Ten Questions for a Twitter Ghostwriter | #223
May 20th, 2023: Greetings from Austin! My daughter turned 11 weeks this Friday. The last few months feel like a total blur but she’s sleeping a bit more at night and during the day so it feels like time is slowing down a bit. She’s smiling a bit and laughing with us. It’s one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had. On to the newsletter…
🤝 I’m hosting an informal meetup in Austin on June 6th, please reply to let me know if you’d like to join!
#1 Anonymous Q&A With Twitter Ghostwriter
I’ve chosen a path that involves creating and sharing content online. I generally like it and have fun with it. When I started doing this I was pretty insecure about it. I knew that most people in my world looked down upon people doing social media stuff. Ugh, Influencer people. But eventually, I realized: Wow I’m actually sharing things I genuinely care about and connecting with people that also give a damn about these things. This is WAY better than pretending to care about stuff to random clients in the service of keeping my career going.
I’ve had fun sharing ideas here in this newsletter, on Twitter, and in a couple of other places. Over the last few years, I’ve seen a shift in the number and types of people that were showing up to share ideas. They seemed much less like the blogging types I met when I first started sharing in 2015 and seemed much more like the gung-ho career types I had
People were not sharing ideas, they were BUILDING AUDIENCES™. When you are building an audience, the most important thing is the metric: how many followers do you have? Make numbers go up and then when you have a massive number, you can start to sell things and make money.
I’ve never been interested in this all-out pursuit of audience growth. The problem with it is that it is algorithm-first instead of curiosity or interest-driven. I am not naive to the algorithm but I’m just not going to post a “Here are 27 AI tools you need to know” thread.
There are a couple of reasons why I avoid this kind of behavior.
First, I already had a job in the past and don’t want one again. I want to just like what I do. Second, I actually think it’s a bad strategy over the long term and my only goal is to basically not have to go back to employment. Not only do formulaic strategies alienate some of the most enthusiastic people who might root for you, but they also just make you dislike what you are doing and that means a high risk of burnout.
As the audience-building gold rush has intensified, I’ve noticed all sorts of hacks and services that have emerged to help people GROW. One of these is Twitter Ghostwriting. There’s nothing wrong with ghostwriting. When done well you are Ted Sorensen channeling the true essence of JFK. But at worst, it’s just algorithm optimization all the way down.
Over the past year, I’ve gotten to know a few of these people1 who actually do this kind of work and one of them was kind enough to share responses to a bunch of questions I had.
I thought his reflections were pretty interesting:
#1 What percentage of active big accounts do you think are currently using ghostwriters?
There are 2 parts to this: I would say 60% of big accounts use a ghostwriter to some degree. But almost none of them initially built their account using a ghostwriter. They built the following themselves, and once their brand is established and they start to run out of ideas, they'll hire a ghostwriter to maintain the account. But the creator often still contributes some original content.
#2 How much does one pay for such services?
$1,000 a month is the low end, all the way up to $10,000 a month (I personally have never charged that much, but some well-known ghostwriters can charge that much for a pretty involved project). The difference in pricing is mostly based on the expertise and credibility of the ghostwriter. On the low end, you're basically hiring a copywriter. On the high end, you're hiring someone who has already built up large accounts in your niche before and knows exactly how to do it.
#3 What are these people hoping to get from this service? Are you surprised how much people want to just increase metrics or do some have a deeper game they are playing?
Clients either want to make money or become famous. Most of them sell some sort of service (consulting, premium newsletter, etc) and mostly view Twitter as a marketing channel. These ones are easier to work with. But others want to be famous - either in their industry to gain valuable connections, or in general, so they can get on TV or build some sort of lifestyle influencer brand. I have been surprised to learn how obsessed this group can become with metrics. Instead of creating content, they enjoy or like, they'll start to change their voice to fit a template of viral content. In other words, metrics become more important than their voice.
#4 What is the most surprising thing you've seen from people who hire you to do this stuff?
Many of the crazy stories were from 2021-early 2022 working with crypto people. A lot of them were people who came into a ridiculous amount of money but really had no idea how to run a business. One paid $1,000 for a big account (150k followers) to retweet a single tweet. Another paid me $3,000 to come up with 10 memes for them. Others would send me NFTs that I could sell for $5,000 for just 5 hours of work. Just stupid money being thrown around with no real goal. But those days are gone. The most surprising thing I've seen lately is how inclined people are to copy another well-known account's success. Every month or so, we'll see a unique account break through and achieve viral success. This creates a new category, and dozens or hundreds of people will rush to copy this person, even if it doesn't fit their actual brand.
#5 Are these people happy? What drives them?
