Choosing What to Tweet

28 minutes, 44 links


Updated January 28, 2020
Using Twitter

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.

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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:

  1. Share details. Don’t be vague or make people fill in the blanks. Provide particulars about your work that people would find helpful.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.)

  4. 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.

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.

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:

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:

  1. Talk about your favorite authors who have informed your worldview.

  2. Share about portions of interesting books or essays or blog posts you’re reading with photos of highlights or Kindle captures.

  3. Mention the podcast episodes that have inspired you to think differently, and explain how.

  4. 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.

Conduct Experiments

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.

Generate Business Ideas

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*

Create Polls

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.

About Twitter Polls

Write Threads

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:

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 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.

Engaging With Others11 minutes, 3 links

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.

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