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- Create a Tweet asking for suggestions on folks to follow. Ideally explain what kind of people you’re looking for.
- Ask the best folks you already know on Twitter for their suggestions, particularly if they have blog posts listing users to recommend.
- Ask the folks they recommend the same question.
- Spend 10 seconds a week resending that tweet to 1-2 more people
See? I can write short blog posts too
- Update: You might want to read the much shorter “How to get followers fast” before reading this
- To skip ahead, here are links to the importance of reputation, six ways to build your Twitter account, and the ultimate must-read, Twitter’s following rules. I’m trying to provide a pretty complete reference, so you might want to bookmark this to read later if you don’t have time now.
A mystery—In June, 2010 a Twitter account was abandoned:
- All of its tweets, followers and friends were deleted.
- A single tweet was posted saying that the account was now permanently inactive.
Yet, in the weeks that followed, as many as 80,000 people followed the dead account…and over 31,000 are still following it today, eight months later!
It has followed no one back, never advertised, promised nothing, and replied to no one ever again. As tens of thousands of accounts began following it, it remained completely inactive.
Hidden Twitter Following Forces
It was the high reputation of the abandoned account that kept bringing in new followers. People had added it to lists and blog posts that recommended it. Sites that measured influence had ranked it highly. Many tweets had been written about it. Its reputation was so high it continued to grow, even after being abandoned.
But, because it was no longer active, only hidden forces remained to cause it to grow. Even though it could no longer benefit from the actions that built its reputation, its reputation alone continued to feed these hidden forces. So while it takes a lot of well-directed action to build a strong reputation for your Twitter account, as your reputation grows, these hidden forces begin to work automatically in your favor. As you can see, the force of reputation alone can be incredible, even after an account is abandoned! To begin to build such a reputation, you must first realize that…
Quality seeks quality, and builds reputation
This is the trick: If you follow quality people and have quality engagement (helping, conversing, bringing people together), eventually everyone will seek you out. (And you know what? It’s the same in real life.)
More exactly, if you have a high influence/engagement rank such as measured by Klout or TweetLevel, you’re going to get followers no matter what. This is why I laugh when I hear people say “So and so must be popular because they bought followers.” Well-known high-engagement accounts can’t help but get followers…even if they abandon their account!
Of course, most important is that by following quality people, Twitter will become useful to you. If you’re only trying to get followers, you’re using Twitter wrong.
The Six Ways To Get Followers
There are lot of ways to grow a Twitter account, some good, some awful. But first, let me say it again in a different way:
- If you’re just trying to get followers, particularly if you do it by following a lot of people, it will destroy the value you could be getting from Twitter.
Many people with over 100,000 followers (@Scobelizer is one famous example) eventually unfollowed everyone and then very carefully begin following a much smaller number. Overfollowing destroyed the value they were getting from Twitter.
While most of this is common sense, some things you might expect Twitter to ban it doesn’t, and other things that seem fine can get you suspended! But before we get into that, first…another mystery:
Should this company have been banned from Twitter?
Did you know that some new users joining Twitter were once virtually forced to autofollow other accounts? The accounts they autofollowed gained millions of followers. If you knew where to look when setting up you could turn off the forced following, but most new users didn’t realize what was happening. One well-known website owner even offered $250,ooo to be added to the list of Twitter accounts that people were forced to autofollow.
The company that set up the forced autofollowing finally turned it off after months and months of ever louder complaints, only to turn around and start selling followers instead! Why wasn’t this company banned from Twitter?
Because the company that did this…was Twitter itself. The autofollowing was called the “Suggested Users List,” and selling followers is now called “Promoted Accounts.” A lot of people aren’t happy that Twitter now accepts money in exchange for followers. As you can see, understanding where followers come from can be surprising and confusing.
Understanding the six ways to get followers
These are listed in order from best (1) to worst (6). However, even among the best ideas there are ways to do things wrong, and even among the worst ideas there are exceptions that Twitter allows and can be done carefully if you have the right reasons. So I suggest bookmarking this to read later if you don’t have the time now. Also, some Twitter sites and services offer a mixture of tools, some good, some bad, and in each case your intention usually matters more than what tools you use. Let’s begin!
► 1. Build a reputation for quality and responsiveness
There are a lot of ways to do this. In most cases you’ll want to start by listing your account in various Twitter directories (a great list of them is at “How to find and engage influential Twitter users“), and look for people to engage with in those same directories. Four common approaches to begin building your reputation are:
- BUILD A REPUTATION AS A HELPFUL EXPERT. This sometimes called “building your brand,” or “becoming a thought leader in your niche.” For example, creating YouTube “how to” videos and searching Twitter for people with questions in your niche and helping them get answers would be two approaches. A good way to start is to experiment with Twitter searches to find people that you can help. That’s how I started out
- BECOME A “SUPER ADVOCATE” for key people: This is the most powerful way to build your reputation and get influential users to promote you. Read more at “How ANYONE can become incredibly popular on Twitter, or ANY social network.”
- BUILD A PLN: This is a “Personal Learning Network.” Seek out people who can teach you something, and people that you can teach something to. You can focus on your business, career, hobby, or any interest. As @olafelch points out in the article Twitter as a PLN, “I have found more resources and got more useful advice for professional development in 3 months on Twitter than in the previous 5 years without it.” Twitter can be just one part of your PLN strategy. And Twitter chats can be a goldmine for PLNers.
- MAKE & PROMOTE INFLUENTIAL CONNECTIONS: See “Use Twitter to get influential people to help you” and “Find and compare Twitter lists” and “How to get followers fast.” Promoting other users usually earns their interest. Strategies include FollowFriday, writing blog posts about top users hoping those users will tweet the post, creating lists of users, retweeting users, etc. Some people try to find various kinds of favors they can do for influential users. It’s all good if you are ethical, sincere and learn from your mistakes.