Great question. About 2/3 are happy I would say. These clients know exactly what they want to accomplish and don't worry too much about analytics. They run a lifestyle business and view Twitter as a way to share ideas, meet cool people, and pick up some clients. However, I would say about 1/3 of them are pretty unhappy. They are using Twitter/social media to feed their ego and gain approval from others. There's never enough engagement and they have this deep desire to be liked and to appear very smart, without necessarily putting in the work to accomplish that.
#6 Are there ways to grow quickly that aren’t totally growth hacky and can be genuine? It seems like being genuinely funny and interesting works (obvious but maybe not)
Absolutely. The best way is to have accomplished something interesting. People will want to hear about how you did it. And people will actually care about your thought on things if you have credibility. The growth hacks are fine, but only if there's some substance behind your brand. But plenty of people are building followings solely based on a trend and In 2 years their following will be worthless when the trend changes.
#7 Are you using AI tools?
No, I don't. Have tried ChatGPT and its content is fine but pretty basic (aka it won't break through the noise of all the other basic content)
#8 Does the timing of tweets matter?
Timing doesn't matter that much. Engagement is much higher when some big news just broke. But besides that, I haven't seen any consistent patterns. Good content tends to get good engagement no matter when it's posted.
#9 How do you think about adopting someone else’s voice and style
I try to read or listen to as much of their actual thoughts as I can. I read old newsletters they wrote and listen to podcasts they've been on or hosted. I start to pick up little pieces here and there. Adopting someone's voice feels like putting together a 1,000-piece puzzle. They might give me the first 100 pieces by telling me broadly how they think, but then I need to talk with them in detail or dig into their old content to find the remaining pieces
#10 How many big accounts are original?
Maybe 50%. The easiest way to build a huge following is to take top content from Reddit or Instagram and post it to Twitter. Many large financial meme accounts basically do this, or they recycle the sane meme format a million times. They have huge followings but they're basically worthless because the creator has no unique voice. I know some people get to 100k followers this way who were surprised to learn they couldn't make more than a few hundred bucks a month advertising with sleazy advertisers. They've built followings that are 1,000 Miles wide and 1 inch deep
Do you have any final advice for people thinking about creating generally?
You've touched on it a bit with your questions, but I think it's important for people to consider why they're building an audience. If it's just to be famous or hit some huge number, don't do it.
#2 Alex Hardy On Trusting The Universe
I interviewed my good friend in Austin, Alex Hardy. We had a wide-ranging conversation about hoop-jumping, living life as a “worker,” Andrew Taggart, mindfulness, breathwork, investment banking, forgotten hobbies, and sabbaticals.
It was an in-person convo and I think comes out a little more fun than some other conversations.
#3 On Using Social Media While Maintaining Your Soul
This essay is actually a nice reflection on how to do the opposite of Twitter ghostwriting and aiming at an infinite audience. Michelle outlines her own journey grappling with the fact that if she doesn’t actually share the stuff she cares so much about, no one will actually find it:
While I was trapped in a cage of perfectionism, my sister texted our friends to let them know we launched a podcast. She created our first posts on Instagram. She even shared those posts on her personal social media pages, something I still find hard to do today.
Initially, I was annoyed because I wanted her to be stuck in the cage of perfectionism with me. But almost immediately, we heard back from our friends. They told us they had already hit play and were so excited for our next episode.
and how she thinks about it now:
Selfishly, I would like you to share and promote your writing1.
I don’t mean an ambiguous you. I mean literally you.
You, who is reading this from your toilet, your couch, your uncomfortable work chair balancing a dog in your lap and a child pulling your hair.
Your writing is good. It’s interesting. I’m a fan.
Ask yourself, “what good thing could happen if more people read my writing?”
I did a podcast with Michelle a couple of months ago about her experience taking a sabbatical. It was one of the most listened-to episodes.
I think her writing is awesome and hope she keeps going. If I had to make a prediction, I think she’s going to write a book that will be huge. Let’s see…
#4 Nietschze on Genius
“all [geniuses] had that diligent seriousness of a craftsman, learning first to form the parts perfectly before daring to make a great whole. They took time for it, because they had more pleasure in making well something little or less important, than in the effect of a dazzling whole. For example, it is easy to prescribe how to become a good short story writer, but to do it presumes qualities which are habitually overlooked when one says, “I don’t have enough talent.” Let a person make a hundred or more drafts of short stories, none longer than two pages, yet each of a clarity such that each word in it is necessary; let him write down anecdotes each day until he learns how to find their most concise, effective form; let him be inexhaustible in collecting and depicting human types and characters…let him contemplate the motives for human behavior, and disdain no hint of information about them, and be a collector of such things day and night. In this diverse exercise, let some ten years pass: and then what is created in the workshop may also be brought before the public eye.
Thanks For Reading!
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It’s pretty interesting how many people proactively message me to talk about the craziness in the creator economy. I think this is because I more or less just share what I think, don’t try to hack algorithms and write all my own stuff. This has attracted what I call “good followers” or really, people I’d love to hang with in real life.