Using Twitter to Build Your Personal Brand — Interview with Stefanie Ginster, Career Conversations Founder

This interview has been condensed for length. To see or listen to the full interview, click the video link above.

Chris Cornthwaite: [00:00:14] OK, so it is an absolute privilege today to have Stefanie Ginster with me. Stefanie is a PhD student in skin cancer research. She’s probably better known, if I may say, for her work helping academics promote their work on Twitter. And she has a wildly popular Twitter account called Career Conversations, and she also has a quickly growing YouTube channel under the same name.

She grew a following of more than twenty thousand followers on Twitter. And two years ago, she didn’t have that following. She started with an academic podcast that barely had any listeners because people couldn’t find it. And it made her realize the importance of a strong online presence. And she kind of started to ask yourself the question, how can you get your work in front of more people? The more people who see your work after all, the more they can support you and the more kind of impact you can have.

Stefanie, welcome. I’m so glad you’re here.

Stefanie Ginster: Yes, I’m very excited to be here.

Chris: I’m really excited to have this conversation. And I mean, it’s such a fun topic. And it’s funny because I posted a thing on Twitter earlier in the week because I wrote a post this week called How I Got to 10,000 Followers on Twitter. And the really funny thing about that post is that you got to 20,000 followers in the same time that I got 10,000. So, I obviously have a lot to learn from you. I want to talk a lot about Twitter. But maybe just before we get to like the nuts and bolts of how to actually use Twitter, I mentioned a little bit of your story in the intro, but maybe can you tell me tell me a little bit more about how you kind of got into this world of being a kind of Twitter celebrity?

[00:02:02] Why Twitter

Stefanie: Twitter celebrity, well, (laughs) I started actually having an academic podcast that was about academic careers because I was very fed up with the job prospects that we had. So, I wanted to inspire people to pursue a career that really fulfills them. And I had really good guests on the podcast. I even had a Nobel Prize winner, but nobody listened to the podcast because nobody found it. And I was actually no Twitter consumer at home. I realized academics were on Twitter, so I have to understand it. And I’m thinking maybe this is my answer, that I haven’t been like an intuitive Twitter user and had to learn everything from an intellectual standpoint. So I was really strategic and I looked at several Twitter videos, but they were all not very good. So instead then I looked at people that give more like Instagram and YouTube advice. And then I adopted their advice to Twitter.

And this was actually awesome because I was able to grow so fast with that Instagram strategies that I have adopted.

Chris: So do you remember a moment like when you were kind of starting on Twitter? Do you remember having a moment where you realized, like, “Hey, this is going to work”? Or like seeing starting to see things take off? Do you remember what that was like?

[00:03:18] On Growing a Twitter Following

Stefanie: Yes, it was actually as soon as I got a little bit strategic. One of the most important strategic tips as time progressed, was to find people doing something similar to you and interact with their audience.

As soon as I did that, I saw tremendous growth. So, yeah, once I realized that I set myself the goal to 50 followers per week. And I also set myself the goal, it was in August, so I decided I want to have 10000 followers by the end of the year and I managed to do that. And then next August, I have twenty thousand followers. That was actually within a year.

I want to ask you something that I think about a lot. How important are Twitter followers? That’s like kind of where I want to like I want to think through because I know I see a lot of people like only five more followers and then I have five hundred or only, you know, are like, oh, 50 people and followed me today. And like we do pay attention. And even though I don’t really tweet about my numbers, I obviously notice too. Right. So how do you kind of view that? Is it vitally important? Like how do you how do you view that metric of, like, the number of followers you have?

[00:07:17] The Value of Engaged Followers

Well, I’m actually only interested in engaged followers, so people that are interacting with my tweets on a regular basis.

There are two reasons. First of all, right now I run a business, so I drove as many potential customers as possible. So, in that sense, I care about followers because there are more potential customers. But actually having a lot of followers that are not really interested in what you have to say is going to harm you in the long term (because of the Twitter algorithm). Ultimately I prefer to have fewer followers, but those are really interested in what I have to say rather than a lot of followers. 

Why don’t we talk a little bit about that and then we’ll get into some of the algorithm stuff. But how do you how do you find those people? How do you make sure those are the people that you’re speaking to and maybe even like how do you get rid of, not get rid of people, but like, how do you not attract the people you don’t want to?

[00:08:24]

Actually I get rid of people that are annoying quite often! And so if you don’t want to start a huge drama or something, you block people and you immediately unblock—this is called “soft blocking,” and then they stop following you and you don’t show up in their timeline anymore. And this problem solves itself.

