The missing manual to Twitter I wished I had
For me, the appeal is simple. I get to listen and occasionally talk to people doing amazing things in the field I care about (Machine Learning with a focus on Deep Learning). I also sometimes fantasize that what I write is helpful to others. Mostly that is just me dreaming things up.
But Twitter is not without quirks and some things are not what they appear.
Below I present the missing manual — the one I wished I had when I was starting out with the platform.
Stay awhile and listen
Are you already on Twitter? Or maybe you are thinking of signing up?
These are the things you need to think about:
- What are you interested in? Any passions or hobbies?
- Are there any writers or otherwise accomplished people in your field of interest that you would like to learn more about?
And then all you have to do is follow the people from #2.
From now on they will be able to share their thoughts with you. They might also introduce you to other people you might find interesting.
Isn’t this great? Never before have there existed an easy and open way such as this to tune in to what a person has to say.
Using Twitter in this fashion has a lot of positives and avoids nearly all of its troublesome parts.
But you are right to point out that Twitter at its core is a social network. There is value in speaking out and allowing other people to get to know you.
And that is where problems start. Twitter made a lot of design decisions that make this really hard.
Below I share the strategy I use. It works for me quite well. But before we go further let’s take a closer look at the platform itself.
Understanding the nature of the beast
If you are a human, chances are social networks have not been designed with you in mind.
Let me be more specific. Over many years many billions of dollars have been poured into optimizing social networks for one thing and one thing only — maximizing profits.
This goal often stands in stark opposition to maintaining the well-being of users.
A lot has been written on this subject. You might for instance find it quite interesting to learn why the social media bosses do not use social media.
Most of this boils down to the fact that keeping users happy and relaxed doesn’t drive engagement. And you want to be happy, right? You want to have peace of mind.
And so we need to proceed with caution as we are about to start using a platform that has goals that are not aligned with what is good for us.
So how do we start talking?
Pick one theme
Want your voice to make it through the noise and be heard? Pick a single theme to speak to.
There is not enough time for a person who is interested in skateboarding to pick out that you have something interesting to say when your feed is flooded with pictures of your cat. Or your breakfast.
There will come a time for an occasional personal tweet but only as people get to know you better.
Increasing your follower count 101
Why do you need more followers in the first place? Unless you are trying to sell something — in which case stay away from me — you don’t.
Remember the times when not everyone wanted to be a celebrity? When people just wanted to meet people?
You now open FB and everyone is The Most Successful Person Ever Living the Perfect Live®. That is just wrong.
It is even worse with Twitter. The appeal to grow your audience is very strong. But it is a path that leads to suffering.
Find a couple of people, maybe 3 or 4, who are doing something interesting. Start talking to them. Maybe they will talk back to you. Once you have 2–3 people who are happy to talk to you, you are set.
Be content and thankful. You’ve made it.
If a person you admire shares some of your work with their followers, or talks back to you, that is a cherry on top. And there are some genuinely good people out there who will help you be heard if you have something interesting to say.
But this cannot be your goal. If you want to chase popularity, this will be high school all over again. You will go crazy.
It’s async or nothing at all
The first rule of social networks is to disable push notifications. Nothing should be able to interrupt your thoughts whenever it pleases.
Especially if it has algorithms baked in to make you addicted.
But even if you disable push notifications the situation is still not straightforward.
I could tell you all about B.F Skinner. The American scientist who claimed free will didn’t exist and who made animals do his bidding. It’s intriguing to what extent his work influenced the design choices of large social platforms.
Instead let me refer you to an article by an insider who makes a great point. Care to learn how a slot machine was put in a billion pockets?
I am already hooked on social media. What can I do?
It depends and sometimes it might be wise to seek professional help. If the use is moderate maybe you can hack the habit and change it into something useful.
I often find myself taking the phone out of my pocket and either about to press or pressing the Twitter icon. But luckily I have a very slow mobile phone.
Even if I do press on the icon, there is a second or two of white screen before the app loads.
In that brief moment I reclaim my freedom. I got you Twitter.
I quickly cancel out and press on Mendeley. This is an application that I use for organizing scientific papers I want to read.
I take a deep breath. Congratulate myself. And I then enjoy reading something that is good for me.
The point is not to not use social media. The point is to not use it all the time.
Give yourself the time to think and breath.
What is your Mendeley?
Twitter as a side dish
Twitter works best when you talk to people and exchange ideas. When you receive helpful advice and learn from others.
But to put the advice to good use, you need to give it attention. And that will not happen while you have the Twitter client open.
Or while you care whether someone liked what you wrote.
More importantly, your loved ones might or might not be on Twitter. This doesn’t matter.
You cannot look into their eyes through the screen of your phone. You cannot hug them or go for a walk with them.
Fight for your attention and give it to the people and the things you love.
Your ability to do so will not last forever.
Ironically, you can find me on Twitter here. I mostly tweet about Machine Learning.
If that is something that you find interesting, feel free to follow.
Just make sure you don’t check your feed too often.