I think it's time for me to address the fact that I have 56,000 followers on Twitter but I have tweeted only 500 times. If I were an aging rock star or philandering basketball player, this might not be remarkable. But I'm basically a normal person.
So I'm going to give you four twitter tips that no one else will tell you.
1. Focus on quality over quantity
First, let's talk about purpose. Why are you on twitter anyway? There are tons of really valid goals for twitter, but most of them require influence. I mean, you need twitter influence in order to reach almost any goal on twitter. Because twitter is about sharing information with people who matter to you.
If you want to publicize stuff on twitter you definitely need influence. But at the other end of the spectrum (where I am) if you just want to write well, you also need influence because if you are writing and no one is listening then you are not really communicating.
The biggest reason for you to focus on influence, though, is that money doesn't make us happy, but influence does. I spent two hours trying to find this article in the New York Times. I can't find it because as soon as you put influence and happiness in a search string you get stuff that influences happiness but you can't search influence influence happiness. Anyway, trust me that if you have influence, you feel happier.
Which maybe means that the smartest thing you can do is obsessively watch Twitter rankings. But it probably means that you should think about if you have the type of followers you want. For example, if your goal is to sell timeshares in Nairobi, you only need 24 followers as long as they each book two weeks out of the year.
Or, here's another way to think about it. The founder of LinkedIn, Konstantin Guericke, once told me that you only need 30 contacts to have a quality network as long as the contacts are well connected. I think this probably means that you only need 30 twitter followers who really care about what you say if you are using twitter to build a network that will support you in your career.
2. Get a writing partner
Twitter is basically a writing platform. So why is the writing so bad? Why are people so uninteresting? I think the best way to get influence on twitter is to be interesting. More tweets that are not interesting is not as effective as a fewer tweets that are interesting. The larger a twitter following you want, the more you have to concentrate on writing what a larger audience would want—and not just what your immediate friends want.
So, when it comes to writing for a large audience, maybe you should have a helper. I have a twitter editor. For me, it's very normal because I've been a writer for so long, with various editors, that it was natural for me to have a blog editor, and once you have a blog editor, a twitter editor is not a far leap.
Anyway, very few people have been creative geniuses on their own. Joshua Wolf Shenk has a whole column on Slate devoted to this topic or partnering to release creative genius. He says there's tons of research to show that you need a cohort:
To illustrate the consistently hidden partner with an obvious example: Book editors don’t put their names on covers. Their reputation largely depends on authors”?who can be notoriously ungrateful and committed to the idea of their solitary genius. Jack Kerouac’s On The Road sat on slush piles all around Manhattan until Malcolm Cowley, then an editor at Viking, undertook the laborious effort (literary, political, emotional) of shaping it for publication. But afterward, Kerouac and the Beats portrayed Cowley as a villain who muddied the famous unbroken typescript, which they claimed was powered by Benzedrine and holy light.
Some of you, probably those of you who think you're such a genius that you can't work with anyone else, doubt this premise. So here's another good example from Shenk of us thinking that we see people do things on their own, but we don't:
Tiger’s distance control was a problem,” Williams explained to Golf magazine. “So I would adjust yardages and not tell him.” Woods ended up hitting the ball inside two feet from the cup and went on to win. Williams has said that he gave Woods incorrect yardages for the better part of five years.
So if you want to focus on doing good writing, which will guarantee that you build a community of people who appreciate good writing (which, we all know, eliminates 90% of the population) then you need a writing partner, or at least a good muse.
3. Focus on happiness.
I am over the happiness thing, to be honest. I am done trying to be happy. When Tyler Cowen first told me that interesting lives are nicer than happy lives, I thought he was an Asperger's apologist. But I am really feeling that as long as I have a few friends who are all trying to live interesting lives as well, I am fine. I don't need to strive for happiness. (Do you want to know if you strive for happiness or interestingness? Take this test.)
But, anyway, if you want to be the center of influential social networks, you need to appear happy, according to research from Nicholas Christakis, professor of sociology at Harvard University. Maybe I am the exception to this rule. Because I am able to find the yucky messiness in any happy situation but I still have a lot of followers.
