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🦤 Is Twitter still "worth it" for creators?

Why I might quit after 2.5 years online

Hi there! I’m breaking my “every two weeks” posting schedule to share a recent article (originally published on Lens). Hope you enjoy.

My Twitter love story had a promising beginning.

In July 2020, I was just starting to build my career as a freelance writer. I connected with a reporter from Mashable who changed the trajectory of my career by offering me one piece of advice: “Create a Twitter account.”

Within a few months, my Twitter started to gain steam as I posted my struggles, wins, and lessons of freelancing. By January 2021, the founder of Unsplash slid into my DMs to see if I’d be interested in applying for a position.

I was flabbergasted.

6 months earlier, I couldn’t get a single interview, and now CEOs were messaging me. This was the power of Twitter—and I became obsessed. For the next two and a half years, I tweeted almost every single day, pouring hundreds of hours into building my “personal brand,” convinced Twitter would concretize my success as a freelance writer.

That’s exactly what happened. I accumulated an audience of 22,100 followers. I had a waitlist of clients. I went on countless podcasts, interviews, and panels.

But now, I’m on the verge of quitting Twitter—and I’m not the only one.

What Went Wrong?

In January 2021, Twitter was a digital town square, where the smartest people in the world hung and opportunities were abundant. Then, in October 2022, Elon Musk bought the platform and things started to shift.

Today, Twitter feels more like a poorly produced Broadway play. The actors repeat the same stale phrases (“solopreneurship,” “digital product,” “digital builder”) while churning out indistinguishable, soulless content.

There’s an illusory sense of community, fueled by people using ChatGPT to respond to comments or glaringly obvious audience-building techniques (i.e. “You MUST be following to receive [whatever free digital product]”).

The content is algorithmic chicken feed, but it’s a relatively easy fix—I can just switch from the “For You” to “Following” tab. However, it’s increasingly difficult to ignore the other reasons that have diminished Twitter’s allure, especially for me as a creator:

1. It’s harder to build a following

I’ve hovered around 22.1K followers for months now. I’ve tried dozens of “growth” tactics (scheduling threads on Saturday mornings, with pictures, using a CTA halfway through the thread, etc) but it's been fruitless. A recent thread of mine supposedly hit 16K views yet only got 66 likes—a laughable 0.041% “conversion” rate.

Yes, these are vanity metrics that don’t matter in the long run. But the sparse numbers are discouraging, especially when they’re the same month after month. If you’ve spent hours writing a thread only to hit a handful of likes, you can relate.

Some might suggest I subscribe to Twitter Blue to boost my engagement. But apparently, it’s not very useful, with investor Mark Cuban sharing that he “thought paying the annual contract” would change the fact that he’s losing nearly 1,000 followers a day. “It didn’t,” he bluntly announced after a few months.

Forbes reporter John Brandon felt the same way, writing, “Twitter Blue is not really worth the cost. I didn’t notice any difference at all in terms of new followers or even more interaction.”

2. My online persona wasn’t “me”

After two years on Twitter, my profile slowly morphed into someone I didn’t recognize.

With 22,000 people now following me, I became self-conscious of every word, tip-toeing on eggshells to avoid upsetting Twitter’s truculent customer base. As a result, I’d tweet one-sentence platitudes (“It’s only a failure if you didn’t try“) that I’d probably avoid saying in real-life conversations.

And when you cater to an audience instead of following your own interests and ideas, the end result is…unfavorable.

In Gurwinder’s essay, “The Perils of Audience Capture,” he describes this shift as “the gradual and unwitting replacement of a person’s identity with one custom-made for the audience.” This is how you become an actor in Twitter’s play, playing a fabricated persona that eventually exhausts and bores you.

3. Offline time just seems more valuable

Leaving Twitter would allow me to spend less time plugged in, and more time on what actually brings value to my life.

If you’ve built an audience on the platform, you know just how much of a time investment it is. From ideating, posting, editing, and responding, Twitter is a part-time job with no pay—and these days, few benefits.

That time investment used to be worth it. Twitter could attract clients, connect you with influential people, and help you appear legitimate. I credit Twitter with accelerating my success as a freelancer—my inbox would’ve never resembled this (see below) if I hadn’t posted there!

But now its users have fled for greener pastures (i.e. BlueSky and Mastodon), overall engagement has plummeted, and its functions have become buggy.

It’s harder for me to justify Twitter’s time commitment. This sacrifice was made crystal clear when I stumbled upon a passage from Cal Newport’s book, Digital Minimalism:

“Assume, for example, that your Twitter habit effectively consumes ten hours per week. Thoreau would note that this cost is almost certainly way too high for the limited benefits it returns. If you value new connections and exposure to interesting ideas, he might argue, why not adopt a habit of attending an interesting talk or event every month, and forcing yourself to chat with at least three people while there? This would produce similar types of value but consume only a few hours of your life per month, leaving you with an extra thirty-seven hours to dedicate to other meaningful pursuits.”

I found myself asking: What is Twitter really costing me?

I didn’t enjoy writing threads and I barely remember the tweets I consumed during my daily hour-long scrolls. I don’t miss that sinking feeling that I wasn’t “good enough” when my content didn’t perform well (creators can relate). Ultimately, those feelings led to me no longer seeing Twitter as a fun, creative outlet, and instead treating it as a popularity contest.

When I stopped posting three weeks ago, I went from spending one and a half hours a day on Twitter to 20 minutes. I’ve been using this newfound time for high-quality leisure: reading, surfing, trying new Szechuan restaurants with friends, and napping (yes, that counts).

Now What?

I’m not fully decided on where I stand with social media. As creatives, we depend on these platforms to have a presence and connect with others. Is quitting cold turkey really a viable option?

Reading Newport’s passage, I think yes, it could be. The solution lies in thinking outside the box, where you translate Twitter’s online benefits into IRL ones. For example, if you use Twitter to “connect” with new people, attending a conference or seminar could have a similar effect.

Personally, I’ve found traveling alone to be a great avenue for serendipity. I meet people I would never chat with otherwise, and walk away inspired and full of ideas for future articles. But you don’t have to travel to get this benefit—try going to a bar trivia, runner’s group, or trying any new group activity or public meeting place alone and you’ll meet more people than you’d expect.

A few days ago, I returned to Twitter to see if I could use it in a way where it wouldn’t drive me crazy. Here’s how I’m going about this:

→ I log out. This helps curb my consumption as it’s not as easy to pick up where I left off (apps have a profit-bearing incentive to keep us logged in).

→ I avoid Twitter until noon-ish. This helps me avoid triggering my stress response first thing in the morning, which could put me on edge for the rest of the day. Instead, I focus on my morning routine and writing for clients.

→ I “batch” content to reduce time spent online. I’ve found that spending 1-2 hours batching and scheduling content is x10 more efficient than creating content once a day.

As for using Twitter professionally, I landed my first freelance writing clients—at $250 an article—with a non-existent social media presence. I didn’t have a newsletter or even a website; just a really good cold pitch and writing samples. These two factors are more likely to get clients for my business instead of a thread on “Why Twitter is worth more than an MBA” (IYKYK).

For now, I’ve returned to Twitter in a less serious “business” mindset and more so to just have fun. Whether this means I’ll be back for good, who knows. It all depends, as Chrissy Teigen said, on when Twitter “no longer serves me as positively as it serves me negatively.”

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