Believe it or not, Twitter is one of the best places to make friends

Twitter can be a nice place—if you know how to use it.
Twitter can be a nice place—if you know how to use it.
Image: REUTERS/Robert Galbraith
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When I signed up for Twitter five years ago, I only did it to follow 50 Cent’s totally unfiltered stream of consciousness. Eventually, I realized none of my friends used it and didn’t touch it for a while.

A couple of years later, a coworker told me he was meeting new people through Twitter, which was very confusing for me. I thought Twitter was this terrible, troll-filled place where people were just constantly enraged and everything was about politics, sports, or pop culture. Why would you ever meet someone on Twitter?

It took me a while to understand. Twitter can be used in a ton of different ways, and it’s not always obvious how to get started or why it’s valuable.

Here’s how I answered those questions, and why Twitter is now one of the most valuable social networks in my life.

Why should you use Twitter? What makes it unique?

Of all the new people I meet, about half of them I first connect with on Twitter. I make a point to get a coffee or a meal with someone new from Twitter once a week, and Twitter has also become my primary way of finding interesting things to read.

Twitter is unique among social networks in that you don’t bring your existing connections with you onto the platform. Because of this, Twitter is much more focused on people’s ideas, while other social networks are more focused on personal life updates from friends.

This makes Twitter well-suited to finding people that share the same interests as you and inverts the traditional friendship-building arc. Usually, this is how most people make friends:

  1. We are in the same physical space somewhere.
  2. We talk and discover mutual interests through conversations.
  3. We end up having repeated interactions and eventually become friends.

But on Twitter, you interact with people first, finding mutual interests by reading their tweets. Then you have some repeated conversations/banter online, and eventually you meet up. It makes it easier to find people that are into the same things as you (even if you may get some awkward looks when you tell someone you met on Twitter).

Twitter also makes it easier to have relationships across geographies and social statuses. When I had just started working after college, I managed to get a general partner at a fund I respect to respond to a question I had. I’m not sure how many other places I could have had an interaction like that. Twitter gives you direct line of access to people you look up to and gives you the chance to have a conversation.

This is where the real value of the platform lies: conversations. Most people think of Twitter as another way to read news or follow what’s going on, but the real place to invest time is talking to people. Here are some “dos” and “don’ts” that have helped me to get the most out of the platform.

Twitter 101

DO: Get into other people’s conversations and reply with your (rationalized) opinions and thoughts

This is priority number one. The platform’s value comes from the conversations you have on it. Don’t feel shy about whether or not you know the people. If you have some interesting to say you should. Plus, the only way people are going to see your stuff at the beginning is if you reply to them.

How it feels when you tweet at first.

DON’T: Follow non-people (brands, publications, firms, etc.)

This is the most common mistake I see, and a surefire way to mess up your feed. The platform is about conversations, and brands don’t converse. Plus, you don’t need to see every article or update that’s put out — the relevant ones will make it into your feed because of the people you follow.

DO: Prioritize people who reply, have smaller follower counts, and are followed by people you follow

Finding good follows can be tricky. The metrics you should look for in good follows are:

  • Engaging: Go to the account page and look at its tweets and replies. If the person doesn’t usually respond to tweets, he or she isn’t here for the conversation. A general ballpark would 2:1 tweets to replies at least.
  • Under the radar: People with smaller followings are generally more engaging, less full of themselves, and more willing to put their opinions out there.
  • Have mutual followers: An underrated metric on Twitter is “followers you know.” This is a good signal to look at when gauging an account’s quality. It’s also a great way to find new follows. Take an account you really like, click on “following” and check out some of those accounts.

DON’T: Auto-tweet links, use hashtags, or do things for the sake of retweets

You may see tweets floating around that are lists of really obvious things, repeat random pithy sounding quotes, or have a ton of hashtags or tagged accounts, and they’ll have a lot of retweets. These growth hacking tactics may seem appealing, but they violate the golden rule that quality of followers > quantity of followers.

These tactics are dead giveaways that you’re on Twitter to self-promote and not to actually have discussions. Don’t do these things and don’t follow people who do these things.

DO: Unfollow people

Your underrated best friend

Your underrated best friend
Your underrated best friend

Unlike other social networks, regular following and unfollowing on Twitter is normal. If someone isn’t tweeting about stuff you like anymore, don’t feel bad about unfollowing them. Doing so will keep your feed and social graph pruned to what you’re interested in TODAY.

DON’T: Participate in “outrage Twitter”

Twitter is best known for the extremely loud voices of some of its users and a lack of civil discourse. Getting involved in this “outrage Twitter,” in which two sides are just yelling (or, at least, engaging in the written equivalent of yelling), is not productive for anyone. If you get involved, you’ll just exhaust yourself and feel like you’re screaming into the void.

DO: Use lists and mute words

Making lists and muting words are somewhat advanced tactics, but they’ll both make huge improvements to your experience

The mute function is your best friend. You can avoid outrage Twitter and topics you have no interest in by muting words generally associated with that topic. Go to Settings & Privacy> Muted Words, and keeping add words to this list.

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Lists are also great! You can use the list function to group accounts together by a topic they tend to talk about. This will let you switch between topics you’re interested in very easily, and is made much easier by tools like Tweetdeck.

Image for article titled Believe it or not, Twitter is one of the best places to make friends

Lists are also a great way to find new follows — go to an account you like and check what lists they have.

DON’T: Be afraid to be wrong

People will call you out for being wrong, but that’s how you learn. Imagine how long it would take for you to find out you were wrong if you kept all of your thoughts to yourself. Be confident and researched in your thoughts, but amenable to change when it’s presented.

DO: Reach out to people via direct messages (DMs)

DMs are a great way to escalate from some online back-and-forths to an IRL hangout. Twitter DMs feel less like cold outreach than messages on, say, LinkedIn, because you likely already have some rapport with the person who you are contacting. Many of my good friendships started with a Twitter DM.

DON’T: Be a bland account

Some of the most boring follows are people that just tweet out a link and say something like “great read.” Even worse are people that just say “congrats!” or “awesome stuff” to suck up to other accounts. Don’t do that.

DO: Find your own style and what works for you

All of the above are just suggestions — the real goal is to find a style that works for you. I make memes, talk about healthcare a lot, and thread tweets (a lesson for another day). But you should find a style that works for you, and you should experiment to find it.

DON’T: Give up! It’s a slow build

Your Twitter success won’t happen overnight, but just like anything persistence is key. Over time you’ll find friends, advice, news, and more that’ll prove the investment of time is worthwhile. Keep at it, and I promise you it’ll be worthwhile.

This article was adapted from the presentation Why Twitter is Dope and How to Use It.