Thursday, February 28, 2013

My Twitter Strategy

Yesterday someone complimented my 'Twitter strategy'. Up until then, I didn't suppose anyone even knew I had one. But yes, I do, and here it is.

I now have over 30,000 Twitter followers, which puts me within the top 10% of users. Granted, these aren't Lady Gaga numbers, but then again I'm not Lady Gaga.

Folks usually ask me at least one of two questions about this: (1) How do you, not being Lady Gaga and all, build a sizable list like that?, and (2) Why should anyone bother?

First off, what I'm about to describe is a lot of work. If you don't put in the effort and the hours, it won't happen. Therefore, it makes sense to ask the second question first: 'Why bother?'

The reason you want a substantial Twitter list is because Twitter is the Lingua Franca of social media. Do you want to send traffic to an Amazon book giveaway? You need a big Twitter list. Want to find new Facebook friends? Twitter. Want to build your Goodreads network, drive readers to your blog, raise your Klout, find Pinterest buddies, get your About.Me page seen? Twitter, Twitter, Twitter.

That's the beauty of Twitter: If you build a Twitter network and nurture relationships within that network, you have simultaneously built up your presence elsewhere. Your blog, your Facebook page, your Amazon book launch, etc., etc., all will benefit.

So, how does one go about building a Twitter following of 30k, 60k, 100k or more? Keep in mind: This is my approach here. There is more than one way to achieve the same ends. But if you are an unknown indie author intent on building a market for an upcoming book (as so many of you, these days, are doing), this approach should work for you, so long as you pursue it diligently.

Let's begin at the beginning. If you're new to Twitter and your followers are below 2,000, my approach won't work for you – not yet. Your first priority is to get your numbers over that magic 2,000 mark. The way you do that is very straightforward: (1) Check your followers. (2) Unfollow those that aren't following back, and follow a new bunch who will follow back. That's all. Keep doing those two things until you have pulled yourself out of that sub-2,000 Twitter ghetto. There are lots of folks who proclaim they'll follow you if you follow them first, so follow that sort if you must. But one way or another, you must clear this first hurdle.

As to where to find people to follow, there is no end of possible sources. Listorious (now known as MuckRack) is one place to look. Or, if there is a Twitter user you want to emulate, follow his/her followers and see what happens. Here, for example, is a woman with well over a million Twitter followers. More than a few of them, I bet, will follow a newbie! You could, for that matter, follow any or all of my own lists. It does not much matter, really, where you begin this process. Go anywhere you're comfortable and can find people who will follow you back.

Once you have over 2,000 followers, Twitter will let you follow 10% more folks than the number that follow you back. What that amounts to is this: The more followers you have, the more rapidly you can grow your list. You know how they say, 'The Rich Get Richer'? It's like that.

The closer you get to 20,000 followers, the better an approach like mine will work for you. From 2,000 to 20,000 you'll be able to use a scaled-down version of my system – you just won't see the same growth rate I do. Right now, my list grows from 5 or 6 hundred to about 2500 new followers per week, and that rate of growth is likely to escalate going forward. But even if I scale back my efforts (did I mention this is time-and-effort intensive?), I should end 2013 with double the number of followers I have today. With a little luck, I may have 3 or 4 times my present number.

For my approach, you'll need a tool for Twitter management. I use ManageFlitter Pro, which costs $12 a month, but there is a free version which will be fine for you if you are not yet managing tens of thousands of names. (I used the free version starting out.) There are also other, similar tools out there, and I know folks who swear by them. But ManageFlitter is what I use.

