Twitter (aka X) is one of the best social networks in the world.
It’s among the best places to make friends, find a job, find co-founders or investors, attend events from, date from, learn from, and now even make some cash on the side from. This is still true as of late 2023.
Despite this, many people haven’t given it a serious try and are missing out, likely because it takes time to learn how to make your Twitter experience great. In order to help remedy this, this post will cover:
- Twitter features you should use
- How Twitter accounts grow
- Social tips for success
Twitter Features You Should Use
I. Twitter Blue
Twitter blue is generally worth it. Although the value it adds in some areas is subtle, if it helps you out even a bit socially, it will easily be worth $8.
An example of this is if it encourages someone to respond to you, check out your profile, or read your DM, when perhaps they otherwise wouldn’t have. Twitter blue is purported to give algorithmic boosts, making you more likely to appear in the For You feed and causing you to appear higher in responses to parent tweets, but I don’t have explicit data to support this.
If your account has a large amount of impressions (5M+/month currently) you will make money from Twitter blue, so this should be a no-brainer. Based on the numbers I have, you should get a CPM of $0.01, although some accounts get higher rates. If you have 5M impressions per month, this should make you $50/month. Some accounts that I surveyed have a CPM of up to 5 times this such as Austen Allred. This may be due to having a much higher-value audience from an advertising perspective (many founders, investors, etc), or due to other unspecified favoritism.
I looked at the accounts I consider the highest-value, and around 50% have Twitter blue, so it’s a good signal that you’re a strongly above-average account.
You should probably be using the lists feature of twitter. Lists are a collection of accounts which constitute a separate feed which you can browse. You can share lists with others, or keep them private. Twitter lists also have no advertisements on the mobile app as of writing this.
Lists can be useful to segment Twitter by topic – maybe you want to add anyone who is an investor to a list in case you want to gauge investor sentiment only, or maybe you want to make a list of AI researchers only to see what papers are currently buzzing.
I personally use a ‘high priority’ list with ~100 accounts on it, allowing me to check this list in full daily with only a few minutes of time. This makes sure I don’t miss anything from the accounts that I think are the highest value. A subset of this list of people on my links page.
Although my lists are not public, some others are! Here are a few examples compiled by Lama:
- Patrick‘s Reading list
- Michael‘s tomorrow list
- Zack‘s Invisible college list
- Austen‘s Non-Obvious list
- Marc‘s Sharp list
Twitter has a DM feature. You’re probably under-using it.
You can just talk to people. It’s okay if they are a famous researcher, a CEO, or even a billionaire. Many of them not only have their DMs open, but will check them. The worst that may happen is you don’t get a response.
This isn’t to say you should be spamming people – you should definitely focus on starting a conversation when you think it will provide value to both participants. But Twitter is simply a network of humans, and humans love to socialize and make friends and help each other out, and it’s important not to forget this.
A cold DM on twitter from someone who you have ‘seen around’ is significantly less cold than a cold email, where you see nothing but an email address and name. If you are, for example, looking for a job at a company, you may want to look at who is hiring for that company on Twitter and ask them how you can improve your chances.
When I went to San Francisco for the first time, I didn’t know anyone there. I had zero friends. But what I did have was an anonymous Twitter account with 400 followers! I sent 6 cold DMs to some people who seemed cool and 4 of them agreed to hang out with me (one non-response, one busy). I had a great time with all 4, and we still chat on and off to this day.
I know a lot of people who have dated off of twitter, and many others who have met their wife or husband from Twitter. I haven’t done this myself, but it probably beats most dating apps.
Make sure your Twitter DMs are open (not verified-only, explicitly check this setting!) unless you have a good reason to close them.
IV. Muting & Blocking
You can mute keywords of things you don’t want to see. This was useful to many users during the NFT bubble, and in general can be a good way to keep politics or outrage-bait out of your feed.
You can also mute or block users. Muting a user ensures that you don’t see what they say, while blocking a user also ensures that they cannot respond to your tweets. Blocks can be considered rude, so muting may be a better idea in many cases.
Some users strongly advocate for the liberal usage of mutes and occasional blocks, although if you aren’t political and don’t engage with trolls (which is correct!), your need for them should be minimal unless you’re otherwise excessively controversial and/or popular.
Your twitter account is yours and your time here is likely limited, so make sure you’re enjoying yourself rather than spending your nights arguing with strangers.
Liking a tweet makes the twitter algorithm more likely to show you tweets similar to it. I don’t use the For You feature frequently, so my personal usage is a little different. I sometimes use likes in a manner almost close to read receipts: the cost of clicking like is very low, it’s nice to notify people that I have read their post, and it also means that my likes (which are public) are not particularly indicative of what I actually like, so it creates plausible deniability should someone point out that I ‘liked’ a tweet which goes against a given narrative.