- LEARN ETIQUETTE & ENGAGE: The idea here to is get to know Twitter’s community guidelines, and then socialize and follow as you see fit. If you feel unsure about what kinds of things to tweet, here are some suggestions. To get you started, check out Twitter Etiquette: Five Do’s and Don’ts, and for a deeper look, see A Brief and Informal Twitter Etiquette Guide. Above all, don’t miss the short, essential and very simple Win Friends And Influence People On Twitter In Just 5 Seconds A Day.
- BE RESPONSIVE: This can be as simple as replying back to everyone that contacts you, even if it takes you a few days. But also, some people build their Twitter community by trading favors. This can be as simple as looking through the tweets of someone who has retweeted you to try to find something of their that you can retweet. Obviously this works best if you are connecting with people who tweet things that you would want to retweet anyway! Reciprocation—retweeting something from anyone that retweets you is extraordinarily common on Twitter. Read more about this under #3 below “Retweet Reciprocators.”
- TWEET POPULAR CONTENT: This can be a real trap if you end spending lots of time tweeting things you don’t really care about just to make yourself more retweetable. Better is become absolutely trusted for truly high quality content about one particular niche. You want people to feel when they see a tweet with your avatar that if they don’t click it right away, they should bookmark it to read later. This means NOT tweeting some things that are good, but not great. Viral news (see @GuyKawasaki and @FlipBooks for two top examples), inspirational quotes and clever factoids are among the most retweeted kinds of tweets. But because they are SO popular, many users are sick of seeing them.
► 2. Promote your account: Ads, Contests, Quizzes, Giveaways, Polls and Heavy Tweeting
See “Follower Groups” below for a kind of advertising that Twitter does NOT allow.
Promoting your Twitter account can be a natural, positive thing, as simple as adding your Twitter username to your business card. Another way is once you have at least a few thousand real, engaged followers, to simply begin tweeting more often, and use 1-3 key hashtags on many tweets. Tweeting a lot will also cause a few people to unfollow you, but it will generate more retweets, more followers, and higher “influence” scores (e.g. Klout, PeerIndex, etc.)
Some accounts that Tweet popular content slowly increase the frequency of their tweeting as they get more followers to increase retweets. Overtweeting can definitely backfire, but for accounts than mainly tweet only popular content (see above) it seems to work well. Of course, they end up working hard just to regurgitate things everyone else is already tweeting, so I don’t generally recommend this.
- PAID OPTIONS: Besides Twitter’s own “Promoted Accounts” service, there are several services (e.g. TwitterCounter’s featured user service) that charge by time period (day-week-month) or by how many people they show your profile to (views). There are even services that charge by how many followers you get. Some people call this “buying followers,” but Twitter allows it as long as it is based 100% on advertising alone. You can also pay other accounts to tweet ads for you, see the section at the bottom of “So How Does Twitter Make Money, Anyway?” For information about directly buying followers, which Twitter does NOT allow and is a really, really bad idea, see section 6: “Fake Accounts.”
A more and more popular option for is the “pay with a tweet” giveaway, where users can only get your free offering by tweeting about it. Examples of services that set this up for you are Cloud:Flood, Pay with a Tweet and the WordPress plugin Tweet And Get it.
- FREE OPTIONS: Promote yourself, such as by putting your Twitter username on your blog, in your email signature and on your business cards. For more tips like this, see “How to get more followers on Twitter without using Twitter.” Some accounts also offer prizes for following their accounts (see “Contest Problems” in the numbered list just below this one), or try to create engagement events, like polls. Read more about creating events and contests to build your Twitter account. Offering Twitter quizzes with a giveaway are also popular.
What Twitter Doesn’t Allow:
- ADS THAT LOOK LIKE TWEETS: A direct violation would be showing a bunch of real tweets, and then putting an ad that looks like a tweet near enough to them that some people might think it is a real tweet. Services or websites that do this will have their access to real tweets revoked.
- PROMISING FOLLOW-BACKS: Mostly a non-issue, as the reason many accounts pay for advertising is that they are trying to get followers that they don’t have to follow back—they’re paying to make themselves look “important.” See “Follower Groups” below for what is specifically disallowed.
- CONTEST PROBLEMS: The Twitter contest guidelines outline what to watch out for.
If you’re creating a service or website, don’t try to do anything that fools people into clicking ads and you should be fine. If you’re a user, make sure you aren’t signing up for anything that takes control of your account to follow other users (see “Follower Groups“).
► 3. Become Known As A “Follow-Backer” Or A “Retweet Reciprocator”
3a. Becoming known as a follow-backer
Read carefully! Many folks have told me this seemed innocent enough, but then found themselves victimized by the sleazy tactics used by some Twitter users.
Auto-following anyone that follows you will get you followers. It will also get you a reputation—a BAD reputation. And that reputation will mean that ever-lower quality accounts seek you out. If on the other hand you follow good people, other good people will seek you out, and you will get good followers.
What you don’t want is a reputation for following everyone and anyone that follow you. However, you may not even know this has already happened to you: Thousands of accounts on Twitter, many real and many not, track accounts they think follow back anyone that follows them.
How follow-backing works
At the most innocent level, say you check out someone who follows you and you decide to follow them back. Even though that doesn’t mean you’ll follow the next person who follows you, you might now be listed as a “known follow-backer” in the eyes of the person you just followed. And from there, your name could be added to a list on a website, or tagged in a tweet indicating that it’s believed you’ll follow anyone back.
