Friday, 19 April 2013

Building a twitter following: The right way, the wrong way and the grey inbetween?

People ask us how to get twitter followers all the time. Twitter is big business. Having a huge following means exposure. It means people assume credibility. It gives a huge number of impressions for adverts - as long as done tastefully.

There are numerous methods for building followers. They can be broadly categorised as follows:

1. Organic content growth - This is perhaps the most honest method of building a following. Generate good content, and hope people find you. My problem here is that 140 characters is a very short space in which to write any content. Quotes, jokes and twitter art (basically ASCII art modified for the twitter width) all do very well in terms of getting retweets. This takes a long time, but quality followers beat quantity in my book.

2. Organic engagement growth - By conversing with others, you build relationships. Chatting with someone often leads to mutual following. This is high energy, and high maintenance. Those you chatted with only remember you if you say something original, or keep talking. Many authors engage someone just long enough to try and convince them to buy their book. I personally hate this. It's not time effective, and it just feels dirty.

3. Spam - Some users tweet huge numbers of people. A % will reply and or follow you. This won't get quality traffic but it does build raw numbers. It also tends to get you banned from twitter, eventually.

4. Robots - Twitter is littered with bots. They follow you in the hope you'll follow back. They then either spam message you, @mention you to try and spam your followers or they direct message you with stuff like 'I saw this picture of you' or 'I CANT BELIVE YOU DID THIS' then link you to a virus. Bots aren't all bad though. Twitter has a cap on the number of people you can follow. Initially it's 2000. Once you hit that it's the number of followers you have +10%. So 2000 follower means you can follow 2200. If you've got 2000 robot followers, you can use this to follow 2200 real people. Some of those will then follow you back. Whatever you do, don't follow the robots. Unless you like being pestered by DM. Mentioning popular terms like #Apple, #Twilight, #sex or other trigger terms often gets a deluge of these bots.

5. Follow/ Unfollow. This is a common method of gaining followers. If you follow 100 people, usually half of them will follow you back. You then unfollow those who don't follow you, and follow 50 new people. Rinse & repeat. A more elaborate way of doing this is to use lists of people who are known to follow back. Some of these are public. Others are sold. Or you can compile your own. I know of at least one author who uses 'side' twitter accounts to work out who follows back. Then he can add the maximum 1000 new follows every day safe in the knowledge all of them will follow back. Do that for 3 years, and you've got yourself a million followers.  This method does work, but twitter do frown upon it.  Some users will tweet using the hashtag #teamfollowback to indicate they will follow anyone that follows them - to me, this is a pointless exercise in vanity as there will be no underlying engagement. It's simply a way to pad your numbers.

6. Buy followers - Two subsets here. 1. Ethical (or semi-Ethical purchases) and 2. Unethical purchases. The first set is buying followers by advertising heavily. This could be Google adverts, or promoted tweets. It could be directly to your twitter feed, or it could be adverts placed for your website that links to your twitter feed. Obviously, indirect paid adverts have a lesser conversion rate, but it feels less sleazy. I'm not above paying Google, Facebook and twitter to promote me, but I don't think it's very cost effective as a method. The unethical method is buying followers. Lots of websites do this. Basically, you'll end up with a lot of robot followers - with all the disadvantages that entails. See #4. If you use this to then follow real people, you can jump start a follow/ unfollow.
Twitter bot offering to sell followers - 10,000 for $25. Just spam, or a chance to follow 11,000 real people?

For example...

Follow/Unfollow from scratch without bots:
Day #1-2 Follow 2000 real people (1k per day max)
1000 follow back

Day #3 Unfollow the 1000 who didn't follow you. Follow 1000 new people.
500 follow back (now at 1500)

Day #4 Unfollow 500 who didn't follow. Follow 500 new people
250 follow back (1750)

Day #5 Unfollow 250 who didn't follow. Follow 250 new people.
125 follow you back (1875 - you can now follow 2063 thanks to the +10% rule).

Day #6 Unfollow 125 who didn't follow. Follow 188 new people.
94 follow back (1969 - you can now follow 2166)

Day #7 Unfollow the 94 who didn't follow. Follow 197 new people.
98 follow you back (2067 - you can now follow 2274)
One week total: 2067

Follow/Unfollow from scratch with using bots
#Day 1 Buy robot followers - 10k+ can be had for pennies.
Follow 1000 people (half follow back)
Repeat every day. Each day you gain +500 followers.
One week total: 3500 real human followers (plus the bots)

Now combine that with a list of follow back accounts using the technique outlined in #5.
This gives 1000 followers every day.
One week total: 7000

#1 alone would have got a handful of followers by one week. Those who skirt the rules get far more.

7. Be Famous - Famous or infamous, either works. People follow celebrities, reality tv stars and the like even though they may have nothing of real interest to say. Failing being famous, why not take it? Satirical impersonations often get a huge following.
We bought advertising early on. Then the virality of idiots writing a novel in 90 days, plus following 1000/ day saw us increase rapidly. We didn't remove bots. As a side - robot followers almost always unfollow eventually if you don't follow back. We only follow those we've spoken to, or otherwise find interesting. You can't keep up with the people you follow once you go beyond a couple of hundred active tweeters. At 10k+ it's a nightmare, and you will lose followers due to lack of engagement. It sucks, but maintaining a twitterbase that isn't a 'fan base' (who don't expect engagement) is very hard work.

Bots are not. Facebook ads cost 50c/ conversion. Twitter is about the same. Cost per click on google can be over $1, and not all of them will follow you. It's very expensive to build followers that way. Jokes seem to help - we found jokes were retweeted a dozen times or more... but it's not targeted traffic. While it got us followed, they weren't necessarily the right people to buy a crime novel.

1 million followers who just follow you gains you very little
100 who buy, review and tell their friends are worth their weight in gold

Twitter is a numbers game, but it's also a quality game. It isn't great as a direct sales platform, but indirect sales, traffic and relationships can be very valuable. See our previous post on viral ratios - a quality twitter following can be the early stages of going viral. A second element for us is who you target. Twitter is very incestuous in the way writers follow other writers. Sure, they're readers too, but the shop talk we exchange isn't attractive to readers.  We'll save this for a follow up blog post.
How do you use twitter? Would you follow/unfollow? Would you ever buy robot followers? Do you use automation software like Tweetdeck, Gremlin or Hootsuite to automate your tweets (& or follows)? Where is the line between promotion and spam?

The authors of this article do not endorse any behaviour which does not comply with the twitter terms of service, and or where appropriate local law.

1 comment:

  1. I've been tweeting for five years now, and this is the first time I've really understood how it works. In my view, the quickest way to get unfollowers is to give a few 'lazy shout-outs'.