Workplace

How Twitter uses Twitter

From private Spaces to work DMs, Twitter employees sound off on how they use the platform.

Twitter icon chatting Twitter icons

How Tweeps interact with their own platform and how non-Tweeps can make the most of it.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong, Protocol

We took you inside how Slack uses Slack, but how does Twitter use Twitter? And what tips do the real Tweeps — as Twitter refers to its employees — have for making the most of the one social media platform people can’t seem to get away from? This story is part of a series.

Alphonzo “Phonz” Terrell, the global head of Social and Editorial at Twitter, is responsible for Twitter’s tweets, which is perhaps the most meta (not Meta) job that has ever existed. His tweets are pretty iconic. His opinions on tweets are equally iconic.

He gave Protocol an inside look at how Tweeps interact with their own platform, as well as how non-Tweeps can make the most of it. The No. 1 Phonz Twitter rule: If you use an animated GIF, you are an old.

During a recent company all-hands, Terrell asked new CEO Parag Agrawal if he uses them. He doesn’t. “Apparently, he’s already ahead of the curve, so we chose the right guy,” Terrell said.

Hiding in plain sight

One interesting quirk of Twitter that savvy users might discover with some clever sleuthing is the fact that public responses to private accounts are public. Some might call it a design flaw, but essentially, you can look up any response to a private Twitter account by searching “to:<username>”.

"I am passionate about Bay Area sports and my hometown of San Francisco and Tweet a lot about current events in that part of the world. Hosting Spaces has been an awesome way to engage our shareholders, and we’ve been doing a quarterly post-earnings Space to be more accessible and hopefully inspire other companies to use Twitter to engage with investors who otherwise would not have access!" Ned Segal, chief financial officer

To see what Twitter employees are talking about, for example, you can look up replies to the private @TwitterOneTeam handle, which was originally created for the company’s inaugural global, in-person, all-hands event in 2018. Since then, according to a company spokesperson, the account has evolved into amplifying “the best of our people, inside jokes, special moments and more.” Or, as one senior engineer told Protocol in a DM on Twitter: “Literally internal memes.”

Early bird

Besides access to private meme accounts, Tweeps also get access to Twitter features ahead of the general public through the developer app Earlybird. The app looks just like Twitter, but with a slew of unreleased features that employees get to test and give feedback on to the product teams before everyone else. All Tweeps also get free access to premium Twitter features like Twitter Blue, the company’s latest and biggest bet on its power users, which plebeians can access through a subscription fee.

"As a fierce advocate for pay equity and gender equality, I use Twitter in a few ways. The first is listening to and learning from voices on the ground doing the work. The second is by reporting on our I&D progress at Twitter. Transparency is key to our journey, and each quarter, I make it a priority to share our latest representation numbers and narrative on how we’re doing." Dalana Brand, VP of People Experience and head of Inclusion & Diversity

Twitter rolled out Twitter Spaces, its answer to Clubhouse and what seems to be the platform’s best chance at a new hit, internally toward the end of 2019. During the Spaces pilot period on Earlybird, Terrell and others flagged the need for features like pinning and taking down Tweets in a Space, as well as adding captioning and a co-hosting feature.

Using Twitter for work

Unlike the rest of us, for whom Twitter is a temporary distraction from work, Tweeps actually use Twitter for, well, work. How does one do work on Twitter, you ask? Through DMs.

Some execs are even known to prefer receiving messages and pitch decks via Twitter DM rather than email, simply because they spend more time on Twitter than in their inbox. Chief among them: CMO Leslie Berland, who “loves her DMs,” according to Terrell.

"When I Tweet, it’s usually in both my mother tongue, Japanese, and English. If you’re curious about what I’m saying in Japanese, simply click on 'Translate Tweet' and the texts will automatically be translated by Google. Twitter is an international service, and language shouldn’t get in the way of finding what’s happening in the world." Yu-San Sasamoto, vice president, Twitter JAPAC

The social and editorial team at Twitter, as well as other teams, also does a lot of its work and communication through Twitter DMs rather than Slack or email. During the season finale of "Succession," for example, members used the team’s group DM to share creatives and brainstorm things like, “How can we make this a meme? Can we change this header?” Tweeps are, unsurprisingly, encouraged to be on Twitter.

