The Tao of Twitter: an experiment

The Tao of Twitter: an experiment

I’ve worked as an independent technical writer since the end of 2009. I’m fortunate to have a career I enjoy: I get to take part in varied, interesting projects, and the words I write help people get stuff done. That’s all awesome. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to raise my profile. How does one do that?


If you’re not bothered about the background – how very dare you! – then jump straight to the experiment.

The preamble

The best part of my work is the feeling I get when I know I’ve helped someone. I’m greedy to hold on to that feeling. And I want to multiply it. That’s one of the reasons I write this blog. I’ve got stuff in my head and it needs to come out. I’ve received lots of nice comments – mostly from people in the editorial community – saying that they’ve found the content useful. How cool is that?

Now my challenge is to get the message out to more people. So, I’ve finally started a proper mailing list (check out Espresso), and I’m becoming much, much more active on social media.

My favourite social platform by far is Twitter. I never thought I’d be enchanted by a 140-character limit – I’m a writer, remember – but I love it. It’s the perfect place to share short, sweet nuggets of wisdom. It’s also a great way to exercise my editorial brain: how do I fit this message into just 140 characters? You soon learn what’s fluff and what’s essential. That’s a gift!

Anyway, for a long time I was what you’d call a very occasional Twitter user. I used to pull up the app once a month, have a nose around, not tweet anything and then go off and do something else. That’s probably not a million miles away from the behaviour of a lot of users, even these days. And guess what: this approach did precisely zero to help me. I would end up wasting a small part of my life on what was nothing more than a curio.

By the time I was ready to attend my fourth SfEP conference in 2014, I knew I had a small audience in the form of the editorial professionals I was regularly in touch with. I decided around then that some website rebranding was in order, and so was an increase in my reach on social platforms. So, seemingly years after everyone else had woken up and realised they needed to use social media as part of their marketing strategy, I finally did the same.

Here’s the bad news: it’s been slow going. I’ve seen lots of other people grow audiences really quickly, and that’s always made me wonder why my path has been more of a slow burn.

But here’s the good news: it doesn’t matter. Each step forward is a step towards a better place. Growing slowly is OK. You’re not a bad person if your profile grows slowly. It’s really OK to be that person.

In late summer 2016, I was fortunate to get the chance to talk with Mark Schaefer, a big name in content marketing and the writer of several interesting marketing books. At the time of writing, I’m just finishing off reading The Content Code (well worth a look).

Mark and I talked about the steps freelancers and businesses could take to raise their profile. He told me quite earnestly that I needed to think about a plan for growth. ‘You need to be known,’ he said. And he was right.

On Mark’s recommendation, I picked up one of his books – The Tao of Twitter – and flicked through to chapter 5, which contains 25 tips for growing your Twitter audience. I felt a challenge coming on and so did he.

‘Follow these tips and see what happens over the course of one month,’ he suggested.

He has that gentle sense of persuasion that all good marketers seem to be blessed with.

‘OK, Mark,’ I said. ‘Let’s see where this goes.’

Now, at this point you might expect me to be building up to a massive reveal.

That I suddenly collected thousands of followers.

That people were beating down my door.

That all my dreams came true.

That I woke up looking like George Clooney.

Something. Anything!

The Tao of Twitter, by Mark Schaefer

Well, not quite. But I did have some success, and this is what this post is about: sharing the things I learned during my one-month experiment with The Tao of Twitter. Here’s what happened.

The experiment

I started the experiment on 19 August 2016 with 780 Twitter followers and ended it on 18 September 2016 with 891 followers.

That’s 111 new people in my network in a month. Not amazing in absolute terms, but that’s still a relative growth of 14%. I think that’s pretty good going.

OK, here’s some of what I discovered. I’m not going to go into day-by-day detail, as this post is already long enough as it is. But if you have any questions, please let me know by leaving a comment below.

Twitter lists

The first big thing for me was to look at other people’s Twitter lists. I hadn’t really investigated lists before, but I took Mark’s advice and indeed I discovered new people. Specifically, I found other copywriters and technical writers, and lots of interesting posts.

I decided to create my own list to keep track of some of my favourite people. Want to take a look?

View my ‘Know, like and trust’ Twitter list

Web resources

The recommendations in The Tao of Twitter made me realise that there are loads of online resources available to help me with social media and with content marketing in general. One of my favourite finds was, which helps people understand the questions their audience is likely to be asking of their industry. Sounds boring? Wait until you see the way they map the results. It’s a readymade list of blog post ideas, all generated within a few seconds. And it’s free. Come on!

Questions by


Status updates and blog shares are great. Get a retweet from the right person and your content can suddenly be put in front of a large new audience. Cool.

But I’ve found that starting personal conversations is the best way to build connections. Expanding your network one person at a time – one conversation at a time – is slow. But it’s also rewarding and it’s a chance to make connections that can last a long time.

If you can build a core group of colleagues on social media, they could end up being your brand advocates for years to come. That might sound a tad cynical but it’s really not meant that way. You just can’t fake sincerity for very long. But if you invest in others by listening to them and being interested in what they say, you’ll develop the sort of connections that no viral tweet will ever give you.


Video has been massive for me during this experiment. I always thought a nice, chatty tweet to introduce myself to new connections was a good approach. Then I found that people – particularly the marketing-savvy bunch in the Content Marketing Academy (CMA) – were using short video clips to say hi to each other. Brilliant. What’s going to be more memorable? Saying hello with a few written words or recording a personalised welcome on video? No contest.

