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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 handle is what follows the “@” on Twitter. Try to keep it short and simple. There are a few options for your handle:
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