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The Tao of Twitter

Getting more out of Twitter without trying so hard

I’ve been going through a bit of a spiritual transformation in my life. I know that sounds corny, but I don’t know how else to describe it.

Part of that journey has taken me through the Tao Te Ching. Although confusing at first, once I realized how to read it, I was amazed at Lao Tzu’s incredibly simple, yet profound observations on life, meaning, and purpose.

In particular, I was intrigued by the Taoist idea of non-action—letting go as the best way to achieve positive outcomes.

For example:

From chapter 3:

Do that which consists in taking no action, and order will prevail.

From chapter 63:

It is because the sage never attempts to be great that he succeeds in becoming great.

From chapter 64:

Whoever does anything to it will ruin it; whoever lays hold of it will lose it.
Therefore the sage, because he does nothing, never ruins anything; and because he does not lay hold of anything, loses nothing.

Invariably, I’ve found that changes in my personal life affect my professional life. And this is where Twitter comes in.

Like many attention-craving, digital fame seekers I’d been using Twitter as a tool for gaining notoriety, which could, of course, be measured in followers, RTs, and pageviews for a (now defunct) content strategy blog. I was scheduling tweets to stories written by important people in the marketing industry—most of which I had only half-read—and asking condescending questions of the Twitterverse as if I were some sort of content strategy whisperer.

I was setting my sites on a goal, maximizing efficiency, and hash-tagging for maximum exposure. I was faking it till I made it with complete confidence. Giving the world my best, most polished side. I was doing what driven, successful people do. Dammit, I was striving!

And you can guess how far it was getting me.

My Twitter was a one-way publishing platform for my assholery.

So one day, after letting the Tao Te Ching seep inside my life, I stopped. No more scheduling tweets. No more sharing links that I had not 100% read and fully endorsed. No more trying to appear like a guru of content strategy.

I was just going to be myself. I changed my bio to reflect me as a person—not just my professional aspirations. I stopped trying to publish “important” links and started tweeting about stuff I actually cared about, like breakfast and Doctor Who alongside quality industry-related stuff. I stopped caring about Twitter as a publishing platform and started using it as a communication tool. I stopped trying to promote myself and started thanking people I truly respected.

There were no more goals. No more striving to be anointed by the Twitter Gods. I was letting go and not worry about the consequences anymore.

And I gained 1000 followers that week.

No, not really—not even close.

But I did discover that when I forgot about trying to be somebody, and just tried to be myself, express gratitude, and think in terms of adding value to the small community of content strategists, something happened. I started connecting with people—hell, making friends.

It was weird, and very confusing at first when I started seeing an uptick in followers and engagement: “Wait, you favorited one of my Tweets and then followed me because you thought I was interesting and engaging? Are you sure this is something you want to do?”

I started getting mentions and RTs by people I respected but had not pursued in any way for attention. My Klout score went up 10 points in one week (not that I’m into that kind of thing; at this point having a high Klout score is like winning a Grammy, amirite?). The other day, I was involved in so many conversation threads that I actually had shut down my Tweetdeck and turn off my notifications so I could get some work done.

Twitter celebrity status is not even a thing I think about anymore. To me, Twitter has become so much more valuable than just a platform to shove 2nd-hand ideas down people’s throats. It’s a place where I can gather and share ideas with people I respect and care about. The metrics mean nothing to me anymore.

I feel like I’ve found the Tao of Twitter. There is no plan, no strategy. I just go with the flow. And I get such a bigger emotional return with my lack of a strategy than I ever achieved in followers or notoriety when I was striving for success and recognition.

Perhaps, Tao Tzu’s real point is not that the Tao will hand you your goals once you stop striving for them. Rather, when you stop singlemindedly pursuing your goals, you’ll realize that your singlemindedness was the very thing preventing you from achieving those goals.

Even on Twitter.