Having a large Twitter following brings many benefits — more fans who will retweet your posts, higher Klout scores, better branding, more media attention are just a few of them. So, many CEOs have been telling their Vice Presidents of Marketing or marketing agencies, “Get us 100,000 Twitter followers tomorrow!”
I exaggerate only a little. If you want to grow your Twitter followers in terms of both quantity and quality, this process that I have used over the years may help. Feel free to comment with your other ideas below!
Don’t Buy Followers in Bulk
I’ve seen too many instances where most of the new followers magically unfollow a month or so later, leaving the company out a few hundred dollars at least. Plus, what would you rather have — a couple thousand followers who are truly interested in you and what you offer and will be likely to retweet you, or 100,000 bots and spammers who don’t care about you at all? Besides, buying followers is embarrassing — and even more so when people find it out.
Ask the Right Question
It’s not, “How can I get 10,000 Twitter followers?” It’s, “Why should 10,000 people follow me?” And that comes down to creating a positioning statement. If you are working for a company or agency, then hopefully have already have one. But if you are an individual on Twitter, you might not.
To start the process, fill in the blanks here:
For [target customer] who [statement of the need or opportunity], the [product name] is a [product category] that [statement of key benefit — that is, compelling reason to buy]. Unlike [primary competitive alternative], our product [statement of primary differentiation].
This is for brainstorming purposes. Once this is complete, write a one- to two-sentence statement that summarizes your overall positioning. Then you can write various messaging documents (based on the positioning statement) including website tags and text, landing-page text, elevator pitches, the top points to make in TV interviews — and, yes, social profiles such as Twitter bios. (You can see some examples in the presentation below that I gave in a Mozinar on how to incorporate PR and digital marketing.)
As an example, I’ll use myself. There are countless people who know SEO and digital marketing, and there are countless people who know public relations. I chose to brand and position myself as an expert in integrating the two disciplines because it reflects my background, and there are far fewer people who also know both. It’s what I spoke about at SMX West in March, what I will speak about at Brighton SEO next year, and what I have written in another Moz essay.
There are likely hundreds, if not thousands, of people who know what you know and do what you do (if not more). What truly makes you different? What is your “unique product quality”? Point that out on your Twitter profile. My profile connects my prior journalism career to my current digital-marketing one and mentions my global speaking events as well as the fact that I contribute to Moz, LinkedIn Pulse, and the Times of Israel.
Then, after you have written and designed a good profile with enticing text along with attractive profile and header images, is it time to promote the account.
Use the “Follow-Back Strategy” — But Wisely!
(This section assumes that you’ve already done the basic Twitter promotion strategies such has adding follow buttons to your website.)
Many digital marketers already know that roughly 10% of the people you follow will follow you back. So, the common practice is to follow up to 100 a day — but not more, because that risks getting hammered by Twitter for spam — and then unfollowing those who don’t follow back after a few days.
I take that process and tweak it. First, think about who exactly would be interested either in you personally or in what your company offers. It might be people who have a certain phrase in their profiles, people who tweet a lot about a certain topic or hashtag, or people who follow a competitor or other relevant account. It’s all about the quality, not the quantity.
For me, I used Followerwonk to research the followers of Rand Fishkin, Danny Sullivan, and Dharmesh Shah — the co-founders of Moz, Search Engine Land/SMX, and Hubspot (respectively). See the two screenshots below:
I knew that anyone who followed all three of them would be very interested in digital marketing, so I exported an Excel spreadsheet of the Twitter accounts who follow the three influencers:
Once I had the spreadsheet, I sorted it in descending order of follower-count and eliminated accounts that were not relevant (strangely enough, quite a few child Disney actors follow them!).
Now, I did not blindly follow people and unfollow those who did not follow back. The influencers at the top of the list and down below had followings in the tens of thousands, and they are too valuable to ignore.
Twitter is a PR and Communications Channel
It’s not about you. It’s about how you can help others.
After I found the collection of influencers in my sector, I followed a few each day and placed them into a Twitter list that I could easily follow in Hootsuite (or your Twitter tool of choice). Melissa Culbertson and others have rightly said that Twitter is essentially a giant cocktail party, and I took that advice to heart. Do the following:
- Retweet writings and insightful posts by influencers
- Answer questions from influencers and provide sources
- If they are mentioned somewhere, let them know
- Comment on and interact with their thoughts
- Tweeting support when they’re nervous and about to speak at conferences
Yes, it sounds easy — but it’s a long-term gold mine. In addition to the 10% that have followed me back automatically, I have gained influential followers over time as a natural result of just forming real friendships. I don’t want to name names, but I have a set of well-known people in the digital-marketing community who are glad to offer advice, publicize my writings, and more — even though I have never met most of them in real life and live 10,000 miles away. It’s about acting on Twitter just as you would in the real world — be a genuine, friendly person without having any expectation of anything in return. I don’t do this directly to get followers or anything else — it’s actually just a nice by-product.