Some users build lists of users that supposedly follow everyone back, and then sell access to them, effectively trying to sell followers. More simply, many accounts send tweets tagging those accounts they think will follow back with hashtags, so others can just follow back the usernames found in a search of those hashtags. (If needed, see http://j.mp/LearnHashtags.) Here’s one example of a way some Twitter accounts promote “followbackers” (image).
Sleazy tactics abound
- Whether you or others promote your account as a “follow backer” you’ll get followed by other accounts that are most likely to ►unfollow you later ►spam you.
- Some accounts follow everyone back to become known as “follow backers” and then stop, hoping people will still follow them.
- Others follow back, then unfollow after a set waiting period—hoping you won’t notice, and will still keep following them.
- Some who don’t follow anyone back will tweet their own usernames with follow back hashtags, trying to entice people to follow them by claiming they follow back.
So obviously this tactic attracts a lot of sleazy users, and you’d generally do well to stay away from it. Here’s the story of how one user got nearly 100,000 followers using autofollow, but became swamped by the problems it caused, quit, and recommends never using it.
When is it good to be known as a follow-backer?
On the other hand, for some large accounts and in certain situations autofollowing is the most efficient solution, though there is a lot of disagreement on this. (Try Googling Twitter autofollowing.)
Chris Brogan, for example, followed everyone back, then stopped because of problems with the kinds of accounts that were attracted, then started following everyone back again because it was simplest. Chris said it was easier to follow everyone back and then unfollow bad accounts, but obviously it was a challenging at times to keep autofollow turned on.
Also, if you’re promising to follow people who follow you for a contest, or because your account is being promoted to a group of quality users you want to connect with, you might want to briefly use an autofollowing service such as provided by SocialOomph.
3b. Becoming known as a retweet reciprocator
This is probably the most common community-building tactic on Twitter. Folks who make this their main strategy are also the ones that say “please retweet” the most on their tweets. “Please RT” does increase retweets in many cases. It also annoys and turns people off, and is a signal to low-quality accounts that you might also be a low-quality account that will retweet almost anything. It’s a similar problem to being a “follow-backer”—you attracts bots and people who will retweet anything (low quality accounts). There are even services that try to bring people together expressly for the purpose of retweeting one another (I’ve never tried any of these services). Triberr is one such service. They promote things such as “Guaranteed ReTweets—Every tribe member will automatically share your post with their followers.”
THE DOWNSIDE: Of course, whether you do this automatically or manually, it’s problematic. I know several big accounts that exist primarily to reciprocate retweets, so that when they have something they want to promote they will have lots of people who retweet it for them. But that makes them nothing but a stream of promotional tweets.
Accounts that reciprocate extensively thus become similar to a stream of ads for anyone that retweets them. However, since so many people get on Twitter near-exclusively to promote things, this strategy is popular, since you can get a lot of other folks to reciprocate. This is like a lot of strategies on Twitter that can be good or bad. If it’s all you do, you’ve just turned your account into a marketing grind. But if it’s just one part of what you do to connect with quality people, it’s a great community builder.
► 4. Follow & Hope Some Follow Back: “Churning” Automation
Twitter has a very strict set of conditions and rules for following and unfollowing, and they suspend accounts for violations. But Twitter will often unsuspend if you ask nicely, and promise not to violate Twitter rules any more.
In fact, one large, well-known account confided to me that they violated Twitter’s following/unfollowing rules repeatedly in 2009-2010, were repeatedly suspended and then restored after requesting to be unsuspended. (I suspect they may have been suspended/unsuspended no more than two or three times, as I doubt Twitter would forgive more than that.)
What makes too much following bad?
Twitter doesn’t want you following lots of people and then unfollowing them just because they didn’t follow you back (“churn”). But Twitter also limits how many you can follow (no more than 10% more than follow you), so this following tactic doesn’t work unless you unfollow the ones who don’t follow you back. Do this frequently and in large numbers and it’s called “aggressive follow churn” (some users call this “pump and dump”). For more info, see Why Twitter suspends accounts for aggressive follow churn.
MOST of the software that advertises “get more Twitter followers” does it by churn, and so not only can the software get your account suspended for aggressive follow churn, you can also be suspended for violating Twitter’s Automation Rules and Best Practices.
How does the automation work?
First are the services that clean up the problems that come about from autofollowing, or following groups without enough manual review of each user being followed.
“Spam finder” services claim to try find the lowest quality accounts among those you follow or that follow you, and help you manually unfollow or block them. Of course the question is, why did you follow them in the first place? Other services list inactive accounts you follow that may have been abandoned, or show you everyone that you are following that isn’t following you back.
One such service is ManageFlitter, which adjusted its features in consultation with Twitter to ensure it wasn’t in violation of any Twitter rules. Even though Twitter allows it, using it in conjunction with auto- or over-following is still “churn,” and can still get your account suspended. More important than the tools you use are your intentions.
Finally, there are the sites and software that fully automate the process. These usually follow people based on keyword searches, and automatically unfollow those who don’t follow you back after a set time period, which, again, is considered follow churn (though not automatically aggressive follow churn). But keyword searches are a lousy way to find good people to follow, besides the possibility you could be suspended for violating Twitter’s Automation Rules and Best Practices.
All these sites and software cost money, and all offer affiliate options—you make money by selling the service or software to other users. In fact, these services make up the bulk of the “make money on Twitter” websites—they tell you that the best way to make money on Twitter is by selling the software or service, which means they make money helping you sell software that can get your account suspended.
