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.
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.
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.
Despite the potential for professional and personal hazard, people remain on Twitter, and it’s often a professional obligation to do so—you may be reading this because you fall into that category. Companies urge their employees to use Twitter, in some instances providing training, knowing that they gain brand advocates and ambassadors in the process. In some cases, this can be used to counteract negative perceptions about a company. News outlets like The New York Times recognize the hazards but encourage their journalists to retain a social media presence, recognizing that social media “offers us so many opportunities to connect with readers, listeners, and viewers.”
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.