrating interest and appearing too familiar. Even though people often post intimate details about their lives on Twitter, it’s best not to leverage this in professional correspondence. Women are commonly victims of harassment via DM, often in the guise of professional outreach—it’s very important not to go overboard here and misrepresent your intentions or make someone uncomfortable.
Before you get to know someone better, stick to these general guidelines:
Good to mention: Similar appreciation for someone’s work, a book, film, or sport’s team you both enjoy, a shared professional interest.
Bad to mention: Details that date back years, someone’s family, personal details (romantic relationships, health issues, et cetera).
Table: Effective Cold DMs
Don’t do this
Why it’s bad
Why it’s better
“Can I pick your brain over coffee?”
This is an overused phrase that many professionals now cite as a pet peeve. It’s nonspecific and implies a time-heavy and unpaid commitment for the person you’re asking.
“I really liked your work on X. I’ve been thinking about Y, how do you think this relates?”
It’s specific and takes less effort for the person asked.
“Will you be my mentor?”
This is a vague request that requires a high time commitment from someone who is likely very busy.
“I’m struggling with X and know you went through something similar while you were doing Y. Do you have any advice?”
It’s specific and lets them know you’re contacting them because you’re familiar with their experiences and feel they can help. They can potentially respond quite quickly. If they respond with advice, you can follow up with results and potentially build a relationship more organically.
“I wrote X. Can you share it?”
This requests a transactional favor of someone you don’t know, asking them to leverage their following and reputation for someone they don’t know.
“I found your article on X very thoughtful. I wrote something related and thought you might like it.”
It discloses exactly why you’re sharing the article with them and leaves the ball in their court on whether they’ll share it or not.
In addition to posting and engaging with others to increase your exposure and meet interesting people, there are ways of being proactive on Twitter when it comes to finding specific opportunities for professional growth.
Find Jobs and Contracts
The idea that most job opportunities are not posted publicly is true, with 70–80% of jobs only available through the hidden job market. Luckily, Twitter is a good place to crack whisper networks, where hiring managers often tweet about upcoming or available roles. If you’re interested in working at a particular company, follow the people who work there on Twitter.
People often include the company they work for in their Twitter bio. Do individual Twitter searches using a company’s name (“Slack”) and handle (@SlackHQ) and navigate to “People” under search results.
If you enjoy someone’s blog, they’ll often have a link to their Twitter account in their site’s header, footer, or About/Contact page.
Simply Googling someone and where they work (“Kyle Russell Skydio” or “Kyle Russell Skydio Twitter”) will bring up their Twitter account in the first few search results.
Use LinkedIn to find people of interest at a company you’d like to work at. Type their name into Twitter search to see if they’re a user.
Once you find them, founders, hiring managers, and other employees will often post about the following:
Jobs that are available. These posts will notify you about jobs you might have missed (or that weren’t posted) on a company’s jobs page and will give you more insight into your potential manager or team member.
Jobs that haven’t yet been posted. Often hiring managers or team members will mention jobs that will be posted soon. Seeing this can give you a head start on preparing your application.
Call for contractors. These are requests to collaborate with individuals or teams in a temporary capacity (like a freelance illustrator, writer, developer, animator, et cetera). While these may start out on a per-project basis, often such contracts can lead to long-term opportunities. If you’re trying to raise your profile, short-term gigs can help you build your portfolio, network in your field, and gain recommendations.
Finding a job posting through Twitter also gives you the opportunity to read through a hiring manager’s Twitter timeline to gauge what it would be like to work for them and what they might appreciate in an application.
While it isn’t necessarily fair to judge a company based on one person’s tweets, managers and founders are well aware that their companies will be judged this way, and are often deliberate about cultivating or supporting their company’s brand through their tweets. For example, a company that values diversity and inclusion may be easier to spot when its founder is often posting about D&I best practices.
Following people can give you insight into the ideas these individuals and companies appreciate in order that you may improve your communication with them; their posts about work can provide specific insight into company culture and how you might fit or contribute. If the company is small enough that you can reasonably do so (if it’s a ten-person startup), following a large portion or even all the employees gives you a chance to form a judgment about the work environment.
Instead of waiting for happenstance, and expecting opportunities to pop up in your feed, you can also do the following:
Create opportunity lists. Add people you’re interested in working with to a private Twitter list so you never miss if they post about an opportunity.
Just ask.Message people you want to work with a little about your background (make sure to have proof of your work through a blog, portfolio, CV, or GitHub). Rather than asking them about opportunities at their company, ask if there are current challenges at their organization that you can solve with your skillset. In some cases, people are very willing to be forthcoming, tell you about upcoming roles, or refer you to existing ones. However, this isn’t always the case and often people are not comfortable referring people they don’t know, or their company may have a policy against this. This can be a good strategy with people you’ve interacted with several times or may be familiar with you through following your account.
Use Twitter search. Simply search for opportunities with people you want to work alongside with Twitter’s advanced search queries like “(job OR or OR opp OR or OR opportunity OR or OR role OR or OR work OR or OR contract) (from:roxanneemadi).” This can be surprisingly effective.