It’s a good idea (though not at all necessary) to follow someone as a prelude to making a connection. And it’s also good to generate lists of people, and then review each one to find good people to connect with. But since keyword searches are an inefficient way of finding great folks (you need to review each manually), auto-following people based on keyword searches is not good. However, you can use more advanced analysis tools to try to create lists of people to follow, and then follow Chris Brogan’s technique of unfollowing any that you don’t want to connect with.
Yet I don’t recommend this, because the tools are typically both expensive (enterprise level) and time consuming to use well. If you have hours a day to spend on Twitter it can be done well, however. When there is a lot of Twitter activity in some part of the world, I’ll sometimes try to create a list of good people to follow in that area, and then follow the whole list without much review of each user. For more about the ins and outs of using advanced tools to create complex filters of user lists, read The secrets of following people on Twitter.
► 5. Join Follower Groups: “Get Followers Fast” Sites
Some of these promote themselves as “networking hubs” or something similar, and suggest listing your account as a kind of advertisement. Others are more straightforward and admit they’re only there to link you up to accounts that will supposedly follow you back. No matter how they promote themselves, if there is any language about “getting followers” rest assured that most of the worst kinds of accounts and sleaze tactics can be found there.
More specifically, The Twitter Rules disallow “Using or promoting third-party sites that claim to get you more followers, such as follower trains, sites promising ‘more followers fast,” or any other site that offers to automatically add followers to your account.”
Yes, this is such a bad way to use Twitter that Twitter can suspend you just for mentioning sites that promise “more followers fast.”
Blog and retweet groups
You can make agreements with some friends to promote and help one another, or use sites that semi-automate the process of finding like-minded people to promote one another. Depending on how you do it, you can end up sending a lot of spammy tweets, getting very few followers and destroying your reputation, or connecting with some excellent people and doing joint ventures together for mutual benefit. See “Should I join a blog or retweet group?” for more information.
Sites such as Twellow, WeFollow and JustTweetIt simply make it easy to find users that match certain criteria are an invaluable tool for finding people to connect with, and I recommend listing your Twitter account with them. Also, many Twitter bloggers make short lists of quality people they recommend checking out—and you should too! Here’s my list of good Twitter users to check out.
There are other sites that are specifically for finding other Twitter users, such as http://twiends.com. The problem with many of those sites (including Twiends) is that they have a pay-per-use business model, which leads users to only engage with others who will follow them, since it costs less the more people follow you. It skirts the edge of Twitter rules, but the main reason you might want to skip them is that the quality or type of users you meet when money and following are linked is not necessarily the best.
► 6. Multiple & Fake Accounts: Spammers and Follower Sellers
Twitter doesn’t generally allow this (see “exceptions” below), but has trouble catching accounts that do it because they are often use very sophisticated techniques (see How Spammers Are Taking Over Twitter). Some create thousands of fake accounts and offer to have them follow you for a fee. Others simply say they will sell you followers and don’t specify clearly what those accounts will be.
Just to be crystal clear about this: you should NEVER do these things. Let me give you three reasons, for three different kinds of person: FEAR: Very easy to get suspended by doing this; COST: You don’t need to do this to get followers; RESULTS: You’re simply paying to create a fake account with fake followers who will do nothing, when you could just as easily be creating a real account with real followers.
- PAID OPTIONS: By this I mean simply buying followers—yes, there are sites that do this, and NO, Twitter doesn’t allow. Twitter claims to catch some of the accounts doing this, and suspends them. But there are still services that sell followers, and there are “hire a programmer” and “hire an internet worker” forums that will do variations of this for you. Follower sellers of course claim that Twitter won’t be able to tell who their customers are.
- FREE OPTIONS: Create a lot of accounts, and have them follow the account you want to make look “popular.” Again: do NOT do this! Generally this is done by people with the technical skills to write programs that automate the process of creating lots of Twitter accounts for themselves. (If they sell this service or their programs, this would be a paid option again.) There are reasons Twitter allows creation of multiple accounts quickly, but do it wrong and you can still be suspended, regardless of your reasons.
What Twitter Doesn’t Allow:
- CREATING MANY ACCOUNTS FROM THE SAME COMPUTER RAPIDLY: They check the IP address of the computer creating accounts to track this—spammers obviously work around this.
- ACCOUNTS THAT HAVE NO “REAL” PURPOSE: Examples include creating fake accounts for contest entries, to abuse other users anonymously, to follow other accounts, to spam other users, etc.
If you create many accounts from the same IP address over a long enough period of time Twitter is fine with it. Twitter will allow many accounts to be created at the same time if you have a valid reason, but you can’t create them all from the same IP address/computer no matter how worthy they are. For example, when Quora wanted to have multiple Twitter accounts that tweeted about the different question topics on its question-and-answer service, they had to pay dozens of folks to create those accounts for them.
I remember one case where a husband and wife created a bunch of accounts for a completely innocuous purpose (something like a grade school project for a group of kids), spent an entire evening setting up a few dozen accounts, only to find them all suspended the next morning. They begged and pleaded with Twitter, who acknowledged the non-spam nature of the accounts, but wouldn’t unsuspend them. I’m sure Twitter realized that if they made one exception and word got out, they’d have to staff a whole department to make decisions on who should get exceptions in the future.
Can You Ever Be Too Popular?
Yes you can! Using @TweetSmarter as an example, I get tweets every day from people saying “Hey, follow me back!” It’s annoying and makes Twitter less useful for me, since there is no easy way to hide these low quality tweets from cluttering up the stream of tweets I actually want to see. If I turn on autofollowing, I get a few less of these tweets, but not enough to make autofollowing worthwhile with all the other problems it entails.
Also, @TweetSmarter gets lots of tweets and “pokes” (tweets with nothing but your username) from people who simply tweet any account with a lot of followers, for example. (Some people call this “celebrity baiting.”) Doesn’t happen to us as much as to actual celebrities, but still plenty enough to be annoying.
