Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from “Twitter Power: How to Dominate Your Market One Tweet at a Time,” by Joel Comm with Ken Burge.
Web sites have users, Facebook has friends, and Twitter has followers. They follow your messages—and in the process, they follow your life.
Unlike users or Facebook friends, though, followers don’t have to make any effort to enjoy your content. The tweets that you write can come to them, even directly to their mobile phone if they want.
But like users and Facebook friends, followers are valuable. The more followers you have, the further your messages will reach and the more influence you’ll have.
As always on the Internet, it can take time to build a large community of readers—certainly more time than most impatient publishers like to commit. But it’s worth the effort and there are a number of things that you can do to reduce that time and build your list quickly.
The most important is the piece of advice that remains golden whatever you’re doing on the Internet: Produce content that’s interesting, fun and valuable.
Tweets are supposed to describe what you’re doing right now, but they can also include opinions, announcements, and conversations. You can write anything you want. You can even include links in your tweets to send people for further reading. Clearly, that can be very useful!
But if all you do is tell people about your new product or try to send them to some affiliate site, you’ll soon find that you have no followers at all.
Don’t forget that many of your followers will be receiving your tweets on their mobile phones. That means that they might be paying for them. If they don’t think that they’re getting value for their money—whether that’s entertainment value, advice value, or any other kind of value—they’ll stop following.
You might not have to pay money for followers on Twitter. But you do have to pay with good content—in 140 characters or less.
In this chapter, I’m going to explain how to build your followers. As you follow these strategies though bear in mind that the best way to create a long list of followers—the only way to keep them reading and engaged—is always to create great content.
Quantity or Quality: Choosing the Type of Following You Want
If you want masses and masses of followers, there’s really nothing to it. It’s a breeze. It’s simple. It’s almost foolproof.
Simply browse Twitter and follow everyone you see.
Some of those people will follow you in return automatically. Others will follow you out of manners.
Most won’t follow you at all, so to get, say, 1,000 followers you might have to follow 7,000 or 8,000 Twitterers or more.
It’s possible. You can do it. And if you’re desperate to have a large Twitter following, it could be an interesting experiment.
But I wouldn’t recommend it, and I wouldn’t do that for a number of reasons.
The first is that it’s going to take you a huge amount of time. It’s going to be very tedious, and it’s going to stuff the tweets that you see on your home page with messages from people you really don’t care to follow.
In effect, you’re agreeing to be spammed in return for doing some spamming yourself.
That’s going to turn what should be a really fun experience into something that you’re really not going to want to do for very long.
But the most important reason for not building your followers by following as many people as you possibly can is that the marketing effect will be about as strong as spam.
When you send out a tweet about your new product, your new blog post, or the release of your new e-book, only a small fraction of your followers will pay attention.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t want a large Twitter following, though. Obviously, lots of interested followers is always going to be better than a few interested followers. But the price to be paid for having a large number of followers is often a less-targeted market and a lower conversion rate of followers to customers or users of your own site.
On the other hand, you can choose to target only those people with a direct interest in your topic; while you should be able to keep many of them active and engaged, there will be relatively few of them.
And you’ll be missing other people who might be interested in what you have to say.
So what should you do? Should you attempt to build as large a following as possible? Or should you try to make it as targeted as possible?
In general, you want a core group of followers who are very interested in your topic, as many people as possible with a mild interest in your topic, and a few people who might be interested in some aspects of your topic if you get lucky.
In practice, level of interest is not easy to measure, and the chances that you’ll turn a vaguely interested follower into a loyal customer will depend on your topic. If you’re using your Twitter membership to drive people to a Web site and products about fantasy football, for example, you might be able to convert many people who have an interest in sports, even if they don’t play fantasy football.
If you tweet about lacrosse, though, you’ll probably struggle. A more focused group of followers would then be much more valuable than a large one.
One factor in deciding whether to go for as large a group as possible or focus on a select group is the broadness of your topic’s appeal.
*If your topic is very popular—sport or cars, for example—you could do well with a large group of followers.
*If your topic appeals only to a small crowd—polo, for example, or solar-powered cars—then you might do better narrowing down your followers.
Note that the broadness of a topic’s appeal isn’t the same as the size of its niche. A marketer who had a Web site about Corvettes, for example, would be operating in a small niche. But the topic could be of interest to anyone who likes cars.
When you’re considering who to target for your followers, begin with those most interested in your topic. Then expand to bring in people who might be interested in some of the topics you’ll cover in your tweets.
Clearly, there’s no scientific formula here.
The balance that you create between a highly targeted group of Twitter followers and a more general crowd will usually be down to a feeling that you have about your chances of bringing in people with only a slight interest in your topic.
That feeling comes from experience, and it comes from an understanding of your subject and its audience. But it is important to also understand the difference between those two types of followers and try to include both in your list of followers.
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So how do you go about finding high quality followers?
Quality: How to Be Intentional about Creating Your Own Network of Experts
High quality followers can do different things. Some will be the type of followers who hang on to your every tweet, follow all your links, and buy your products.
You certainly want to have lots of those … but identifying them isn’t easy. Few Twitterers write on their bios that they’re looking to buy lots of products about Corvettes or football—or anything else.
What you can find very easily on Twitter, though, is experts.