Using Twitter to showcase your work and win opportunities means you’re not in competition with other candidates through a traditional hiring process. On the contrary, you can get people competing for you.
Broadcast Your Skills
Instead of applying to jobs, broadcast your skills in a creative way that compels people to share and state that you’re looking for a new role. This method isn’t ideal if you’re not comfortable with informing your current job that you’re on the job hunt. However, it can make a lot of sense if you’re a recent graduate or are in-between jobs.
Alyssa X announced she was looking for a role on Twitter by posting about her skills and showcasing them in an eye-catching video trailer that further highlighted her capabilities, resulting in 389 RTs and over 2K likes. Responses were filled with potential places that were hiring and interested in potentially hiring her, including highly competitive companies like Adobe and Amazon.
Turn Praise Into Offers
Posting is powerful because it can draw eyes to your work that lead to opportunities you can create yourself. One such example is receiving praise from people in positions to hire you for roles or projects (Head of Product Development, Technical Lead, Founder, et cetera).
If something you post about garners positive feedback from someone in this category at somewhere you’d like to work, leverage the opportunity. Send them a DM, thank them, and note that you’re looking to switch jobs or take on a contract opportunity related to what they complimented you on. Tailor your pitch carefully to their company and be specific on how you can help them. While they may not be interested, they may keep you top of mind or refer you to someone else.
Using community-specific hashtags can be a good way to amplify the fact that you’re looking for opportunities in your field.
When tweets use these hashtags, it’s implied that a retweet would be appreciated, if not stated outright. This increases the visibility of the tweet, thereby increasing the chance of someone in a hiring role noticing. Retweeting these posts is a nice thing to do and a simple way to help members of your individual community on Twitter.
Responding to Offers
Twitter is a place where people can be extremely generous with their time and money, often just to pay it forward—at some point, someone helped them. Here are a few examples of opportunities offered on Twitter:
Stephanie Hurlburt office hours: Frequently asked for advice about the tech industry, Stephanie decided to lend more personal help through video call office hours.
Clair Byrd job search/resume review help: As a hiring manager with years of experience, Clair offered “women or underrepresented gender folks” help getting jobs in tech through mock interviews, resume reviews, and job search coaching.
If someone you trust and admire offers an opportunity to learn more from them, take it! This kind of engagement is one of the happiest things Twitter can facilitate.
caution While you don’t want to be overly skeptical of what people offer on Twitter, don’t jump right in when something flashy comes alongL not everyone’s “opportunity” is legit as those just listed. It’s best practice to be cognizant of offers that seem too good to be true; Twitter has become inundated with scams like fake job offers and free bitcoin giveaways. Not everyone has others’ best interests at heart, and it’s crucial to use common sense and critical thinking to separate gifters from grifters.
When people think about using Twitter for business, it’s often promotion, digital ads, and building a following that come to mind. Indeed, Twitter can play a key role in marketing your business. But Twitter can also be instrumental in actively building your business, not just promoting it. We covered building in public, sharing your work authentically, and testing new business ideas in Choosing What to Tweet. In this section we’ll cover ways to get feedback on your business or work, and find collaborators, potential employees, and strategic partners.
Find Your First Customers
Before people quit their day jobs and cash in their 401K to start a business, it all begins with an idea. Often that idea keeps you up at night, looping through your brain and eliciting the same question on repeat: “What if?”
Before taking out an outsized loan to fund a business or rashly typing out a letter of resignation, you can ask Twitter. Often Twitter can be a better sounding board than friends and family who are unable to stay neutral and may provide overly positive (“This is brilliant! Sign me up!”) or particularly negative—or personal (“Nah. Should you be thinking of starting a business while you’re in debt?”)
Simply sending out a tweet about your business idea can be a form of rapid customer validation that helps you gauge the interest in a product or service. Sharing and explaining your business with a limited number of characters will help you think more clearly about your value proposition.
If the reception is positive, you’ll also get a glimpse into who your first customers might be. You can ask more questions about everything from pricing (“How much would you pay for this?”) or competitors (“What do you use now that serves the same purpose?”)
If the reception is negative or non-existent, it doesn’t mean you should abandon your idea. However “lukewarm response” is a data point you didn’t have before and will serve your next steps, whether that’s idea iteration or additional research.
Gain Valuable Feedback
Whether you’re starting a new company from scratch or releasing a new feature or product line, Twitter can serve as a great sounding board. Leveraged properly, the platform will enable you to you to learn from your customers and improve your product. Entrepreneurs who are active on Twitter can create a direct line from themselves to their customers; whether that’s to solicit feedback or provide customer support.
Teams that build continuous customer discovery into their DNA will become smarter than their investors, and build more successful companies.Steve Blank (@sgblank), entrepreneur, professor, author *
Getting feedback on what you want to build and release or how you can improve can yield useful feedback that informs your decisions. Following this feedback can yield better results than if you were to build and release something in isolation. You can opt to solicit feedback as a founder or employee, which has the benefit of personalization, or collect feedback under your company’s account, which may have the benefit of wider reach.
Half the advice I give to startups is some form of ‘talk to your customers.’Paul Graham (@paulg), author, essayist, co-founder, Y Combinator*
Slack (@SlackHQ) has used Twitter to collect customer feedback, a strategy that helped propel them from a $0 to $1B company.