As of late 2023, Twitter has an integrated bookmarks feature as well, although I don’t use it myself.
VI. Aggressively Curating Your Feed
If you see tweets from someone you don’t like, either unfollow them, mute them, or block them.
I generally unfollow accounts which are excessively political, and my Twitter experience is vastly improved as a result. Whenever something outrageous is happening that is covering the headlines (e.g. every day of ‘US politics’), I often don’t even see a single tweet about it. If it is something that actually matters and affects me, it’s likely someone I follow will bring it up.
Experiment with using the Following feed rather than the For You feed. I find my For You feed to be mediocre at best, and an easy way to waste time without getting much value, although some others find more value in theirs.
How Twitter Accounts Grow: 0 To 1,000 Followers
Being popular on Twitter is probably not what you want.
You probably want something that correlates with it, like reputation, influence, friends, or money. You can make great progress on these metrics without having an absurdly high follower count. If you think do in fact desire true fame, my suggested reading for you is Reasoning Not to Become Famous by Tim Ferris, or the replies to any tweet Elon makes.
Which is more valuable, a twitter account with 100,000 everyday followers, or a twitter account with 1,000 followers, entirely comprised of CEOs, famous journalists, billionaires, and heads of state? I’d take the latter any day myself.
This may be an extreme example, but it’s true that higher-quality conversation is harder to find in the replies to larger accounts. Elon Musk may be an interesting person, but the average reply to his tweets is anything but that. I personally find the sweet spot of good conversations to occur with accounts in the 2K-15K range, but your mileage may vary.
Starting from zero followers sucks. Even if you post something good, it may go entirely unnoticed. Here are some tips to help you out.
II. Put an unreasonable amount of effort into your content.
This is the most important tip here, and that is why it’s first. The Internet is filled with content, and if yours is significantly better than average, it’ll help your odds tremendously.
If you’re summarizing a research paper, don’t just paste it into ChatGPT and tweet whatever comes out. Go over sections of it yourself, help explain it as clearly as possible, add or even hand-annotate and crop images yourself, and so on. A good example of an account that quickly grew from 0 -> 70K in a matter of months with this strategy is AI Pub.
If you have years of interesting experience in a field, you may just be able to tweet stream of consciousness thoughts and takes on things successfully, in which case the above doesn’t exactly apply: the unreasonable amount of effort that you put in was applied elsewhere (e.g. in your career), and you’re just translating your knowledge from there to Twitter. In general long posts are not a great idea, and should be separated into threads, although Andrej’s tweets are particularly high-quality, so I included him as an example.
III. Respond frequently, early, and with high-quality content
When someone popular tweets about something you know a lot about, respond to it with something useful (or funny). If you do this shortly after the parent tweet was made, there’s a good chance you will appear near the top of the responses, enabling you to piggyback off of the popularity of the original poster.
One of the best things about this is that people will notice. If you give high-quality responses, even accounts with 6 figures of followers will read them and notice. That’s all it takes to talk with the main characters of society, is your desire to post a response to them on Twitter.
IV. Source followers from external locations
If you have other social media accounts, or even any friends, you can direct people to your twitter there. You could also purchase followers, but that isn’t something that I’ll cover in this post as it’s not the type of value my prospective reader is after.
Most growth is based on your current number of followers (e.g., you should expect to gain a given percentage of followers per month), so it can take high-quality accounts months to go from 0 to 1,000 followers. Don’t give up and stick with it, and you’ll make it eventually!
How Twitter Accounts Grow: 1,000 To 100,000 Followers
After you have a few thousand followers, you’re at the point to where your tweets have a large initial seed userbase. This is great, because now if you post something with the propensity for virality, it has a much better chance of getting thousands of likes.
To help demonstrate how social media growth generally works, I’ve made a few charts of my Twitter metrics from a period where I was having fun growing my account.
This first graph is my followers over time. It is going up, and the slope is mostly increasing. That’s good.
To make it more useful, now we’ll adjust for the amount of followers that I had in each month, to show the relative growth instead of absolute.
Despite the number of followers increasing more and more over time, the percentage of followers that I gain in a month is surprisingly constant. My month-on-month growth was around 24% on average.
If you are familiar with the power of compounding, this should strike you as a very impressive metric, and is the exact type of thing venture capitalists look for in the revenue or usage metric of companies. A 24% MoM growth rate would amount to 1,300% per year or 40,300,000% across five years.
But, in some months I tweeted more, and in other months I tweeted less. Let’s account for that as well.
This graph is answering the question “for each tweet that I made, by what percentage did it cause my account to grow, on average, per month?”. Although it’s a bit messy, it is still surprisingly consistant, and its data has the lowest standard deviation out of all three graphs.
