There are two type of Twitter users. I call them “generators” and “consumers”. Almost everyone on twitter both reads and generates tweets, but the purpose they are using twitter for usually falls distinctly into one of the two categories – and once you know the category you are in optimizing for your goal requires very different behaviors.
Most people on Twitter are Twitter Consumers. This group primarily uses Twitter for content discovery. Their best interest is in following content generators that generate the content they are interested in. Those generators could be traditional media companies, individuals who create their own content (often celebrities of one kind or another) or individuals that act as curators of other content. No matter the specifics Twitter Consumers want to follow the right mix of people/companies to ensure their Twitter feed is full of interesting content that is worth reading: That’s the whole point. Twitter Consumers will still tweet themselves and share that content with others who choose to follow them – in effect they become curators as well – but that’s the not purpose of Twitter. In general Twitter Consumers will follow many more people then choose to follow them, but that’s fine and it doesn’t matter. Twitter limits on the maximum number of people they can follow are irrelevant. Whether someone follows them back is irrelevant. All that matters is if their Twitter feed is interesting (and they have no hesitation unfollowing someone who is sharing bad content).
Twitter Generators are a different animal. The goal of Generators is to create or share content and have that content shared as widely as possible. They may or may not have an economic interest in having their content shared, but the goal is the same. They want people to read what they are writing. So the goal of Generators is to
- Have a large number of followers
- Have followers who are engaged enough to read their tweets
- Have followers who are engaged enough to re-tweet their tweets
The best way to get a large following on Twitter is to be Lady Gaga (or Justin Bieber or Barack Obama or Tom Peters). Basically “be famous in real life” and you will almost automatically be famous on Twitter (eventually). But if you aren’t famous in real life and you want to build a large Twitter following you are left with doing the hard work yourself. One way is to pay for ads on Twitter. I tried that. I run a couple of simple ads and pay Twitter about 10-cents for every follower I earn. It works, but it is very very slow (it would be a lot faster at $1 a follower, but I’m not ready to go there just yet…)
The other “easy” way to increase your followers on Twitter is to follow others. Many people on Twitter follow a ‘follow-back’ etiquette. Even those that don’t may be prompted to at least read your profile when you follow them. If you are interesting enough, maybe they will choose to follow you (to improve the quality of their feed). In my experience I get about 20% of people following me back. The problem with the “easy” way is that Twitter put up limits. They don’t want robots out there spamming their user base, so you can only follow 2000 people total and only about an additional 400 people a week – with exceptions. The exceptions are, if you have more than 2000 followers yourself then you are allowed to follow more than 2000 people – about 10% more than you have following you. And as you get a higher follower base you are allowed to follow more than 400 people per week. Basically “the big can get bigger”. Although you are still left with the problem of how to find and follow hundreds of people a day.
Historically I was a Twitter Consumer. I followed my favorite media outlets, select authors of books I enjoyed and close friends. I used my feed the way a lot of people use Reddit. A few years ago as I thought about building my personal “brand” I decided to move into the Twitter Generation community. Obviously I was not famous (at least not Lady Gaga famous), so I needed a strategy to build up my follower base. That strategy (and how it might effect you if you have recently followed me or been followed by me) follows.
My Twitter Strategy
The principle behind my strategy is to maximize the number of engaged followers I have while at the same time giving back to the people who follow me. Basically: Grow and be fair. I use a product called manageflitter.com. I use the tool to find people on Twitter who I think could be interesting or interested in the content I generate. This means people who have used terms like Marketing or Analytics or Data or Marathon in their description or recent tweets. Or maybe they are just following someone who creates content similar to what I do. I also filter for people who have tweeted in the last 30-days or so to make sure they have an active account. I keep following people until I hit my Twitter-imposed limit (This started low but is now at around 100-200 new follows per day). I wait about a a week to give people a chance to follow me back. If they haven’t I go back and unfollow people who have not chosen to follow me – remember the goal of all this is to have a large, engaged following. So: If you have been followed by me you have something interesting in your profile or recent tweet. If you follow me I will continue to follow you. If you don’t follow me I will unfollow you after about seven days. It sounds harsh, but remember, my strategy is primarily as a content generator, not a content consumer. What happens if you followed me before I follow you? Good question. Remembering that I am not just looking for followers, I’m looking for engaged followers, my original plan was as follows:
- Read through your recent tweets.
- If you have content that is interesting, choose a tweet you have written (i.e., not something you re-tweeted) and Re-tweet it to my followers (I use Buffer to post these up to four times a day – so it may not happen right away). It’s a signal to you that I am ready to promote your content.
- Wait to see if you do the same thing in return – i.e., do you re-tweet a piece of my content – ideally something about this website. If you do, I follow you. If not, I just wait. If you ever re-tweet something in the future I will click that follow button.
- If you just have spam content (or content that I don’t think is shareable with a wider follower base that is interested in marketing, analytics, running or travel) then I will just refrain from re-tweeting anything. If that means I am un-followed, so be it.
That was the entire initial strategy. Unfortunately as my unsolicited followers accelerated I wasn’t able to keep up. So now I do something far simpler: I read every new followers bio. If the bio looks like a real person (and not a company or a spammer) I follow-back. I may change this strategy in the future, but for now it gives most people the benefit of the doubt.
I started the process on February 18th, 2014 with 167 followers. By the end of the day I was up to 189. By March 6th I was at 343. I was following about 200 people a day and getting about a 18% follow-back rate. In June I had enough followers that I was able to follow 800 new people a day. At that point I needed help. In addition to ManageFlitter I started working with TribeBoost. They perform exactly the same service as Manageflitter – they follow people based on my specifications and unfollow after a week if they haven’t followed back – but they don’t require any manual work on my part after they were set up. With the combined horsepower of TribeBoost and ManageFlitter I began gaining about 1000 new followers a week. By the end of the year I was one of the most followed CMOs on Twitter.
Once I hit 50,000 followers I slowed down my process to work on other things, but I am still gaining about 500 new followers a week.
Note that the “follow a lot of people” strategy is just the first step. No matter how effective your marketing it won’t get you anywhere if you product is weak. I treat following people as my Twitter marketing and the tweets I put out as my Twitter “product”.
I manage my Twitter “product” three ways:
- Every time I find interesting content on the web I add it to a queue on BufferApp.com. Buffer drips out that content twice a day ensuring I have a constant stream of interesting content – even when I go on vacation
- When I write a blog post that I want to promote of Twitter more than once I socialoomph.com. It lets me schedule tweets far more easily than Buffer does
- While I still look at my main feed, since I follow so many people it is not effective for keeping up with content from my favorite tweeters (and friends & family). To make sure I don’t miss these important people I use lists
- In addition to Buffer and SocialOomph if I read something on my twitter feed I find interesting I will be uninhibited about re-tweeting it (usually with a comment)
If it’s not obvious already, my Twitter “strategy” is a prime example of being “good enough”. There are lots of “how to gain twitter followers” articles on the web. Almost all of them are BS. Try following their recommendations for a month and see how many more engaged followers you end up with. It won’t be pretty. They might argue, “Twitter isn’t about getting more engaged followers, it’s about xxx.”. That’s fine. As I mentioned at the start of this post Twitter can be used for many purposes. But if you do want to use Twitter to build a brand or an audience, then you need to know HOW to do that effectively. And the way to do it isn’t through the nebulous recommendations most consultants push. It’s a combination of creating real valuable content, and then being very methodical about following the right people at scale. It works. And apart from staring in a blockbuster movie I don’t know of any other way to do it effectively. It’s simple. It’s Good Enough.