Getting More Twitter Followers – or Losing Them

by Mark Dykeman on January 26, 2009

This is a reprint of an original post that comes from Mark Dykeman’s blog, Broadcasting Brain.

There are benefits to getting more Twitter followers, so with that thought in mind, I’m going to tell you about the things that will help you build your own Twitter following. I’ll tell you about some things that seem to work and some that don’t work: short term or long term.

Let me be perfectly clear: I am not writing this article for you to use Twitter to help you feed a fragile ego, expand your mailing list, build a fan club, sell products, become a top Digger, or sway political opinion to the exclusion of everything else. However, if you are trying to do this then you might see some reasons here why you are failing to attract followers.

On the other hand, if you want to expand your contacts, get access to a constantly stream of interesting information, give and receive advice, and to learn how to be a better human being, then I hope this article will help you to show other Twitter users that you’re an interesting, helpful, or at the very least entertaining person who’s worthy of being followed.

I’m particularly hopeful that this might help some honest-to-goodness lesser known creatives, artists, and talented folks who do want a chance to promote themselves and their works in a creative way (as long as they understand that it’s not a one-way promotion deal; you need to give, too.) The world needs more good content.

You will also find that these concepts will apply to many social media websites.

Twitter in 140 words or less

Let’s (re)examine Twitter. It’s a running stream of Tweets: messages, comments, links, and other communication that you can see on the Web or by a mobile computing device. You can view the general stream of information (the public timeline) that everyone contributes to. Most people see a personalized stream created by the people they have chosen to follow.

Being followed can be a compliment because it means that someone chose to listen to you out millions of other Twitter users. This is important because several months ago Twitter put limits on the number of people that you can follow. Some people have amassed a grandfathered follower list of tens of thousands of people. Now, you can’t follow more than 2000 people, so being followed is a bigger deal than it used to be.

Metaphors used to describe Twitter

Some people compare Twitter to a coffee shop or cocktail party, but I think that Twitter is more like a state or city fair where there tends to be a lot of friendly people who like to talk. The coffee shop metaphor, even the cocktail party image, fails for me because there are simply no coffee shops big enough to hold this many people. It’s more like the chatrooms that people still use these days, but slightly slower.

Like any community, Twitter’s composition has changed over time. Twitter probably felt smaller and chummier in its earliest days, like a single cohesive community, because it likely was a cozy group of a few hundred or so friends and colleagues.

The reality is that Twitter is a federation of communities that happen to use the same facilities. In a sense, every Twitter follower creates their own unique community composed of the people that they follow, since it’s unlikely that any two users follow all of the same people. There can be a lot of overlaps between these customized communities, but each has some unique composition.

Just as you build your own network of offline friends, family and contacts, you get to pick and choose who you follow as you build your own custom network of Twitter users that you follow. However, most of the time you’re going to want those same people to follow you back. Just like in your offline reality, if you make a gesture of friendship or contact towards someone, you’re going to appreciate it if your overture is reciprocated.

Following a stranger on Twitter is like leaving a calling card

One simple way to start up a Twitter network is to hook up with people that you already know offline or through online social networks. In fact, this is probably the best way to start using Twitter. You have already earned credibility and built up a reputation with those people so you’ll already have their attention.

Otherwise, your best bet will be to start joining other social networks or looking harder in your own world in order to get started with other people that you know. Maybe you can even talk a few friends into joining Twitter simultaneously so that you have a common starting point.

At some point you’re going to start following other people that you don’t know yet. By following them in Twitter, you are leaving them a digital calling card that’s similar to the real-world equivalent used in previous decades.

The outside of the digital calling card is your avatar and your username, which appear on the Follower page of the person that you’ve started to follow. These two things make up the “envelope” which contains your calling card. A friendly or interesting envelope gets more attention to a plain white, yellow, or brown envelope. If you don’t have a personalized avatar or a name, then you’re a plain envelope. People tend to ignore plain, non-descriptive envelopes when they are pressed for time or when they’re not interested in exploring a mystery.

People open this envelope by clicking on your username or avatar.

Your Twitter bio, including any links to your blog, social network page, or other websites, is the “calling card” itself. The bio gives people a quick overview of who you are and what you do. It, like your avatar, is a chance to show people that you have wit, compassion, and are otherwise not a stuffed shirt. Or a robot. Or a faceless organization.

If you’re already using Twitter and struggling with building up your follower list, you could look at the bios of people that you follow, decide what you like about those bios, and attempt to incorporate those ideas in your own terms. Do not blindly copy; just use this information to get some ideas. This is not a sure-fire guarantee of success, but it’s one of several good ideas to consider.

