The rule is simple and only a guideline, but it gives you a broad understanding of what it takes to find friends online:
To make 1 friend online, you need to spend considerable time and effort connecting with 10 acquaintances, which you’ll only find by actively participating within a 100-person subset of a community (e.g. WordPress plugin founders who are interested in building in public and Gutenberg), which you’ll only be able to find by consistently getting in front of a 1,000 person community (e.g. WordPress professionals who are always on Twitter).
If you think this sounds like a lot, you’re right. It is. But that’s generally what it takes.
And if you know anything about marketing, then yes, this is very much like a marketing funnel/flywheel/whatever bullshit they call it these days.
Why bother with this rule?
It’s to help fix misconceptions by setting a clearer expectation of how to find friends online.
Here are some common misconceptions people have:
“I’ll schedule daily/weekly tweets and grow from there”
This is wrong because passively tweeting is like standing outside a party and talking to yourself. The party is inside. You actually have to engage for things to work.
“My goal is to get 10k followers in 6 months”
And then what? This is one of those empty goals where after you achieve it, you realise how meaningless it actually is.
Followers ≠ friends.
When I talk about consistently getting in front of 1k people, I don’t mean accruing 1k followers or even 10k. There are plenty of ways of getting in front of 1k people even when you have 300 followers (or less). Yes, having more followers can help. But it’s not the most important bit if you’re trying to make friends online.
Consistently interacting with people online, saying interesting things, caring, following up… Those help the most. Let me try to explain it with two real world analogies:
- Volunteer at a community centre for 6 months. You interact, say good morning, provide directions to and help a thousand people. After 3 months, you become an embedded part of the community. People recognise you and many know you by name. You start to have inside jokes with some of them. With others, you know about their health issues and ask about them when you see them walk by. It feels good. You make friends.
- You put up posters on notice boards and trees asking people to visit your website. You put up a lot of posters, so you reach over a thousand people. Some people visit your website, but you never meet them, chat with them or get to know them. It’s nice that your site now gets more traffic, but most don’t stay, cause there isn’t anything to do after they visit. You keep putting up posters but after awhile, it starts to feel meaningless and you stop.
If you want to make friends online, pretend you’re volunteering in a community centre. Don’t put up posters.
“I joined all these paid communities and accelerators but they’re all useless. Building in public is a scam. Everyone is so fake.”
You have to join more groups than you think. Engage with more people than you think. Hang out more than you think.
The people you think are fake, might not be fake to others.
And it’s likely you’ll make some friends you love and totally vibe with, whom others think are totally fake. It’s all cool!
Building in public – What it actually means
Having spent the past 2 years building in public, my biggest piece of advice is simply to chat constantly with people in Slack groups (like Megamaker) and on Twitter.
Over time, you find your tribe and your tribe finds you.
It’s luck but it’s also about increasing your luck catchment area by participating in lots of different communities and chatting with lots of different people.
I’ve made a lot of real friends from this. Most valuable are friends who are just 1-2 steps ahead of me who can still recall and relate to my problems and help me solve them in a real way. At this stage, because everyone’s skillsets are different, I’m typically 1-2 steps ahead of them in other ways and can help them too. It’s mutually beneficial.
But to make that handful of friendly peers, I’ve joined my fair share of dud communities (that I paid for) and done a lot of zoom calls with people I’ve never spoken to again. And had my fair share of awkward, anxiety-fuelled moments.
When I first started tweeting, I’d write one tweet and fret over it for days. I’d message a friend (who was more into Twitter than I was at the time) after every tweet and ask him if what I tweeted was ok. 🤣 For reals. I was ridiculous. I’m telling you this, so you know it’s okay to be similarly ridiculous and worried. I’ve gotten over it and don’t worry so much any more. In time, so will you.
In the past 2 years, I’ve probably paid over $1k to join various communities. Most were not worth it. But I’ve gotten much more than $1k value out of the 2 communities I’m active in (Megamaker and Post Status). And I think that’s a better way to look at it.
To put this succinctly: You need to dip your toes in a lot of wrong communities in order to have any hope of finding the right ones.
This takes effort, so only do it because you like it
Try lots of different communities and sub-communities. Then leave the ones you don’t like. Staying too long is a waste of your time and effort. But obviously, if you leave too early, you might never get embedded enough to actually make friends.
I can’t tell you when is too early or too late. That’s for you to decide.
It’s okay to ghost communities you’re not vibing with. If it’s a bad fit, move on. You’re probably making the community worse by staying, so don’t feel bad about leaving.
Dig in and nerd out when you find people and communities you like. Try to find corners of the internet you’re drawn to. Then double down.
My totally chaotic Twitter approach
Other approaches exist, but I thought I’d share a bit about my own super chaotic approach.
I tweet when I like, about the shit that I like. I never schedule tweets. I swear often because I want to repel uptight motherfuckers. I occasionally tweet without context because people who have followed me for awhile will know what I’m talking about. I try to avoid going viral with threads because attracting a large crowd of people who don’t know me will make my experience less fun. I don’t tweet banal platitudes or basic growth hacks because I don’t want to attract basic people.
On the flip side, I probably tweet a whole lot of shit that others find banal and basic. That’s fine, those people are out of my league and we wouldn’t vibe anyway.
Take my principle, not my approach
My chaotic approach might not be for you. That’s totally fine!
For example, maybe your crowd is the productivity framework Notion crowd. So my chaos is horrifying for you. That’s cool.
Don’t take my approach. But I do hope you’ll find my 1/10/100/1000 rule of thumb helpful for knowing what it takes to make friends online.
This post is an adaptation from a Slack thread I made in Megamaker. If you kinda follow my blog, you’ll notice I’ve been doing this more often.
Just taking the conversations I have on Twitter and Slack and turning them into blog posts.
I think this is a really easy and sustainable way to create helpful content that people are interested in. Emphasis on the latter part about helpful and interesting. The threads I make in Twitter/Slack are responses to things people are already asking, so it guarantees that this is a problem or question someone already has, rather than me pontificating into the wind (which happens a lot when I’m not careful).