On The Twitter
Phil’s Law: I care very much about how many social media followers I have. I care very little about how many social media followers you have.
With that in mind I didn’t make a self-congratulatory post on Twitter when I hit 10,000 followers this week. But being every bit the sucker for round numbers as the next person, 10,000 had been a silent goal of mine for some time, and while it meant nothing to anyone else, I have to confess that it did mean something to me.
I have a lot to say about Twitter. I have a lot to say about authenticity, about finding your tribe, about building in public, about the power of vulnerability, about being able to share a message at scale, about controversy, about the inevitability of offending, about forming real connections, about filtering out negativity, about instantly connecting to the smartest and wittiest people at any time from any place… For someone that didn’t find my voice until I turned 40 it turns out I have a lot to say.
Twitter dot com has a terrible reputation. I’m not going to get into issues of censorship and the manipulative tendencies of the platform. I don’t need to, there is enough to criticize about the platform without going there. The biggest issue, perhaps, is that the platform is hostile to new users. Voices with large followings are amplified while new users find it impossible to be heard. And the most outrageous takes will always garner the largest reactions, creating a perverse incentive where outrage is rewarded. Some great minds have been permanently lost to this rabbit hole. I’m not immune to it myself.
But the good, the good of Twitter, it’s just so good. You can’t just open the app and get the good, it doesn’t work that way. You need to curate, to discover, to search, to interact. You need to invest the time to unlock the good.
Anyway, here are a few reflections and observations from being active on Twitter the past few years.
Twitter is no cheat code. I’ve gotten several calls from people in asset management asking about whether I thought it was worth them trying to use Twitter or other social sites as a distribution channel. And my answer is that yes, it can be a powerful tool, but only if used to create real connections with the trust that business opportunities will follow. Nobody wants to follow a repetitive product commercial. And anyway, the time and effort it takes to build an audience is significant. If you don’t enjoy that building process your time will be better spent in tradition sales channels.
You are going to make enemies. It is simply not possible to rise above the noise without taking a stand on issues you feel passionately about. And it is simply not possible to take a stand without offending someone on the other side of the same issue. I’ve made some great friends on Twitter that vehemently disagree with me on this or that, but we still enjoy each other’s view and the occasional debate, and then we can each look away from our phones and think “that guy is actually a total moron!”. It’s part of the fun. But there are other people who have a hard time accepting that others might not always see their point of view. I have undoubtedly offended some people, and other than the ones who work at the Federal Reserve, it was always unintentional. This is part of the price of admission. Be willing to pay the price, or don’t bother getting active on the platform.
Corporate boomers won’t get it. There is a certain type, spent their whole career saying the right thing, repeating the company line, living in fear of the press, and suppressing their true selves. This type will google your name one day, find your twitter feed, and become horrified to learn that you insulted Taco Bell (do you know how big they are?), responded to a journalist (did you clear this with corporate communications?), or made a shit joke (this is not the way we talk in corporate!). Ignore them.Building a personal brand of any worth carries enormous costs, and endless resistance from finger-waggers and people worried about what the suits might think. Until you break through and those same people will “have always saw something” Just keep going.
Naval @navalThe most accountable people have singular, public, and risky brands: Oprah, Trump, Kanye, Elon.
Opportunities will find you. I’ve focused on the negatives, now I am going to focus on the positive. You put yourself out there, people are going to connect. In this age of scalability you don’t need everyone to like you, you just need a small percentage to make a true connection. I’ve made a couple dozen over the last few years, each of which alone would have made the effort worth it. In fact, there was one friendship - and entire company - that came out of a single tweet. This story is too good to bury here, it deserves its own post, which I will write soon. Or I’ll let John Armstrong tell it himself. The tweet:
The best people. You’ve got to look for them, but they are there. The kindest people, the most curious people, the smartest people, the wittiest people. Subject matter experts on any topic you could imagine. Curation is key, and once you get the hang of that you aren’t going to find better people anywhere else in the world.
You will make lifelong friends. I don’t want to get too sappy here, but it is true. I have made friends on Twitter from all over the country - all over the world, in fact - that I suspect will be lifelong friends. The platform has a way of cutting through the pleasantries and getting down to business: what do we really believe? And that answer is conducive to connecting on a deeper level than meeting at a cocktail party ever could.