News of the Tweet: Follow the Leader

Gaining a following, making it count and is it a numbers game?

By Seb Kemp

Well, Red Bull, I was going to talk about this but I have been advised that it would be foolish to gas bag about such matters.

Instead, I was going to start by opening up the discussion about Greg Lomond's open letter to the UCI but this whole thing is far above my head and starting to make me even more pessimistic for the future of humanity.

I was going to use #NOTT as an opportunity to warn all of our forest-dwelling rodent friends about the dangers that await.

Then I was going to highlight the interesting little bitch fight that keyboard warrior Adam Grandmaison of The Come Up BMX started. But doing so would be giving more air to him and his dirty handed attempts at getting more followers for his business.

Which got me onto followers.

According to some social media pundits and gurus, everyone on Twitter wants more followers. In fact, Guy Kawasaki, who is a venture capitalist, author and one of the original Macintosh marketeers, goes as far as to say "That truth be told, there are only two types of Twitter users: those that want more followers and those that lie."

Is this true? Is Twitter just a numbers game? Is it simply about the swell in your stats and the size of your parish? Is it just a video game where your score is determined by the number of your followers?

There are a few reasons you might want more followers:
1. The more followers you have the more people assume you have something useful, valid or interesting to say.
2. Twitter is a great way to spread ideas so having a larger audience will help spread them the furthest.
3. If you are on Twitter trying to sell something (yourself or your company's wares no doubt) then the more followers you have means a greater opportunity to make more sales.

Before we move onto a discussion of how to increase your following, ask yourself 'Does this matter?' Lady Gaga has all of the followers (30,738,799 today actually) and is growing her congregation all the time because she is selling herself, but does it matter whether you have five or five million followers? It depends on what you are doing with Twitter. Some people use it to be informed, some to be entertained, some to network and some to market. Figuring out what you use Twitter for is the first vital step. If you mainly consume Twitter, then it might be more important to have a greater number of people you follow. If you use it as a facet of your nefarious marketing campaign then yes, it does matter how many people follow you. However, there is a difference between the quantity and quality of your followers.

Kawasaki prefers to spray and says Twitter is all about blind numbers, saying that you should forget the "influentials" (people that shape what the rest of us try and adopt). Instead, because the "internet has flattened and democratized information…influentials don't have as much special access" so you should try and get more "nobodies" (his words not mine) because eventually the tide of "nobodies" will out influence the modest number of "influentials".

He goes onto say that you should "defocus your efforts", which is to say you shouldn't waste your time targeting markets, demographics or followers, but rather just spray the walls and see what sticks. Kawasaki says that "the goal is to get masses of people because you don't know who can and will help you". This seems to be contrary to most marketing principles as it could mean a large degree of wasted time, money and effort, but old Kawasaki believes that Twitter is so cheap that it hardly matters.

"Ignore people who tell you that it's the quality of your followers not the quantity. They're trying to make friends, not use Twitter as a tool," he goes onto say.

Now, Kawasaki should know a lot more about this topic than I, so I won't disagree, instead I'll just shake my head and rub my chin.

If you want to make quantity your priority there are a bunch of methods you can use as outlined by WikiHow.

-Follow everyone who follows you. Unfortunately, there are plenty of people who follow people just in the hopes to get a follow back, and if they don't get a refollow then they unfollow you. This is called "aggressive following" or "follower churn" and although Twitter Implemented a policy against this practice it still exists. This means that you should keep track of new followers and follow them in return or face loosing them again.

The madness of this is that once you follow over 100 people it becomes impossible to keep up with and read all their updates, and in my eyes, counterintuitive to Twitter if you want to care about what people actually say. Of course, if you are trying to sell something then you don't care what someone had for breakfast or what they think about the price of eggs.

-Follow people that autofollow. There are such things as Twitter celebrities on twitter who have a huge number of following and followers, these people are likely to follow you back automatically. If they retweet or mention you in a tweet then the potential for that to be seen by a large number of people is increased.

-Ask people to retweet you. This is the equivalent to the desperation boys have when they hang outside of the nightclub at 1:50 in the morning hoping to mine sweep the last dregs of women when they have been already been hugely unsuccessful in acquiring a bed friend in the prior three hours of Jager shots, random dance floor grinding, and one-liners. There is nothing more sad than asking for a retweet than turning up to an ex's house crying while holding your own penis in your hand. However, unlike the tearful jerk, it might bring you more followers.

-Buy followers. Yes, it is possible to buy followers. Just Google it. The problem with this is, apart from being contrary to Twitter rules, is that these are useless followers with no affinity for you. They are like sending direct mail to an un-targeted, generic list. Utterly worthless if you want to be heard.

One well known mountain biking freerider was recently discovered to have bought 5,000 new followers. His motives for this were that these days some sponsorship contracts have social media clauses in them and if he could appear to be more influential than he really was, then he could bump up his earnings. This is about the only instance where this is a valid reason for doing this, even if it is a bit sad.

The other side of the coin is to have a more qualitative approach.

-Make sure your profile is dialed. Make sure the egg logo isn't your profile picture. Some pundits say that it is very important to show your face in the picture too. More so, show people what you are interested in. The best way to do this is to state this in your Twitter bio. A well-written bio will help inform potential followers and attract you to them.

-Tweet often but leave space for engagement. The more active you are on Twitter the more likely you are to have others find and follow you. However, if you tweet to frequently and clog up peoples feed then you run the risk of losing followers. Strike the right balance and you will grown.

-Engage with people who share your updates. Consider this ongoing market research but also increasing the likelihood that someone will pick up on the conversation. However…

-Conversation killer. If when potential new followers check out a profile and all they see is a stream of @ responses and conversation strings then they know their own feed could be clogged with all this banter if they do follow.

-Retweet. Part of the community of Twitter is fostering a culture of sharing []. The more you link to others the more they will link to you, and that's what will help grow your follower count. Be generous and be inspiring by posting people to interesting resources.

-Provide value. Consider why someone might want to follow you and how following you will enrich their life. You have to have serious pull to attract and hold followers with pictures of your breakfast, lunch and dinner. More so, don't just bombard with links to products, adverts and sales material. People don't want another stream of consumerism if there is nothing more for them than spending their money on your junk and making you a gazillionaire. Avoid too much promotion and personal bullshit but don't avoid both. Balance it out.

-Time your tweets. Tweeting when your followers are online only increases the chances that your updates will be read and shared – adding to your potential followers.