how to use the power of Twitter to develop and promote your zone of genius



“…I have found that every experience is a form of exploration.” – Ansel Adams

I first discovered Twitter through an early adopter tech friend when Twitter was still a wee young thing. I remember sitting cross-legged on my bed with my tweetstream on my laptop screen when my husband-at-the-time said, “What is that?”

I explained.

He snorted and said, “That’s inane.”

He’s not the only one who thought that.

But now, when a creative friend tells me she doesn’t use Twitter, or she “kind of” uses Twitter, it pains me. A major part of the creative process is bringing your work to the world, and the great thing about the Internet is that it enables your “platform” to grow naturally along with your work, as an extension of your work.

You promote your work – and yourself – through promoting your zone of ideas.

People who scorn Twitter think it’s about tweeting stupid trivial personal shit. It’s true that some people do this and amass huge followings. We call them ‘celebrities’.

(A friend of mine was telling me about her partner, who happens to be one.

“She has about thirty people who reply to everything she tweets. She can tweet, ‘I sneezed’, and these people will be like, ‘Oh, you sneezed! You’re so adorable when you sneeze!’”

Her partner said darkly, “She’s not wrong.”)

Celebrities live in a bizarre and distorted world and as a general rule it is best not to do what they do.

Because Twitter is largely about content curation. As more and more crap fills the Web, your people need you to dig out the good stuff and present it to them with a tweet and a link.

You might say, “But Justine. I have no time for such things.”

Except you’re doing it anyway. As a creative person you have an intense curiosity about the world and a driving desire to find and make meaning. You have your passions, your interests, your obsessions: these are the things that surface in your work, over and over again.

These are also the things that draw your ‘right people’ to you. You can find that place where your passion and purpose align with your audience, and use those shared interests as points of connection.

(And if you’re discovering your passions and working out your purpose, you can share that with your audience through linking to articles about passion and purpose. It’s not like you’re alone in this.)

We’re human. We’re social animals. We like to connect with each other, but we don’t like people who trap us in the corner and regale us with stories about how great they are and why we should totally buy their work.

So Hugh MacLeod talks about ‘social objects’: those objects or experiences that stir up conversation and give us reasons and excuses to reach out to one another.

You can use links to interesting content as social objects. You collect links in your tweetstream the way you might, say, collect art to hang in your house. Just like my art collection would make a statement about who I am, your links collection makes a statement about who you are. It shows rather than tells.

It also makes use of guilt by association. After all, you are what you tweet, what you share, what you link to. If you consistently link to high-quality stuff in one or two chosen topics, I start to think that you have some high-quality authority in those topics. I become intrigued enough to check you out and click through to your blog.

I also make you part of my trusted networks – my Facebook news streams, my Twitter lists – that bubble up the kind of information that I’m looking for so I don’t have to search for it myself.

You become a familiar name and a trusted resource.

Angela Dunn refers to this as being a “thought leader DJ”. You identify the crowd that you’re playing to and make sure they have a good time. You serve up a lot of this and a little of that. Over time, you develop a reputation for having a certain kind of style. People know you through the ‘music’ you play.

Of course, such a process demands that you explore your interests. You must become well-read and on the cutting edge. You must learn shit. You must steep yourself in a rich and varied stew of influences that will only deepen your work. You must expose yourself to ideas – lots and lots of ideas. Some of these ideas will break apart and find each other and assemble themselves into new ideas – your ideas. So you will not only be more informed than the average person…you will be more creative and original.

And so:

Decide what topics you want to specialize in, what you want to become ‘known’ for, that relate to you and your work, and will pull in people who are likely to resonate with you and your work.

Although the truth is, this isn’t really something you get to ‘decide’. The answers are in your bookshelves, your journals, your work, your dreams, the movies you go to, the magazines you read, the people you wish you got to talk with more often, the blogs you go back to again and again.

What you’re basically doing is figuring out who you are through figuring out what your true interests are – the themes of your work, your life — and then giving yourself permission to explore them to an extreme.

And if you’re still drawing a blank, don’t fret. Schedule in some wandering-around time. And by that I mean: go explore. Get out into the world. See what snags your interest and follow up on that. Our creativity does not exist in a vacuum: it needs people, material, activities and ideas to interact with in order to ignite. And if you’re engaged in this kind of quest, don’t be afraid to share it online through your blog, your tweets and links. Sharing your process will help others with their process.

Set up your online networks so that they will filter content for you. Twitter is especially powerful for this: you can seek out the people who already embody what you want to embody and organize them into Lists according to certain topics. If I’m seeking good articles related to feminism, for example, I’ll go to a different List than if I’m looking for cutting-edge stuff about social media.

Also explore the different content curation tools, from stumbleupon to, to alltop and and Find the ones that work for you and take advantage.

And you are using a blog reader, right? Right???

One of my most favorite recent sayings is by Steven Johnson: “Chance favors the connected mind.” Links are the chance to connect to people and information and to people through information, to both give and receive in a way that invites a kind of magic into your life. It might be the idea that finally breaks your novel open, or the stranger who inspires you just when you need it most, or the nugget of information that suddenly resolves a problem you’ve been mulling over for weeks.