In general, learning from your users and gathering product sentiment is a key part of growing a business. Twitter is just one of many channels that will help you connect with your users and learn about the pain points they might be experiencing with your product.
If you’re growing and scaling your team, simply talking about your company is a form of employer branding. Most people value transparency in the company they work for. Providing insights into your company will help you attract talented people whose values and interests align with those of you and your company.
Some topics you can talk about to increase interest in your company and attract talent:
Your company values
Your business performance (revenue, growth, customers)
Interesting projects your team is working on
Future plans and ambitions
There are a number of founders who do this very well:
In the early days of starting a business, a founder is often a multi-department team of one: engineering, design, marketing, and sales. It’s likely you also need to task yourself with customer service. Your users are often on Twitter, and that’s where they want to get help. That’s where you should provide it.
This serves to both get customers their answers, and to be aware of issues with your product or service and provide reassurance. When you initially start a company, this advice can be invaluable in helping you prioritize fixes and building your project roadmap.
If you’re fortunate enough to have your team grow, you’ll hire for a customer support team. Many companies have an “All hands customer support culture” that encourages C-levels and executives to be cognizant of customers by doing customer support. If your company does this, they likely have to be trained how best to provide support on Twitter. Users often tag founders or prominent employees with their questions (or complaints!) about new features or bugs.
Companies that succeed often have founders with their ear on the pulse of customer feedback:
Mathilde Collin (@collinmathilde), the Co-Founder and CEO of Front, maintains an “everyone does support” ethos at her company, for herself included. She writes, “You will often find myself and my co-founder in the support queue or on Twitter answering customer questions directly. I know Patrick Collison at Stripe and Eoghan McCabe at Intercom do this as well.”
Great tools for providing social support on Twitter:
There are countless resources on how to use Twitter for marketing: growing your business through Twitter Ads, optimizing your tweet timing and frequency for improved visibility, and ideal sizing for graphics, to name a few (we won’t cover those here).
But what’s most important about using Twitter as a promotional channel for your business is the type of content you post. As a general rule: doing promotion well shouldn’t feel like promotion. That’s to say there really shouldn’t be a huge shift between a personal account and a brand account—both should aim to be interesting, informative, and adept at storytelling. Rather than selling, your company account should be helping, whether through original or curated content.
Here are three categories of social content that work:
Helpful. Share content that shows an understanding of the problems that your potential and current users face and aims to help solve that issue.
Your competitors are on Twitter too. You can use the platform to keep tabs on them and stay abreast of what they’re releasing and their brand and product sentiment.
Add competitors to a private Twitter list. Add both a company’s founders, leadership team members, and their company handles to a private list. This can help you keep a beat on the company and what they’re working on.
Query Twitter to see competitors’s mentions. Search for a company’s mentions to see what their customers are saying about them. This can provide you with hints on how to improve your own business or product and who their users are.
While you should track competitors, their behavior shouldn’t guide your decisions. Founders and companies who follow the (building-in-public)[#build-in-public] model will share failures, mistakes, and breakthroughs that can be helpful, but for the vast majority of branded companies out there, Twitter remains a promotional channel for sharing highlights and attempting customer acquisition and retention. Failing to understand this and blindly duplicating what you think a competitor is doing will more than likely waste your time and lead you astray.
A competitor can hype things that aren’t working or produce lukewarm results.
A competitor won’t disclose actions that give them a true competitive advantage.
A competitor’s Twitter following may not be reflective of their actual users or only represent a small subsection.
Here’s the problem with copying: Copying skips understanding. Understanding is how you grow. You have to understand why something works or why something is how it is. When you copy it, you miss that. You just repurpose the last layer instead of understanding all the layers underneath.Jason Fried (@jasonfried), co-founder and CEO, Basecamp*
An essential part of using Twitter for professional growth is looking for opportunities when you can move online interactions to in-person meetings.
This is one of the best things about Twitter! Of course it’s a privilege reserved for those of us who live in (or travel to) bigger cities. But I would highly recommend it. I’ve met up with people from Twitter maybe ~three dozen times and never once had a bad experience. A few “meh” experiences, sure, but nothing outright negative.Kevin Simler (@KevinSimler), software, data, and automation, Hexagon Bio, author*
Meeting Online Friends
When I move cities Twitter is the best way to make new friends. A tweet leads to a couple hundred meetings. So it solves the loneliness problem for me.Sahil Lavingia (@shl), founder and CEO, Gumroad*
These meetings are with people you’ve had repeated interactions with online over tweets or DMs and who you’re very familiar with. Don’t be afraid to initiate these 1:1 interactions and suggest a casual meeting over coffee or invite them to an event you’re already attending! This can also be a good practice when you’re traveling to a new city. Reaching out to people to move from online to offline can be daunting, and starting with online friends can help break the ice.
Sometimes people reach out to me, sometimes I reach out to them. Usually we already have a pretty consistent basis of mutual interaction online—we follow each other, we like each other’s tweets, we’ve replied to each other. A lot of the people from IRL Society are from Twitter.Jackie Luo (@jackiehluo), software engineer, Square
Small Community Gatherings
If there’s a small or large web of people you find yourself interacting with, and who interact with one another, suggest a meetup.