But I do appreciate the fact that the happy people do no research about happiness because they are happy (and mostly don't read because reading creates new experiences and people who search for interesting rather than happy are the ones are more open to new experiences). And unhappy people love the happiness research. So I am a maven of unhappiness and the research to alleviate it.
And I can tell you that you should put a happy smile photo of yourself on twitter because Christakis says that you will be more influential on networks.
And, if you are trying to figure out what to spend your time on twitter doing, think about this, from Christakis:
We found that each additional happy friend increases a person’s probability of being happy by about 9%. For comparison, having an extra $5,000 in income (in 1984 dollars) increased the probability of being happy by about 2%.
This means that all those people on twitter who are trying to sell stuff to create an alternative revenue source in their lives (which I estimate to be an unfortunate 95% of all people on twitter) should think about using twitter to make happy friends, instead.
4. Be black on twitter
For the last year, I have been bombarding Brazen Careerist's community manager, Ryan Paugh with my observations about the trending topics. They are always full of black people. But if I looked at my list of followers, I'd think there are almost no black people on twitter. And if I only read trending topics, I'd think twitter was mostly a black person thing.
Whenever I'm bored at night, (and I've worn out my weekly limit on impulsive eBay shopping), I click the trending topics on twitter. I am not alone in this. Other white people write about their fascination with late-night trending topics from black people.
On Twitter, people append hashtags to categorize their messages”?the tags make it easier to search for posts on a certain topic, and they can sometimes lead to worldwide call-and-response conversations in which people compete to outdo one another with ever more hilarious, bizarre, or profane posts.
So, anyway, last weekend, I clicked on the trending topic #ghettocompanies
I click on stuff like this because I can tell it's going to be a conversation that is one that I would never find myself at in real life, but online, I can lurk. Here are some good one's:
Yes, these examples reinforce stereotypes. I know; it reminds me of how my family sits around telling Jewish jokes that reinforce stereotypes, but we don't care because we are Jewish.
But back to the how to be great at twitter part of this post. The reasons these trending topics do so well on twitter is that the groups of people who are using them are tightly knit. This information comes from Brendan Meeder, who appears to be getting a PhD from Carnegie Mellon by publishing information about how black people use Twitter.
Tightly knit groups of people retweet each other and they participate in each other's games. This is true of lots of groups on twitter—it's a very cliquey environment. But what's interesting is that black people are more tightly aligned than white people. That's why they dominate on the trending topics, according to Meeder and Manjoo.
This actually makes sense. And now, I am wondering if it's okay to tread on racist territory too make the following analogy: There is also evidence that black people are more tightly knit than white people in prison.
I was doing research on prison violence (these are my two pet topics for late-night research: prison violence and plane crashes. I hope there's a special Jeopardy for these topics. I will be a millionaire.)
Anyway, prison violence is skyrocketing, and prisoners in the U.S. receive unwanted sexual advances 80,000 times per day. But the population most likely to be raped are white men under the age of 25. Of course, all men under the age of 25 are prime targets because young men are hotter than old men. But white men are more vulnerable because if a black man rapes a black man, the black prisoners will attack him. The same is true with Latino men. And if a black man rapes a Latino man or a Latino rapes a black, the men who are the same race as the victim will seek revenge. But the white people are not used to thinking of themselves in terms of race. So white men do not protect other white men.
Now I'm really on a tangent, but I can't resist telling you. This usually starts happening in a low-security prison where guards are trying to figure out what a prisoner will be like and where to send him. The non-violent white criminals get pounced on right away. The trauma of rape makes a person start looking crazy, and then they get put in a high security prison because they are acting crazy. And in a high security prison a young, non-violent prisoner is dead meat.
Okay. So I'm a little worried about this last piece of advice, which is, in case we've lost focus, to act like you're black on twitter so that people participate in your stuff and you participate in other peoples' stuff and you have a tight-knit group.
I think people will say this is racist. But what I really want is a conversation about it. So I'm taking a risk. And maybe this is the real piece of advice. Take a risk with twitter. Try doing something with it that maybe pushes you a little outside your comfort zone. That is the way to make life the most interesting from twitter, and maybe that's all we can ask from any technology.