Twitter reached 500 million user accounts in February 2012, according to independent analytics firm Twopcharts. Nevertheless, when you open a new Twitter account, almost nobody knows it exists. After you follow your friends and a few of the celebrities Twitter recommends, you’re unlikely to see many followers of your own unless you take action.
While it might sound sexy to lead thousands of followers, the most important measure of your account is their quality. People who won’t retweet your tweets, answer your questions or click your links aren’t very useful to you. Quality followers who interact with you are also more likely to help you recruit even more followers. Social media experts agree that the most effective strategy for cultivating a responsive Twitter following is to offer valuable or interesting information, attract responsive followers and interact with those followers. “It’s not about how many followers you have, it’s how many really care,” Wine Library founder and social media pioneer Gary Vaynerchuk told KembyTV.
While you may not reach the heights of Lady Gaga’s 19 million followers or Ashton Kutcher’s nine million, these specific strategies may help you to cultivate a Twitter following that welcomes and responds to your tweets.
Determine what you want to achieve with your Twitter account, and focus your account on those goals, tailoring your bio and your tweets appropriately. “If your Twitter goals are wide, why not start multiple Twitter accounts, one for each objective,” writes Problogger founder Darren Rowse. “For example, you could have a social one for your friends, one for each blog that you have to drive traffic, and another to build profile.”
Your tweets should closely reflect the goals you’ve set. Don’t tweet frequently about your personal issues if you’re trying to build a business following. If your account is about a specific interest, send “@replies” to ask questions of others with the same interest.
Complete your Twitter bio, including your location, your website address (using the full URL), the interests that reflect your goals, and other information that strangers might want to know about you. According to Digg Founder Kevin Rose, “Your latest tweets and @replies don’t mean much to someone that doesn’t know you. Your bio is the only place you have to tell people who you are.”
Include a photo to attract interest. Research has shown that people who include a photo in their Twitter profile average over 250 followers, while those who don’t fall well short of 50. If your Twitter account is about yourself, use a photo with your smiling face. Rowse recommends using a picture that reinforces your brand. “If your brand is you, then a picture of you would be worth adding. If your brand is your blog, then use a logo of some kind.”
Promote your Twitter account everywhere you can, including your blog, Facebook profile, company website and other social sites. Most social networking sites and blogging software include a place to add a Twitter link to your profile. Add your handle (“@username”) to your print literature as well, and if possible include a QR code that readers can scan with a mobile phone. “Every time I give a talk, speak on a panel, shoot a podcast, present slides, or hand out business cards, I figure out a way to broadcast or display my Twitter account,” Rose writes.
Seek out people who are talking about the things you care about. Vaynerchuk recommends using Twitter’s Search feature to find people discussing the topics that stir your passions. When you find someone discussing a topic, you can follow, retweet or reply to them, letting them know you’re passionate about the subject. You may also get ideas for your own tweets by following people you admire.
If you’re blogging as a business, seeking out people who are talking about your business is critical. “I don’t think any brand or business should let a customer talk about them on the social Web…and not engage it,” Vaynerchuk told BusinessWeek.
Make your tweets count. Twitter is full of users who post nothing but inspirational quotes, random news articles or “trending” topics, and people have become blind to those posts. Such tactics are likely to decrease your follower numbers, not increase them. Instead, tweet useful, unique content. Tweets that are interesting enough to be retweeted will gain you a much wider audience. Rose recommends tweeting photos, which are more likely to be retweeted.
Ask questions and engage in conversations. If you’re using the account to promote your business, this is even more important. Twitter, according to Vaynerchuk, “is the first place where the skill set is not giving a presentation. It’s working the room. It’s a cocktail party.”
Even when your follower count is low, your tweets can be found by anyone using a Twitter search, so even when you’ve got a low follower count you’re not necessarily shouting into a vacuum. If you make your tweets appealing to someone who might be searching for a specific topic, you may convert strangers into responsive followers. Consistent use of hashtags (a word or phrase preceded by “#”) makes your tweets easier to find as well. Rowse suggests tweeting at peak times, which coincide with U.S. business hours, for maximum visibility.
Analyze your Twitter behavior and the response to your tweets. Social media consultant Chris Brogan recommends periodically taking a “Twitter audit” to ensure you’re balancing your original tweets, retweets and replies, and checking on what your followers respond to. This will give you a good idea on what to change and what to focus on as you build your following.
Don’t bulk-follow random people in hopes that they’ll follow you back. Besides attracting poor-quality followers, this tactic may result in restrictions to your account. According to Twitter, after you follow 2000 people you must maintain a reasonable number of followers as well, or Twitter will limit or even suspend your account.
Although reciprocal following may seem like a solution for your low follower numbers, following people you don’t really care about can result in problems such as spam and missing the communications you do care about in the flood of those you don’t.
Brogan wrote that he once unfollowed every one of his 131,000 followers “primarily because I was getting crushed by direct message spam. I chose to follow that many people in the first place, because I felt that reciprocal following was polite. However, I came to realize that I wasn’t actually seeing anything that anyone was posting.”
Instead follow only the people or businesses who best relate to your goals. That way you’ll find a much higher ratio of tweets in your timeline that you can reply to or retweet yourself, which in turn will help you hook new followers.