Startup explorations #8 / Adventures in Twitter

January 24, 2021

I continue to obsess over this frustrating subject I've chosen—audience building—but in the last few days have focused my exploration largely on Twitter. Twitter is my favorite of the big social media sites; I have met many interesting people on it, some of whom have become steady internet friends, though I have never used it in any strategic way. I've had several accounts over several years, none of which has ever gained more than a few hundred followers. But it is a fun game to play.

Twitter's great strength is naturally the tweet: a short post with a specific character limit, which makes the barrier to entry very low. It is like the public square of old; anybody can take part. In theory, this makes it very easy to find ongoing conversations, slip in and out of them, and make connections with like-minded people. But in practice, human nature makes it difficult to build a following this way: no matter the content, people with already large followings will always attract more people than those who don't. This is my main frustration with using this platform: not so much the platform itself, but those aspects of human nature which it encourages.

Of course, this is the power that a following commands which it makes it so valuable and coveted: it is more than what the word "audience" implies—a passive, faceless group of people to which you need only shout and sell a product. It is a community of people with whom you continually engage and grow. It is a following around yourself, as a person, which potentially can outlive products and companies; an engine that generates demand around your work. For these reasons, some argue that the best way to go about starting a venture is to build an audience first.

Still, the hard part remains: starting from the bottom. A creator who might have valuable things to share might spend a long time shouting into the void, and struggle to find true engagement rather than just followers, as long as their follower count is not high enough—despite the fact that theoretically, all it takes to get an audience is a tweet here and a follow there. I think there will always be an element of unpredictability to this, as with any endeavor centered around people.

But imagine if we could make this a lot easier: how can we get all the thoughtful, interesting, quirky people together who are just starting out on the path to audience building? How can we get these people to find like-minded spirits in similar situations with whom they'll be more likely to start lasting relationships? The world is a big place: there is room for more communities to be formed—more opportunities to create such communities that don't just rely on getting noticed by someone famous.

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