I joined Twitter in May of 2008. Which means I’m coming up on my 10 year Twitter anniversary. For reference, I started blogging in July 2006, and joined Twitter less than 2 years into blogging. At the time, it was pretty much the only social media option out there. Facebook hadn’t yet become widely available. And Instagram and Pinterest wouldn’t exist for a few years.
In 2008, I found Twitter to be fascinating and entertaining. Twitter gave birth to the hashtag and I loved seeing how creative hashtags took on a life of their own. In those days, you could get a topic trending with just a small group of people, and at conferences or events, we would do so intentionally and it felt super powerful. Sometimes, when there were too many people on Twitter, the site would shut down and instead, there would be an image of the “Fail Whale” displayed.
When I started my account, I followed everyone I knew personally online at the time — pretty much all bloggers. Later, when Twitter started feeling like an extension of my business, I took Twitter classes from experts like Guy Kawasaki and would try out whatever the current trends were. For example, there was a year or so where I tried the recommendation to follow back everyone who followed me, and I ended up following several thousand people. When Twitter lists were introduced (I think it was 2009), I made a bunch of them, all with silly headings like, “Knows How to Drive Stick,” “Secret Hippies,” and “Has a Good Fake British Accent.” And then never looked at them again till I eventually deleted them.
A couple of years in, around 2010, I mostly abandoned Twitter. It didn’t support photos yet, and by then, there were other social media platforms that fit my visual heart better. I didn’t shut down my account, but I was minimally active for many years. I would tweet out links for sponsors when asked. And I might tweet during an event to show support. I also connected my Instagram to my Twitter so that anytime I shared an Instagram post, I could simultaneously share it to Twitter too — just so my Twitter feed wouldn’t look too bare. But otherwise, I totally ignored Twitter. As my online community developed I learned they just didn’t care about Twitter, so neither did I.
But something changed over the last year. I seemed to hit some sort of mental saturation limit on Facebook. For a really long time I’d been super active on my personal Facebook page, and then almost overnight, I stopped posting on my personal Facebook page and only posted from my Design Mom page. Overall, I started spending way less time on Facebook and I took the Facebook app off my phone.
Now, when I was bored and picked my phone, instead of looking at Facebook, I tried opening Twitter. At first, it was fine, but not that great. It was mostly the same people I was connected with on Facebook and Instagram, and felt similar. But I started adjusting the list of who I followed. I muted or unfollowed a ton of accounts — people who I followed way back when and didn’t even remember or feel connected to anymore. And I started being really intentional about who I followed instead, and what I would use Twitter for. I figured out I liked Twitter to A) follow news stories and get commentary at the same time, to B) find interesting links to share, and to C) encourage whatever my current hobbies are.
To make sure I wasn’t only getting left-leaning headlines, I did searches like “Best Conservative Voices to Follow on Twitter,” and followed people on the lists that came up. I already followed several design related accounts, but I unfollowed some and focused on those sharing interesting stories from around the web. I sought out a few Mormon voices so I could stay up on conversations related to my religion.
I also started paying attention to other voices being shared in my stream. By that I mean Twitter doesn’t just show you the tweets of people you follow; it also shows you some of the posts that people you follow have liked. When new voices would show up that made me laugh, or made me think, I would follow them too.
I LOVE my feed now. It’s meeting and exceeding the intentional expectations I set — it helps me follow the news, it helps me find interesting articles to share, and it helps me deepen my current hobbies. I don’t do much talking. Instead, I use it to amplify voices I appreciate. Meaning, I retweet a ton. I still use it to promote sponsors once in awhile, but 95% of the time, I use it for me personally. For me, it’s really helpful that I mostly follow people I don’t know personally and have no connection with. If a story is shared that I disagree with, it doesn’t feel so personal, you know? I can read commentary about it and not feel tempted to get in an internet fight. Honestly, it’s currently my favorite social media platform.
If you’ve been curious about Twitter but never taken the plunge, this is what I would recommend:
When you first sign up for Twitter, be aware that you have two different names.
You’ll need to choose your Twitter handle (mine is @designmom), and ideally you’ll always keep it the same. But you’ll also choose another name to associate with your handle, and that name can change as often as you like. I keep mine a traditional Gabrielle Blair. But some people change their name weekly, and it’s pretty entertaining! Keep in mind, as you use the Twitter app, the @handle will actually show up less than the other name. So if you follow me, you’ll see the name Gabrielle Blair way more than you see the handle @designmom.
Don’t just follow all the same people you already follow on Facebook or Instagram. During the sign up process, Twitter will want to connect with your contacts — on your phone or on Facebook. I would skip that step. Don’t follow all your friends and family members. You’re already connected to them on Facebook, right? No need to use Twitter as a second Facebook. If you know of a friend or relative who especially loves to tweet, then sure why not follow them. But otherwise, I would use Twitter to follow an entirely different group of people.
So who should you follow if not your contact list? Think about what topics you want to see stories about. It could be something niche like rock collecting. Or maybe something broad like politics. Or maybe something like humor writers, or more specifically, “dad jokes.” You can come up with as many topics as you’d like. Then go to Google and do a search for top Twitter accounts on X topic. Follow those.
How many people should you follow? That’s a good question. Right now, I follow just under 500 people, but most are still on my list from back in 2008 and are not very active. I’d say only 100 to 125 regularly post. And that seems to be plenty of content. Feel free to look on my list and follow anyone that you take notice of.
Now that you’re following a good number of people, check into your feed when you’re bored. Be aware, that like the rest of the social media feeds, Twitter doesn’t always show posts in chronological order. If I check in right now, I might see some posts from a few minutes ago, and others from yesterday. Yes, it drives me bonkers, but I’m not aware of a workaround.
You can get a ton of joy out of Twitter, even if you don’t tweet anything yourself. If you’re just starting out, I would recommend listening/reading for awhile instead of talking. When you’re ready, I would recommend retweeting something you like. You can retweet as much as you want. Next, once you’re familiar with the format, you can write your own tweets, respond to someone else’s tweet, or retweet something and add your own comment. Or, you can simply read the tweets, and heart what you like, and never write anything at all.
There are a few tools on Twitter that really help me enjoy the experience. One is the heart/like button. You can use it to show support, but you can also use it as a bookmarking tool. If you like something and want to read it later, just heart it. Unlike Facebook, Twitter keeps a list of everything you’ve liked and you can access it anytime. Here is a list of everything I’ve ever liked on Twitter. It’s a mix of articles and tweets that I appreciate or that I want to remember for later. If you want to, you can unheart something on your list at anytime.
BUT. Other people can see your list of likes too. So if you want to save something, but don’t want people to see it, the other thing you can do is send a tweet to yourself in a DM (direct message). I do that a lot when I find something I potentially want to share on my Friday link list. And you can always delete individual messages later — if I’ve shared the link, I delete that message so I know not to use it again.
Other built-in tools that are super helpful are muting, unfollowing and blocking. If you followed an account and you don’t like what they share go ahead and unfollow. You don’t know them. They don’t know you. Don’t stress about it. If you followed an account and are getting tired of them, but don’t want to unfollow because you might offend them, you can mute them. Muting means you’re still following, but you won’t see their tweets until you want to again. If you’re seeing tweets from someone and they upset you, use the block function. Remember, this is your feed, and you get to decide what you want out of it. No need to torture yourself by following someone who makes you mad.
If you’re using Twitter for work, you may need to get familiar with tools like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck that allow you to schedule tweets. But if you’re using Twitter just for you, I find the app and website have all the functionality I need.
Want to give it a try? Here are 5 women I love following on Twitter:
Kelly Wickham Hurst – She tweets about race issues, education issues. Smart as can be and I learn a ton from her.
Sarah Lerner – She writes about feminism and politics. I love her voice. And she retweets interesting people, which I love because it helps me find new people to follow.
Jess Dweck – She writes left-leaning political tweets and social commentary. She makes me laugh out loud a lot.
J.K. Rowling – Yes, the author of Harry Potter is quite active on Twitter. She doesn’t hold back on her opinions or political views.
Tarana Burke — Tarana is the founder of the #MeToo movement, and she’s a huge advocate for intersectionality.
What are your thoughts? How are you feeling about social media platforms these days? Are you already on Twitter? Are you an active user? If yes, what do you get out of it that keeps you coming back?