The following six steps detail what I do every day. Some of this approach you may already be familiar with and will seem obvious. Some of it is advice you may never have heard about anywhere. Bear with me and follow along. In the end, it is only when you begin doing these things yourself that you will really understand where I'm coming from. Here we go:

1) Following: In ManageFlitter, I select a Twitter user who has a following that I think might be interested in following me. I have various criteria for making these selections. Often, because I am writing a sci-fi book, I select a sci-fi aficionado with good tweets and, as I say, an interesting following. There are other reasons for targeting a following as well, but let's leave that subject for another time. Anyway, I make my choice and, using ManageFlitter, I usually follow the folks my target follows (in most cases, they follow him/her back as well). I can follow up to 1,000 of these folks a day (that's Twitter's limit for all users), and ManageFlitter tracks the last 5,000 people this person followed (or followed him), so i can pursue this list for about 5 days.

Remember, I can follow a thousand people a day because I have 30k+ following me. You may not be in the same situation, and may be limited to following a few hundred.  (The rule is 10%, so if you are following 2,000 people who are all following you back, you can only follow an additional 200 folks.) The principles you'll use are the same as mine, but your growth will be much slower (unless of course you suddenly become famous and folks seek you out, in which case I can only hope you've become famous rather than notorious).

2) UNfollowing: At 30,000 followers, Twitter will only allow me to follow 33,000 people, maximum. And not everyone I follow will follow me in return. In fact, most of the people I follow will not follow me in return – that's just par for the course. This means that I have to periodically UNfollow people I have followed who do not follow me back, if I want to grow my following.

This is where things can get sticky. See, Twitter frowns on what it calls 'churn', and if it decides you are 'churning' your list, they may suspend your account. (This is not the end of the world, you can appeal and they will generally restore your service. But still, you are at their mercy, and it's no fun being reminded of that.)

Twitter does not explain 'churn' very precisely, and I expect that's deliberate. Like anything else in life, once one knows the rules, it becomes possible to find a way around them. Twitter does not want the bad guys (which does not include you, of course) gaming their system and making life harder for good, honest users (here's where you come in).

But I can explain 'churn', in general terms, and help you understand what you are trying to avoid.

If you have 2,000 followers and follow 2,000, you can follow 10% (two hundred) more folks. Of those 200, only a small percentage is likely to follow you back. Let's say 20 of those people follow you back. So, to grow your following, you now have to UNfollow 180 people and (since you now have 2,020 following you) you can follow two hundred and two new people.

But Twitter has some secret-sauce formula that defines 'churn' as how fast you follow-unfollow people, especially if you wind up REfollowing some of the folks you just UNfollowed. This is damn difficult to tap-dance around when you are near the 2,000-follower level, but not so tough when you are at 30,000 followers.

It's tough to deal with 'churn' because you're not going to want to keep track of everyone you unfollow, and because you're in a hurry (understandably) to build your list. My rule of thumb is, don't unfollow-refollow more than once a day, and at least keep notes re where you are on a list if you are, in fact, systematically following some list.

Compounding your problem is the fact that the 20 people who may follow you probably will not be in a big hurry to follow you back. They may follow you back tomorrow, or the day after, or next week. And if you have UNfollowed them before they follow you back, they may not follow you back at all. So, your 200 follows may not yield 20 new followers if you are in a hurry. You may get five, or none.

This is why the vast majority of Twitter users have under 2,000 followers. It can be hard to grow that list.

But this is much less of a problem when you have reached, say, 30,000 followers. Because at that level, you are going to get some breathing room. You are going to wind up with a certain number of folks who follow you even though you do not follow them back. At this point, I generally have 4 to 5 thousand people who follow me for one reason or another even though I do not follow them back. This, plus the fact that I can now follow 3,000 people over and above the number who follow me, means that I can follow as many as 8,000 people who do not follow me back at any given time.