Reaching Out to Potential Collaborators
The great part of the platform is you can have banter with people you know have similar interests before you move to the private DMs. This makes the transition much more natural. I usually will reach out after a few back-and-forths on something on the platform, DM them and say I think they have interesting thoughts on X topic we bantered about, and if they’d be open to chatting more over a coffee. This has an incredibly high success rate and has helped me more professionally and personally than anything else in my life.Nikhil Krishnan (@nikillinit), Strategic Partnerships Manager, TrialSpark*
Seek out and message people who are playing infinite games and whom you can envision working with long-term.
Danielle Morrill (GM, Melato @ GitLab) and Andy Sparks (Co-Founder and CEO, Holloway), previously founded Mattermark together as a result of meeting online.
Rather than scouring Eventbrite or Google for interesting events to attend, take note of the events mentioned by some of the people who follow you or whom you follow. Attend events and conferences based on where you know interesting people you follow will attend or speak at.
Meeting Twitter Folks at Events
Before and during the event, add the conference tag to your username so it’s simpler for people to invite you to meet in person at the event and vice-versa.
“I literally just DM people to hang out. If I’m traveling I’ll do an open announcement, modify my twitter name to say ‘Visa in City Aug 5–16’ or something like that. Mutuals tend to hit me up if they’re traveling to Singapore, where I am.” —Visakan Veerasamy (@visakanv), co-founder, JIBABOM!
Meeting Complete Strangers
People may reach out to you about meeting when you’re not familiar with them. For instance, a student or new grad seeking advice over coffee. Always assess risk even if offers to meet feel harmless and non-threatening.
danger While many people have amazing experiences with meeting online friends, there’s always the risk of crossing paths with people who are nothing like they appear to be online and who may be truly dangerous. Exercise caution when meeting up with people you don’t know. Always default to meeting in public spaces and be incredibly cautious when it comes to disclosing your address, where you’re staying if you’re traveling, or meeting at your home.
Twitter can be an amazing tool for professional growth, but it can be a dangerous place, too, and we know that the risks keep a lot of people off the platform altogether. We’re releasing this excerpt first because it’s important to recognize that it isn’t all upside. The platform is getting increasingly polarizing with more people finding themselves on the receiving end of harsh criticism, personal attacks, and harassment. This resource can help ensure that your time on the platform is as safe as possible, for your own physical and mental health, that of your followers, and for your career.
This section will answer questions like:
“Is it safe to engage with your critics on Twitter?”
“Will I not get hired if I talk about politics online?”
“Should I contact my harasser’s employer?”
“What do I do if I’m attacked by a Twitter mob? Is my career over?”
“What are the mechanics and ramifications of blocking and muting? Are there risks?”
“What is online harassment and what do I do about it?”
“How can I make my Twitter experience less hellish?”
Responding to Criticism
Putting your thoughts and ideas out into the Twitterverse can yield many positive benefits (which you can read about when the rest of the mini-Guide is released!).
However, it can also lead to unproductive disagreements and even condemnation. As you post more and gain more followers, your tweets will be seen by more people in your industry, including more people who disagree with you—some of whom are not afraid to let you know it. Your peers, and potentially your future collaborators, employees, or employers are looking on. It’s important to act professionally while responding to feedback and show your openness to critical feedback.
Tracy Chou (@triketora), the founder of Block Party and prominent tech industry figure, responded with a clarification and apology when critiqued about a view she expressed about participants of the cryptocurrency field.
When engaging with criticism, remember the following:
Most people are well-intentioned and don’t have the desire to personally attack you.
You are not your individual ideas. Critiques of your ideas should not be taken as critiques of you as a person. Don’t take anything personally and launch into attack-mode as a result.
Nuance can be lost in 280 characters. Someone engaging with your ideas may come off as rude due to these limitations.
It’s perfectly OK to change your views, admit you were wrong, or note that you hadn’t considered a particular angle.
While it’s helpful in the long-run to consider objections to your ideas, you don’t need to respond. Sometimes liking a tweet can be a way of acknowledging a critique without fully engaging.
Despite feeling attacked, it’s key to differentiate between critical feedback and valid criticism versus ad-hominem attacks and bad faith denunciations. Listen and respond thoughtfully to the former, block people who engage in the latter two.
important There’s a big difference between “blocking people who disagree with you” and “blocking people who are intentionally rude and hurtful.” Blocking people to protect both your headspace and tweet mentions does not mean you live in a bubble or reject all criticism. It means you’re preserving space for people who can engage respectfully with what you post.
Legitimate critical feedback is an opportunity to grow professionally and should be treated as such. Responding in a way that’s negative or overly sensitive is easily observed by your followers and can signal that you’re not receptive to growth.
Responding to Mobs
“Our crowds are online and our Colosseum is Twitter,” writes Michael Fontaine, a professor of classics at Cornell University, in an article on mob mentality. If a tweet receives enough criticism, warranted or not, it can snowball into a full fledged mob. An unpopular tweet can be ratioed and receive hundreds or thousands of quote tweets, often with deeply personal attacks. A wave of DMs or emails can follow and even attempts at having your account hacked or calls to your employer to fire you.