Thus, numerically speaking, to grow your twitter account:
- Tweet frequently
- Tweet consistently
- Do this for a long time, ideally for years
The best example of someone that has done this well, but for Youtube instead of Twitter, is MrBeast. He consistently made videos for years, getting very few views, but kept at it and kept improving until the subtle 10%/month gains compounded, and now 2% of the Earth’s population watches every video he releases.
With that said, none of this will matter if your tweets are low-quality. The above guidelines assume both that there’s some value in your content, but also that your goal is to maximize follower count. This isn’t the same as my personal goal, so I usually don’t tweet more than once a day, if that.
Okay, but what do I actually post?
Well, that depends on what kind of followers you want. You can become popular by posting 4chan memes, but if your goal is to network and get a job, this probably won’t help you very much. You could also become popular by posting research summaries of arxiv papers, but if your goal is to hang out with the boys and joke around, this might not hit the spot.
Broadly though, you should decide who you want to surround yourself by (you will become more similar to them, so be careful!), and what type of value you will provide in order to achieve this.
Most social media accounts can be mapped into a category based on the type of value they provide. Broadly, those categories are:
These are rough categories, but if you think of some of your favorite twitter accounts, you should be able to map them onto one or more of the above categories.
The next section will go over more explicit advice that might help you to have a good time on Twitter.
Social Tips for Success
I. Be positive and constructive
The most important tip I have is to be positive and constructive. You can get engagement with dunks, but the followers and network you’ll end up with won’t be pretty. I’d avoid the political areas of Twitter at all costs.
II. Err towards saying things rather than being shy
This is hard for some people, but exposure therapy is the best way to fix it. Never be scared to tweet something because you have a lot of followers, or overly important followers, or anything like that, as long as it’s something you actually want to say. This is good advice for life in general. Trying things is good, and not trying things is bad.
III. Optimize your content for twitter
Linking to a 30 minute youtube video will generally get very low engagement, but specifically cropping out the best 30 seconds and adding a quick summary, quote, or thread will do much better.
IV. Don’t tweet walls of text
Both spacing out your tweets and tweeting with images are usually good ideas. If the first one or two sentences of your tweet are not interesting, few people will finish reading it. Twitter isn’t yet a good medium for long-form content, so I would usually not go above the 280 character limit, even with Twitter blue. I strongly advise reading Scott Alexander’s writing advice too, even if it wasn’t made for Twitter.
V. Make your own images
There’s a lot of value in making custom images. Most of my best performing tweets contained images that myself or someone else made, and which took as long as 10-30 minutes to make.
VI. Pseudonymity is cool but optional
Having a pseudonymous account can be very advantageous. A lot of people are scared to tweet their true thoughts publicly in a permanent form with their face and name directly adjacent to them. This is understandable and there’s nothing wrong with that. Even if you don’t have your name and face on your account, you can still make friends, meetup with people, and even network professionally or get a job, as long as you’re willing to share more details with individuals. A great example of someone who has managed this well is roon.
VII. Cold DM people more
You should cold DM people more. It’s a great way to get a job, make a friend, find a partner, and much more. This has explicitly been included twice on this page for a reason!
VIII. Only follow people you want to become more similar to
Only follow someone if you want to become more similar to them in some way, at least with respect to the content that they tweet about. Following someone gives them a limited type of write access to your brain, which for powerusers may be reinforced multiple times a day over the course of many years. This will significantly alter the type of person that you become, so use this super power wisely.
IX. Optimize for virality only at the cost of your soul
I would advise not purely seeking virality, even if you manage to avoid politics. Our best selves are probably not consistent with the versions of ourselves that maximize engagement online. I’ll leave you with the below quote from Dario Amodei, CEO of Anthropic:
FAQ / Addendum
Hasn’t Twitter gotten worse with Elon?
I don’t personally find that the amount of value I get from it has gone up or down by much since the acquisition. Although some updates have been negative, I’m glad new things are at least being tried. I also exist in an area (AI, startups, tech, etc) which likely uses and enjoys Twitter more than average.
Regardless, you don’t have to be a fan of the CEO or owners of a company to use a product from them, and Twitter is no exception.
What are some other resources similar to this?
- Why (and How) You Should Join Twitter Right Now – Alex Guzey
- Lama Al Rajih’s Twitter Guide
- Brian Burn’s thoughts on How twitter works and how to grow an account
- Things you’re allowed to do by Milan Cvitkovic
- Scott Alexander’s writing advice
- Nat Friedman’s homepage
- My favorite links
How did you calculate CPM?
I compiled self-reported impressions and payments from some accounts. I do not have a good sample size, but the data I have is available here: