Contrary to some early nay-sayers, Twitter has proved itself to be more than a flash-in-the-pan trend. As more and more people are realizing, Twitter can be enormously useful and enriching. And as it continues to mature, the strategies for using it to its maximum potential are becoming stronger and more defined. I can tell you from experience that it’s paid significant dividends both personally and professionally for me. But this didn’t come without effort on my part – I’ve spent countless hours researching, testing and finding the most successful ways to benefit from it. In order to save you some blood, sweat and tears (or a good chunk of your free time), I’ve compiled a list of what I’ve discovered are the some of the best ways to grow your following and influence on Twitter.
But first, a couple of disclaimers. You don’t have to have a large following to be successful on Twitter. You could actually have a quite a small following but still experience great benefit if you properly target your users and engage them in meaningful ways.
Another disclaimer: this isn’t about rigging the system or using underhand tricks to magically have 20,000 new followers in a week – or about constantly going on about how you need ‘x’ amount of followers to reach your next goal. Most normal people don’t do this kind of thing offline, so why do it online?
Twitter shouldn’t be about numbers – it’s about the people behind those numbers. So a word to the wise: don’t try to garner new followers unless you’re up for the challenge of treating them like the people they are. This means interacting with them, getting to know them and writing your tweets with them in mind.
It takes time to built up a solid following and use Twitter as the unparalleled networking tool it is. Believe me, it takes A LOT of time. But if you’re willing to put the effort into it, it won’t be long before you’re reaping the rewards. Here’s just a few to consider:
- gain respect, credibility & recognition
- share your talents and get discovered
- strengthen your personal and professional brand
- find jobs or solid hires
- uncover great leads for new clients
- develop strategic partnerships
- gain support for your cause
- make new friends with common interests
There are many reasons why you may want to grow your following. Now let’s talk about how…
1. Follow People
The Law of Reciprocity is one of those universal truths that make the world go around. Bluntly put: you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. If you want to be followed, start following. Most people will follow you back, especially if they’re trying to retain you, the follower. There are a number of ways to find people to follow:
- From the public timeline (but you’ll have to sift through an inordinate amount of noise to find relevant content).
- From someone else’s followers page .
- From recommendations from friends through practices such as #FollowFriday or by adding people you come across in others’ retweets.
- Using Twitter search to find people conversing on subjects of interest to you.
- Using 3rd party applications such as PeopleBrowsr to find new people to follow and join interest groups.
- Using an auto-follow program* such as Twollo. Apps like this search the Twitter timeline for you and follow individuals who tweet any of the specific keywords or phrases you choose.
- Using Twitter lists can be quite useful especially because you don’t have to follow people right away. Instead, you can follow a list of interest and choose to only follow individuals you find a connection with. Listorious is a good place to visit to find a directory of the top lists on Twitter. If you find a Twitter list you like, you can use an app like TweepML to follow the entire list with a single click.
To increase your chances of getting a followback, RT a person’s tweets or engage with him or her before clicking the “follow” button. This shows you’ve noticed the person and take interest in what he or she are tweeting about and aren’t just following people en masse.
* NOTE: You need to know that if you start following large numbers of people at a single time or auto-follow programs that you’ll definitely be taking your chances. Aggressive followers can have their accounts suspended if they’re using any kind of auto-follow or unfollow tools (unless it’s auto-following someone who followed you first), so be sure to read up on Twitter’s TOS. Additionally auto-following is considered a black hat tactic in the Twitter community at large and is frowned upon. Many of those who employ such tactics are considered fake followers who have no interest in ever reading the tweets of the mass majority of those they follow.
2. Present Yourself Well
First impressions are everything. When we’re designing websites for our clients at ImageX Media, we let them know the average internet searcher spends 5-7 seconds on a website and the most clicked button is the back button on the browser. If a site isn’t giving you the right signals, is slow loading, visually unappealing or confusing, you’re out of there and on to the next link, right? The same concept applies to your Twitter profile. If someone is considering whether or not to follow you, they’re only going to give you – via your profile - a few seconds to prove that you’re someone legit and follow-worthy.
Unfortunately, one of the things that increases the scrutiny of users is the huge amount of automated and spam accounts that are now on the Twittersphere. As of August 2009, 24% of tweets sent on Twitter are from bots. So one of the most important things you have to prove is that you are a real person.