In the past 2 months, my followers have 
increased by over 50%. Conservatively, I should 
reach at least twice as many people by year's 
end as I do right now. But if something like the 
current pace continues, it could be a 
good many more than that.
This means, if I follow 900 to 1,000 (the maximum) new people a day, I have the luxury of waiting a week or more to see if they follow back. This is more than a reasonable time to avoid 'churn' problems. Using ManageFlitter, which shows me the last 5,000 'followers of' or 'followed by' a user, I can easily see that I am not accidentally following the same people over and over. (Going through a list of 5,000 takes at least 5 days, so even if the next list I use has many of the same folks, I can at least be certain I am not accidentally refollowing the same folks for at least 5 days.) At the same time, I only unfollow my 'oldest' nonfollowers, which again ManageFlitter tracks nicely for me.

So, by using a tool such as ManageFlitter, and by toughing it out until a sizable list is achieved, you can avoid getting shut down by the Twitter churn police. In fact, you will probably find yourself on a pretty steady growth trajectory, which will look more or less like the chart shown above. The rich get richer.

But the rich don't just get richer because of Twitter's rules. When you have amassed a certain size, folks you follow are more likely to follow you back. That's just human nature.

So far we've talked about my routine of follows and unfollows. If that were the end of it, this post wouldn't be anything special. Any number of Twitter users with substantial followings could have told you what I did. But for me, follows and unfollows are just the beginning.

Getting listed means that your message is 
being noticed. The goal should be a simple 
message that gains mindshare.
3) New follows: Once you grow a follower list into the tens of thousands, you start getting widely listed. As you get listed, you gain visibility, and as you gain visibility you gain new follows. It's a virtuous circle.

By 'new follows', I mean follows from people you have not followed first. Now, there are all sorts of reasons people will follow you out of the blue. They may have found you on a list they are following, they may be looking to follow people with 'X' number of followers, they may be casting a wide net and following indiscriminately, they may like your tweets – whatever. They may or may not be worth following back, and that raises a question: What criteria should one use for deciding to follow, or not, 'new follows'?

I wrestled with this question for quite a while. Some folks will simply follow-back anyone who follows them, and had I done that, I'd have twice the follower base I have at present. But the fact is, many or even most of these folks really aren't worth following, and there is much to be said for assembling a quality core following. On the other hand, I needed a method of evaluation that was consistent, fair and fast. I do not have time to spend rendering a decision on everyone who approaches me, and I don't even know if I would make a good decision. In fact, I concluded that what I wanted was for them to somehow tell me whether I should follow back or not.

This synopsis proved very popular on About.Me, 
so I turned it into one of my standard promotional 
tweets. When Patriots of Mars is launched, I will 
send out new promo art announcing its 
free giveaway period.
So I hit on a solution that would provide a surefire answer to one question: 'Is this person someone who will help me advance my bottom-line agenda (i.e., getting the word out for The Patriots of Mars) or not?' And this is how I go about it: Everyone who follows me cold (without my having followed them first, without my knowing them) gets sent a tweet. The tweet includes the graphic shown here, which is a summary of the book. In addition, I scan their bio and tweets to find an issue that seems important to them, and I retweet one of their tweets reflecting that core issue.

"You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want." 
~ Zig Ziglar

What I do, without explaining myself outright, is signal a willingness to advance my new follower's agenda (by retweeting something important to them). In most cases, my following is considerably larger than theirs, so this should be perceived, by them, as a rather Big Deal. In addition, I have sent them a tweet they can use to reciprocate, should they choose to.

Perhaps surprisingly, most of the new followers with whom I do this do not reciprocate. Possibly some of them even feel they have gotten the better of me, by getting attention for their agenda without 'paying' for it. (If so, that's foolish, because there is usually little lasting value in a single tweet no matter how widely distributed it is. The key to effectiveness via Twitter is a clear, consistent message, distributed as widely as possible, and repeated over time.)