One thing to note, though: many people are picky about who they follow. Some people won’t follow strangers. Some of them won’t follow you because they don’t see any common interests OR they see material in your Twitter stream that they don’t like. Some people just don’t want to follow more people because they’re at their emotional or mental state of saturation and they can’t take anymore. And, unfortunately, some people on Twitter just want to take more than they give.

Why people will follow you on Twitter

From personal experience, I can tell you that people will follow you because:

  • They know and/or like you
  • They think you are interesting, informative, helpful or funny
  • You’ve piqued their curiosity enough for them to take a chance on a stranger like you
  • They just like adding people to their networks, regardless of how strong or weak the connections are

Why people probably won’t follow you on Twitter

  • Your account is the mouth and ears of an organization, not an individual. An account that represents a company name without reference to a human being looks and smells like a machine.
  • Your Follower/Following ratio is unbalanced in either direction. If you have a huge number of followers while you follow a much smaller number, then it will seem like you’re not receptive to new followers (or you can’t because you’ve hit the 2000 Following limit). If you follow a huge number of people compared to the number of people that currently follow you, then you look like you’re trying to the old “follow a bunch of people in the hopes that some of them will follow me back” tactic. Some of us are very wary about this, because that tactic is often done in order for selfish reasons (and I say that as having tried it several times in the past: it doesn’t work very well over the long term unless you happen to connect with a lot of these people in some meaningful way.)
  • You create a lot of automated Tweets instead of cranking them out by hand. It becomes pretty easy to tell what’s been automatically generated (and this is true for both regular Tweets, replies, and DMs (Direct Messages)). People are far more interested in the writings of a real human being than anything generated by a computer program. Sorry, but automated DMs really annoy me.
  • You don’t have many (or any) Replies in your Twitter stream. A reply appears in the public timeline and your own personal timelines, but it’s directed at a specific Twitter user. It’s a way of making conversation and it helps to build an online relationship between two people. In other words, it’s an indication that there’s a human being behind the Twitter account.
  • You Tweet a lot of content (including links) that are related to yourself, your organization, or your business. Unless that content is extremely relevant to me, I won’t bother signing up.
  • You produce offensive material (offensive is in the eye of the beholder).
  • You’re clearly talking to yourself about things that are relevant to you and you alone.
  • You don’t share useful, helpful, funny or interesting content.

Why people will stop following you on Twitter

  • You don’t respond to Reply Tweets – people don’t like to be ignored
  • You don’t respond to DMs – see previous
  • You don’t appear to respond to anything – see previous!
  • You start to produce offensive material on a regular basis (again, offensive is in the eye of the beholder) – no one wants to see stuff that they don’t want to see
  • You Tweet more about yourself and the things that you are selling than about other stuff.
  • You cease to share useful, helpful, funny or interesting content – therefore, why would they follow you?
  • You Tweet too much and it overwhelms a user’s Twitter stream so that it’s hard for them to see what anyone else is Tweeting.
  • You Tweet too little to be interesting or you stop Tweeting for a long period of time.

Conclusion: how to get followers if you’re not a star, captain of industry, or just plain famous

  • You need to be committed to a long term processing of sharing, helping, exchanging information, and building relationships gradually.
  • Share a lot of high quality content via links that other people have created.
  • You need to be a considerate human being.
  • You need to reach out to people but not bother them or overwhelm them.
  • Accept the fact that this involves a lot of work.

To close, I’m going to leave you with great advice from Ari Herzog that he wrote on (you guessed it) Twitter:

ariherzog @nooozeguy Greg: Be yourself on Twitter. Be as authentic as you can be. Be @Greg. Don’t be @noooozeguy. WTF is a noooze?

P.S. If you have any observations, suggestions, corrections, or remarks of any kind about this, why not lead a comment below? We’d all benefit from your feedback!

Other references about Twitter and social media for your consideration:

The Ultimate Social Media Etiquette Handbook (Tamar Weinberg‘s excellent guide)

Facebook and Twitter (includes thoughts by Steve Pavlina about following vs. not following)

My Twitter for Dummies Tip: Be Yourself (Laura @Pistachio Fitton writes this post at the Touchbase Blog at Pistachio Consulting)

25 Ways to Build Your Community (check out Chris Brogan’s point 9 about promoting other people 12 times more than you promote yourself)

7 Ingredients in the Perfect Twitter Profile

{ 18 trackbacks }

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