This is really Twitter’s strength. The site is stuffed with people who have great information about particular subjects and are willing to share it.
Find experts on a topic related to yours and encourage them to follow you, and you’ll be giving yourself a massive and very valuable network.
The first thing you have to do, though, is find them.
Twitter has never had a very good search engine. If you were looking for a particular user on the site, you could toss their name into the search engine and hope something came up.
But that was about it.
Looking for keywords was always a huge pain and the results just weren’t up to scratch.
One of the best things about Twitter, though, is that it lets developers create their own tools for the site. As we’ll see later in this book, some of those tools can be very valuable. One tool was so valuable that Twitter decided to buy it. Summize’s search engine is now a part of Twitter and can be reached by surfing directly to search.twitter.com or by clicking the search link at the bottom of a Twitter page.
You can enter your keywords and pull up tweets that contain that phrase.
You’ll then be able to see who’s talking about your topic and, by looking at the bios and reading their tweets, see which of those Twitterers are the leading experts.
If you were tweeting about fantasy football, then all of the people that came back in the search results for that phrase would be potential followers. You could try following them all and hope that they follow you back, but that’s going to take a while.
It’s much more efficient to identify the key Twitterers on the topic and get them to follow you.
If other people see that the expert is following you, they’ll assume that you’re also an expert and want to follow you too.
Do you see how that works?
One way to succeed on Twitter is to hang out with the influence-makers. Find the top people in your topic on Twitter, and become a part of their circle.
When you’re one of the prominent Twitterers on the site, you’ll find it’s much easier to persuade people to read your tweets. In fact, you won’t have to do anything but make sure that your tweets are interesting, informative, and entertaining.
And the best news is that getting in with the expert crowd on Twitter is much easier than becoming part of the in-crowd at high school.
There are three simple steps.
1. Identify the experts. Once you’ve got your list of people who have mentioned your topic in their tweets, you’ll need to narrow them down to find the key influencers.
Good signs to look out for in the search results are a picture in the profile and frequent posts. Experts understand the value of both of those things.
You can also try tweaking your search to include terms such as “guide,” “guru,” “expert,” or “author” to help identify leaders.
When you find someone, check to see how many followers they have and when they last updated. There’s no minimal number of followers a Twitterer must have to become an expert—too much depends on the topic—but if they’ve got four figures and post several times a day, that’s a pretty good sign!
Whatever your topic, it shouldn’t take you too long to produce a list of at least a dozen people who are experts to some degree in your field.
Read their tweets and follow them.
2. Gain their friendship and respect. So far, all you’ve done is find an expert and chosen to follow his or her updates.
That’s going to be interesting, but it’s not always going to turn that expert into your follower. It’s only going to turn you into their follower.
And if that expert does choose to follow everyone who follows them—as many Twitterers do—that’s just going to make you a face in the crowd.
To be seen as an expert yourself, you need to stand out both on the list of people they’re following and on their timeline.
That happens only when you turn that Twitter connection into a friendship and a relationship cemented by respect.
Twitter provides a couple of tools to do that.
You can hit the reply icon. Or you can send them a personal message.
In general, replies are better. All of your followers will be able to see them. Even if the expert himself doesn’t respond, other people will see that you’re following that expert and that you have something to contribute to the discussion.
That already starts to make you look like an expert.
And if the expert responds to your reply, then you’ve hit the jackpot. All their followers will see that tweet and stop by to see who they’re talking to. You’ll pick up a ton of followers that way.
Personal messages are better if you have a special request, and you should probably only use them once you’ve already attracted the expert’s attention through your tweets and your replies.
Otherwise, it’s too much like sending a cold e-mail to someone and hoping they respond. If they don’t, it’s also unlikely that they’ll respond to a reply, so you’ll have lost the opportunity to start a conversation in public too.
However you plan to make yourself noticed, do be careful. No one is going to appreciate being bothered by everyone who follows them. Twitter might be a very friendly, open place where it’s remarkably easy to exchange messages with the kind of people you’d really struggle to meet anywhere else, but if you want to build a friendship you still have to pay your dues.
3. Give back more than you take. To do that, you have to give the expert you’re hoping to add as a follower information that’s truly valuable.
You can tell him something he doesn’t already know.
You can point him in the direction of a resource he might find helpful.
You can even try sending him a link if it really will make a difference to what he’s doing. (Links are a dime a dozen, so if you’re going to reply with a link as a way of attracting attention, the content of the link has to be really good.)
And you need to hand over this valuable information as often as you can.
Twitter works because people are prepared to share valuable knowledge for free. Some of that knowledge might look worthless, but if it really is worthless, no one will follow them.
When you show anyone that you have valuable knowledge to share, you’ll stand out—even to other experts.
Building up a collection of experts as followers will take a little time. Some of that time will be spent searching. Some of it will be spent reading tweets—that can be very addictive. Some of it will be spent updating your own tweets, so that you continue to be an active member of the community.
And some of it will be spent replying to other experts in your field and messaging them.
As you’re doing it though, you should find that the number of followers starts to grow—first with people you respect and then with the people who respect them.
Excerpted with permission of the publisher John Wiley and Sons from Twitter Power: How to Dominate Your Market One Tweet at a Time. Copyright 2009 by Joel Comm. This book is available at all bookstores, online booksellers and from the Wiley web site, or call 1-800-225-5945.