A handful of my 'new followers' each day choose to retweet my book promo. In return, for those folks I offer further incentives. I follow them back, I put them on a 'friends' list, and I take their bio and turn it into a tweet which I send on their behalf. Apparently few or no one else does this, and it appears to be quite popular. Usually this tweet, which contains the most important information the Tweeter has, gets retweeted and favorited by them. This also means, of course, that my name and Patriots of Mars gets a bit of play, but that is incidental. More importantly, it marks the beginning of a reciprocal relationship. It means I am building lists of folks who are inclined to retweet my important tweets, which will be extremely important when Patriots launches. I estimate that when Patriots goes up on Amazon, I should be able to generate 6 to 10 million Twitter impressions supporting the launch during the book's 'free' period. In the meantime, there is an ongoing, steady and consistent drumbeat of publicity for the book, with a few thousand to tens of thousands of promotional tweets delivered each day. And because many of these messages are delivered by new followers, they are often reaching fresh audiences.

4) Deepening existing relationships: Each day, I sort through random tweets and look through one of my lists for the best material to retweet. I'm looking to strengthen existing ties. If I retweet something from a follower who has never retweeted a promo on my behalf, I send them one for possible reciprocation. Should they retweet my promo, they are put on my 'friends' list for special consideration. If they don't, that's fine too. Perhaps they will, at another time.

My relationship with some followers has developed to the point that many of my tweets are retweeted without any request on my part. Furthermore, some of my followers have begun following each other, which speaks to the quality of at least some of my lists.

5) Gaining visibility with strategic tweets: I touched earlier on the fact that getting listed increases your visibility, and therefore your potential effectiveness, on Twitter. But there is another way to build visibility on Twitter: Tweet frequently.

There's a school of thought out there to the effect that there is an 'optimal' number of tweets one ought to send on Twitter, and that anything beyond that turns people off. But I do not subscribe to that. Research I have seen strongly indicates that larger numbers of tweets do not turn people off. What turns people off, I believe, are bad-quality tweets.

Most of my function on Twitter is as a facilitator and editor. I bring together the best tweets I can find from an unusually wide variety of sources, adding in a sprinkling of my own. As I have described, these tweets have purposes besides merely providing content or even advancing a message. I tweet strategically to build on existing relationships, to find kindred souls willing to retweet my message, and to find people who might simply be interested in my book. But I also tweet simply to gain visibility, through sheer volume. Since the vast majority of my tweets are retweets, no one is going to tire of 'my' message (though conceivably, they could tire of my choices!). 

On a number of occasions, I have actually run into Twitter's daily tweet limit. (There's no penalty for this, aside from not being able to send new tweets for a few hours.) I've never done this without having the sense that I had gained a bit of mindshare for my effort, and certainly all the stats I see for my feed suggest that as well.

I've been questioned about my choice to send so many retweets rather than original tweets, but my position is that whatever is good for my followers is, ultimately, to my benefit as well. Once Patriots is released, I expect I will send more tweets about the book itself, but there is so much good content out there and so much value to be gained through networking that I expect I will always primarily be a retweeter.

6) The goal of social media, for a writer, is NOT to sell books: Many authors seem to feel that the goal of social media is to hammer out one message after another about their book. I think this is a huge mistake, because no matter how mighty a media juggernaut you might become, your ability to market your book absolutely pales before the power of Amazon.

To put things in perspective, consider J.K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame. Surely she is one of the most famous authors who has ever lived. Rowling happened to retain the rights to market her books in electronic form, and in the wake of the fame from her blockbuster movies, precedent-setting book sales and hugely popular amusement parks, she launched Pottermore, an extravagant (and expensive) website, to promote and sell her e-books.

And then Amazon made her an offer she could not refuse, and the Potter series of e-books is now sold there.

If Amazon can out-market Rowling, they can out-market any author on the planet. No author's social media goal should be to 'sell' their e-books. Their goal should be to send as many people as possible to Amazon, and let them sell their e-books.

I realize this falls on mostly deaf ears, due to the fact that many authors don't know how to engage an audience without attempting to sell them something. They simply don't know the difference. But all anyone has to do, really, is to look at how a Rowling or a Stephen King goes about their business. When do you ever see them attempting to pitch anything? Almost never, and when they do, it's generally for a charity or similar cause. They don't have to sell you anything, because they know they have people out there doing that for them. And guess what, Joe Author? So do you. Stop pitching, already, and start engaging people. Find your followers, and let the sales take care of themselves.

