Everyone wants more. It’s one of the most common questions in marketing: How do I get more Twitter followers? The most common answers usually go like this: tweet more, be helpful and engage with people. Sound familiar?
But do these things really grow your following? We’re about to find out. This is a three part post:
New original research into the real reason that Twitter followings grow. Does tweeting more actually lead to faster follower growth?
Review of the tactics – black, white and gray – to getting more followers. We’ll step over to the darkside of social media.
Finally, we’ll ask ourselves why we want a lot of followers anyway?
Quick disclaimer: before you scorch me in the comments, please understand that this post is informational only. These are not recommendations or judgements.
We analyzed the Twitter accounts of over 300 bloggers to discover what actually correlates with growing followers. We used Followerwonk to check the size of each following, tweets per week, total tweets over time and the likelihood of retweets. Each of these correlates with follower growth at different rates.
The findings might surprise you. Here’s the data.
Surprise! Tweeting a lot doesn’t correlate with follower growth. The statistical relationship is very weak. Only 10% of the accounts that tweet a lot are growing fast.
Getting retweeted does correlate with faster growth. In 35% of cases, Twitter accounts that get retweeted a lot are also the accounts that grow fast. This suggests that being engaging does help.
Size. Big Twitter accounts grow faster. The size of the following has a powerful linear relationship with follower growth rate, much more than any other factor. Large followings are the fastest growing accounts in 96% of cases.
This phenomenon is partly due to the design of Twitter. From the moment you set up an account, Twitter starts recommending accounts with large followings.
And of course, there’s a psychological factor that partly explains why big accounts grow faster. For some reason, people tend to follow accounts with large followings. Regardless of the reason, it’s obvious that big accounts are getting bigger, faster.
Research shows that the key to getting more followers is to have a lot of followers. But how do you get Twitter followers in the first place?
There are many ways. Here are seven ways to grow your following. The good, the bad and the ugly. These range from automatic spam-bots to high-touch ethical outreach.
This is the most common way to inflate your following fast. It explains why a lot of random people may be following you on Twitter.
Anytime you follow someone, you appear in their notifications. Some percentage of those people will notice you and follow you back. So following others is a common growth tactic, but it’s generally slow …unless you automate it with software.
That’s why some marketers use tools (or services) that automatically follow lots and lots of other accounts. The most popular is called TweetAdder. Here’s how it works:
Download TweetAdder and install the software on your computer (it’s software, not a website)
Load it up with keywords
TweetAdder downloads a list of Twitter accounts with those keywords in the bio
It follows those accounts automatically at whatever rate you set, such as 100 per day
Some of those accounts will follow you back, growing your following
It automatically unfollows the accounts that don’t follow you back after a set time, such as 10 days
By unfollowing accounts automatically, it maintains a nice ratio of following-to-followers. No one wants to be the account that follows 23,000 people, but only has 1,200 followers, right?
I’ve never used this tool, but I know many marketers who do. The problem is that it leads to a less relevant, less engaged following. These robotically built audiences tend to have a lot of fake followers. It’s simply not a social way to use social media.
These accounts are often easy to spot. They usually have a low number of tweets, but a high (closely matching) following and follower number. Like this:
Here’s a controversial way to create artificial fame. Use an autofollow/followback until you have a large following of maybe 100k+ accounts. Then, all at once, unfollow everyone! Now look at the ratio:
Now, at a glance, anyone can see how you are loved by thousands …but you’re very picky about who you follow. You must be a rockstar. Put a velvet rope around your phone.
That’s the sketchy way to get 100k followers, but only follow 10 people. Sure, you’ll hurt some feelings, but being a pseudo-celebrity has its price.
There are other, less spammy ways to automate growth. These are more legitimate because the process doesn’t start with automation. It begins with a manual action.
If you don’t follow people back, there’s a higher chance that they’ll unfollow you someday. They might be using automation themselves, right? So some marketers use tools to automatically follow back everyone who follows them. This causes accounts to grow faster by shrinking slower.
Rather than use a tool to find and follow others, find and follow tons of accounts by hand. Follow everyone who looks human. Then let an automated tool dump those that don’t follow back, keeping your ratio in line.
I’m sure there are many other tactics that fall into the “gray area” of follower growth tactics. If you know of any, please let us know in the comments!
Finally, there are the manual, slow ways to grow a legitimate Twitter following. Beyond the general “be good” advice, here are a few specific tips.
When you share something, whether you wrote it or not, share it with people who will love it. Twitter is a great way to find people with extremely specific interests.
If you wrote a post about personal branding, mention people with “personal branding” in their bio. They’ll likely thank you for it! They’re very likely to share it and follow you back.
Read the full post about targeted sharing on Twitter.
Be a person. That starts with your profile picture. Show your face. Remember that your picture will often appear very small (sometimes only 25px tall), so smile big for the camera.
Knowing that Twitter is a research tool, help people find you by putting relevant keywords into your bio. Remember, you’re trying to be discovered. Make sure to put a city in your location. Clear is better than clever.
It’s worth asking. Would the world be a better place if you have 100k followers? Would that really help your business? Your career? Your personal life?
People assume that there are advantages to having a large following. The assumed upsides fall into a few categories. Each have their own factors in success.
Drive more website traffic? Yes, but only if…
…your followers are engaged. Twitter is a powerful source of traffic, but only if your followers care enough to pay attention. If you have an auto-generated following or robots, you’re unlikely to capture this benefit.
Impress journalists and editors? Yes, but only if…
…you already have their attention. Generally speaking, some content creators are more likely to be impressed and more likely to use you as a source. A large following is “social proof” which lends credibility in a PR context. This is a practical reason to want a large following.
Impress your friends? Yes, but only if…
…your friends are into that kind of thing.
We should be honest and admit what we really want. The main benefit of a big number is vanity. It’s an ego metric. So decide for yourself. If it helps your self-esteem and automation doesn’t make you feel like a spammer, go for it.
But the real benefit of Twitter (and of all social media and the internet as a whole) is the connection between people. It’s a powerful tool for research and networking. It can even help your SEO. On Twitter, you can find almost anyone you can imagine and start a conversation.
Let’s close on a great quote from Ted Rubin…
Make your social connections count or they won’t be worth counting.