Twitter is not helping your career

TWITTER’s rapid descent into corporate chaos has prompted a wave of nostalgic posts and witty witticisms from users who fear the app’s final days. Undoubtedly, Twitter has a unique role in shaping the cultural zeitgeist and, for better or worse, has a disproportionate influence on how some people, especially journalists, do their jobs. It could be very funny or rather horrifying, but it often felt important. What if he leaves?

In an age where all employees should, in theory, maintain a personal brand that will insulate us from job losses and other workplace misfortunes, something important can be lost if a site disappears or becomes a dumping ground for spambots and trolls. And yet I wonder what we can gain from his death.

One of the great things about Twitter is how flexible and customizable it is. I have used Twitter in my work fiand new voices; monitor academic research; maintain contact with professional contacts and make new ones; promote the works I write or edit; sharing job descriptions for roles I think are interesting. I’ve had great professional access to my DMs. When I’m about to interview someone, I like to scan their tweets first. One of the particularly gratifying aspects of Twitter is following peopleffas a way for me to broaden my perspective. And when a really big news event happens, the endless scrolling is addictive.

Despite all these seemingly professional utilities, I barely logged on to Twitter during the entire six months I was on maternity leave. I was so surprised I didn’t miss it. I didn’t miss the responses – guys, flame wars or snark. And it’s not like I’m too busy to be on social media; in fact, my phone almost fell out of my hand. The best tweets have found their way as screenshots on Instagram, my new platform of choice. I read newspapers and magazines instead of going from one random link to another.

It turns out that while Twitter feels like it’s added a lot to my professional life, it’s also taken everything away. Despite my careful efforts to make an interesting tape, I wound up with an echo chamber that only gave me the illusion of knowing what people were thinking. I realized that it had been years since it had expanded my professional network in a meaningful way, perhaps due to changes in the algorithm or changes in people’s attitudes, the site had become more shouty.

Then there is the opportunity cost. Building a following is hard work – it takes hours of tweeting, replying and re-tweeting. You have to be provocative or no one will want to associate with you, but you can’t be so provocative that no one will hire you. Maybe all these hours and effor whatever, it would be better to devote to the main work of his paid work – or to start a businessffa more sustainable, more sustainable way to connect with people.

Because, what is the value of a tweet? In theory, a Twitter presence can make you a more effective thought leader. However, only the biggest accounts gain the kind of following that translates into something as clearly monetized as a book or podcast. And even then, if Twitter goes under, you can’t take your 100,000 followers with you. (Twitter’s struggles fueled calls to create a measure of portability of user data and allow users to communicate across platforms.)

If Twitter’s promise for professionals has always been murky, its risks are abundantly clear. At any given moment, we’re all just one bad tweet away from being fired or embarrassed in public. I’ve lost count of the number of professionals whose attempts at sarcasm or humor have been greeted by stone-faced human resources representatives and quickly walked out the door. I remember a few years ago a former boss asked me why I “liked” a certain tweet. Apologies for my overly eager thumb.

People I respect often tweet things that make me think less about their judgment. Trolling is rampant not only among questionable verifiable accounts, but also among professional people who would surely disagree more politely if they met in a real-world setting. (If you’ve got the guts, check out some of the flame wars between experts who disagree on the cost of COVID school closures or homemade cloth masks.)

After a six-month hiatus from Twitter, I realized that the app had become more of a professional commitment than a fun hobby—if I didn’t feel like I had to be there, tweeting, I wouldn’t open it as much as I did Facebook or Facebook. LinkedIn (ie rarely).

Social media companies are still a relatively new phenomenon. Perhaps it is not in their nature to remain dominant for very long. Friendster and the Google Wave are gone; MySpace Is Lagging; Instagram (owned by Facebook parent Meta) is now threatened by TikTok. Elon Musk appears to be running Twitter, but the company wasn’t in fantastic shape when he took over.

As I enjoyed Twitter less, I began to spend more time reading books. One of the books I read this year is Time I Spent Gliding Nobody Talks About It, a novel in which the main character spends a lot of time using a Twitter-like app he calls a “portal.” Author Patricia Lockwood is sometimes called Twitter’s poet laureate. One piece stuck in my mind:

“Portal dwellers have often been compared to legendary experiment rats who repeatedly press a button to get a pellet. But at least the rats were getting pellets, or pellets of hope, or pellets of memory. “When we pushed the button, all we got was more rats.”

Things on the internet come and go. I still miss Google Reader. There are aspects of Twitter that I will miss if it goes away. But I won’t mind feeling like a rat.