Then there are the automated fake engagement tweets, like “Love your tweets, could you help me with this?” and then a link to some spam website, in addition to less clever spam tweets, such as “buy my new album!” etc.
Had you not heard the story of the abandoned account getting and keeping 10’s of thousands of followers, you would never think much of these forces. But they are powerful! Becoming known in your niche as a quality account to engage with will “work while you sleep” to find great people to connect with. The four forces are:
- FOLLOW TO FIT IN: You may have heard “Twitter consultants” recommend that if you’re new to Twitter, you should follow a mixture of well-known, respectable accounts when you first join to “get engaged” and look like you know what you are doing. People judge you on who you follow, they say, so start by following people that will make you look good.
This a good idea. But also realize that fake spam accounts do the same thing, meaning that well-known accounts get both spam and real accounts following them—because following high-reputation accounts make them both seem to “fit in” better on Twitter!
- FOLLOW QUALITY BLINDLY: People are always looking for good accounts to connect with on Twitter. If an account’s reputation is solid enough—especially if its name and avatar clearly match its purpose—many will follow it automatically without reading its tweets, just clicking “follow” on lists of recommended accounts.
- FOLLOW HOPING FOR FOLLOW BACK: Accounts that become known will often get followed because people hope it will follow them back. Stick around on Twitter long enough and this will happen to you too, often inappropriately! See the section on “Follow Backers” for more info.
- LEAVE QUALITY ALONE: Tweeting in a way that shows you fit into the Twitter community builds reputation, and helps you gain followers. It means first and foremost, understanding Twitter etiquette. Accounts that don’t stand out from the crowd in a bad way get unfollowed less. In the case of the abandoned account, many people followed it without checking it, but then never unfollowed it, because they never noticed it again—it never tweeted anything objectionable!
So knowing how to make your tweets “fit in” on Twitter will help keep your followers. See “Build a reputation for quality” at the top of this post, and for more tips, check out “Should you ever repeat the same tweets?” and “When is the best time to tweet?“
Want to get something out of Twitter? Work at getting value, not followers. Many, many people have written about how trying to get followers destroyed the value they were getting out of Twitter. Don’t be another casualty! If you build a reputation for quality by following quality users and appropriately promoting your account, you can achieve virtually any kind of goal on Twitter. And over time, if it’s appropriate to the reasons you’re here, you may end up with a lot of people following your Twitter account.
I hope this post will also help you evaluate what other Twitter accounts are doing, and keep a clear head when looking at different services that claim to help you grow or “clean” your followers. I also hope you’ll get an idea of the myriad problems having too many low quality followers can bring and realize, as the article on Twitter spammers points out, the various rules help Twitter help you by limiting the use of Twitter by spammers.
I think it’s appropriate to give Twitter the last word here, from their Twitter Following Rules and Best Practices article:
Remember, Twitter isn’t a race to get the most followers. If you follow users that you’re interested in, it’s more likely that legitimate users will find you and read your updates.
Please be patient…sometimes the list is slow to load! Use the scroll bar at right to scroll down to see more people as the list loads.
Here is an ever-updating list of some great people to follow and engage with on Twitter—check back from time to time to find new people! Be sure to scroll down to see more folks
You can also reply or retweet any of the posts by using the controls just below each tweet (on the far right edge).
I’ve learned that the more transparent I am, the faster I learn, and learning is really important to me.
I keep getting comments from the anonymous Twitter user “Alan” complaining about how he/she thinks @TweetSmarter follows and unfollows people on Twitter. You can see those comments on many of the blog posts that are just before this one, such as “following secrets I’ve never told anyone before,” and “how you don’t have to follow lots of people to get followers.” Here’s my latest response:
Thanks for your concern for my reputation (you said “I think you’re providing a nice service for lots of folks. Don’t erode your brand with this nonsense.”) I appreciate your recognition that I’m here to help, and that you’re trying to advise me on how to protect my reputation with the “veterans of Twitter.” I’m sure that, like yourself, people will make up their own minds, and that’s fine by me.
Here’s the short summary: I’m trying to be ever more selective of who I follow while I get rid of people I don’t want to follow, of which I’ve accumulated too many. So less following and more unfollowing is happening. But you just see large numbers in following and even more so in unfollowing and therefore I must be doing the same junk everyone else does. Or you just think that doing lots of following and unfollowing can only be bad, no matter how it is done. I wish it were just semantics, and we were simply using different words for the same thing.
I’ve pointed out that I really can’t recommend following large numbers of people on Twitter, because it’s so ridiculously time consuming to do well, and people who try it do it poorly, and most are doing it for the wrong reasons. I do it much more poorly than I wish I did and I’m constantly trying to improve. I’ve already explained a lot of the things that can go wrong in trying to get followers, that’s it’s the wrong thing to try to do in the first place, and pointing out how even getting more retweets can be a bad thing when it’s just junk accounts retweeting you.
I claim that I use following as a carefully thought out tool, spending lots of time finding the “people who help us help others” that you call part of a “laughable” and “intellectually bankrupt justification” on my part. Gosh, don’t sugar coat it, tell me what you really think, lol! Again, it seems to be the numbers that bother you. You’re sure they’re too large to be well thought out on my part. You’re sure I’m just doing what everyone else is doing and I should just admit it and stop doing it.
I claim that I’m building a community in part by using lots of analytical tools to follow quality people a fairly high rate/high volume. You claim it’s just what you call “pump and dump” following and unfollowing.
You’ve positioned yourself as an expert, saying your expertise allows you to “see through” my “rambling justifications.” So let’s test that expertise a little bit, in an admittedly completely unscientific way (rambling justification alert!)
I’m going to give brief overviews of three unscientific examples of the power of the community that has formed around @TweetSmarter. They won’t “prove” anything, but maybe you’ll get a glimmer.
Basically, I could NOT do what you describe and have had the extraordinary community that has formed around @TweetSmarter form as it has. The test is this: You have no way of explaining how these things could happen. If I’m doing what everyone else is doing, how can the @TweetSmarter account have such an extraordinary community?
Let me anticipate your most likely explanations: that since I spend a lot of time on Twitter helping people, and have a lot of followers, that explains why there is such a devoted community that has built up around @TweetSmarter. True to a point of course. Yet, there are around 1400 accounts with more followers than we have, and more all the time. @TweetSmarter is not growing, it’s shrinking, at least when compared to the overall Twitter community. Also, there are hundreds of people, authors, bloggers, CEOs who are tremendously active on Twitter, famous outside of it, and have fanatically devoted and very large communities. And yet, measures of the community that has built around @TweetSmarter have ranked it among the highest in the world for years. @TweetSmarter is not just influential, it’s more influential than any remotely similar account in the world. It’s sometimes the most influential.
You don’t believe my explanations of why and how I follow. Perhaps a couple of examples might make you wonder if there really is something more to it:
On Twitalyzer our account was measured as one of the 5-10 most influential in the world for most of 2009. We reached the #1 spot repeatedly, usually trading place with @GuyKawasaki for it. When Edelman’s Tweetlevel came out, we debuted at #3 in the world. And even as Twitter grows, we spent nearly all of January 2011 on Edelman’s list of “top 20″ most influential in the world, peaking at #5 on January 21st.
Maybe you’ll notice that these things don’t really have that much to do with number of followers. There are 1,393 accounts on Twitter that have more followers than @TweetSmarter does as of this writing. Hundreds of them are very active, with great communities around them. And yes, hundreds more are simply celebrities who don’t really use Twitter very well. But many of the other accounts on the top 20 during the times we appear on the list have millions of followers. Our follower numbers are nearly inconsequential. It’s the number of “people who help us help others” in our community that matters. Take for example a list of users from a quick search I did, their number of followers and their Klout score. All except @Scobleizer have a LOT more followers, yet NONE of have a higher Klout score than TweetSmarter the day I checked. Note that the founder of Klout says it doesn’t care how many followers you have. Numbers are expressed as network/overall online influence. Network mean “how often engaged by influential people,” meaning not even @LadyGaga with 8.4 million followers is engaged by influential users more frequently than @TweetSmarter is. :
- 93/86 @TweetSmarter 0.24
- 91/87 @Mashable 2.2 Million
- 86/86 @Twitter 4.3 Million
- 89/85 @CNN 1.6 million
- 89/86 @ConanObrien 2.4 Million
- 87/82 @GuyKawasaki 0.31
- 88/86 @Aplusk 6.3 Million
- 88/81 @Scobleizer 0.17
- 78/73 @Biz 1.7 Million
- 93/92 @LadyGaga 8.4 million
The 2009 Shorty Awards
I competed in a category that had fewer competitors, and simply tried to keep the number of votes for us near the highest, without trying to look like a clear winner until near the end. I had no idea of how many votes it would take to win, or if we stood a chance at winning…but we did win. The real revelation came afterwards.
After we won, I read some information from a more competitive category than ours. Apparently there had been a scandal.
Dan Zarella, an extraordinarily successful and well-respected expert and social media researcher, said that no matter what he did, he could never seem to get more votes than this other guy (who I won’t name—all info is still on the web if you care to research). Dan made it clear he was going all out and still falling short. So he did some digging, and discovered the other guy was buying votes!
So here you had a social media expert going all out to win in a competitive category, trying to stay ahead of someone who was just buying votes. Dan won (the other guy was disqualified), and you would expect that he had a TON more votes than we did, right?
Actually…no. In fact, our account had more votes than most of the winners in any of the categories. But the real revelation was this—@TweetSmarter could have gotten probably four or five times as many votes, easily—I was only trying to keep it close in our category! I had no idea our community was so much stronger than those around others. It really opened my eyes.
Let me just add one little addendum: I haven’t competed in the Shorty Awards since then. Why? While it demonstrated to me the strength of our community, it was clear it had very little to do with building or nurturing community. And yes, I mean in part it doesn’t bring in many followers. But of course I mean it doesn’t bring in GOOD followers, while you’re probably still just thinking about the numbers. If popularity mattered, we’d still be competing—and winning. (Never say never, the value of the Shorty Awards could change in future years. And then I’d compete again.)
How did I do it? I simply asked a small percentage of the people who engaged with us to vote for us—the same thing everyone else was doing. I could have asked tons more. No rocket science. We just had a stronger community.
Why I’m responding
I’ve learned that the more transparent I am, the faster I learn, and learning is really important to me.
But also, what I’m doing is I think is at least a little controversial, because I’ve basically tried a little of everything over the years, and I’m trying to be as fair and smart as I can with what I’m doing now. The more I try to do things on a larger scale the more I have to use tools—the most important of which are analysis tools—but which means automation of some things, some of the time. I think you basically applaud my reason for being here but misunderstand some of how I do it and feel that some of it shouldn’t be done. Clearly you think searching for good people is fine, but we disagree beyond that.
Can you admit that maybe, just maybe, I work as hard at find good people to follow as I say I do? And that it has made a difference to growing a community that is both large and high-quality?
And that’s what really bothers you, isn’t it? It’s the numbers. I must be “bad” for doing lots of following/unfollowing, why won’t I just admit it? I must be “bad” for using following to find good people. I must be “bad” for unfollowing my mistakes—and having made so many of them.
