Wrapping up a recent Intro to Social Media workshop, I was pleased that participants were convinced that Twitter is a useful tool for accomplishing their goals, understood some of the basic mechanics, and were eager to get started. Yet there were a few lingering questions revolving around the “now what?” or “how do I get started” theme. In other words, what are the steps to build up a following?I could see they were a bit daunted to consider how they might go from zero followers to approaching the nearly 4,000 I have @socialcap. I gave a few off-the-cuff responses, but my wheels were turning on the subject, leading to these steps I’ve learned through experience.
First, a few caveats. Clearly many people have a lot more followers than me. These tips don’t promise you’ll become a Twitter celebrity. Rather, these steps are intended to be doable for someone seeking to use Twitter in working toward personal, business or organizational goals, with a modest though consistent investment of time, about 30 minutes a day or so. OK, let’s get started!
1) Set up your profile Please don’t be an “egghead” on Twitter! You need a profile picture other than the default egg icon that shows before you add a photo. In your Twitter bio, give people an idea of what you’ll be tweeting about; this helps people decide if they want to follow you. Include a location, preferably more specific than “Earth”. Many of us prioritize following people who are in our geographic area.
2) Start tweeting Send a few tweets before you follow one person. When you follow someone, they will check out your profile. Having them see zero tweets is a great way to ensure they won’t follow you back! Plus, getting in the flow of tweeting helps you quickly get over the notion that there is anything to be intimidated about the process.
3) Follow relevant people A significant number of people will follow you back after you follow them, particularly if they can see from your bio and recent tweets that intersection between your interests and theirs. Plus, following people with shared interests is a great way to find content you can then share. I’m a believer in following liberally, especially early on, then using lists to focus in on people you find most interesting and relevant.
4) Engage Sharing other’s content is a great way to build your Twitter network. This warrants its own post at some point, but for now, engaging includes retweeting (RT) others and engaging in conversations by tweeting an @ message to someone (this indicates your tweet is intended particularly for that person, though anyone following you and that person will see that tweet in their Twitter feed). Another important way to engage is referencing other Twitter users in your tweets by using their handle. This applies when mentioning someone you met with or someone speaking at an event, or including an author’s handle when you are linking to an article. People will notice that you’ve mentioned them, and will often follow you and/or RT you.
5) Monitor your mentions There’s an expectation that when people mention you on Twitter and other social media that you will reply in some way. Sometimes it’s a simple thank you for their mention or RT, but someone mentioning you can also be the start of a conversation.
6) Add value People will follow you when they see you are adding value to your tweets. Including a link to a good article or other resource for additional information is one solid way to do so. Also, early on their can be a tendency for people to engage strictly by RTing without any additional comments. But you can add more value by writing your own synopsis of an article, with credit to where you found it, with “via FILL IN TWITTER HANDLE”; simply adding a short intro in front of the RT, can be as simple as: “Glad to have you! MT @socialcap: Happy to be part of @MassService #YOUGenerate campaign kickoff! bit.ly/Hy6WgQ #massvolunteers”.
7) Tweet consistently A consistent stream of quality tweets is probably the best way to organically build up your follower base. I recommend that at least 80% of your tweets be ones that aren’t “selling” but rather share interesting information that enhances your reputation as an expert in your field. Five to ten tweets per day is a good amount to start developing a presence; and you can certainly do more if you’ve got good content to share. This post from @splashmediau offers additional guidance on tweeting frequency. Whatever volume of tweets make sense for you, it’s important to spread them out throughout the day rather then sending them all at once. Many services can help you schedule your tweets, I cover two of them below. Stay tuned, I’ll soon be posting more about developing a steady stream of good tweets.
