Wednesday, April 25, 2012

#Twitter 104: Building a Following, Early Stages

Here's what I've been doing to get my Twitter kite off the ground.
First, you must understand that Twitter allows anyone to follow 2,000 people. After that, they impose limits based on mostly-secret algorithms, based mainly (or wholly – I can't be sure) on how many people follow you in return.

You'll realize that most Twitter users have no idea how it works if you glance at their follow/follower ratio. Unless you're a celebrity (or on your way towards becoming one), the ratio should be fairly even - and if you've been using it (properly) for awhile your 'followers' list should be at least around 2,000 people.

At this point you may think:

1) Jeff isn't following 2,000 people! (It's true, I'm not.)
2) You don't want to follow 2,000 people!

I'll explain. I was following 2,000 folks. I acquired most of them using a tool called TweetAdder [review], which automates the work of adding follows. It does other things as well, and may be worth its $55 cost to you. But if you're not sure you'll pursue a Twitter marketing strategy, you can still download the program free and use it in demo mode. This will limit your automated 'adds' to 250, after which you'll have to delete the program (and the preferences it installs), reinstall, and start over to add the next batch. That's a chore, but still easier than adding thousands of names by hand.

There are many sources from which you can choose potential followers. I picked Jenny Holzer's followers – since I'll be writing posts about her, it seemed a good fit. I also chose them because none of them expects to be followed back – Holzer follows no one on Twitter. That suggests they may be less interested in rising within the Twitter social pyramid and more into exchanging ideas, which aligns with my own goals.

In this way, I added enough 'follows' to bring me to Twitter's limit. 2,000 is the ceiling if you don't have many followers, which (having hardly used the service) I didn't. This initially left me with an absurdly lopsided ratio of 2,000 'follows' vs. around 50 'followers'.

Once you've done this, the folks you're following will do one of two things: 

(1) They'll ignore you.
(2) They'll follow you.

There are a thousand-and-one reasons why a Twitter user would ignore you, and a thousand of them shouldn't be taken personally. Even if you don't believe me, or you think everyone should like you - don't sweat it. This is a process, not a final exam. If you persevere, it's quite likely that at least some of the folks who didn't acknowledge your electronic existence will line up for your Tweets (assuming lining up for Tweets is something people do) a year from now.

Let's focus on those who DID follow you. They did so for one of two reasons:

Twitter enabled me to tap into Jenny Holzer's fanbase.
1) They looked at your blog page (if you don't have one, get one – you'll need it for this) / Twitter profile / prior Tweets / arrest record / Google search results / Pinterest boards / LinkedIn connections / Facebook profile / incriminating MySpace pics – etc. – and liked what they saw.

2) They don't give a damn about you, but by adding you Twitter will allow them to add two or three others they DO want to add.

Now, their rationale could include some from Column A and some from Column B, but who cares? It doesn't matter, you're in. You're on a roll.

Seasoned Tweeters tell me that if you've followed someone and they're inclined to follow-back, they'll do so within five days. I actually left Twitter alone for a few weeks while I went about other business, Tweeting and interacting on occasion. Sure enough, nearly all the follow-backs happened within a few days. There were also new follows that happened simply because there was activity on my account, prompting Twitter to promote my Tweets. (There were also some naturally-occurring adds from other sources.) All told, I wound up with 2,000 follows and 450 followers, which was certainly a move up.

In order to reach out further, I now have to pare down the list considerably. TweetAdder does that automatically, but I wanted to really 'see' the folks I was looking to cut. So I found an online tool called ManageFlitter for that task, and have spent the better part of two days cutting back to a much leaner mix of around 600 follows vs. 450 followers. (As I write this, I'm still not quite there.)

Many of the cuts were easy. Lots of folks sign up for Twitter but never use it much (or at all). You're likely one of them, and are reading this hoping to mend your ways. ManageFlitter nicely points out the folks who don't do much Tweeting. I also cut out most folks with enormous followings, as there was little chance they'd ever follow me. (Perhaps they will once Patriots hits the NY Times best-seller list, but that day is not today.) Beyond that, I cut out most of my non-followers while keeping a few who I thought were especially interesting or charming, who re-tweeted (i.e., got involved with the folks they did follow), whose goals and sensibilities complemented mine (I kept an eye out for book reviewers, for one thing), etc. The process is not unlike looking for potential friends. It may be that in time, by getting to know them through their Tweets and some direct interaction on my part, some may yet follow me.

The next step will be to add new names. I'll pull some names identified by Klout and Pinterest as active social media users interested in sci-fi. I'll also grab names of Twitter users following writers who have created books roughly similar to Patriots. I'll hit Twitter's ceiling again, and again I'll see who responds, and pare back. Growing a following on Twitter - at least in the early stages - is a process of expansion and pullback.

I haven't yet addressed the 'following 2000 people' aspect of this. I'll deal with that in another post, where I'll discuss lists and other management tools. For now, I'll just note Linda Stone's observation that Twitter is continuous partial mindcasting, continuous partial friendship, continuous partial connections. As it happens, she just posted on the subject of balancing the many tasks our increasingly-connected world both enables and commands us to do.

The Zen of Twitter (series)

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