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.
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