Action Item: How to stop worrying and love Twitter
Visakan Veerasamy on building an audience by making internet friends
Welcome back to Action Items a series in which we condense and extend interviews with the smartest people in the world into bullet points — only for paid subscribers.
Visakan Veerasamy is the friendliest man on Twitter.
In a social media landscape dominated by outrage and cynicism, Visakan, or Visa as he’s known to his 26,000 internet friends, is a bouncy, earnest, autodidact using Twitter to connect and learn.
He’s the author of Friendly Ambitious Nerd, but he’s best known for writing multi-layered, interlinked Twitter threads on everything from relationships, to the way status shows up in different types of social settings and networks, to technology, to how Santa magic intersects with shamanism.
Our default perspective is that Twitter is a toxic place filled with people cynically trying to build their following however they can. And it certainly can be this.
But Visa doesn’t use it that way. He thinks of Twitter as a way to make friends—at scale. To him, each tweet is an invitation to connect with people, to share ideas, and enhance his perspective on the world.
To Visa, Twitter is what you make it. And he’s made it into a place full of optimism and connection. Which, incidentally, has also been great for building his audience.
In this interview, talk about what makes a good tweet, how he composes his threads, and how he deals with the inevitable negativity associated with being “extremely online.”
Today’s Action Item is 794 words, that’s 3 minutes and 58 seconds of actionable. reading.
Let’s dive in!
🌏 A good tweet is like an invitation to your audience
Every “utterance” (status, tweet, whatever) is a bit of an invitation, a bit of a proposal. “Let’s play this game”. When strangers read the proposal accurately, and support the game, a shared understanding develops. You can make friends this way.
“A good tweet is one that invites interesting replies,” Visa told me. Visa isn’t writing tweets to get famous, he’s writing tweets to enthusiastically connect with other humans. Here are three ways he uses Twitter:
- 📚To make asks. He recognizes that this gets more rewarding with more followers, but VIsa loves to ask what people are reading and what they recommend he read.
- 👬 To make friends. Visa says that he was a bookish kid without a ton of friends, and that Twitter, above almost anything else, has been a way to meet and connect with people he might not otherwise have access to, or whose thoughts and work he might not even know about. “It just enriches my life in a way that it's hard to fully articulate,” he told me.
- 🧠 To make sense of the world. “I want to participate in the goings on of the intellectual life of the planet, of the sphere,” he says. “Any more art, more beauty, everything outside of my head is potentially more interesting than everything inside.”
👑🧵 How he makes his famous threads
Visa’s thread game is a reflection of what he’s thinking and reading about in the moment. He might take a particularly successful conversation and turn it into an essay or a blog post, but the thread itself starts from a very loose framework.
- He looks through his notifications and timeline for inspiration. Anything that he finds interesting could be fodder.
- He just goes with whatever’s on his mind in the moment. Whether it’s something he’s been musing on for awhile, or a sudden shower thought, Twitter is the place he experiments with ideas, rather than polishing them first and then tweeting.
- He weaves all of his tweets together like a tapestry. Visa doesn’t just create new threads, he responds to his own tweets, sometimes from several years ago, to create a web of connected thoughts. “I have this existing body of work that I can call back on and combine, and the cool thing is because I do it in public, people respond to it,” he told me. “Sometimes people will link their own threads, and the whole thing kind of becomes this very ongoing, elaborate multiplayer connect-the-dots game.”
- 📚 Pro-tip: To link tweets and to see what he’s said in the past about a topic or an idea, he searches his own Twitter history using his Mac’s autocomplete function to fill in his username. He types FFF and it automatically inserts the search query—”from:visakanv”— to make the process fast. He set this up in his Mac preferences.
⚛️ Twitter threads distill thoughts to their atomic units
Though Visa’s threading is distinctive, it isn’t a stylistic gimmick. Threading is a useful way to build nuance into Twitter and learn from your audience.
Each tweet in a thread is a single thought. This allows people to easily react to and talk about his thoughts on an individual level—which isn’t as easy if they’re compiled into a huge essay.
“You now invite people to respond to things at the level of the individual tweet, which is the level of the individual thought,” Visa said about threading. “That just accelerates the search for what is interesting, what connects with people, what is novel.”
Inviting replies is his secret weapon. Most people use Twitter as a megaphone, Visa uses it as a walkie-talkie. “Being able to invite people to have a good time in the replies is an underrated skill, because you make friends this way.”
- 🖥🖥🖥 Pro-tip: Visa runs a three-monitor set-up, one of which is dedicated to Twitter.
👹 He’s developed antibodies for negativity
Negativity is still a huge issue for anyone who tweets regularly, and Visa works hard not to get bogged down by that element of Twitter. When he does, he thinks of how hungry he once was to connect with other people.
“I remember when I was young, I wanted to hear from people who are intellectually honest, and trying to make a difference and trying to be good public citizens,” he says. “So I remind myself of my audience—especially the younger people. If it can make a positive difference to some people, it's worth being misunderstood.”
📣 Key Takeaway
Twitter is Visa’s way of engaging in the intellectual life of the planet. By tweeting and replying incessantly with his audience he’s able to engage with people and ideas that fill him with joy—which makes him tweet more. It’s a process that feeds on himself over time.
“It’s obvious to me that if everyone kind of learned to do a bit more of this, the world would just be a much more interesting place. You can’t put a dollar value on this. It really just enriches my life, in a way that it's hard to fully articulate.”
This post was co-written by Dan Shipper and Annaliese Griffin.