John Jago

Is Twitter worth my time?

Yes, I’m still calling it Twitter.

I first signed up for Twitter when I was in middle school, around 2010. I didn’t have any purpose in mind—I was just trying out what’s new and cool.

I got bored of it as a source of entertainment around 2012 or 2013, and with my growing dislike of what social media platforms were becoming, I deleted my account.

However, in 2021, I made a new account with the intention to use it as a professional networking tool, as a place to share the writing and software I had been creating, and as a source for what’s happening “on the ground” in a couple niche industries.

Recently, I’ve been once again questioning whether it’s worth my time, and rethinking how I can use it with intention.

The feed

Ah, social media feeds. Perhaps what is most harmful about Twitter and other platforms, if not used wisely.

I don’t use the “For you” feed at all. It’s full of irrelevant, low effort posts that clearly exist to generate “engagement”.

Instead, I have a carefully curated set of people that I follow. The guiding question for whether I follow someone I don’t already know is whether I will get something valuable out of what they’re sharing. For me, it’s valuable if it offers a new perspective or insight that I otherwise wouldn’t have considered, or helps me discover projects or people that are interesting and relevant to me.

Lack of authenticity

What led me to intensely curate who I follow and only look at the chronological timeline of what they share is the misaligned incentives of the platform, especially after creator payouts were introduced.

Despite the payouts being relatively small compared to the time a creator might spend on the platform—if they don’t already have a massive audience—lots of people seem to have gotten this idea that they can become “creators” on Twitter and blindly follow the path to get there. That path, unfortunately, means creating content and behaving in a way that “farms engagement” from people.

For example, a common strategy for Twitter “growth” is to follow people in your niche who have a slightly larger audience than you, set notifications for when they post, and then be the first one to reply to whatever they post. Oh, and you can pay to have your reply be further up, where it’s more likely to be seen. The problem is that this encourages replying when you don’t have anything meaningful to say, leading to a lot of unauthentic replies on unauthentic, engagement-driven posts. Quite often, neither the poster nor the people replying are doing it sincerely. Some people are more open about this strategy than others, which further muddies the waters.

For the people who are playing the game, it might be worth it in the end.

Here’s an excerpt from a blog post that captures this well.

Your ability to have a good career is the product of two things: the fundamental value and liquidity of the skills you have. So, when applied to job hunting, this means that there are really only two things that matter.

  • How good you are
  • How many people that influence hiring decisions know how good you are

All of the games people play to get an edge in hiring, like polishing resumes, practicing interviews, or going to networking events, are simply the popular ways of maximizing one of these two quantities. These small tactical pieces of advice can be useful, but I find it helpful to know what the ultimate goals are: to be good, and to have as many people know that as possible.

Those who have more exposure have a chance at getting more opportunities. There’s a lot of luck involved, but you can maximize the chances of getting lucky.

I’ve seen people who become well-known in the programming world simply for what they share online and among groups of people on Twitter. They’re not necessarily the best programmers, but so many people know that they are good programmers that it inevitably works in their favor.

However, people who are passively reading the Twitter posts and replies of those other people interacting amongst themselves get almost nothing out of it.

There’s a time and place for getting an opportunity, but to make that what you spend most of your time doing, even after getting those opportunities, is not a healthy way to use the limited hours in a day.

A stranger on the internet named Sam has very similar thoughts as I do.

it all seems too rushed. There’s too much information, and too many people engaging for engagement’s sake.

People make their comments to position themselves in the algorithm, not because they value other people’s work.

It lacks authenticity.

When you make a post on Twitter, it’s gone instantly, swallowed by the marauding mass of posts made each minute.

No, I like to take my time, refine my articles, and then publish them for the world to see. Whether that’s today, the next day, or years down the line.

Build in public

One of the niches of people on Twitter that I follow are those who are “building in public”, which means sharing progress and being transparent about decisions as you build a business, more so than a traditional business would involve the community.

Some people have a misconception that building in public will help their product succeed. However, this only works if the build in public audience, usually people who are building in public themselves, would be potential customers of the product. For example, types of products that people who are very intent on building an audience end up making are informational courses on building an audience or product, and for software products, templates that help people get started making their own products. Yes, it’s very meta. See the problem?

Having an audience on Twitter is not a prerequisite for building a successful business. Simply providing a good, honest service and meeting customers where they are is all it takes. This is very obvious to me in retrospect, but it wasn’t at first.

How I’m using Twitter going forward

Earlier this year I set a goal to get to 1,000 followers, but my opinion on that whole thing has changed dramatically. I want to build a good business, not get an arbitrary number of followers. Creating the kind of business I’d buy from myself will provide meaning and benefit to my life, while getting an audience that I can’t even be sure are not bots is a shallow activity that I’ll regret having spent time on.

I’m slowly following fewer and fewer people, so there’s less of a need to spend time reading what people have been sharing. I can get the good stuff in a fraction of the time. It takes time and effort to create good things, so people who post on Twitter daily are not the ones I’ll be following. For example, if someone shares excerpts of essays they wrote once a week, I’ll follow them on Twitter to save time from reading all their essays in full, so that I can read the ones that are most relevant to me.

I want to spend very little time on Twitter and use it in a way that feels authentic, providing insight that people can take away to make some aspect of their lives better or more informed, while consuming only that which does the same for me.