One tip for wannabe Tweeps: if you’re looking for a job at Twitter, follow the @TwitterCareers handle. That handle only follows Twitter’s recruiters, and all those recruiters have their DMs open. If you’re interested in a job, it doesn’t hurt to slide into the recruiter’s DMs, said Terrell. And yes, you heard that correctly: This is one situation in which it is totally work-appropriate to slide into someone’s DMs.

"Twitter Lists and the ability to Mute keywords are two of my favorite underrated features. I pin curated Lists to my home timeline and can easily keep up with what’s happening beyond the accounts I follow. I have one List with entertainment talent, another for industry news and journalists, and one from @TwitterTogether called 'Diversify Your Feed' that I regularly scroll through. With Mute, I’ll plug in character names and series hashtags to avoid worrying about spoilers if I’m behind on a TV show that everyone is live-tweeting." Jenna Ross, head of TV Partnerships

Weekly AMAs with Parag

With CEO Parag Agrawal new to the role and still relatively unknown to a lot of Tweeps, Twitter wanted a way for all employees to get to know him. They started that last week with their first companywide Space called #LetsTalkTwitter, a sort of AMA led by Agrawal in which Terrell and others introduced the former CTO-turned-CEO, and during which Agrawal responded to questions from Tweeps, over 600 of whom attended.

"My fave way to use Twitter is tweeting out concepts we are working on. The community is so responsive and gives us amazing feedback. I love co-designing with them. We’ve also done a few Spaces regarding how we are trying to make Twitter safer, and those have been a blast as well." Anita Butler, head of Consumer Design

Employees submitted their questions through DMs to the hosts as well as through the hashtag. Usually, Spaces are all public, but this one was “Tweep-only” and will continue to happen on a weekly basis going forward. A private Spaces feature may be “on the roadmap” for non-Tweepers in the future, said Terrell.

Tweeps sound off on the edit button

“I feel like it’s a journey that every Twitter employee takes,” Terrell said about one of the most controversial, oft-suggested Twitter features: the edit button. (Twitter users have long cried for an option to edit an existing tweet, something that Twitter has resisted for years. Jack Dorsey even said one time after being repeatedly asked, “We’ll probably never do it.”)

"Our company culture really comes to life on Twitter through our Tweeps' Tweets. I love to see posts about events like #TweepUps or experiences like #BackToTheNest, and messages of gratitude for coworkers and managers with the hashtags #LoveWhereYouWork and #OneTeam." Julie Steele, head of Internal Communications

The journey that Terrell refers to is this: You start your job at Twitter, and like most non-Tweeps, are pro-edit button. “You think it’s so obvious, right? Like, of course, edit the tweets,” he said. Then as you spend more time at the company and are brought into the fold, you start to see the other side.

Here’s the classic argument Tweeps make against the edit button: Say you were to tweet a news article with one headline, but then you decide to change the headline. That change “changes the entire context” of your tweet, but by the time you change it, perhaps tens of thousands of people have already retweeted you. Those people thought they were elevating one message, but turns out, they were actually promoting a different one than they originally thought when they retweeted it.

"As a flaming extrovert, one of the best parts of my job is bringing our company and community together in person. Twitter kept that going for me during the months I was stuck in my house. We transitioned our events like #TwitterForGood Day and #HackWeek to fully-remote, and conversations on Twitter seamlessly took the place of cocktail hours and chats in the hallway." Karl Robillard, head of Social Impact

Most people at Twitter go through that philosophical evolution, said Terrell, and after a year or two at the company, most end up turning around and saying, “Yes, I get why we don’t do it.” (Tweeps, this journalist’s DMs are open if you disagree…)

"Lists are a great way of 'irrigating' your Twitter feed into different topics and interests. So I have one for people who tend to Tweet about my football team (Wolves), another for the media and ad industry, another I've simply called "radiators" full of positive, warm people you can just have a chat with. You can pin your lists to the top of your Twitter feed once you've curated them and easily swipe between them." David Wilding, director of Planning at Twitter U.K.

For folks frustrated about this, the next best feature is Twitter Blue, which has an option to undo a tweet within 10 seconds of posting. Alternatively, as Terrell put it, “There is an edit button in your brain.” In other words, think before you tweet.

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