I opened my @WilliamGJones Twitter account in 2009, and for most of the last two years, my list of followers stayed in the double-digit range. A few months back, I crossed triple digits for the first time, but I can’t say I understood how to build a following at all.
Then, almost a month ago, I found out I needed surgery for a ruptured disc in my L4/L5 region. I needed something to alleviate the anxiety of surgery. So, I decided to focus on learning all I could about Twitter. In just shy of four weeks, without using any kind of follow-adder services, my Twitter account has grown from 150 followers to 1800 as of this writing.
That, my friends, is called rapid expansion.So how did a 13 x increase happen in just three weeks? It started by looking at successful Tweeters such as @MichaelHyatt. If you don’t know Mr. Hyatt, you should. He served as chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers for many years, leading the company out of public ownership to private, and guiding the company into the top ten of American publishers. He is also a longtime blogger at his website, http://michaelhyatt.com/ . One of the more popular posts on his blog is a primer on Twitter.
If you look at his Twitter profile, you’ll notice that he has nearly a hundred thousand followers. Who wouldn’t want a platform like that?
And, you’ll also notice, he follows nearly all of them back.
Granted, there are plenty of Twitter accounts for celebrities or organizations where the list of followers is tens or hundreds of thousands, but the list of followed accounts is miniscule. Since I didn’t have a name to draw followers, my hypothesis early on was that the more people I followed, the more would follow me back. And so I began growing my followers by finding accounts that interested me.
When I began this experiment, I noticed that I followed around 300 accounts and had 150 followers. I assumed that this was a fairly static ratio, and as I began following more accounts, that 2:1 ratio seemed to hold true, all the way up until I followed 2001 accounts and had 1000 followers. That’s where Twitter begins to restrict you, and you’ll need some tool to flush those you follow who don’t follow you back.
Because of these restrictions, it’s very important that if you want to build a brand using Twitter, you have to follow other accounts. Not only is it goodwill and good karma, it’s a technical necessity. If you don’t follow your followers back, you’ll risk getting flushed from their follow list if they run into this limitation later on.
But really, you should follow your followers back because it’s the right thing to do. You owe that to anyone who takes the time to follow you.
Well, almost anyone.
There are a few accounts I won’t follow back. One seemed to be a running tally of racist jokes. Another was links to what looked like pornographic websites. And another was to a marijuana dispensary. I examine each account that follows me, however briefly, before clicking the follow button. Of 1800 followers, I have less than twenty I don’t follow. However, if I were for some reason unable to examine each account, I would definitely sign up for an autofollow service.
See, there’s only four things you have control of on Twitter. Two are in your profile—your picture and your bio. People tend to respond better when you have a clean picture of yourself and a vivid bio. Make sure your picture looks approachable and that your bio makes you sound interesting, and you’re halfway there.
The other half of the equation is who you follow and what you tweet. Following other users is a big part of growing a following, but what you tweet—really the whole point of Twitter—is just as important. Make sure your tweets are representative of you as a brand. Remember, every interaction you have with the public is marketing. Treat it as such, not in the sense of selling or pushing product, but in the sense of creating an online image for yourself.
Assuming you’ve got a handle on what to tweet, how do you find people to follow? Early on, back in 2009, I followed accounts such as @MichaelHyatt and @ThomRainer, @theskypirate and @scottmonte, @GMBlogs and @filmroit. I also started following NASCAR drivers, @kylepetty and @KevinHarvick. Once you have a list of organizations and celebrities to follow, you’ll find that Twitter begins to recommend users to you based on who you follow. In my case, it was followers of accounts such as those listed above.
Those twitter recommendations are where your network begins.
If you’re just starting out, follow everyone who interests you. Read bios, read sample tweets, and follow. Some will follow you back, some won’t. But if you find your following/follower ratio falling far short of 2:1, then examine the quality of your tweets. Great tweets draw followers.
Also, keep track of your direct messages (DMs) and @ mentions. Your direct messages can be accessed at the top of the home page, the @ mentions tab is right below the box where you enter your tweets. Also notice that when you mouse over tweets in your timeline, you’ll have the option to Favorite, Retweet, or Reply to an individual tweet. Use the reply button liberally and talk to people. If they’re asking questions, answer. Even in DMs, I’ve had some great conversations with people.
After you’ve found a group of people you really enjoy talking to, tell the world in a shoutout. #FF or #FollowFriday is a chance for Twitter users to tweet the names of users they enjoy reading most. Make liberal use of this as well. You’ll be surprised how many people will help promote your Twitter account once you help promote them. Show genuine appreciation and cooperation with your followers and your friend will help you grow.
Once you hit that limit of following 2001 accounts, Twitter doesn’t really give you any kind of indication that you’re not allowed to follow any more accounts—the follow button just seems to quit working. It took me about two days to realize this wasn’t a glitch, and I found a Twitter support document that details the 2001 follower limit. Basically, Twitter doesn’t want you following thousands of users when you only have a few hundred followers yourself. So what do you do when this limitation starts kicking in? You have to use a service such as http://www.justunfollow.com or http://www.tweepi.com. It’s pretty simple, these websites will give you a list of people you follow who don’t follow back, and give you the option to unfollow those people. Flush your list down as much as possible, and then do what you know to do to build your followers again.
There are more tricks I used, but I’ll end here. The bottom line is, once you’re having fun on Twitter, your account will grow.
EDIT: As requested, the link to the Twitter help page detailing the 2000 follow limit & practices: http://support.twitter.com/entries/68916-following-rules-and-best-practices