It’s a deeply unpleasant experience that more and more people are going through, because it can be genuinely difficult to know when a form of public shaming will occur and what might trigger it.
Marc Hemeon (@hemeon), a prominent product designer, shared a viewpoint about the use of fonts that led to widespread disagreement. Industry peers voiced their support for him after his response.
Jon Ronson, author of So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, notes: “When we deployed shame, we were utilizing an immensely powerful tool. It was coercive, borderless, and increasing in speed and influence.”
While such incidents are increasingly common, you shouldn’t spend much time fearing this outcome. However, there are a handful of precautions and actions you can take:
Old tweets are increasingly becoming fodder for online mobbing. As a precautionary measure, there are advocates for automatically deleting old tweets. Taylor Lorenz, Internet Culture Reporter at The New York Times who has experienced multiple online mobbings, has all her tweets auto-delete.
Mobs can be become extremely vitriolic and lead to attempts at hacking your public accounts. Set up two-factor authentication on all your social media accounts to avoid being hacked.
Protect your home address and cell phone number. Work to remove both from any online directories to avoid being doxxed.
Unfortunately, even with precautions, these pile-ons can be difficult to weather and represent a hazard of the platform. While Twitter mobs have common similarities, what to do in each individual situation can vary dramatically. While some people choose to fight back against accusations they feel are unfair, others apologize, or, depending on prominence, contract reputation management or PR firms to seek advice on how to move forward.
While downsides to Twitter are very real, it shouldn’t deter you from using the platform. The negatives are outweighed by what you have to gain in finding a community of people you can learn from and grow with.
Recognizing Harassment on Twitter
Despite strong suggestions of how Twitter could combat bad behavior on its platform, the platform has failed to adequately address the harassment that occurs on a daily basis. This includes widespread and targeted mobbing campaigns, lewd comments and messages, and death threats.
In 2017, Pew Research found that around 41% of Americans have experienced online harassment, including the following: offensive name-calling, purposeful embarrassment, physical threats, sustained harassment, stalking, and sexual harassment.*
A qualitative and quantitative study conducted by Amnesty International noted that “Twitter can be a toxic place for its female users” and the site had failed to “meet its responsibilities regarding violence and abuse.”
Jack Dorsey, the founder and CEO of Twitter, has admitted “the system makes it super easy to harass and abuse others.”
Unfortunately, harassment on Twitter can arise from any number of things and can extend into your professional use of the platform.
Industry competitors may join in on harassment and work to diminish your professional reputation.
Your professional work or views can come under attack.
Harassment unrelated to your work can lead to people contacting or tagging your employer.
DMs are a common place where sexual harassment can occur—often under the guise of professional engagement.
Holding Others Accountable
With Twitter’s less than perfect reporting system, users seek other ways to hold people accountable for harassment. Depending on the severity and scale of abuse, different routes can be taken. Unfortunately, all of these come with some level of personal and professional risk. Rather than solutions, they’re options with their own potential and realized consequences.
There are no real routes to winning when it comes to addressing abusive behavior. Bearing the brunt of harassment can be embarrassing and temporary and traumatic and lasting.
danger At its extreme, it can leave individuals having to flee their homes, opt for burner phones, and permanently change the way they interact with the world, as The New York Times reported in a series on the topic. Holding people accountable can be incredibly challenging or impossible. It can also have professional implications:
Calling out bad behavior can have you labelled a “trouble maker” and lead to ostracization.
Calling out someone in your industry who is more prominent than you are can result in abuse from their followers and professional fallout (i.e. blacklisting).
What you can do:
Direct public outreach. If abusive or mean-spirited comments are coming from someone you may know or have familiarity with, one route is speaking to them directly. Responding directly to a tweet they’ve written can be a route to asking them to stop their behavior, be more considerate, or explain a point of contention. Unfortunately, in these situations, they may respond with more of the same or simply block you. Your response may even fuel further abuse.
Direct private outreach. Again, if vitriol is coming from someone you’re familiar with, reaching out to them through a DM or private channels like email can be a potential route to a civil conversation without onlookers. However, they may be unwilling to have this dialogue. They may simply ignore you, or worse, screen capture and post your DM to their followers.
Sharing widely. People are generally sympathetic of people experiencing harassment and abuse and may be willing to help or broadcast the issues you’re facing. Quote tweeting, screen capturing, or discussing the abuse you’re experiencing can sometimes get individual attackers to stop. You can also encourage your followers to help report abuse, making it more likely that Twitter will act. Unfortunately, sharing the abuse you’re experiencing is far less likely to work in the case of mob attacks and may actually fuel additional mobbing.
Reporting to a workplace. Companies are increasingly protective of their brand and public perception, including the individuals who work for them and the content they choose to post on Twitter.
After Jonathan Weisman, a deputy Washington editor of The New York Times engaged in Twitter behavior that his employer said showed “serious lapses in judgment,” he was demoted.
