How I Boosted my Twitter Engagement and Became a Better Person

(Spoiler: I started having conversations)

When you engage the trolls, you validate their rude approach

One blogger (okay, it’s Tim Ferris) defines trolling as behavior that wouldn’t be acceptable in his living room.

I like this definition because it covers the obvious malicious stuff, like bigotry and cyber bulling, but it also includes subtler forms of online rudeness.

For example, would you put up with a guest in your living room who:

Bitches endlessly about the last time someone mistreated him or how the world is unfair?

Or interrupts to sell something?

Or won’t shut up about his new eBook?

Or doesn’t talk about anything besides feminism even when that’s not the topic? (Like Churchill’s definition of a fanatic: “One who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.”)

Or mansplains libertarianism to your other guests?

Of course you wouldn’t. And, in fairness, most of these people — all real examples from my Twitter feed — probably wouldn’t act like this in real life. But something about the keyboard and the screen brings out their inner bore. It sucks for them because this behavior comes from wanting to be liked, noticed, and shared, but it almost guarantees the opposite.

And the alternative seems so simple.

The eBook guy could connect with other writers and generate an organic interest in his work.

The time and energy the feminist spent shaming strangers could have been directed towards something positive like organizing fellow activists or creating a dialogue with men who sympathize with her cause but are defensive because of her constant name calling.

The spammer salesman could have made some sweet content to generate interest in his product and gain the trust of potential customers instead of creeping them out.

The sad-case with the victim complex could express his vulnerability and use social media to reach out for support.

Cleaning my Side of the Street

I can’t control these people. In a way, I have to thank them for setting the bar so low and making civility on social media a rare commodity.

When it comes to my own social engagement I go back to the living room analogy:

How can I be a good guest?

How can I thank people for letting me hang out in their space?

Obviously I want readers. I want clicks. I want re-Tweets, and I want you guys to check out my work. But I make an effort to temper these wants with some humility and perspective. I know I can’t make anyone read anything (and wouldn’t want to if I could.) I know that the time you spend reading me could be spent doing ten million other things, so I have a responsibility not to waste your time

For me to get what I want out of social media, I have to build trust, and that’s not something that can be faked or hacked.

Here are a few engagement strategies that have given me real results and still allow me to sleep at night.

I Ask Questions

I already know what I think. What do you think?

The return on investment with this one is huge (if that’s how you want to think about it) because so few people are doing it and it’s such a generous way to communicate.

I Express Gratitude

If you write something I like, I’ll thank you for writing it and I’ll try to put in front of as many people as I can.

I send postcards to anyone who tells me they want one. (Let me know, in the comments, if you want one.)

I retweet random stories I find in lit journals because I know how it feels to wish mine would get retweeted.

I Amuse Myself

A platform like Twitter is what you make it. Being impactful is a choice. Spamming is different choice. Having fun is my choice.

I don’t need to be on Twitter, and I’ll get off when I stop enjoying it.

I Never Complain

Gary Vaynerchuk said it best:

“The following people give a shit when you complain:

  • The other losers around you.
  • Your sick, broken parent that secretly wants to hold you down so that you’re not more successful than them.
  • And… one more time, the other fucking losers around you.”

I Never Explain

When you engage the trolls, you validate their rude approach. Hence the sage advice: don’t feed the trolls.

It’s easy to go on defense when someone attacks you. But when you respond to shaming and disapproval you do two very destructive things:

You let the trolls know that unreasonableness is an effective way to reach you.

And, worse, you let your friends know that you have more time for people who don’t like you than people who do.

I Have Boundaries

The notifications on my phone are switched off and my Tweets are queued so I only have to spend about 30 minutes a day on Twitter.

My feed is broken down into lists. That way I don’t even see the spam and the bullshit. So all this talk about trolling and rudeness is mostly hypothetical. The people on my lists are all lovely.