In keeping with our philosophy of sharing our collective discoveries and knowledge, I thought it might be beneficial to share my personal experiences with Twitter over the past year. As
many some none of you know, I maintain a personal blog where I post comics, illustrations, and other nonsense. I thought Twitter would be a great platform to share this content and build followers, and although I had read some general best practices, I was curious (as usual) about the specific details of the process and excited to learn firsthand.
I started tweeting with my personal account on July 12, 2012 with 0 followers and today, I have 572. Now, this isn’t mind blowing or anything (@NathanFillion has 1,874,299), but it does show how (with Twitter anyway) you can start with nothing and pretty easily gain followers, engage with people, and build relationships. Conversely, I started around the same time with Facebook, gained about 40 or so fans instantly from my personal profile, but currently still have only 50. This just illustrates how each platform operates differently and has its own purpose and limitations.
What I Discovered
If You Follow People, Many Will Follow You Back
This is probably the best way to gain followers on Twitter. The conversion rate is 20–40%, but is very dependent on the relevancy of who you are following. For example, if you are selling meat logs, following a vegetarian will probably not encourage that person to follow you back. I knew I wanted to find people who liked weird comics, because it would be more likely they would like my weird comics.
My first obstacle, however, was finding these people. I tried searching Twitter for “comics” or even “#comics” but was only finding tweets from @DCComics. As much as I would have loved to believe DC Comics would follow me back and become my BFF, I knew it wasn’t going to happen. I was discouraged. Then I remembered SOTSOG.
SOTSOG is an acronym I just made up, but it stands for the very real and very suitable phrase “standing on the shoulders of giants” made famous by Isaac Newton. Essentially it means building on the work of others, and once this idea came to me, everything fell into place. I realized there were hundreds—even thousands—of very popular artists who already had an immense following on Twitter. And, because Twitter is completely transparent, I was able to access these followers very easily. The only thing left to do was find popular artists that produced content similar in style to my own. Remember: The more relevant the content, the better the conversion rate.
After learning how this worked and being happy to see my followers start to grow, I began to refine my method of following. At first, I looked through each profile and tried to only follow users that had profile pictures, looked like cool (real) people, and — most importantly — didn’t have too many followers of their own. I assumed that someone with only 10–50 followers would be very likely to notice my following them and check me out, while someone with 1,000+ would be way too popular to even notice. I assumed incorrectly. (Actually, this is true, but the number is way higher, probably more around 50–100K or above.) My point is this: I’ve had people with 10 followers ignore me and people with 10,000 followers follow me back. It’s impossible to be sure if someone will re-follow, and the process of looking through profiles takes a long time.
For example, when checking profiles, it’s possible to do maybe 10 per minute. However, if you just drill down the list of followers and follow every one, you can do 100 per minute. Sure, you aren’t as accurate, but in the long run, the huge return outweighs accuracy.
Don’t Be Too Aggressive
You might now be thinking the same thing I did at this point: “Okay, cool, I’ll just follow a million people and instantly get 300,000 followers! That was easy!” Well, it doesn’t work that way. And, as usual, taking shortcuts could get you in trouble.
Twitter monitors all activity and if you follow (or unfollow) too aggressively you’ll get banned, either temporarily or FOREVER. This scared me, so I am always very careful about how many people I follow at a time. I read everything about this I could find in the Twitter Help Center and they only define aggressive following as:
“…indiscriminately following hundreds of accounts just to garner attention.”
They also say:
“…if you don’t follow or un-follow hundreds of users in a single day, and you aren’t using automated methods of following users, you should be fine.”
I normally follow 20 per day, just to be safe, but for me it’s not a race. Remember: The ultimate goal here is not to win a popularity contest, but to create meaningful interactions and relationships.
Eventually You Have to Clean Your “Following” List
There’s a thing called “follow churn,” which means following a bunch of people and then un-following them shortly afterwards. This is a very bad practice, as I’m sure you can tell, and is a spammy way to increase followers while keeping your following down. I realized this right away and assumed people only did this to appear more “popular.” For example, having 1,000 followers while only following 10 makes you seem like a rockstar while the opposite makes you seem relatively unpopular. I really didn’t care about this, however, and knew that even if I was following 2,000 people, my potential 500 followers would be the ultimate goal. I planned on never un-following anyone, because, what would be the point?
Well, the problem is, Twitter also keeps track of your following/followers ratio, and, once you are following 2,000 users, if it’s too low you won’t be able to follow anyone else. I knew about the ratio, but again, they were pretty abstract in the Twitter Help Center:
“…for example, you can’t follow 10,000 people if only 100 people follow you.”
Considering their example ratio of 1%, I assumed (again incorrectly) a ratio of around 30% would be okay. I’m not sure what the ratio is, but it’s higher than 30%. So, I realized I would have to start un-following people — which is where I’m at in the process right now. I’m treating it the same way as following and only un-following 20 or so users each day. It also takes a bit longer because you have to open each account and only un-follow users that aren’t following you.
Regarding this step, I feel there are two ways to proceed:
- Alternate un-following and following
- Clean the whole list down to as close to a perfect ratio as possible and start fresh
I am pretty confident #2 is better, since there could be an overlap with #1, where you don’t give people enough time to follow you back and un-follow too early. The only downside to #2 is there is a short period where you aren’t growing followers, but I guess that’s just the name of the game.
Twitter is a spectacular platform for gaining followers, engaging with people, and building relationships. The interface and overall transparency make it very easy to find and connect with relevant users. Just remember that it’s not a popularity contest, and the most important part is interacting with the people you are following and those who are following you. I made some wonderful connections with wonderful people from all over the world! If you follow the guidelines and give back to the community, Twitter is a great place to market and grow your business or blog.
And, to tie it all together, I recently published a new t-shirt design and was able to track 5 sales back to my initial Twitter post! I was so excited to see it working!