Despite demonstrating that I could achieve what you seem to think I’m doing by other, more automated and secretive methods, you’re not convinced. You see big numbers, I must be doing bad things. I’ve pointed out a lot of the better options I could be using if I was just trying to do what you’re accusing me of doing, to no avail.
I’ve watched people try every trick in the book on Twitter for building their communities. There are a ton of people with 40,000-300,000 followers who have done “pump and dump” from day one and still do it today. There are a significant number with more followers than @TweetSmarter has. We both know this. You’re saying I’m doing the same things they are, and I’m saying I’m doing something different at a similar volume.
But there is definitely something addictive about connecting with lots of great people around the world, and I’m going to keep trying to find ways to do it better.
First, realize that you can suspended for reasons other than just your following behavior. This post mainly just addresses following behavior. It is NOT a guide that will tell you exactly how to avoid being suspended. (Twitter doesn’t provide exact information on that.)
In this post, I’ll address what this practice is, why people do it, and compare it to what we’ve done. What Twitter calls “aggressive follow churn” is what some users call “pump and dump” or “follow and flush.” All of these are terms for a practice that is against Twitter’s following rules and best practices, which is NOT what @TweetSmarter does. Note that these rules generally wouldn’t affect you until you are following more than 2000.
What is “aggressive follow churn?”
Twitter explains: “[People sometimes do this because they want]:
- [To] get lots of people to notice them,
- to circumvent a Twitter limit,
- or to change their follower-to-following ratio.
- Negatively impact the Twitter experience for other users,
- are common spam tactics,
- and may lead to account suspension.”
(I formatted Twitter’s text into numbered lists for ease of comprehension.)
How can you identify a “churner?”
The typical churner following chart often looks like a zig-zag, going up for as little as a half a week or so, then partway down, then back up. This aggressive (frequent and rapid) up-and-down is where the word “churning” comes from. The churner follows up to the point that Twitter limits them. But since services like TwitterCounter are public, anyone can check anyone’s else’s following practices. (Note that prior to the unfollowing we blogged about, the last unfollowing done by @TweetSmarter was in November of 2010—hardly frequent or “aggressive” unfollowing.)
Twitter following limits and ratio
Twitter reserves the right to change and keep secret its various limits. One that they have generally kept secret—though it is widely known and cited— is that typically you can only follow up to 10% more than follow you (once you follow more than 2,000 people). So if 10,000 people followed you, you could follow 11,000, etc. An account that follows nearly 10% more than follow them may or may not be “churning” but it is one possible sign they may be following people hoping to be followed back solely or primarily to increase their number of followers. Another “maybe” sign is an account that follows large numbers every week, but never follows back anyone that follows them.
Your ratio is said to be negative if you follow more people than follow you, and positive otherwise. (For example, celebrities using Twitter inevitably have more followers than people they follow—a positive ratio.) Note that @TweetSmarter already has an overwhelmingly positive ratio, since nearly 45,000 more people follow us than we follow.
The “churn chart”
Nowadays some advanced churners hide from services like TwitterCounter by keeping separate lists of followers, and slowly following new users while unfollowing users that don’t follow them back within a set period, as often as every 3-4 days, typically using software to automate this process. This makes the churn invisible because there are close to equal amounts of following and unfollowing every day.
Why do users try churning?
Two of the reasons Twitter believes users do this are:
- To circumvent a Twitter limit
- Or to change their follower-to-following ratio.
I’ll take each of these tactics in turn:
1. In a zig-zag following chart that shows churn, a zig upwards shows following people until an account follows nearly 10% more than follow them. Then they are blocked by Twitter’s limit, so they unfollow people who haven’t followed them back (the zag back down). Since a few of the people they followed will usually follow them back, they gain followers each time they go through the up-and-down cycle. This is one of the main “tricks” that spammy sites will sell you for gaining followers.
2. There are two common forms of the second tactic. First, understand how “popularity” is sometimes measured. Take the example of a typical celebrity: They follow only a small handful of users, even though millions of people follow them. This strong positive ratio is considered a mark of popularity so some users try to artificially create this for themselves:
A. One way users do this is by every so often unfollowing EVERYONE that follows them. A lot of accounts will then unfollow them in response, but a few will remain. Then they will go through the whole process again, usually 6-12 months later. In this way they build up a dedicated “following” of accounts (typically a lot of abandoned or automated accounts).
B. A less drastic method is simply to unfollow people until your ratio turns positive, e.g. if you followed 11,000 and had 10,000 followers, you would unfollow a little more than 1,000 accounts.
The most seriously abusive part of this is that, unless you are getting accounts to follow you regardless of whether you follow them back (you provide something of value, or are a celebrity), to make either of these work you have to unfollow accounts that follow you—people that typically heard of your account only because you followed them in the first place!
If you ever find an account (e.g. @username) doing this, do a to:username search (Twitter search example). If @username was being abusive in this way, you will see a lot of angry users tweeting “I’m following you—why did you unfollow me?” (Look through this search of live tweets at any time to see lots of people complaining like this.)
Regarding @TweetSmarter, anyone can see from searching tweets sent to us that people aren’t complaining to us like that.
To “Get lots of people to notice” you.
This is the other reason Twitter mentions people follow a lot of people. It’s okay to a small degree—following someone can be a lead in to introducing yourself, asking a question, making a connection, giving someone permission to DM you, etc.
Essentially, Twitter does NOT want Twitter accounts becoming rapidly popular due to your tweeting or following practices. (It’s okay to become slowly popular that way.) To get lots of people to hear rapidly of your Twitter account can’t be because you are following or engaging with hundreds of new users each day, but because you are popular for some other reason, such as:
- A popular website directs people to your Twitter account.