A link, after all, is also a bridge, bringing different ideas and people and networks together. You can benefit from links and pay it forward by creating new links according to your own unique pattern of mind.

Everything connects.

May 22, 2011

17 comments · Add Yours

Yes!! I think this is the best explanation of how Twitter ACTUALLY works that I’ve read yet.

I think another way people discount Twitter is that they only look at the “surface” of it. They don’t see (or utilize) the possibility for deeper, stronger relationships that come into being from the ease of connection that Twitter allows. Yes, developing those kind of relationships happens off of the platform. But Twitter makes it easier than ever before.

Those kind of relationships are also necessary & extremely beneficial for artists & entrepreneurs alike.


“What you’re basically doing is figuring out who you are through figuring out what your true interests are” – I find that to be true for blogging as well as twitter.

Maybe even more so for blogging, because it takes more effort to write a good quality post than to find and share a link.

Then again, on twitter you can cover a wider variety of topics and facets in a fraction of the time, which can also teach you a lot.

I enjoy both and find them very complementary.

Great post, Justine. Thanks!


I laugh whenever someone says twitter is a waste of time. That’s the opposite of twitter.

By the way, I like the new site redesign!


Twitter, yes. But about that blog reader … I never could make Google reader work for me. I mean, it aggregates, but navigating its presentation format is like walking through muck. Enter Reeder for the iPad (I have no financial interest) — it’s the killer app, sheer grace. Between that and Instapaper, you’re set for all that exploring.


I’m finding that people I first learned about on Twitter show up in the other social network sites I’ve joined, like Goodreads.


Ok, you convinced me. I’ll do it already.

Moving from the “I have no time for such things” camp to the “I must find time for such things” camp.

Optimistic thanks.


I’m one of those people coming late to this game, and your advice is helpful. My biggest challenge is avoiding the “rabbit hole” effect – I’m reading a blog and find myself getting lost in this link which takes me to that link and then off in a third completely different direction altogether. Three hours later: Oh yeah, what was that blogger saying?

Any advice on staying sane?


Last night I Dreamed a Twitter feed. My unconscious messages scrolled down in the UI. Wish I had saved a copy, LOL.

When that’s when you know something is Important.

Thanks Wolf for Reeder suggestion. I second your emotion on Google blog reader.

PS Justine: I like the new site look.


Great post. I’m trying to figure out a way to better utilize Twitter and this post definitely helps.


Tara — I agree. I think some people forget that it’s not an either/or situation (offline OR online interaction) — they’re meant to aid and supplement each other.

K.C. — you’re right, some of what I wrote is probably more true for blogging than for Twitter — to me they are so interwoven that I’m not sure I really separate one from the other (throw in Facebook and you have the holy triangle…)

Adam — I’m glad! Thanks!

Wolf — GREAT TIP. I’m going to check out that app.

Kay — I notice that too, and I really like it when that happens.

Planner — Good luck! Let me know how it goes!

Kate — I spend so much of my life online I’m not sure I’m the right person to ask…But I think there’s a lot of value in that kind of exploring…You see where stuff leads and how different ideas link together…Maybe set a timer to remind you how much time has passed? (I don’t do this myself but I picked up that tip from somewhere.)

Christine + Dakim — thanks.


Love this – I remember hearing you say something about this last weekend and it’s been on my to-do list to start exploring, curating links and setting up more specific Lists. This post just inspired me to get moving on it already! Thanks!


I had a similar reaction when I asked a group of writer mama’s what they do about platform. NONE of them said they had time for Twitter or Facebook. A twinge reverberated through me. Then, it occured to me, “Hey, this is good for me! Let them STAY in the dark.” LOL


“And you are using a blog reader, right? Right???”

Yup, you’re on mine.


I haven’t done the list thing. It seems to be just one more thing to organize. Are lists worth taking the time to organize? Are they just as effective as tweeting my feed? organoizing,


@ Sam D’Amico: I’ve found Twitter lists helpful (and lists on Facebook, too). For one thing, I can click “writing” and see only my writing friends, and so on for every list I have. I also have a list for people that I’m “following” but who clog up my newsfeed with useless/trivial things; I don’t make checking that list a priority, honestly. I do the same with Facebook.


Thanks Justine, this is the first post that really connected the dots for me around twitter. Thank you so much.


I’m a landscaper and garden writer, and I found my publisher on Twitter. Still, I was at a job site one day and my genius friend Mark was assembling a custom steel trellis for our client. I started to take a pic of him on my iPhone to put on Twitter. “You still do that?” he asked, “I don’t want to know what everyone eats for breakfast.”

I snapped the pic of him welding this beautiful trellis, opened up my Twitter app, uploaded the pic, typed in a caption and hit Send. “There,” I said, “in 40 seconds, I just put you and your work in front of about 1600 people. Still think this is all about breakfast foods?” :-)


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