8 ) Use Hootsuite or Tweetdeck It’s hard for me to imagine being active on Twitter without using a management tool like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck. Both allow you to schedule tweets and set up columns to efficiently monitor mentions and tweets on lists, hashtags and topics you want to follow. Hootsuite is web-based, Tweetdeck is downloaded onto your computer. I’ve gotten used to Tweetdeck, but if you’re likely to tweet from multiple computers, Hootsuite would make more sense for suite. Both are free for the basic program, though one can pay for additional services on Hootsuite.
9) Maintain Twitter lists Creating lists allows you to focus on tweets from a certain subset of the accounts you follow. I’ve made the most use of the feature @socialcap, where I have maxed out the 20 lists you can create. In addition to lists by subjects like “Boston Nonprofits”, I’ve founding have a “shortlist” of tweeps I don’t want to miss especially helpful. You can see the lists I’ve created and others I follow here. One important note about lists: unlike an email distribution list, you can’t send a tweet out to just the people on the list. The main benefit of lists is to organize your incoming Twitter stream.
10) Monitor lists & hashtags Keeping an eye on lists you’ve curated and hashtags relating to subjects of interest is an effective way to find content that you can then re-share. In fact, you may soon find your Twitter feed to be your best source for news and information relevant to your work. Now, in case you’re still wondering about this…a hashtag is a term preceded by the “#” sign, such as #nonprofit. It signals to others what subject(s) the tweet relates to, and a hashtag is clickable, leading you to a stream of the most recent tweets using that tag. Reviewing tweets using hashtags relevant to your work is a great way to find people to follow. If you’re in the nonprofit space, this list of 45 hashtags for social change is very handy.
11) Add yourself to directories There are a number of Twitter directories where you can list yourself and find people to follow based on shared interests. Wefollow is the primary directory I’ve used, Twellow and Tweetfind are additional options.
12) Tell people you are tweeting Add your Twitter handle to your email signature, website, letterhead, business card and other materials to let people know you are tweeting. People with whom you already have a relationship elsewhere are especially helpful to connect with on Twitter.
13) Participate in Twitter chats Twitter chats are organized Twitter conversations at appointed times using a designated hashtag. Most I’ve seen are weekly, some are less often. It’s another great way to connect with people with shared interests. Lately I’ve been enjoying #winechat (Wednesday 9 .m. Eastern) and #dadchat (Thursday 9 p.m. Eastern). Here’s a schedule of hundreds of Twitter chats.
14) Attend Tweetups Similar to a meetup, Tweetups are in-person networking events where people are tweeting as they participate. They vary a good deal in structure and focus. I became a Tweetup fan when I attended my first Tweetup at Fenway Park and one a Kevin Youkilis baseball bat by tweeting the correct answer to a quiz question! We’ve helped organize several Tweetups at Social Capital Inc. If you’re in the Boston area, Boston Tweetup has a great listing of Tweetups and other social media events.
15) Manage followers Early on, it’s a good idea to follow people liberally, as discussed. But you don’t want to go on too long following more people than are following you, especially by a wide margin. At a glance, a profile that shows more people following you than you are following is a signal you are sharing valuable content. There are a number of tools out there to efficiently manage whom to unfollow, based on things like infrequent tweeting, people not follow you, etc. I especially like Manage Flitter for this task.
16) Monitor results My suggested steps should help you get started. But to build your own following, you’ve got to assess what is working and refine your approach accordingly. There is an abundance of tools for social media measurement. At a basic level, for building your following, you want to see what tweets you send are getting shared the most and reaching the most people. You can get a sense of this simply by reviewing your Interactions on Twitter.com (click “connect” in the upper left navigational bar). I’ve been using Sprout Social as a service for monitoring results, and take a peek at my Crowdbooster reports. One simple way to track follower growth is to create a spreadsheet showing how many followers you had at the start of each month.
If this list seems overwhelming to you, let me boil down the advice to one point: Get tweeting! There’s no substitute for participation on Twitter to get comfortable and build your following. Would love to hear other tips for getting started on Twitter, and I look forward to hearing from some new Tweeps soon!