Consider what kind of message your profile is sending to those deciding whether or not to follow you. Does your account look like it could be a spammer or bot? Or does it immediately give a genuine and positive impression? Let’s have a quick look at Exhibit A – what NOT to do – and go through your profile section by section, asking the same questions potential followers will be asking when they visit your profile.
1. Background – Is it a standard Twitter template or a custom background? Though it may be fast and easy to use one of the Twitter templates, going the extra mile to add a custom Twitter background helps you to stand out, defines your niche and makes it less likely you’ll be mistaken for a bot.
2. Avatar – Is your image professional looking (but NOT a stock photo)? Does the image enlarge when you click on it? If it stays an avatar size, that indicates it may have been grabbed from somewhere else on the internet which is a common tactic of fake accounts. If you’re serious about building your personal brand, consider having your avatar photo taken professionally.
3. Follower ratio – Your follower ratio can raise a number of questions in the minds of those looking to follow you. Do you follow significantly more than follow you? If so, why are people not following you back? Do you follow everyone who follows you, or only a fraction of them? If it’s the latter, you could risk being perceived as being too good for everyone else. Is your follower ratio slightly more than your following? Maybe you are following large amounts of people and then mass unfollowing those who don’t reciprocate. There are a number of ways to read into the follower ratio, and none of them can lead to bulletproof conclusions – but they will definitely lead to strong impressions of how you view yourself and others on Twitter.
4. Listing – The number of lists you’re on can give another impression. If you’re not listed then someone might get the impression that your tweets aren’t valued by others. Be sure to have some of your own lists too, as this will help others see your interests when deciding whether or not to follow you.
5. Link - Linking to a credible outside website is one of the strongest ways to prove you’re not a bot and also give potential followers a chance to get to know you more in-depth. You can link to your personal or corporate blog, your website, your LinkedIn profile, or any other legitimate site that proves you are who you say you are. On my profile, I link to a Twitter landing page I created especially for new followers or those checking me out. From this page visitors can link to my blog and my company website. There’s not a whole lotta space in your Twitter bio to give people an accurate picture of who you and and what you have to offer, so linking to another site can go a long way in proving your authenticity and building trust.
6. Bio – The bio is one of the first places most people will look when visiting your profile, and you’ve got to make those 160 characters count. Your bio should sound professional and yet approachable and include your interests – and, equally important, the interests of those you are trying to attract. If your bio sounds desperate, arrogant, uninterested – or if there isn’t one at all – this flags you, at the very least, as someone they won’t want showing up in their timeline.
7. Favourites – How many tweets have you favourited? What kinds of tweets? Most likely bot accounts won’t have any favourites, so if you want to give the impression that you’re a human, use this Twitter feature and make sure some favourites show up on your profile.
8. Tweet Count - How many tweets have you put out? Are you an active Twitter user or just trying to get a follow back in order to push your wares? Some bots and spammers can put out a lot of tweets, but many of them just have enough to fill a page. If this is the case, it’s an immediate red flag that they’re not using Twitter to interact with others, but obviously have other intentions.
9. Mini avatars – Visitors will also look at the mini avatars of the last 36 people you’ve followed to see if there are any patterns (ie. you just followed one of their lists, the avatars look like spam accounts, etc). Bots tend to follow bots, so just because they have some followers doesn’t necessarily mean they’re legit.
10. Tweets – Do you tweet original stuff? All RTs? All Quotes? Are there any signs that you engage with others? Personally, if I don’t see any @replies in the timeline, I’m going to assume the account is just all about pushing out their message and most likely won’t follow the account. If you want to make a good first impression then make sure you’re tweeting quality stuff. Take a hard look at your own account. Review your last 25-30 tweets… Would you follow you?
11. Location - Where are you tweeting from? If every tweet on a profile is coming from the API it looks suspiciously like bot activity. Real people tweet from various locations and using different apps (ie. from web, from Tweetdeck, from Tweetie, etc), and this should show up on your profile.
Granted, very few people will ever take the time to scrutinize you at all of these levels and to this depth. However, if you’re serious about making Twitter work for you, you need to put serious thought and effort into making sure you have a good first impression – and that means considering every aspect of your profile to make sure it represents you as accurately and positively as possible.
3. Tweet Quality Content
This is huge. One of the main reasons people use Twitter is to learn. If you can provide content that others are interested in, you’ll definitely get followed. However, if you pump out loads of fluff or drivel, people will start ignoring your tweets and you’ll be marginalized to the back of their accounts or just unfollowed. The key thing you want to do is to train people’s eyes to see your stuff so that when they get something from you, they’re anticipating it will be good because of their past experience with you. To do this you need to find good content that is of interest to your target audience but isn’t already tweeted to death. Because of the vast sea of good content now available on Twitter, ‘Top 40 tweeting’ can get tired fast. When you find excellent content about which few are tweeting, then you’re on to something. To do this you need spend a lot of time reading online, keeping up with sites on your RSS feeder, and following people who write or share good content regularly. Some of the most popular sites on which to find decent content are Favstar.fm, Tweetmeme, Retweetfeed, Listorious, Popurls, Alltop, and Posterous.
4. Create Original Content
Retweeting others’ content is important, but it doesn’t really show your opinion. Ever read one of those “Where’s Waldo?” books? No one wants to be a Waldo, lost in a mass of people who look just like you. You need to be tweeting relevant AND original content if you want to stand out. People who want to get to know you are interested in what you think. Good original content will gain respect much faster than just sourcing what others have done. This is even more true if you create original content elsewhere (ie. on your personal or corporate blog, on blogging platforms such as Posterous, Tumblr, or video platforms like YouTube, Vimeo, etc). Sometimes this can seem a bit daunting when you stop and think about how much good content is already out there. What new innovative, creative or revolutionary ideas could you share that others haven’t already? But before you throw in the towel, you need to know that you don’t always have to come up with something brand new. There are a lot of ways you can present content and add your own twist to it. The more you hone your writing skills and improve your content the more attention you’ll attract.
5. Be Consistent
If you’re inconsistent in your tweeting habits it will affect the amount of exposure you will get. Personally, I’ve noticed that when I take a break from my consistent tweeting schedule my new follower numbers drop significantly. When I start again it takes awhile before I see the same amount of retweets I was getting before I stopped. Retweets are key for getting more followers, and the number of retweets often depends on when you can get the most eyes on your tweets. If you tend to tweet at the same times each day you’ll provide consistency for your followers – they’ll be watching for you. Ideally you’ll want to try and tweet at optimal times, keeping in mind the timezones your target audience is located in.
6. Engage and Respond
Do your best to respond to all @replies and personal DMs. If someone reaches out to you and you don’t respond, it shows you’re not interested in that person. If you keep it up, you’ll most likely get unfollowed, negative vibes and a reputation. Interact with others in conversations and connect with your followers wherever you can. Not only will this strengthen your relationships with your existing followers, it will make them more likely to recommend you to others.
7. Add Yourself to Directories
There are many directories available that you can add yourself to as a way to get more exposure. Ideally, you’ll want to tag yourself under specific categories so you can be easily be found by those with similar interests. Some of the top ones are We Follow, Twellow, Just Tweet It, and Twibes. Other good places to join are specific LinkedIn groups related to Twitter, social media or niche areas of focus, niche communities (such as the League of Kickass Business People) and Tweetup sites (ie. VancouverTweetup.com). The important thing to remember with these communities is to not just add yourself to the groups, but to actually interact on those sites and get to know the people there.
8. Recommend and Retweet
Recommending others using the #FollowFriday or #FF hashtags or through @MrTweet can also be helpful in gaining followers. It’s the Rule of Reciprocity again. A lot of people will follow people their friends recommend. But remember, recommendations are only helpful to people if they actually mean something - long lists of recommendations can easily be construed as insincere and self-serving. Additionally they can create A LOT of noise on Twitter which can work against you. A better way to recommend is to share just one or two people at a time and give reasons why people should consider following them.
9. Promote Your Twitter Account Elsewhere
Many people will discover you through your interactions on Twitter but many more will find you elsewhere. Here are a few of the ways you can promote your twitter account:
* On your email signature (share tools)
* On your website/blog
* On other social networking sites
* On your comments on other blogs
* On online bios
* On your business cards
* On your car (maybe not a good idea if you have a habit of cutting people off)
Obviously there are many more possibilities, and you’ll know you’re a true Twitter addict if you start wearing clothing, nametags or get a custom license plate to sport your Twitter handle.
10. Use #Hashtags
Using #hashtags can help attract new followers based on the subject matter of your tweets – they label your tweets and make them searchable, enabling non-followers to find you. Not everyone is fond of #hashtags, as some people tend to overuse them. Others find them a bit confusing or overwhelming when first encountered. There’s definitely a learning curve when it comes to determining the appropriate terms to use. On top of that, it can be a challenge to remember to consistently add them to your tweets. However, for those who make it a habit, #hashtags are definitely useful for connecting with people of like mind. Here’s a comprehensive guide of how to best use hashtags on Twitter.
