How to get (the right) people to follow you on Twitter

Posted on Jul 16, 2009 | 2 comments


twitter-followersThis is the third posting in a series I’m calling Twitter 101 for all those that say “I don’t get it?”  The Twitter 101 outline it’s here.

In the first post I talked about how beginning users can just be “consumers” of information by subscribing to news sites or bloggers, reading their 140 character “headlines” and clicking through on links of stories that interest you.

But you get so much more out of Twitter when you also contribute and become part of the conversation.  If you follow only news sources or famous people like Oprah none of them will likely follow you back so sending your own 140 character Tweet will be a bit like shouting out loud in an empty room.  You need to follow friends and other “real” people in order to become part of a conversation.

First follow friends:  When you first join you’re prompted to add users from Gmail, Yahoo! or AOL.  This is a great way to find out which of your friends is already on Twitter and is far more pleasant than spamming a bunch of your friends who currently don’t use Twitter (which I hate doing).  If you’ve already signed up for Twitter you can still periodically go back and see which of your friends are using Twitter by clicking on “Find People” and then clicking on “find on other networks” and you can then go through this process of inviting  people.

Don’t bother clicking on Suggested Users.  As of July 2009 it’s total shit and recommend that I connect with Dell and JetBlue as the first two suggestions.  One day Twitter will no doubt fix this and have better recommendations.

The important think about inviting friends is that many will likely follow you back.  They will likely get emails sent to them alerting them that you’ve added them or at a minimum many people look to see who’s following them and perhaps they’ll notice you.  This should get you in the conversation with your friends.

LA skylineNext follow people with a similar affinity – People use Twitter for both work and pleasure.  For work you might start by following people that are in generally in your field, people in your geography, industry luminaries, customers or partners.  Let me use myself as an example to tell you how I think about whom I follow on Twitter.

First, I’m a VC and I’m interested in technology startups.  When I joined I immediately followed many VC’s that I know from NorCal and SoCal (and some in Boston, NY and Boulder).  I also followed a few VC’s who didn’t know me personally but whom I respected their opinions and wanted to know what they had to say.

I followed local LA technology entrepreneurs that I knew well like @jasonnazar , @steveray , @erif , @mjones and many other local tech people.  I followed VC people like @johngreathouse , @davemcclure, @ptlee who are all VC’s I know well.  I obviously followed the companies I’ve invested in like @ringrevenue and @gumgum but I also followed some people in their industry to get a better feel for what the conversation was in their sector like @mediatrustpete and @lisariolo who work in affiliate marketing.  Following people in a field that interests you is a good way to see what people in that field are talking about.

Many of these people followed me back immediately and thus I was part of their conversation.  I mostly seek out people that I want to communicate with occasionally and want to track what they’re seeing as important.  You can also choose to follow people in a hobby that might interest you like sports (several people commented that they love following basketball Twitterers who send out Tweets about the game at half time), poker, music, religion, whatever.  Twitter is a real time conversation and following these affinity groups makes Twitter like chat (to be covered in another post).

But what do you do when they don’t follow you back?  Here are a couple of strategies:

1. Email - If it’s a good friend you can obviously send an email saying, “hey, I just followed you on Twitter and noticed you hadn’t followed me back – would love to get a conversation going.”  I do not recommend this for anybody but close friends.  It looks too desperate.   For this you need other option.

2. Email signature line – I have included a clickable email Twitter line at the bottom of my email signature saying, “to follow me on Twitter click www.twitter.com/msuster”  It is effective at building awareness that you use Twitter and that you’re encouraging people you email (and therefore mostly know) to follow you.  I have found this very effective and not desperate since it’s really becoming like listing your phone number or Skype address.

3. Create links - Link to your Twitter address in obvious places.  I have mine below my bio on my website right here.  Other obvious places include in your Facebook profile page, LinkedIn and similar

follow-friday-twitter4. Follow Friday – Every Friday it has become a custom to recommend people that you think others should follow.  Frankly I don’t know how long this tradition will last – I sort of think it will die down.  But while it’s here there’s nothing wrong with sending good friends or colleagues an email saying, “I’m new to Twitter and would love to build my following.  Would you please consider including me in a Follow Friday posting?”  If they people who promote you on Follow Friday are well known in the community you want to network in then several of the people you want to follow you will potentially see it.

5. Post interesting links and request RT’s – This sounds pretty obvious but posting interesting links to articles in your field is a great way of building followers.  Make sure to use keywords in your posting that might end up being searched on.

The problem is that the specific targeted people who don’t follow you already are unlikely to see this.  One strategy is to ask a very small number of people (the same people in the Follow Friday point) to retweet (RT) your post, which means they’ll give attribution to your Twitter address.  You can go overboard here and get backlash but if you do this in a targeted way I believe it’s a great way of getting the community you’re interested in following you.  I’ve asked a few targeted people in LA to RT interesting links of mine to build a local follower base of people I don’t already know.  People with a lot of local followers like @nicolejordan @jackiepeters or @tonyadam are great because they’ve been in LA a long time and are avid social media people.  I just try not to over ask.

I know that a small number of people have written posts calling this a “shake up” and don’t think it’s a good tactic.  To that I say 2 things: 1) if you ask all the time and aren’t polite about it then I agree and 2) it’s very easy to say when you already have 10,000 followers and don’t need to build a following!

6. Become part of the conversation – This is an important recommendation and also one for which to be very careful.  If you notice that somebody you follow Tweets something interesting feel free to send a message to them with the @username function and make a commentary on what they posted.  If it is something like, “I saw your Tweet that you’re miffed that CA is cutting education spending 3%, did you see this link? www.yourlink.com”  If the person isn’t too senior and is in the same industry often they’ll connect on the first or second time you @ them but if they’re very senior or have a ton of followers this isn’t likely to happen over night.  You need to build relationships with people the old fashioned way – slowly and by finding ways to be helpful to them.  But at a minimum most people who receive polite and informative @’s start to recognize the names of the people who provide thoughful commentary.  Just don’t become a stalker.

6. Unfollow / Follow – This is a technique that I really only recommend for people you know reasonably well.  I try to stay on top of who follows me and to make sure that if I know them and see that they write interesting Tweets I follow them back.  I don’t auto follow everybody back because I feel that if I followed 1,000+ people I would miss too much from the people that I know and want to hear from.  Occasionally I miss people I know because I happened to get 50 followers in one burst.  So if you knew me and I didn’t follow you back, you might consider un-following me and then re-following me a few days later under the assumption that I might notice the second time.  I have found this generally works for people that you know but don’t want to bug with email begging for them to follow you.  Just don’t do too many times with the same person – if they still don’t follow you – get the hint!

The next post in the series describes the Real Power of Twitter – Link Sharing.