If you’re experiencing harassment by someone whose identity and workplace is known, making their actions known to their employer is a tactic for holding them accountable for bad behavior. However, this is an increasingly polarizing action that may lead to personal escalation and additional mobbing. Often a workplace won’t act, but may notify the employer that they were reported, which could give them further ammo.
Utilizing whisper networks and backchannels. Experiencing abuse can be an isolating experience. While speaking up can cause revictimization or retaliation, not saying anything means abusers can continue abusing others without consequence. Finding individuals and groups you trust to discuss these incidents can be a less dangerous route for revealing abuse and warning community members. Often this can be done anonymously.
Again, this is not without risk. Moira Donegan started a google spreadsheet of “Shitty Media Men” intended to be anonymous and “protect its users from retaliation.” It spread like wildfire and cost the creator her job and resulted in a lawsuit, despite being widely viewed by activists as a benefit to the #MeToo movement.
Personally Dealing with Abuse
I’ve made really close friends on Twitter. I got my first job through Twitter. Obviously, that’s all great, but then there’s the other side, too. People have harassed me on Twitter. I’ve dealt with a lot of abuse on Twitter. Twitter has made me much more cautious about who has access to my personal information. I try to be pretty careful to never post a picture or mention a location while I’m still there. All of that is important, too, even if it’s not as fun.Jackie Luo (@jackiehluo), software engineer, Square*
Dealing with online harassment and abuse can take a personal toll.
In an article for Wired, Robyn Kanner (@robynkanner) discusses the feeling of being publicly shamed: “It’s a lonely experience to feel like the most hated person alive for just saying what was on my mind.”
Even high profile figures who are routinely at the receiving end of this abuse can find particular events extremely concerning.
What you can do:
Issue a statement. Issuing a response may not halt harassment and may even provide fodder for more. However, it can be personally helpful to speak on a tough situation and issue any clarification or points of contention.
Take a hiatus. Often the best way to deal with harassment is time and space. It’s become commonplace for people to opt of Twitter permanently or for an extended period of time in a response to harassment and toxicity. Choosing to step away and focus on other aspects of life can be helpful in easing some of the suffering associated with being a target on Twitter.
Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT), a White House correspondent for The New York Times, opted to use Twitter in a limited capacity and wrote an article on why, noting, “The viciousness, toxic partisan anger, intellectual dishonesty, motive-questioning and sexism are at all-time highs, with no end in sight.”
Reporting and Documenting Twitter Abuse
Unfortunately, while there are Twitter rules, they are frequently broken and that breaking can go unaddressed. These are a few Twitter rules that are commonly broken and relate closely to online harassment:
“Abuse/harassment: You may not engage in the targeted harassment of someone, or incite other people to do so. This includes wishing or hoping that someone experiences physical harm.”
“Hateful conduct: You may not promote violence against, threaten, or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease.”
“Violence: You may not threaten violence against an individual or a group of people. We also prohibit the glorification of violence.”
“Sensitive media, including graphic violence and adult content: You may not post media that is excessively gory or share violent or adult content within live video or in profile or header images. Media depicting sexual violence and/or assault is also not permitted.”
Experiencing abuse and harassment under these categories can look a few different ways:
Abuse and harassment can ensue from a single individual, or become more widespread if you experience some form of exposure, either off the platform and/or on Twitter.
Often abuse and harassment spawned by your work or opinions can quickly go from criticism to much more: lewd comments, inciting violence, death threats, and more.
As an extra layer of protection, you may take the following actions:
Documentation. Make notes and keep records (screenshots, messages) of any threats you receive or harassment you encounter. Screenshots are especially important for documentation, because inappropriate or abusive tweets may be deleted by the original poster.
Reporting to authorities. If you fear harm or threats to your safety, contact local, state, or federal law enforcement.
On Discussing Politics
A Gallup poll concluded that “although the U.S. is divided politically, most Americans do not commonly discuss politics or public affairs with other people,” after finding that “34% of Americans talked about public affairs—including politics, issues and news.”* “Don’t talk about politics” is a mantra many uphold offline.
However, political conversations run rampant on Twitter, which has a heavy presence of politicians and political journalists. It’s commonly known that politically motivated aggression can be some of the most negative content taking up your Twitter feed. According to 2019 Pew Research, heavy Twitter users frequently discuss politics while light users are less likely to get political:
“Heavy users spend more of their time tweeting about politics. 22% report discussing politics on Twitter within the last 30 days, compared with just 6% of light users.”
“For comparison, 42% of those in the top 10% of tweeters say they have tweeted about politics in the last 30 days.”
“74% of those in the light user group say they never tweet about politics, compared with 46% for heavy users.”
“28% of users in the top 10% of tweeters say they never tweet about politics.”*
Of course, conversations about politics extend beyond politicians and journalists whose jobs are dependent on their political commentary and analysis. Academics, technologists, and everyone in between can use Twitter to discuss politics and adjacent topics, and should consider the impact of doing so. The expanded definition of politics has come to mean wildly different things to different people. A narrow, more traditional definition might refer to electoral and political processes, political parties, and political and elected public servants.