11. Get listed
Twitter lists are a fairly new phenomenon and list strategies are still in infant phases of development. However, it’s quite clear thus far that being added to others’ Twitter lists is a great way to increase your exposure, because people who don’t follow you will see your tweets as they observe your followers’ lists. What’s also clear is that it’s not something you can directly control – it comes back to the issue of value. To get added to Twitter lists you really need to provide value, and what’s valuable to one person may not be valuable to another. That’s why you need to know your niche, be an expert in your field and try to relate to as many people as possible.
12. Take Your Online Offline
Twitter is an awesome tool for learning, observing and interacting, but it’s a painstakingly slow process if you’re hoping to develop some depth to your relationships through 140-character information blips. One way to speed up the timeline is to pick up the phone and call someone or arrange to get together for a lunch or coffee. As great as technology is, there’s nothing that compares to the level of interaction that can be experienced over over a burger or beer. Taking the initiative in this regard is huge for building trust and showing people that they matter to you. Attending meetups & tweetups and conferences are also great ways to get to know the people with whom you’re connecting. Using tools such as Foursquare in conjunction with Twitter to connect you with your friends offline can also help take your relationships to new levels. The deeper your relationships, the stronger the trust will be with your friends and your interactions and out coming recommendations will show it.
13. Be Humorous
Maybe you’re not George Carlin, but if you have a sense of humour, let it out! Being funny makes you more likeable, relatable and approachable, which makes it more likely that people will want to follow you. If it’s not your leading grace then retweet some humourous (but tasteful) tweets at times. Keep in mind the purposes of your account and ensure whatever you’re doing with humour is increasing your standing with your target audience and not detracting. Some forms of humor, such as sarcasm, aren’t for everyone and can lose you more followers than you gain if you’re not careful. Personally, I created a separate account dedicated to sarcastic amusement as I wanted a place to let loose without confusing my followers who aren’t accustomed or attracted to that form of humor.
14. Be Helpful
Helping others can go a long way in terms of gaining respect, building trust and earning your stripes. What do you have that others are looking for? What have you learned recently that you could share? What tools, apps, tricks or secrets have you discovered that you could give to others? What questions are people asking that you could answer? What challenges or problems are people facing that you could help with? As you see needs that you can meet, act on them. It takes time to be helpful, but people definitely remember it. One practical way you can help people is to use a 3rd party Twitter client like Tweetdeck to filter your timelines for tweets that contain a question mark so that way you’ll only see tweets of questions you can answer.
15. Be Kind and Appreciative
Being kind goes a long way. People take notice when you consistently do the little things to show others you appreciate them. Try to encourage others and look for opportunities to catch people doing something good and acknowledge them for it. Take the time to thank people when they do something that’s helpful to you. You may want to say a public thank you for a #FollowFriday recommendation or a retweet. Some prefer not to create additional noise and choose to send a private DM. At times it can be difficult to keep track of all the people you’d like to appreciate. One way you can remember these people and provide value at the same time is to create and add them to your own #FollowFriday or Top-Retweeters list so you can observe their tweets and return the favour.
16. Be Humble and Authentic
Sometimes you might be wrong, sometimes you might screw up. Own up to it. Be transparent. If someone’s criticizing you, don’t get too defensive. Try and hear things from his or her perspective before reacting, even if it seems out of line. Maybe there’s some truth in what he or she is saying that you can glean and grow from. Being humble can disarm people who may be envious of you, were turned off by you, or just haven’t taken the time to get to know you. None of us are perfect, but most of us are fairly adverse to pretense. You may have everything together, but if you’re full of yourself people probably won’t be following you for long and certainly won’t be recommending you.
If you put all – or even a few – of these suggestions into practice, you should have no problem in growing your following and getting closer to your goals on Twitter. It all comes down to being proactive and involved, and trying to make the Twittersphere the best place it can be by putting out quality content and positive vibes. If you do this consistently, you should see some great results. I’ve tried to put all of these tips into practice and it’s been worth all the effort for the amazing people I’ve had a chance to get to know and the many other benefits I’ve received. Now it’s your turn to share from your experience – what have you found successful in your efforts to make Twitter work for you?