Other approaches: The 'Twitter strategy' I employ is not the only way for an author to go about his or her business, nor is it demonstrably the most effective tack. One fine writer of my acquaintance, Christine Nolfi, does none of this nonsense and yet has a very strong social media following. Another, Theresa Ragan, has modest Twitter numbers that belie her phenomenal success.

But I've been asked what I do and, well, this is it.

14 comments:

  1. Absolutely great post, thanks! One thing I might add to the Amazon discussion is that becoming an Amazon Affiliate is a great option to diversify income. Put simply : "If you are going to send people to Amazon, might as well get paid if they purchase a toaster."

    Cheers, great stuff!

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  2. Interesting approach. But it is all built on following a gazillion people, and there is no way to keep track of them all. I'm following 734 - way over the 250 ceiling I had set for myself so long ago.

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  3. To each his own, David (Amabaie) and I don't want to have one of those discussions where you have to be 'wrong' for me to be right. I'm quite comfortable in my approach, and believe it is the best way for me to meet my goals. Also, I am only claiming that "this is the approach I use", not that this is the best or ultimate strategy or anything else. I'm not even claiming that this method will not evolve (especially after my book is released).

    However: If success, to you, hinges on keeping your follows down to 250, then you have already failed. And then, how much worse a failure is Ron Callari, who has 10,000 follows to track? Ron built his list with a different approach from mine (he seems to post all over the 'net, and YouTube), but again he too is way over that '250' limit.

    Thing is, to look at social media that way (in terms of adhering to limits) is the wrong paradigm, in my opinion. But it's not only MY opinion. Linda Stone, an astute and respected voice in these matters, famously said that social media requires 'continuous partial attention'. Emphasis on the partial (and the link is worth reading).

    Beyond that, it's worth studying how the politically-connected and powerful have built their connections since the days of the Rolodex (and before). The Golden Rule is that you are NOT looking to remove folks from your list because it is 'too big'. For the truly connected, there is no such thing as 'too big' a list. No doubt there are folks one might interact with only every year or two, but that is natural and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Here is a minor example of the sheer dollar value of increasing (not limiting) contacts. I picked up a substantial volume on the subject at the public library recently, but unfortunately its name escapes me at the moment.

    In any event, this is something I was able to observe first-hand in working with politicians. As little as I thought of them, the better ones made a point of knowing people and rarely tossed a name down the memory hole just because it was of no value to them at that moment. As they rose higher, those that DID rise, that is, their contact lists grew to the point where there was always a staffer (or two) in charge of prompting the pol when he needed to have a name at his fingertips. (Much is made of this, BTW, in the film 'The Devil Wears Prada'. It's a fact of life among the powerful in business circles, not just politics, though I'd say that only in politics would you keep the names of folks in a nursing home among your contacts.)

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  4. I would also point out, David, that you are here because of Ron Callari's outreach (and possibly to a lesser degree, my own, I'm not certain). If either of us had attempted to but a hard, arbitrary cap on our follows, you would have been a victim of that numbers game.

    There is also the fact, shown in a link I posted recently, that the greatest factor in Twitter success is the depth of contact within a network. In other words, if as my Twitter list matures my followers begin following and interacting with each other, my chances of being retweeted dramatically increases. I have only recently begin finding the 'sweet spots' in my list where folks have responded to me in an above-average way. I'll mention Ron, since you know him, again in this regard – I was one of the very first people in his group. I am finding other folks, as well, who are useful to me and to whom I appear to be useful in return, but this does not happen immediately. First we have to connect and become part of each others' network, and organically see what if anything develops from there. But if we never connect because some arbitrary cap is violated, we'll never know what might have come about.