On Twitter, discussing politics directly might look like this:
Endorsing a particular candidate (i.e. #YangGang, #ImWithHer)
Condemning a particular law, ruling, or piece of legislation (i.e. #MuslimBan, #TransBan)
Revealing a political affiliation (i.e. “Republican vs. Democrat,” “Right vs. Left”)
However, politics—who makes the rules, what laws get passed, which issues get addressed—impacts people and the natural environment. Politics have become inextricably bound to a host of social and environmental issues including human rights, homelessness, global warming, immigration, green energy, mass shootings, and much more. These matters, which are impacted by politics, have come to be seen as politics (or a part of political ideology), and have become equally as polarizing online as traditional party alignments.
As a consequence, these important subjects are often relegated to the “Don’t talk about politics” pile. People are routinely accused of “getting political” on Twitter in simply addressing or discussing these topics—even if they’re directly related to professional matters.
Dan Abramov (@dan_abramov), a prominent software engineer, co-creator of redux and co-author of the Create React App, posted a tweet condemning “misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, racism, and white supremacy” in the React community as a response to #Reactgate. While the reception to this was largely positive, a sizable number of people accused him of making a “political declaration” or “bringing politics into this.” Others pondered “Can’t we just focus on technology?” or suggested “keep YOUR politics away from me.”
This level of polarization and this contention between “politics” and “social issues” is extremely commonplace on Twitter. People often choose not to discuss politics because they feel it can’t be done constructively under 240 characters. They’re on to something. An article in The Atlantic suggests that “political discussions online are perceived as less respectful, less likely to be resolved, less civil, and more angry than discussions in other forums.” It’s important to understand what they can yield and what they can displace. If you’re using Twitter for professional growth, there are pros and cons to discussing politics on the medium, and, if you choose to engage, guidelines to help keep you safe, personally and professionally.
Personal dimension. Often, people want to “bring their whole selves to work,” and when you’re using Twitter for professional growth, that means the political beliefs you hold or conversations you want to have can extend to your online life. Limiting yourself to only talking about work can mean you’re actively omitting topics you’re passionate about and interested in, including political ones. With a 24-hour news cycle, for some it can feel like an omission to only discuss issues within their single industry. For some, representing yourself as a whole person, beyond your professional interests, means discussing political and social issues. Often (and some might say always), political and social issues are inextricable from business or industry.
Impact. The impact that tweeting about social issues has or does not have is hard to quantify. On one hand, people often reside in filtered bubbles, tweeting to their online acquaintances and friends, who largely agree with them already or share the same views. Furthermore, it’s been observed that people only become more polarized when exposed to opposing views. So what might the impact of discussing politics on Twitter be? Is Twitter legitimate activism or just a form of “Slacktivism”? While opinions are mixed, a Pew Research study titled “Activism in the Social Media Age” found that a majority of Americans note social media is “important for getting politicians to pay attention to issues, creating long-lasting social movements.” It’s also been noted that online activism can spawn real-life action.
Finding like-minded people. Posting about certain political and social issues can act as a magnet to draw in like-minded people. Often politics and profession collide and you can find subcommunities like “Ethics in AI” or “Diversity in Tech” that open conversations about how we work and live, and that emphasize the ethical and political responsibilities of companies. Additionally, as founders and companies are increasingly taking social stances, having politics aligned with somewhere you might want to work for, and expressing this through your account, could be helpful for showing that you share a company’s values.
Polarization. Politics, or perhaps the discussion of politics, is polarizing. A New York Times article notes that “Americans are open to people with all sorts of political and partisan opinions, our research shows—as long as they keep those opinions to themselves.” Sharing about politics on Twitter doesn’t meet this criteria. Unfortunately, this can cause people to view your feed as polarizing. This may stop people from following you (people routinely note not following or unfollowing based on political tweets). Alternately, they discount or diminish your professional contributions.
Leaves you open to discrimination. Publicly sharing your political views can make you an easier target for hiring discrimination if you’re searching for your next role. Companies whose leadership or culture have a particular political affiliation may show a bias against those whose views don’t align.
Can make you a target of harassment. Discussing politics on Twitter can make you a target. Responses to tweets about politics can become abusive and turn into wide-scale harassment.
Guidelines for Discussing Politics
If you opt to discuss politics and social issues on Twitter, use the following guidelines:
Attack ideas and actions, not people. Despite the existence of bad actors, try to criticize and discuss ideas rather than individuals like politicians or other public figures. Don’t resort to ad hominem attacks which can diminish your arguments and flood your followers with negative content.
Go to the source. Clickbait headlines and out of context quotes and videos can spread like fire. Not to mention, the era of deep fakes may be upon us. When tweeting about politics and social issues, always do your best to look for primary sources or trusted secondary sources. If something sounds incredibly inflammatory, it might be designed that way. If people are sharing something that sounds too ridiculous to be true, that could be the case. Routinely getting hoaxed can damage your trustworthiness when it comes to discussing politics and, by extension, your credibility as a professional.
Go beyond words. Twitter users are increasingly starting and participate in charity matching initiatives, leveraging their following to raise money for causes like family separation, gun violence, and women’s reproductive health. For example, Ashley Mayer (@ashmleymayer), Head of Communications at Glossier, frequently starts Twitter charity campaigns including the charities Everytown and YellowFund.
