Twitter is a curious place. It’s used in so many different ways that when I follow people whose work I admire I never know what I’m going to get. I stumbled on this post by Wil Wheaton that offers an explanation to would-be followers and I thought it was wise. It does seem both pompous and useful, and I hope you find it more of the latter than the former.
1. I’m an independent writer and I use twitter to help make a living. About 30-40% of what I tweet about is entirely about me. Either new things I’ve written, places I’m giving a lecture, or news about upcoming books or previous ones. I’m conscious of the balance and try to keep it reasonable. When I have a new book coming out, books being the primary way I make a living, it definitely goes higher during the critical first few weeks, but then trends back down.
2. Twitter is unreliable – you never see all of someone’s tweets or even the best ones. If you’re thinking of following me to make sure you hear about big news, sign up for the email newsletter that 20k people currently subscribe to. That guarantees every few weeks you’ll get a skim-able list of the important things and my best posts since the last newsletter.
3. I hate the term follower and don’t think of twitter that way. I’d have preferred the word “listener” or even “fan” since follower makes me think of cults and drinking kool-aid (if you don’t know where that saying comes from, click the link. you might not use that phrase again). I’m thrilled anyone pays attention to what I do on twitter, but I know you’re all just a click away from leaving.
4. I use twitter to point to good work. I read voraciously and try to spread awareness of good things I find that people who like my work will also like. I rarely post about things I don’t like, or disappoint me, unless it’s about jargon, myths or lies. Twitter is in many ways an extension of this blog, with similar topics, themes and vibes. Of course when I RT (retweet) things it’s not an endorsement, I assume you give me the benefit of the doubt about why I’m sharing something. And I generally read any link I send.
5. I don’t follow many people on Twitter. I often check the profiles of new followers and read some of their past stream. If I love it of course I’ll follow, but I won’t do this as a courtesy – it’d be disingenuous if I did. Twitter by design is non-reciprocal: you can follow people who don’t follow you and that makes sense to me. I do look at all @berkun messages, and like when people cc: me on a tweet about a link they know I’d be interested in (and that isn’t purely self-promotional).
6. I frequently tweet aphorisms and observations. These are simply interesting units of thought to kick around with other people. Sometimes I’m passionate about the idea, but often it’s just a thought I have no stake in, or find interesting even though I disagree with it. Don’t read too much into them or what it means about my current state of mind. If I tweet a quote by someone else, I generally try to verify it’s real before I do.
7. If you’re responding to a post, I prefer blog comments to tweets. Tweets are ephemeral. They get lost. Leaving a comment on a blog lasts forever and guarantees I’ll respond and do it more thoughtfully. Some people reply to a tweet about a new post I’ve written with complex questions like “Did you consider X, Y and Z in context of the transverse Sapir-Whorf hypothesis?” or something similarly thoughtful and challenging, and I often think it’s a shame the question, and my answer, will simply float by in twitter. On twitter few will see that excellent question, or my reply. But if it’s a comment on the blog, most people who reads the post that inspired your question will see it, and they’ll also see my more than 140 characters worth of response. I sometimes even hand copy the tweet of a great question to the comment section to ensure it’s preserved.
8. If I’m on twitter I’ll banter, debate and play. But often I’m not on twitter. People forget twitter is a stream and it’s easy for even @ messages to get lost. DMs frequently get lost too. I see twitter as transient – I’d never ask an important question or make an important request there. If you have something important contact me the reliable way. If you have a topic you want me to write about, ask about it here.
9. I often repeat tweets and link to older work. I sometimes use Buffer to schedule things on twitter. I do this because few people are on twitter 24/7 and things get missed. People in different time zones read more at different times. I post older work because I have a decade of of good writing on evergreen topics: for a new follower it’s just as worthy to them as something I posted fresh that morning. I generally mark old posts with #archive so it’s easy to flag if you’ve been reading me a long time. I periodically tweet about the Best of Berkun list since it’s the easiest introduction for people new to my writing.
But this is merely my view of what I do on Twitter. Does it match your experience? Is there something else you wish I did? Or did less of? Leave a comment.