    As things stand, I am building relationships with a number of folks on my list. Those relationship would not get built at all if those folks had not been among my follows to begin with.

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  5. Hi Jeff,

    Great post, thanks for sharing! I discovered Manage Flitter a couple of months ago, and created a similar strategy. It takes a lot of partial time, indeed, but my following is growing and more important, I have developed a lot of wonderful "twiends" in the process. It's all about connecting and sharing. Congrats on your success!

    Jan Moran, aka @janmoran and www.janmoran.com

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  6. I agree, Jan, this is ultimately about building relationships. What's great about Twitter in that regard is that you can start off in the most casual, risk-free way. And Twitter can deliver no end of opportunities for finding the folks you want to connect with.

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  7. Thanks for this article, Jeff. Twitter has been an organic experience for me. Most of the things you've mentioned I've learned through using Twitter and Followerwonk.com. I'm fascinated with the potential for marketing a book through social media and as a writer, it makes me feel powerful for the first time. I have about 3,000 Twitter followers now and out of that 3,000 I've found some real jewels.

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  8. One thing that studies have shown to be powerful on Twitter is very rarely spoken of: Shared followers. When several Twitter users are talking with the same folks, part of the same 'tribe', tweets are more likely to get retweeted. I'm big on following the same folks as some of those who follow me. Not ALL of them, obviously (at this point that would entail following millions of people), but some.

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  9. VERY useful information Mr. Faria! ;o) I'm looking forward to implementing these pointers and seeing my numbers grow. I never thought to unfollow people, lol. Thanks for the information.

    Suzan

    PS: I'm glad you're not Lady Gaga! lol

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  10. This is great article! I just find out about you and your book. You followed me, I followed you back (cause I like SciFi), I visited your profile, went to about.me, clicked on your blog, followed you on FB... great strategy, indeed! ou are absolutely right when you say
    "Do you want to send traffic to an Amazon book giveaway? You need a big Twitter list. Want to find new Facebook friends? Twitter. Want to build your Goodreads network, drive readers to your blog, raise your Klout, find Pinterest buddies, get your About.Me page seen? Twitter, Twitter, Twitter."
    :)

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  11. Hey Jeff - Delighted to make your acqaintance -- you followed me on Twitter. ;-)

    I woke with a migraine -- and white on black hurts my head on normal days -- but I simply couldn't stop reading this post. Very engaging and interesting take on rockin' Twitter. It's definitely going in my Evernote file for safekeeping.

    Have you read Dan Zarella's stuff? His is a fascinating, scientific approach to all of this. I think you might like it.

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  12. P.S. The summary on about.me is super hard to read on mobile. (And there is no "click to make it bigger.") I've no idea how or if you could fix that, but wanted to let you know. :-)

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  13. Hello, Lisa. Thank you for letting me know about the problem with the About.me synopsis page. That's an important page for me, it gets a great deal of traffic, and it's unfortunate if a lot of that traffic can't read the page. I'd change that if I could, believe me, but alas, there's not much I can do (aside from hope to God they come back when they're on a bigger screen!). However, once the book is out there, I'll put up a new blog (no more Blogspot), establish a presence on Goodreads, and of course the book itself will be on Amazon. Those sites will replace the function of the About.me page, and they should all work properly on mobile. If the book does REALLY well, I'll look into creating a free app as well. (Ultimately, 'Patriots' is meant to appear in other versions, including a classroom version, if the sales justify it, and the app would focus on that.) Re Dan Zarella, I'll check him out post-haste. (Sorry about the migrane thing. I totally promise the next site will be designed with your comfort in mind!)

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  14. Hey Jeff - wouldn't it be nice if the whole world bent to my silly migraine demands so easily? LOL! I'm full of the drahmz, let me tell you! ;-)

    It would be good if about.me had better mobile pages. I haven't even looked at mine on mobile, not sure what it looks like in that format.

    Will be excited to read your book when it comes out! :-)

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