I don't always think of Twitter as the best place to engage with readers. Often, it's a brilliant way to share my own content--it's helped me greatly as a journalist since about 2008. The links are short, the tweets are pithy. You can tag people quickly and move on.

Unlike other social nets, you can't really expound that much on your viewpoint. I've read comments on my articles that run an entire page on Facebook. On Twitter, the tweets with a comment max out at 140 characters (in most cases; Twitter recently expanded this to 280 characters for some users). It's not exactly the right place to write a novel.

Recently, I found out that it is an amazing way to engage with a large audience in a way I didn't expect or at least had not taken advantage of fully.

Of course, it helps that Elon Musk tweeted one of my articles. Long story--it was about an AI god who writes a bible. (He was mostly critical of the Uber engineer who is starting an AI religion, and for good reason. It's a scary concept, but it might happen.) At last count, there are now 22,000 likes on the tweet and around 6,200 retweets. What's most interesting to me, though, is how it gave me an inside track to interact with a wide audience.

Even though the retweets have a character limit, it was still a great way to jump into the fray and connect with users. I had a good reason to engage as the author of the article in the tweet. Many people are interested in the topic of an AI god, to the point where it would make an excellent topic for a book. And, my plan is to keep writing about AI in general because it is such a major buzzword right now, changing the underlying purpose of major companies like Amazon and Google. And, it's a fascinating topic.

Of course, if you go to this "next level" of engagement, be ready to put on a virtual suit of armor. Some of the retweets were slightly obnoxious, although most of them were supportive of the article and provided some great insights. In the article, I talk a bit about my own faith, and a few users were critical of that. In other cases, there was a little confusion over the point of the article--whether I supported the idea of creating an AI god (I don't) and whether that's dangerous (it is). Another said I was biased. Not at all. The article was mostly quotes from many other sources with a simple footnote at the end.

Fortunately, it gave me a great forum to discuss these ideas.

That's incredibly valuable and enriching. Sometimes, what you write falls flatter than a pancake. Few people notice. When an article hits this level of exposure, it's quite a shock. Friends commented on my Facebook feed, noting how unusual it is. (Musk will sometimes post a comment about AI or promote Tesla in some way; he rarely tweets article links.) And, when the most famous person in tech tweets your article, it leads to other reporters writing about the tweet. Who knew? CNBC wrote an article and created a video about the tweet and the content of my article, although it would have been nice if they had contacted me directly for a comment. The Independent also covered the topic,  quoting the article several times. It was picked up by a few blogs as well. Futurism  went on a bit of a tirade about it all. Even Fast Company, the sister site to Inc.com, wrote about the tweet.

In some ways, the entire episode this week restored my faith in Twitter as a social media platform meant for user engagement. Yes, the tweets are short and some are nonsensical. It's a rapid fire onslaught, one tiny text-sized sound bite after another. But it opened many doors with readers, and it's incredibly valuable. It made me realize that a handful of retweets is nice (and the norm), but 6,200 is a totally different beast. I'm still looking through the comments, and it might take me a few more days to read through more of them. But it's a goldmine. It's a vast collection of comments from people who care about the same topic, which is essentially the best definition of Twitter ever.

In the end, it wasn't about connecting with Musk himself. That's not going to happen. In fact, in my tweets to users, I didn't bother tagging Musk. He has no time.

Engaging on the topic? That was priceless.

Published on: Oct 26, 2017