Don't Tweet Away Your Best Ideas

In a recent post, Jonathan Fields asked whether Twitter was the ultimate creation killer. It can be.

One of the things I learned during the Oregon Trail Chronicles was that there were a surprising amount of things that I was doing that actually prevented me from doing the things that I was the best at. I’m a maven, in case you haven’t figured it out – I take information, ideas, and structures and make something novel with them.

When I reviewed all of the things that were more core activities, Twitter was one of the first things to go. It goes deeper than that, though: I noticed that some of my best stuff went to Twitter and never went any further.

You can do a lot with 140 characters, mind you, but there’s a lot you can’t. Whereas I won’t say that I lot of people are using Twitter wrong, I can definitely say that I was using it in exactly the opposite way than I should have. Rather than tweeting the idea first and then never developing it, I needed to develop the idea first and then tweet about it.

This seems obvious in hindsight, but ask yourself how many of your ideas you’ve “shared” on Twitter that never went any further.  It’s amazing how easily our daily habits can thwart our broader objectives without us realizing what’s going on.

To poke into the wound a little more, consider the relatively short lifespan of a tweet: “if you are looking to get retweeted and nobody picks your tweet up within the first hour, chances are that nobody ever will.”

One hour. Poof!

One of the advantages of blogging BT (Before Twitter) was that you actually leveraged your own platform to develop ideas. Aside from commenting on other blogs or forums, you didn’t really have a place for your great ideas to go. Twitter changed all of that – in some ways for the better, in some ways for the worst. Mavens are the ones who are most disadvantaged by Twitter if they don’t leverage it in the right way.

The way Twitter distracts us is bad enough, but perhaps the thing we’ve lost more than time is our own great work. If you’ve got an idea worth sharing, Twitter is indeed the place to share it, but it’s not the place to develop it.

Rather than continually giving people a whiff of the pies you’re not baking, bake the pie and then give them a piece. Or, less metaphorically, split creating and connecting into two different modalities of action.

Simply put, Twitter is a better megaphone than it is a lab.

Here’s the challenge: the next time you have an idea worth sharing, don’t share it first on Twitter. Develop it and then share it on Twitter.

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  1. says

    Using it wrong?

    I don’t know about that, unless business if the only reason somebody is on Twitter.

    I know I’m the productivity anti-christ, but to me Twitter is more about fun than anything.

    Sure I use it to promote stuff I’ve written and ideas I’m ruminating on, but if I didn’t have fun there I’d find another way to do that.

    • says

      We each have our different purposes, which is why I say I won’t tell other people they’re using it wrong. I have a lot of fun on Twitter, too – I also can gave fun while doing other things at the same time.

      It always cracks me up how much your mental models seem to split work and fun. I’m sure it cracks you up that I’ve merged them. :)

      • says

        I agree with Tim – I think too many people confuse Twitter-the-business-tool with Twitter-the-pleasant-time-waster. I’ve never seen any real return on my “blog business” from my time spent on Twitter, so I try to look at Twitter for what it is: an occasional pleasant diversion. Despite all the breathless reviews of Twitter, it is, at the end of the day, a distraction and nothing more.

        Just my opinion :)

    • says

      I get what the author is trying to say, that bloggers who want people to come and visit their site where their fully developed ideas live are misusing Twitter if they only tweet about it without giving it more thought or taking the idea further.

      Twitter is good for fun, and I use it for that, but I also rely on it for getting people to look at my blog.

  2. says

    Simply put, Twitter is a better megaphone than it is a lab.

    I’m grateful you pointed this out this simple strategy.

    I’m fairly new to Twitter and still getting a handle on how to use it effectively. If I am honest, I haven’t gotten a firm grasp on it just yet.

    Fortunately for me, from reading your post, it appears that I am doing the right things so far. I’ll just keep on keeping on and slowly build my presence on Twitter.

    Thanks again.

    • says

      I’m glad this helped, Rich! It does take a while to build critical mass, but it’s one of those things that if you never put the time in before you have a real presence, you never get a presence.

  3. says

    Very thought provoking – I see my own behavior described here. I recently observed the wisdom to develop first, when I Tweeted about my Slideshare and had over 200 views in a few days. Clearly better than a few retweets of an undeveloped idea.

    The fact that I found this post via Twitter, linked to it, read it, and was moved to comment supports your Tweet worthy point. “Twitter is a better megaphone than it is a lab.”

    • says

      Thanks, Greg – I’m happy to hear that the post itself was a proof of concept. And you’re absolutely right: I Slideshare that’s viewed 200 times is better than a tweet that’s retweeted four times. :)

  4. says

    I don’t disagree with you, Charlie, but I have had an opposite experience.

    Perhaps it’s in my approach. I hatch an idea and consider it’s possibilities. Then I consider my audience. Instead of thinking that I know them better than I do, I ask them a pointed but open-ended question about the idea I’m working on.

    Their answers often shift my perspective, allowing me to grow my idea and tailor it more directly to their needs.

    For example, just last week I was sitting down to write a post on boredom. So I asked “How often do you experience boredom?” To my shock, about 1 person out of 4800 admitted to being bored on occasion. Follow up questions ensued.

    Well, I drastically altered my piece, turning it into a four part series that helped people realize that “busyness is not the opposite of boredom.”

    That four part series will now be a free workbook download. Something I would have never created had I not first explored the idea on Twitter.

    I think the key is to engage your idea as conversation and not just broadcast it. If you can develop your idea with the help of those who will consume it, I don’t think you can go wrong.