I tend not to be the nervous sort, so I gave Twitter video a go as soon as I learned about it. No doubt I’ll look back and cringe at my first few efforts (e.g. here), but after recording a dozen or so videos it became second nature. Definitely worth a go if you’re not too camera shy. Here’s my latest example, recorded for this very post:

Since making my first forays into personal video, I’ve participated in a proper video interview and have signed up for the CMA’s Facebook Live challenge, which involves recording a video each day throughout October 2016. Add me as a Facebook friend if you want to see how this goes.

In preparation for October’s challenge, I tested Facebook Live during the recent SfEP conference in Birmingham. It was all good fun and not half as scary as you might think.

The most important thing I learned

What came across most vividly from Mark’s advice was that we have to embrace the social aspect of social media. He sums this up with just three words: be more human.

To some that might sound like a glib, throwaway line. It’s really not. Businesses are made up of people. People do business with other people. We should all be professional, yes, but there’s a huge opportunity to make a dent simply by being ourselves and revealing our personalities. This is really a fundamental learning point for me.

I’ve always been that open, honest and helpful guy. I’d just never really thought about it before. But now I want to be that person even more. I want to bring out that side of me even more. So that means just loosening up. Being even more approachable. Being more me. I think and hope my adventures in video are going to help with this a lot.

Final thoughts

This whole experiment has confirmed to me how much I enjoy engaging with others and how rewarding it is simply to be helpful. One of my goals from now on is to be the most helpful person in your Twitter feed. No doubt that sounds ambitious. I’ve got a lot of competition, after all. But I love a challenge. So try me out. Ask me a question. I guarantee you’ll get a thoughtful reply.

Over to you

There are a whole stack of questions I could ask off the back of this post. How are you growing your social media following? Are you interacting with your followers? If so, has it enriched your experience? Do you have a plan for the coming year? And lots more. Let me know by leaving a comment below or by catching up with me on Twitter. As ever, I’d love to hear from you.

Before you go … ☕️

Sign up to my Espresso emailing list and you won't miss my next blog post. Go on, it won't hurt.

Thanks for reading, John Espirian

Recommended reading

  • Denise Cowle

    Great post, John.
    I think Twitter is a great platform for starting conversations which can then be taken offline, and I agree that live video isn’t as scary once you just actually get on and do it!
    People can be overwhelmed at the thought of all that noise on Twitter, but taking a strategic approach easily filters out all the irrelevant stuff, leaving lots of gems to engage with.
    I’ll be doing the FB live challenge in October, too, and it’ll be interesting to see what effect that has on my new FB business page (which I haven’t actually created yet!).
    Keep up the good work!

    • Thanks for commenting, Denise – glad you liked the post. I definitely agree that it’s possible to filter out the noise on Twitter. I do that by focusing on the people I can really engage with, and Twitter lists have helped with that task.

      I’m looking forward to the Facebook Live challenge. Can’t wait to see how it all turns out, and no doubt there’ll be another blog in it, too 🙂

  • I just stumbled across this post after seeing it shared on Martin’s feed – found him while checking out fellow members of your Know, Like & Trust list… so it all joins up!

    Now I know how/why your use of Twitter videos started. Effective as it is, I can’t see myself adopting that strategy, but I AM with you 100% on the subject of conversations. As you already know, I’m partial to a bit of a chat on Twitter (too much so sometimes as I use it as a procrastination tool!) but I decided when joining to comment/reply as much as possible rather than just liking tweets (same approach I’d been using over on Facebook). In fact, I don’t even use the Like button on Twitter in that way at all – as you may have noticed – but use it as a bookmarking tool instead.

    I absolutely love the diagram above & can’t wait to map out ‘copywriting’ etc to see what it comes up with. I’ve never seen it done like that before, so yet again, you’ve been very helpful. Thanks John 🙂

    • Hi, Geraldine, and thanks for stopping by. Yup, totally with you on the commenting side of things; I have opinions and will share them! 😀

      I do tend to use the like feature for tweets a lot, but mostly so I can keep track of what I’ve read and responded to. A like alone is often a little weak, I find.

      I’ll be interested to see what ideas you pick up from the diagram for copywriting. Loads of blog potential there, I reckon.

      My intention to use Twitter video pre-dated the conversation with Mark, but speaking to him really crystallized the idea and helped me get going.

      PS. I do love our Twitter chats. Long may they continue! ⭐️

      • [Why can’t Disqus keep me logged in? Pain to have to sign in again!]

        Yup, sometimes we all just need a little nudge in the right direction. I’d been toying with the idea of joining Twitter for ages as I knew it would be a good fit for me/my biz, but going on a Digital Marketing course was the catalyst I needed.

        • Odd, Disqus usually does keep me logged in.

          So glad you got that nudge. You’re one of my favourite people on Twitter!

  • Meg Anderson

    This is awesome, John. In my opinion, you are doing GREAT. Those personal connections are key.
    Also, I am super excited to use

    • Ah, Meg! So kind of you to say. Thanks for reading and commenting – and yes, AnswerThePublic is great!

  • You’re certainly very active on Twitter!

    • Yup, can’t deny that, Craig. Easily my favourite network. Plan for this year is to bring the personality I show there into everything else (especially this website).

      And don’t say ‘what personality?’ or I’ll block you so fast your head will spin! 😂

      • I think you know by now that I’m not a Twitter fan. Not a huge fan of social media in general to be honest, too many voices and I’ve got enough of those in my head already!

        Interesting point about personality. People sell to people and all that. The advice about being more human is spot on, and really applies to certain areas of our profession. Oh the arguments I’ve had over the years about needlessly dull text.

        Hey, everyone has a personality 😉