Twitter gets lots of attention for its negative aspects: the public shaming, the trolls, the self-promoters, not to mention the loads of thoughtless and hateful comments. But like many things in life, along with the negative comes a whole lot of positive. And for me, those positives have changed my life.
I first logged into Twitter nine years ago. Like many Twitter users in 2006, I created my account, wrote something inane like “First tweet, lol” and then promptly logged off for the next several years. When I finally logged on again in 2009, it was late in my college career and I was starting to look for jobs. At the time, I was probably a pretty lousy prospect. I was quiet, shy and uncomfortable with face-to-face networking. These aren’t ideal qualities for someone seeking a job in public relations and advertising.
Then, not long after graduating, I started profiling various Twitter users for an online magazine called L'etoile. The Minneapolis Twitter scene was just hitting its stride. I started interviewing both local media personalities as well as normal, everyday people who had amassed huge followings simply by being funny and sharing their thoughts with complete strangers.
After completing several of these profiles, I wrote an offhand tweet that said someone should write a news feature about these interesting Twitter personalities. Within minutes, Kevin Hoffman (@panopticon13), the former editor of City Pages, asked me to write that very cover story. It was my first paid writing job.
My life started to change right then. With the help of the stories I was writing, I spent the next few years amassing a network of nearly 2,000 of the smartest and funniest people I ever met. The technical word may be “followers,” but I like to think of these people as friends. Some of them are journalists and editors (people like @jaymboller and @RossRaihala) others are marketing professionals (@tal_joy), flight attendants (@ampersandria) and many are now my closest friends (@LizWelle and @foyobli). One of them is even my boyfriend (this will be difficult to explain to my grandmother). There’s no way an introvert like me could have built this kind of network without Twitter.
Meanwhile, social media continued to shape my professional life. I was able to write about my love of the Internet for publications like Vita.mn and now Star Tribune. Twitter even helped me land my current job at Fast Horse, a marketing and creative agency I’ve been eyeing since college.
I’ve been Twitter friends with Fast Horse’s Cydney Strommen (@cydneyw) for years, but we hadn’t met in real life until recently. A couple months ago she direct messaged me with an invitation to breakfast. We decided to meet up — these get-togethers have become increasingly less weird in recent years — and she told me Fast Horse was hiring. I sent her my resume that afternoon, and the offer was in hand a couple weeks later. Of course, my industry experience was a big factor in the job offer. But I never would have gotten the interview without Twitter.
Despite the positives, I’m not blind to the negatives of Twitter. I’ve witnessed many a disaster when Twitter was used carelessly. Companies mess up all the time. (Remember when the Vikings decided to let people write whatever they wanted on their stadium bricks?)
But individual Twitter users should be equally careful. Many professionals feel compelled to include a disclaimer on their Twitter profiles, something along the lines of “opinions are my own.” I’m not big on such disclaimers — I think your autonomy is implicit in your handle — yet I understand why employers are wary about their employees (with the company’s name right there in their bios) sharing personal commentaries with the world.
Luckily, I work in an industry where the occasional swear word or political tweet won’t cost me a job. Although, I am familiar with the cautionary tale of the PR professional who was fired for a single insensitive tweet.
I was recently discussing the pros and cons of Twitter with WCCO-TV’s Jason DeRusha (@DeRushaJ), a local TV anchor and journalist with a similarly positive social media experience. "Every time I tweet, there's an element of danger,” said DeRusha, whose personal handle has upwards of 34,000 followers. “Plenty of people have been fired for tweeting the wrong thing; no one has ever been fired for not tweeting something."
I have only a fraction of DeRusha’s followers, but that doesn’t mean I take tweeting lightly. I’m not shy about sharing my observations about daily life, positive or otherwise, when I’m tweeting, but I do follow a few personal rules.
I know that Twitter users are quick to go into attack mode, and that 140 characters usually aren’t enough to express complicated ideas. So I steer clear of topics where I have nothing useful to add. You won’t often find me going off on political rants, unless I’m especially passionate about the subject and feel adequately informed. For example, I was happy to express my excitement after the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage.
But I try not to take myself too seriously. Someone has to stand up for Kim Kardashian, after all.
Some people find my candor refreshing. Others think I tweet too much, and they eventually unfollow me. That's OK. Like my Twitter bio says: I’m not for everyone. But I feel pretty lucky to live in an age where social media exists. Because, without Twitter, I’d be down a job and a few dozen friends. So I’d like to say thank you, Twitter. I honestly don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t sent that first stupid Tweet.
Minneapolis-based Maggie LaMaack is a client relationship manager at Fast Horse, a creative and marketing agency in Minneapolis' North Loop. Her writing has appeared in local publications including City Pages, Vita.mn and L'etoile Magazine.