    • says

      I think the key is to engage your idea as conversation and not just broadcast it. If you can develop your idea with the help of those who will consume it, I don’t think you can go wrong.

      This is a complementary experience, Tara, and I’m glad you shared it. The challenge I’ve seen is that people aren’t quite using it as broadcast nor as a development portal. I also wondered whether the conversations helped you develop the idea itself or helped you determine what you wanted to write about. They’re two different but complementary perspectives.

      Thanks for sharing – you’ve got me thinking about whether I need to follow-up and be clearer next time. :)

      • says

        Hmm – It was more that Twitter allowed me to develop a more relevant approach to the topic for my readers.

        Had I gone forward with my original approach, I think it would have been a complete dud! Instead, they really thought I was “reading their minds” – which is a comment I get a lot about my writing. I think the way I use Twitter really helps with that!

  5. says

    Very good point!

    Somewhere on my whiteboard, I know it says “look back at old twits for ideas for blog”. Haven’t done it yet, but I think there may be something there I’ve forgotten!

    • says

      Glad it helped, Annie. I’ve shifted from “look back at old tweets” to “develop ideas in the idea garden.” I think that, for me, once I tweet it, it’s “out there,” whereas if it’s in the Idea Garden, it still needs to be shared.

  6. Archan Mehta says


    Twitter isn’t for everybody, that’s for sure.

    A lot of people can do without it. A lot of people have done without it. For many, it’s just another distraction.

    Throughout history, a lot of our greatest contributors have done without twitter and they have reaped rich rewards.

    V.S.Naipaul never used twitter and he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. And he’s in very good company too.

    Speaking for myself, well, I would ra- ther read the classics than join the “flavour of the month” club.

    No, thank you. These fads are not my cup of tea. Then again, who knows?

    Tomorrow is another day and I may change my mind.

    Until then, I am happy without Twitter for company and I have better ways to spend my time. Thanks for a great post and spread good cheer.

  7. says

    Rather than twitter wasting my time, I found it to be helping me save time because I get to read great ideas/pointers/core info within 20 minutes from the people I follow (which I pick carefully) instead of hours googling about my niche and reading long blog posts.

    Twitter has been an idea generator for me and I guess, the less experts share in twitter, the less it will be for me too.

  8. says

    I really like this post,it chimes with something i have found over the years.
    If you talk too much about an idea you have for something it dissipates the energy to actually ‘do’ it.
    “Bake the pies and then give them a slice”,
    gonna put that up on my wall right now ,
    cheers Ron

  9. says

    As someone pointed out, “Foursquare has replaced Twitter as the mayor of distraction”. But as the comments above show, there are ways to use it for things other than filling time and/or broadcasting. I have met a number of interesting people through Twitter, a few IRL. So it’s another way of networking too.

  10. says

    I think Twitter has it’s uses….I’ve found some great people to follow and learn from there.

    But so many people tweet useless stuff….

    And I would NEVER tweet an “idea”….I know there are people out there looking for great ideas and would take mine in a heartbeat. Once I’ve developed the idea, I’ll tweet away!

  11. says

    I actually started my blog before I started my Twitter efforts, as I wanted to use Twitter as a satellite of my blog activities and content, it seemed like more meaningful to me.
    Your blog has a much bigger chance to develop ideas than a simple 140-characters Tweet, and using Twitter – but not just that – you can “easily” promote them.
    I believe most social media instruments aren’t meant to be stand-alone but to harmoniously work together to make a successful strategy.

  12. says

    I was actually struck by the title of this blogpost, that’s why I read it. I was thinking why not share your best ideas on twitter. So, I read your post and now I know why and I agree, “don’t share it first on Twitter. Develop it and then share it on Twitter. “

  13. Samira says

    Your website is truly the best I have come across in the past few years… :)
    I book marked it and resolved to read one post a day to start with..
    I know it ll help me in many ways…. thank you..

  14. says

    Hi Charlie,

    I have what might be called epanáli̱psi̱phobia, which is the fear of repetition (I made it up using good ol’ Google Translate!).

    I seem to think that I can only mention every idea once, and only once. If I repeat an idea, I’m not a good writer and am simply repeating a message that I’ve said before.

    But it’s only natural that we repeat ourselves, especially when we have an important message to share with the world.

    I think this is important for knowing how to use Twitter and when. I believe it’s healthy to throw ideas on Twitter and see how people respond to them before pursuing them anywhere else, or to extend the reach of your message after you’ve expressed it on your blog or anywhere else.

    Important messages need to be repeated.

    Important messages need to be repeated. 😛

  15. says

    “Rather than tweeting the idea first and then never developing it, I needed to develop the idea first and then tweet about it.”

    I think it can also be useful to tweet the idea first to test the waters (see if anyone responds), and – based on the responses you get – you can decide whether to turn that idea into a post, article, product, or whatever.

    Interesting perspective overall Charlie. I notice that I can think up good ideas all day and tweet about them, but actually building off those ideas is a whole other beast. I will definitely keep this all in mind next time I want to tweet a good idea.

  16. says

    Naunie, one of the wisest people I know, always warned me against being too quick to share an idea I was really excited about because some of that burning desire to do something is actually satisfied or relieved by the act of sharing it with others. —- Like building a fire: you want the kindling to really catch, then the twigs, then the split logs. NOW you’ve got a fire, not just a quick flame that burns out before it even reaches the logs.

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