Many people decide to post about these collections of topics and issues, while some choose to opt out. Neither choice is really right or wrong—one doesn’t imply virtue while the other suggests callousness. Rather, it’s key to recognize that people have different ways of addressing and reacting to issues, some public and on Twitter, some private and off the platform.
Alongside Twitter’s hallways of positivity and endless learning are alleyways of negativity, ad hominem attacks, and pile-ons. Following people who engage in these activities, or magnify people who do, can leave your feed barren of knowledge and laden with toxicity.
Liberally remove people from your Twitter experience who attack you or others personally or are overly negative or critical of others work.
Update Who You Follow
Unfollow. Stop following individuals who are frequently negative or tweet about subjects you find irritating or non-productive. Reserve your attention for individuals whose tweets you find interesting, funny, or informative.
If you’re following the wrong people, your timeline can become polluted. Don’t underestimate how negativity can trickle into your mind, inform your thinking, and generate low-level anxiety. If your feed is filled with gloom and cynicism, remove the likely culprits—news accounts that lean on dramatization for clicks and pessimists who bring everyone down are a good start.
Audit your list. Regularly prune your list. You can do this on the fly when you notice someone you follow who makes arguments in bad faith, attacks others, or is generally a source of negativity. Unfollow them. Additionally, in regular intervals (every few months), sit down and shave your list manually or with tools like Tokimeki Unfollow.
De-follow. This is a lesser known hackstrategy that doesn’t have much of a use case. If you block and unblock someone, they no longer follow you. If someone is unhelpful in your replies or negatively quote-tweets (a retweet with a comment) you with negativity, the de-follow is a low-conflict way to get them to stop following you, making it more difficult for them to see your tweets in their timeline, without the risks of keeping them blocked.
Improve Your Feed
Turn off retweets. Seeing other people’s retweets can help you discover new people and ideas. However, not everyone is discerning with what they RT, and engagement on negative tweets is often high. (This is part of the reason you see the phrase, “RTs are not endorsements” in a lot of bios.) This can fill your feed with unwelcome content. If you find this to be a continuous issue, turn off retweets on Twitter.
How to do it: Go to someone’s profile, navigate to the setting menu above their bio, and select “Turn off Retweets.”
Twitter notes that “It is not possible to turn off ALL Retweets from ALL accounts.” This is not the case. To turn off retweets for everyone, follow Luca Hammer’s tip and enter “RT @” as a muted phrase under the advanced muting options field.
Mute keywords. Often, you may not want to block individuals but are tired of hearing about a specific subject or certain keywords that are tied to a broader discussion. In these cases, you can mute keywords or hashtags. This can also be helpful during live events where your feed may be cluttered with keywords like “Game of Thrones” and “#GoT” or or “MMVAS” and “#MMVAs,” and all you’re there for is to reply to C++ threads. Go to Setting → Content preferences → Muted → Muted words, to silence certain words from your timeline.
Block, Don’t Mute
While muting caustic individuals can help you avoid negativity, if they interact with your tweets on a regular basis, their negativity is viewed by your followers and can make your mentions a negative space.
Blocking jerks is a service to the world. When you allow people to be jerks in your Twitter threads, you’re not just unnecessarily subjecting yourself to vitriol, you’re subjecting all your followers to it as well. Which makes their lives a little more unpleasant.Julia Galef*, co-founder, Center for Applied Rationality
People are not notified when you block them. However, if they navigate to your Twitter profile, they will be unable to see your tweets and instead see a message that reads, “You are blocked from following @username and viewing @username’s Tweets.”
caution Please note that blocking someone comes with some risk and and the following can ensue:
They may take a screen capture your profile, showing they were blocked by you, and announce this to your followers generally in an unkind manner.
They will still be able to access your tweets by accessing your profile while logged out of their account or using a different account.
In some cases, blocking may lead to escalation with people attempting to contact you through other social media platforms (Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram), email, or through a different Twitter account.
Muting can be a good option for people who you generally like but whose tweets you may not enjoy.
What you see in your timeline is a microcosm of reality. Remember, Twitter as a whole, but especially your corner of Twitter, isn’t reflective of the world. Among lots of other interesting data collected by Pew in 2018, the research center found: “The 10% of users who are most active in terms of tweeting are responsible for 80% of all tweets created by U.S. users.” This is a version of reality where a few voices—usually negative ones—are amplified and the majority of people and opinions are lost in the noise.
That might sound a lot like the rest of life, and like the rest of life, making Twitter better is all about exposing yourself to opinions and perspectives that make you more well-rounded and empathetic, recognizing which opinions will do nothing of the kind, and carving out a supportive community of people who share your interests, passions, and questions.
Remember that adding your own voice to the mix has the potential to make other people’s experience of the medium better. Tweet the kind of tweet that you want to see.
I don’t think there’s really a secret to getting stuff out of Twitter. It’s like learning any other skill: start yesterday, do it a lot, pay attention to what you’re doing and seek to improve, let others influence you, and have fun! I’d say the same thing about writing, painting, and coding too.Sahil Lavingia (@shl), founder and CEO, Gumroad*