You Are A TouristToday's Tune:
Today, I wanted to talk about building a quality Twitter following. Not a writing related post, but hopefully it's useful nonetheless.
First I'd like to get this one eensy, tiny little side note out of the way: there is no guaranteed way to blow up your follower count to X number of people in X amount of time. There are certainly methods of pumping up your numbers, usually by purchasing followers from one of many third-party websites, but that's not a strategy for making sure all of your followers are real people who are interested in you personally and care about what you have to say (or what you're selling, let's be honest).
BUT. There are methods that will greatly improve your chances of getting and keeping followers who care and are following you because they, you know, think you're worth following.
Also, let's get this unpleasant-but-true fact out of the way: if you are an aspiring author, people will take you more seriously and are more likely to follow you if you're published or have an agent. People like to follow the success stories -- it gives an author more authority in the public's eye because they're on the other side of the fence. Sucks, but it's true. THIS DOES NOT MEAN that you cannot build an awesome following as an unagented, unpublished author. There are many unpublished (pre-published?) authors out there who have strong followings. Sure, the odds are in favor of the people who have "made it," but you can get there, too. Also, hey, strong online presence is often a GREAT thing to put on your "resume" when querying.
So, let's get to the good stuff.
Strategy #1 - Make Your Profile Attractive
This sounds simple, but it's actually a big deal. First, fill out your account information and personalize your settings. Name, location, bio, website, background, color scheme. DO NOT EVER USE THE DEFAULT TWITTER EGG AVATAR. It will instantly brand you as a new and inexperienced account. Change your avatar to something that shows your face. You can use one of those cute cartoon avatars if you prefer, but it should still be a person/face. This will help users view you as a real person rather than a faceless internet nobody. You don't have to give your exact location, but try to give your state or country. Use the name people will be searching you by. When you write your bio, give them a taste of your personality. Do not be salesy (no "Buy my book now!" or "Editing services available at X cost!") in your bio. Also, avoid terminology that makes you sound like a douchebag. Do not pitch yourself as a "guru" or "seasoned professional" or "world-weary traveler who channels Hemingway." Just be clever and just be you.
Strategy #2 - Create Followable Content
Ugh, easier said than done, right? But it's key. If you want followers (followers that aren't just bots and spammers and follow-backs, I mean), you need to be worth following. People follow Twitter accounts for three primary reasons: entertainment, information, or free stuff. They may also follow you because they know you from elsewhere on the Internet and they like you. Your account should have a variety of content, but it should all be engaging. Be yourself. If you're funny, be funny. If you're witty, be witty. If you're smart, share your smarts. Try to go for an even balance between sharing photos and links, 140-character bites of awesome, and conversation. You should be conversing using @replies & #hashtags. People like to follow users who will actually talk to them.
Strategy #3 - Tweet Said Content Regularly, But Don't Spam
You should be tweeting at least several times a week, preferably a few times a day (2-5 tweets a day is good). People don't tend to follow infrequent or inactive accounts, because there's no point. However, you don't want to overwhelm everyone's feed with constant tweets, either. Avoid sending out several tweets in a short period of time. If you're involved in a Twitter party or TweetChat, it may be a good idea to let your followers know ahead of time so they don't go WTF when you show up in their feed 30 times in 45 minutes.
Strategy #4 - Follow Other Users With Similar Interests
Okay, blah blah blah, a bunch of stuff about presentation and content, BUT WHAT ABOUT FOLLOWERS? These are the building blocks to piquing enough interest to get people to want to follow you. Now this is how you find them. First, who are your target audiences? Other writers? Teenagers? Parents? Readers? You can find those people by searching appropriate hashtags, seeing who's following some of your favorite users, or by using a program like TweetAdder to search for specific keywords listed in bios. Follow people in your target audience. If you target correctly and are creating quality content, odds are good that you'll get some follow-backs. But please note: Twitter has some Follower Policies that you should brush up on. DO NOT follower-churn (follow large quantities of people and un-follow them if they don't follow you back quickly). Don't follow an excessive number of people. If you're following waaaaay more people than follow you, it doesn't look good to other potential followers. They may assume you're a bot and your account may get flagged.
Strategy #5 - Go Through Your Following List and Prune Regularly
This sounds like it's in direct opposition to my last advice, which was DO NOT FOLLOWER-CHURN. However, that's not what I'm suggesting here. Don't bulk follow and bulk un-follow. But there is some sense in keeping your following numbers below or almost equal to your follower numbers. You can use a site like Who Unfollowed Me to see if anyone who was following you before un-followed you, as well as who isn't following you back. You can make the decision to keep or un-follow those posters. Don't un-follow people out of spite, but do use the knowledge to your tactical advantage. That site can also give you hints about WHY people are un-following. Did you lose several followers after you made a controversial post? After you tried to sell something a little too hard? Or were they just spam/unrelated accounts trying to get a follow-back? Take note.
Strategy #6 - Follow Back Smartly
The "follow-back" is big currency in Twitter-land. People like to follow interesting accounts, but they also like to see their own numbers go up. When someone follows you, check out their account. If they're relevant to your interests, follow them back. People who view your account will see that you're not stingy with your follows, so they may follow you just to see if you return the favor. Do it, but do it sparingly. You don't have to follow back anyone annoying, or spammy, or unrelated to your interests. Just be aware that those accounts may be follower-churning YOU and may un-follow after a few days. That's okay. Anyone who does that isn't interested in you or your work anyway. After you get a significant following, you may be able to abandon this technique because people will follow you no matter what, but it's always a nice thing to keep in mind. Don't forget the little people after you make it big.
Strategy #7 - Link Your Twitter Account Everywhere
Your Twitter account should be linked everywhere that you have contact with other people. Email signature. Forum signature. Blog. Website. Business cards, if it's appropriate. Increase your visibility and let people know you have an account. If they like what you have to say elsewhere, they may check you out on Twitter, too. But don't be gauche about it. No bolding, colored font, or huge icons. Just an clear-but-casual mention.
Strategy #8 - Be Involved, Be Personable
You find followers by being friendly and involved in the Twitter environment. Compliment people on something they posted. Retweet good tweets. Find some writer chats and join in. You're a person, so let people feel like they're talking to a person. Not someone shouting from a mountaintop, or some insincere salesman who goes, "Hey, I see you like horses. I wrote a book about horses, you should check it out!" Be a friend. Be a person people like, not because you're faking it, but because you're likable. Don't just talk about yourself/your book/what you're doing. Share, talk, play, engage.
So. That's my spiel for how to build a solid base following of real people who share your interests, will support you, and will care about what you have to say. If all you care about are numbers, there are many methods for pumping them up. You can get lots of follow-backs from people who will never even look at your tweets because they're just trying to pump their own followers. You can buy numbers. You can't buy people who care. You have to do that part yourself.
Ultimately, you should enjoy Twitter. You should have fun with it and do your own thing. Building a following takes time and it takes a bit of work, but it can be really, really worth it in the end if you do it right.