[00:10:00] On Finding Your Voice

Yeah. OK, so I want to ask about finding your voice. It’s something I think about a lot. And before you get into knowing algorithm, you need to kind of know what you have to say. Do you think like when you’re and I know you engage with a lot of people because you do kind of like consulting on helping people get better at using their Twitter. Do you find that this is a place a lot of people get hung up on and like finding, “Do I actually have anything to say? Is it worth saying? Should I say it?” What are the objections you hear about finding your voice and the challenges people have?

People don’t really phrase it like this. It is more like, “I’m scared to talk to that many people. I don’t know if I have a lot of value to add it like that.”

And actually, when I do the first coaching session, it’s usually dedicated to this whole self-value thing. So, we talk a lot about what they feel they are good at, completely independent from their PhD. And then, eventually, they find out that they also super good at organizing and productivity and business, for instance. Even if you’re a new PhD candidate, this is still some value that you can get, even like to assistant professors, also full professors. If you are super structured in, you know, how you organize your day or something, this is value you can add to all academics.

The problem with your talents is usually you don’t notice that this is a talent that other people would like to have because it is so natural to you. So, this is what I recommend others what we are focusing on a lot just now.

[00:11:38] On PhDs finding their voice

OK, so do you find do you find that those PhDs, do they have something to say and they just have trouble saying it? Or more frequently, do you find that people feel like they should use Twitter. And even though they don’t want to, they feel like academics need to use Twitter to be successful?

Well, it is both, actually. And there’s also this little caveat that, “I’m an academic. I should use Twitter, but I shouldn’t tweet unless I have a paper.”

And then the whole world will find it because just one magical tweet. (*Sarcasm)

Yes. Yes, exactly. There was actually one person who put coaching with me on a grant application because they couldn’t afford it by themself, but they said, “I will then start as soon as my paper is out.” And I told him, I would do it exactly the other way around. Started the following that is interested in what you have to say before you launch a paper, because you don’t want people, you’re not writing your paper to entertain your followers. Your building your followers because you know that they are going to read your work.

[00:15:18] Using the Twitter algorithm

So how you actually play this game, and I don’t know if you’d agree with this, but I kind of find that it’s a bit of a game sometimes? And how do you start to build that following? And what are some of the tricks that you tell people or that you that you would give people if they’re starting out, to grow?

OK, so the first thing that people need to understand is you need to give physically, you need to give Twitter what it wants and what Twitter wants is more ad revenue. And in order to get more ad revenue, it needs to keep people on the platform for longer so that it can show people more.

So the way that Twitter keeps people on the platform for longer is by showing them more interesting content.

And in order to determine which type of content is interesting, usually Twitter looks at the amounts of people that have seen a tweet and the amount of people that have interacted with a tweet. And this is also, by the way, why it is so important to have engaged followers. I mean, you can even buy followers, but those people are not going to interact with your tweets. So, it looks like you have 10000 followers, and you get three likes or something for each tweet. So Twitter’s going to think, “this guy is not very interesting” and it is not going to waste other people’s time with your tweets. So, you’re actually hurting Twitter.

[00:16:55] Yeah, I heard I heard you say at one point, this is why I like follow-for-follow is such a bad strategy in building.

[00:17:02] Yes, exactly. And as soon as you’ve understood that, that it is all about engagement, it actually becomes quite easy because then. For instance, I always ask questions on Twitter and this is a nice side effect that you also get to do a lot of market research by asking questions.

[00:23:24] The importance of an optimised profile

And then another super important thing is to have a profile. Where it is actually clear within a split second what your profile is all about, because people are not going to work to find out how you are going to add value to them. If it is not clear they’re just moving onto the next profile. And most people completely miss out on the header image to kind of visualize what it is that they are doing. For instance, in my header image, I have a computer and a phone and I have a little tag line. So, I hope that subconsciously people are realizing that I’m doing something digital. And my tagline is, “your work deserves to be seen.” So I’m hoping that this kind of comes across.

And then I have a little bio also that just says I show academics how to promote their work on Twitter. So it is very straightforward. And lots of people are just trying to cram so many things into that bio. At the end of the day, they’re not really talking about anything and it is not of any value for the person was just discovering them.

So use simple language and yet choose your main area that you are tweeting about.

This interview has been condensed for length. To see or listen to the full interview, click the video link above.

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