But it’s a lot more than that. My common refrain — albeit controversial — is that what we call “SEO results” (more backlinks, social followings, and more) are really just the by-products of doing good traditional marketing and public relations. The above-mentioned “influencer marketing” — though I hate that term — is just one way. Here are a few more:
- Add Twitter handles to company leaderhead, staff business cards, marketing collateral, press releases, and more
- Promote the handles in presentations and in named placards at speaking engagements (the latter of which what I’ve seen Hubspot do since the beginning)
- Include the handles in webinars, video presentations, and (when the media will allow it) TV interviews
In my own Twitter feed, I also use Buffer to schedule a mix of tweets at optimal times each day:
- Interactions with the aforementioned influencers
- Articles on public relations and digital marketing that would interest my followers
- Various, original, thought-leadership statements about my niche that end up being popular
— Samuel Scott (@samueljscott) December 24, 2014
Obviously, I’m speaking about gaining followers from within the digital-marketing industry — and it’s very tough because the hardest thing in the world is to market to other marketers. But this same process can be applied to an individual in any sector or industry.
What Brands Can Do
Now, if you are a brand, it’s a little different. As Bob Hoffman notes at The Ad Contrarian, “consumers have shown approximately zero interest in having ‘conversations about brands.'” Very few people care enough about their toothpaste, dishwashing soap, and laundry detergent to follow the brands on social media. Unless your a brand as large as Nike, Starbucks, or McDonalds, you are going to have a very though time gaining influence on Twitter.
But in addition to the methods listed above, here’s how you can start.
Get a brand evangelist to promote the company on Twitter (and elsewhere). Over on Moz, Mark Traphagen writes a powerful argument that brands should be represented by real people. In that essay, I commented with the following:
1. When social media first took off, the dominant theory was that brands should engage like people in communities to get more followers. It would be Widgets, Inc. jumping into a conversation in a Facebook group. It worked for a little bit — but only because of the novelty factor. It was an entirely new communications channel. Now, people have wizened up this “spam by another name.” A brand jumping into a conversation will always come off as spam because everyone knows that, in the end, the brand is always just selling something. (I don’t want to have a “conversation” with Pizza Hut — I just want to get a notification when they have a sale.) It would be like you having a conversation with people at a cocktail party and then having Tony the Tiger come up and say, “Try Frosted Flakes! They’re GRRRRRRRRRREAT!”
I once saw a client take this old, bad advice and do something similar on Google+. The client was a social advertising platform, and its page joined a social advertising community on Google+. The client’s page posted a news article in the community with something along the lines of, “We thought all of you would be interested in this article!” Of course, the community saw right through it. A moderator’s comment on the post received many +1s — “Please don’t spam this community by posting articles that — no matter how relevant — are just aimed at getting attention and followers of your page.”
2. I get a lot of Twitter DMs and tweets directed to me from businesses that sell marketing software to companies and agencies. You know what? If the tweet is from some random brand that I don’t know — I’ll almost always ignore the tweet or delete the DM. But if I get a tweet from a real person? I almost always take at least a minute to consider it.
I don’t mean to pick on anyone to takes the time to comment on Moz posts and contribute to the great discussions here, but I’ve never understand why some people comment here — or anywhere, in fact — as brands and not as individuals. (Actually, I understand why — I just don’t think it’s effective.) If I see a comment from “Widgets, Inc.,” that just strikes me as odd because I feel like I’m interacting with a faceless, robotic organization. But I see “John Smith” or “Jane Doe” (from Widgets, Inc.) commenting as themselves, then I’ll be much more interested in what they have to say — and I’ll also be more likely to see their profiles and then wonder for whom these genius people work!
3. I’ve got my own theory on how companies and agencies can harness the value of their employees. Say there’s an agency that has services in a bunch of different areas. Employee X could be given the task of being the thought leader of that agency in the SEO area. Employee Y could do the same in PR. Z could do the same in social media. A could do the same in online advertising. And so on. The CEO cannot be everywhere and do everything — and no CEO is an expert in all of the facets of his company — so, this way, the agency gets exposure in numerous disciplines and all of the attention and new business that comes with it. Plus, the attention and respect of their industry colleagues makes the employees feel happy — which helps the company, in the long term.
Use or create a creative department (or hire a creative agency). People like to point to items such as Oreo’s Super Bowl Blackout tweet as an example of social-media success. But it was really just a good advertisement — albeit one that was brainstormed, produced, and distributed very quickly. As I’ve explained before in terms of traditional marketing and communications theory, “social media” is just a set of modern communications channels and not something entirely revolutionary.
Participate in Twitter chats. One of the quickest way to gain brand awareness — as a brand and/or an individual — is to find relevant Twitter chats and engage with them. (For example, Raven Tools has a lengthy list of chats in the marketing industry.) The key: Do not spam! Don’t just flood the hashtag with requests that people follow you. Don’t throw in links to your website or landing page. Rather, participate positively in the topic at hand. I’ve gained a couple hundred followers each few weeks just by joining those marketing chats and offering my thoughts on the issues that are discussed. If my responses interest people, they may follow me.
Bringing it All Together
In the end, the best way to get followers is to be worthy of having followers in the first place. It’s about marketing yourself or your company — there isn’t a magic button or bag of tricks to get 10,000 real and relevant Twitter followers overnight. But nothing good ever comes easily or quickly.