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.
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.
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.
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: