On January 1, 2019, I had just over 1000 Twitter followers.
One year later, I have 35000.
The time has come to talk about that.
Footprints on a Winding Road
Obtaining a large Twitter following was one of my New Years resolutions for 2019. I started in January, beginning the process without really knowing what that process was. I read a few articles, and I found a few solid pieces of good advice. But most of what I read was not helpful
And that is the first lesson from this experience: most guides are false. Which makes sense. I mean, if a person has already achieved success on a cutthroat platform like Twitter, why would they share the secret to their success with just anyone? It is even in their interest to spread false information, to lead would-be competitors astray.
But is Twitter really so competitive? Does someone else’s success undermine yours?
Well, no—not individually. It’s in the aggregate where this problem arises.
Hitting the First Milestone
I didn’t publicly announce my plans to grow my Twitter presence until I hit 10000 followers. At that point, I published a blog post detailing my findings, as my experimentation had caused me to realize some sobering truths.
In that blog post, I stated that having 10000 followers did not give 10 times the benefit of having 1000 followers. It was more like a 1000-fold increase in tweet impressions, tweet interactions, and overall clout.
But this, too, was an oversimplification. The reality is much grimmer: your network’s value is not measured by the number of followers you have. It’s measured by the percentage of accounts that have less followers than you do.
For example, it’s fair to say that if you have 1000 followers, you’re bigger than 50% of current Twitter accounts. If you have 10000, you’re bigger than 90% of Twitter accounts.
The higher your percentile, the more power you have. And increasing your percentile by even a hundredth of a percent changes the nature of the experience.
When You’re the Biggest Fish in the Pond
To begin with, it is certainly possible to make a huge splash, even with less than 500 followers. A single tweet can go viral from the smallest of accounts.
I have seen it done. And every day there are more examples of it.
But that does not mean any given small account can expect that. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for anyone lucky enough to pull it off.
But that changes when you have 20000+ followers.
Suddenly, creating an explosive tweet becomes a trivial matter. Not all of your tweets is going to take off, but if you’re clever, you can produce at least one per day that will put you on the map.
And even your less impressive tweets will get attention. A stupid dad joke or halfhearted observation will still attract clicks.
And that is the second big lesson I have learned: quality doesn’t matter unless you have quantity to back it up. If you know the cure for cancer or an easy way to make world peace, you’d better have the numbers necessary to get the word out, because people are not impressed by what you know or how well you can talk.
They’re only interested in what everyone else claims to be interested in. The game is “follow the leader”, and if you’re not the leader, then you’re not worth their time.
“But…but I’m the Exception”
I did say, above, that people are incentivized to spread false information about how to grow your Twitter account.
Well, sometimes the small accounts also spread this false information, for their own reasons.
One small account will say: “I’m only interested in following people who will genuinely interact with me. I have no interest in numbers”. And they may even mean it, but the purpose of the statement is to mislead others into stunting themselves.
Because the numbers don’t lie: when you have more followers, you get more engagement. People are more willing to talk to you, retweet you, vie for your attention, and fight for your causes.
If you really care about engagement, you need to obsess over numbers. They define your power in the social sphere. I know that’s not the way it should be, but there’s no way around it.
Envy Breeds Hate
The third major lesson from this experience is that some people hate seeing others succeed.
I already knew that, of course. Early in my writing career, I attended every writers’ conference I could get into. These conferences are largely filled with amateurs and people trying to break into the industry. And I was floored by the acid with which the attendees spoke of popular authors.
They would have you believe that every bestseller was a hack job, written by an idiot who just didn’t understand how to craft great prose or invent beloved characters. What a crime it was that someone had accidentally published such slop. Someone really should expose these impostors and seize their royalty checks!
(That’s not to say that bad books never get published. But if an author reaches bestseller status, it is wrong to assume they are unqualified for the job. Mega-successes NEVER happen by accident.)
But the economy of envy is just as much alive on Twitter as it is in the writing community. Since breaking 10000 followers, I’ve had lunatics gunning for me at least a few times each month. And it only becomes more frequent as I get bigger.
People tell me my followers are fake, or that I don’t deserve them. Or that I must somehow be an awful person to have obtained so many connections. These accusations uniformly come from small accounts—some of which have been on Twitter for years. I understand their agony. I’ve been on Twitter since 2011. Those first eight years brought me only a pittance of followers. I kept waiting for “my turn” to get big and famous.
But nobody is going to give you your chance. You have to run out into the river with a club and catch your dinner the old-fashioned way.
Do Not Get Attached
The last and most important lesson I have learned from my ascent is that it’s mostly meaningless.
Not entirely, no. Huge Twitter numbers means you will get attention. In the past year, I’ve been able to interact with some huge names, like Neil Gaiman and James Patterson. And I would be lying if I said my numbers were not at least somewhat responsible.
Numbers are important for any endeavor that requires drawing public attention (such as getting a book published, like I am trying to do), but they won’t add a drop of validity to other parts of your life.
Being big on Twitter won’t make your mother love you. It will not cheer you up on your bad days. It will not change the existential hardship of being an insignificant speck in an endless universe. Twitter is not real life, and it cannot replace real life.
Still, as long as you keep this in mind, there is no harm in trying to grow your Twitter audience. And it is an audience, meaning you get to perform, and have people form opinions about your performance. If that is what you want, then it is worthwhile.
But I imagine most people—including most people currently playing the Twitter game—are not prepared for what that requires, and don’t actually want everything that comes with it.
So far, I’ve spoken in generalities. There are certain universal rules surrounding popularity, and they have come as a surprise to me because this is my first experience with popularity.
And the most humbling realization of all is that popularity is not nothing. Every parent or teacher who told you popularity was nothing was just trying to make you feel better.
It is, of course, easy to overstate the value of popularity. There are many things it cannot do, but anyone who says it does not matter is being dishonest.
My ascent has been hard. It has interrupted me, taken me away from things I would rather be doing. And it is all in service to an end. I am trying to publish a book that I know is worthy to be up there on the shelf next to any other author, but which no one has yet given a chance (if they read it, they will publish it).
And if I could trade all of my Twitter followers for one book deal, I would do so without a second thought.
Still, I have made friends along the way. For all the haters I’ve had to put down, I’ve also encountered many a sympathetic ear. There is a lot of good to be had from being a Twitter personality.
I’ve been humbled. I’ve been hard. I’ve had to tell people to shut up. And, sometimes, I’ve had to make them.
I find Twitter to be the best platform for writers, as it allows people with any talent for brevity or clarity to make sharp commentary, and participate in the global discussion without having to worry about getting our tongues tied.
My experience has been one of growth. It has also been quite time consuming, and I’m personally hoping it pays off soon, because I don’t know how much more of my life I want to dedicate to being accessible in this way.
Nevertheless, I am committed. I will do whatever it takes to bring this book into the world. I am completely out of scruples.
Watch me rise.
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