If you struggle with the notion of self-promotion as much as I do then this post explains how to think of promoting your work as a series of small, meaningful, and consistent updates about your project. This can be a more manageable alternative to other forms of marketing, especially for busy founders, professionals, and small teams. The approach fits neatly into the hectic day-to-day reality of working on a project and building something. This post also includes some editable Twitter templates to get started with the process.
Imagine if Elon Musk waited till the Starship was complete to announce that he'd built a massive rocket that can bring a hundred people to space.
No. Instead we get to watch it explode, again and again.
We get to see the whole adventure, and we're all learning and talking about it as it's coming together.
There is no reason that you can't take the same approach when it comes to promoting your work.
We're not just talking about promoting a business. You could use this approach on a side project, an idea for something important, or maybe it’s an inspiring vision you want to share. Whether your project is about making money or not, there’s no reason you can’t take to Twitter and begin sharing your work in progress.
There's this pervasive idea that promoting a project means launching something fully formed out into the world.
While that may work for some, it is important to acknowledge that the final product is not the only thing that's interesting about your project.
If you're not sure how to start sharing your work: focus on what you're working on one day at a time.
The goal is to spend 15 to 20 minutes at the beginning or end of each workday, and explain what you did today (or what you're planning to do).
The day-to-day updates of something coming together as it’s being built. That's what a lot of people browse Twitter for.
Let’s say you have an interest in indo-saracenic architecture, origami, and birdwatching. Twitter lets you find people who care about each of these interests. It lets you curate a tiny world with opt-in, real-time, updates about each of these interests. You get to learn about the stuff these people learn, what they're up to, the questions they're asking, what they're reading, why they're working on things, and whatever else they're putting out into the world.
At this scale, the work you share doesn't need to be perfect. You don't have to worry about the outcome, you just have to focus on sharing one tiny bit of progress each today.
Talking about your work on the scale of a single day can be daunting at first so I’ve put together are a series of templates to help you get started. Chirr App is an online text editor that I work on, it’s a tool that helps people write and schedule Twitter threads. The Draft’s section in the app now has a free collection of editable Twitter templates that anyone can use to start sharing their work.
The prompts are broken down into 4 categories based on what stage of a project you are in.
If you're at the beginning of a project, you can talk about:
If you are in the middle of a project:
Show us some work-in-progress
If your work isn't something you can just take a picture of then share your process and methods instead.
Talk about doubts or confusion you're having as you work through things.
When you get to the end of a project you can:
Some days you'll be stuck in back-to-back zoom calls 🤷♀️ That’s why it's important to have other pieces of content on the back burner for a rainy day. Two great forms of backup content are:
All these examples are just meant to get you started. You can delete the prompts that you don't like, or you can modify them so that they're more relevant to your project and interests.
If you have your own ideas for prompts and patterns you'd like to use you can also create and store custom templates in Chirr App.
When something catches your eye on Twitter you can reuse it by saving the format as a custom prompt.
For example here is Steph asking an open-ended question.
I’ve seen her do this a few times and she always manages to create a wholesome discussion around ensuing interaction.
I might decide that this is something I want to try out. So I copy the tweet into Chirr App and then save it as a prompt. Asking the same question probably wouldn’t make sense for my audience so I want to ask a question I’m genuinely struggling with at a work. But I decide to keep Steph’s tweet as a reference and then I jot down some pointers for forming my own question tweet.
Make sure the question is short, specific, and easy to answer
Make sure to block out some time time to reply to anyone who takes the time to respond. Maybe I can even include a link to a tweet where the author didn’t do this, to remind myself of how bad faux engagement can look.
The first line on the template becomes the title in my prompt dashboard so I edit it down to ‘ask an open-ended question’ and now it shows up every time I need a prompt for something to tweet about. If I find more examples of great open-ended questions in the future I can add them as examples to this prompt.
The goal here is to build up a collection of ideas and suggestions in the form of editable Twitter templates that inspire you to talk about what you are working on sharing your work one day at a time.
Your minimum viable personality
Creating an online persona sounds scary and intimidating and feels icky, especially if you don't like the idea of self-promotion.
The important thing to understand is that if you're going to be sharing things online you will end up with a personal brand, whether you like it or not.
In 2011 a robot dinosaur named Fake Grimlock wrote a guest post that introduced the idea of Minimum Viable Personality to help navigate this murky terrain.
There are three fundamental questions you need to be able to answer.
How do you help people?
What do you stand for?
Who do you hate?
You need a mission, you need to stand for something, and you need an enemy.
Having all of this figured out is the result of writing in public, not a prerequisite. As counterintuitive as it may seem, it is the process of writing and sharing the work that helps you discover how best to talk about it. Sharing your thoughts in public acts as a forcing function that helps you refine and distill your online personality into a coherent whole that people can relate to.
Everyone reads stuff or pays attention to things because there's something in it for them. Your writing doesn't have to be utilitarian, your service can be amusement, if you're just sharing silly jokes or explaining how things work, that still counts as helping people.
The bottom line is that if you want people to pay attention you need to be clear about what they will get in return. How do you help people? What will you help people get better at? How do you change people's lives? What are you bringing to the table?
The first question is perhaps the most important but it can also take the longest to figure out. Without some form of offering here, you're just journaling in public. One of the key differences between writing for yourself and writing for other people is this element of service to your readers.
What do you stand for?
These are your values, the stuff you love, the things you get. This is what's important to you.
You don’t have to make a list and write your values down. You’re welcome to if you want to but this isn’t an exercise. The point of having a mission and defining what you stand for is that they become recurring themes in your writing.
You start by sharing what you are working on one day at a time. People begin to resonate and interact with certain things more than others. This feedback acts as guidance and helps you understand the intersections between the things you stand for and what other people care about.
If you just talk about what you care about without any regard for other people then you are just journaling. On the other hand, if you just tailor everything to what people want to hear then you become human spam. Much like it is in real life, developing a personality is about navigating these two extremes and using feedback to find pockets of interest that you can about and people can relate to. The more you consolidate and explore these intersections the clearer and more relatable your online personality becomes.
The last piece to the puzzle is who you hate. You need an enemy.
Hate is a strong word. You don't need to be aggressive about it. You can playfully poke at it if you want but you need an element of conflict to keep things interesting.
Your enemy doesn't have to be a person, it can be an idea or a phenomenon, but there needs to be battle, an honest struggle with the world you grapple with.
If your mission is to end world hunger and you stand for liberty, equality, and fraternity, that's all well and good but don't expect people to treat you like a real person. On the other hand, if you also have a dysfunctional relationship with office printers and you sprinkle in references to your loathing for the sordid technology, that's a lot more relatable and I'll probably take your world hunger stuff more seriously.
The idea of a minimum viable personality is a simple and playful framework for thinking about this process. 3 questions that you can periodically ask yourself and use to guide the recurring themes in your writing. These are the fewest number of elements the need to come together to form a relatable, 3-dimensional character.
The beautiful thing about Twitter is that you don't need to have all of this figured out when you get started. You gradually discover what your mission is as you talk about what you're working on. You unearth values you care about and you will find enemies along the way. This process doesn't happen overnight. It can take months or a year, and it’s okay to figure things out as you go.