- Your tweets are retweeted by popular users
- You are well-known outside of Twitter
How my wife and I got started on Twitter
I wanted to create a Twitter account to answer people’s questions about Twitter. I wasn’t well-known for any reason outside of Twitter. To save time, I didn’t want to write a lot of blog posts. So at first, I couldn’t figure out how to reach people who might need help. I tried finding people who were new to Twitter and sending them a tweet. Many of those accounts quit without ever learning how to read their inbound tweets, I noticed. I tried following and tweeting new users with the same result. I tried the same tactics with users who asked questions, users who answered questions, users who tweeted useful Twitter tips, etc., etc., etc.
But mostly, I worked ridiculously hard to cram as much useful information into each tweet as possible. I had single tweets containing as many as nine tips or five links! (That was too much.) What happened very quickly was we started to get people following us who had heard about us from other users retweeting us, and we grew slowly. And I stopped wondering as much about how to reach people who needed help and concentrated more just being as helpful as I could.
What are @TweetSmarter’s following practices?
We don’t promise to autofollow anyone! People tweet all kinds of fake “engagement” hoping you will follow them, so I don’t have a hard-and-fast “I will follow you if” rule. But some pretty well-known reasons I’ll follow people sometimes include:
- Following user A when user B says “Hey User A, ask your question to @TweetSmarter.” This lets “User A” DM us their question (which dozens do every week) and helps new users not familiar with all of Twitter’s in and outs find and remember us.
- Follow users who say great things about @TweetSmarter to their followers. I don’t always do this, but it’s of course fun to connect with those folks
- Follow users who tweet great Twitter information.
- Follow users I’m having a conversation with.
Another reason we don’t have hard-and-fast rules is that it’s a LOT of work reviewing people to follow when you get hundreds of new followers every day.
I tried turning on autofollowing once (meaning you follow us, we follow you back) because the number of “Hey! Follow me back” tweets was getting annoying. And you know what? People still tweeted that! Many didn’t even bother to wait—or even check—to see if we followed them. It reduced the number of people asking for follow backs, but didn’t eliminate them completely.
We’ve been getting so much spam recently, I asked a friend who owes me a favor to unfollow spammy accounts for us, provided they don’t follow us (I’ll review people following us myself—and report as spam any that warrant it).
Getting followers just by following others: Not a great idea
Occasionally someone sees how many followers we have and thinks we must “grow our followers” by following tons of people all the time. I think this chart from Twittercounter.com (actually two charts overlaid on top of one another) refutes that pretty clearly:
Even though we’re (temporarily!) unfollowing a bunch of old accounts that have become too “spammish,” new people continue to follow us uninterruptedly. And no, we also don’t pay to advertise our account anywhere, or use any of the “get more followers” type websites or groups. This chart is accurate: We aren’t doing anything specifically aimed at getting new followers right now. The rate at which new people are following us is also basically unchanged, as you can see by this monthly growth chart:
Do you have to follow lots of people to get followers?
No, you don’t. And to those of you who want to know all about why and when and who we follow or unfollow…I’m not going to share that at this time. Why? Because we don’t want people to try to figure out how to get us to follow them. We don’t want to play that game. (Besides, we follow and unfollow people for a variety of ever-changing reasons.)
A little over a year ago, someone put us on a list of accounts that always follow back. I contacted the person who made the list and asked them to remove us from the list. He was incredulous, even after I told him that we were NOT following everyone back. He argued that everyone on the list would get more followers just from being on the list. But who wants those kinds of followers?
So, how do you get more followers?
While I think this is the wrong question to ask, I understand why people ask it, so here are some tips:
- The ULTIMATE guide to getting Twitter followers
- Which do you want? Twitter Followers? Or Twitter Influence?
- Use Twitter to get influential people to help you
- Win Friends And Influence People On Twitter In Just 5 Seconds A Day
- How to get more followers on Twitter without using Twitter
Note, if you are looking for ways to get more Twitter followers fast, read this.
There are many ways to use Twitter well. But only a few ways to use it badly. Here are two common strategies:
- Try to get tons of followers so your account looks “important” or “respectable.”
- Try to get lots of important people to help you and respond to you. (This means many fewer followers at first, since you’ll follow only a select few people.)
Which one is going to make you the happiest, smartest, richest, most influential? Strategy #2. This is sometimes called the PLN (for “Personal Learning Network”) approach. (And it’s best if you start by helping and being a resource for other—building a positive reputation—before asking for help yourself.)
If strategy #2 is how you’re already using Twitter, congratulations! However, it’s ridiculously hard to talk people out of strategy #1. You hear things like “everyone is doing it, and I’ll look silly having so few followers compared to others.”
Consider starting another Twitter account
With that in mind, why not try a combined approach? Have two accounts. The one that gets a lot of followers is for your brand, business or persona. The other one is the real you, where you network and add value to whoever is the most important in your niche. Lots of folks already use Twitter this way, and it works well for them. Some popular people even split off additional accounts for specific purposes, such as one for engaging in #hashtag chats, one just for sharing their links, another for an alternate “persona,” etc. I’m not suggesting or recommending this, just pointing out that it’s common and works well for some people. Always remember Twitter Rule #1! Do it your way.
What I’ve learned from years of helping people on Twitter is that most folks try a number of bad approaches and then figure out the better ways to use Twitter over time, but they’re often stuck with some old, bad habits. For the ones that overdid the “follow everyone hoping for more followers approach,” a second account where they can apply the better Twitter habits they’ve picked up over time might be worth considering.
The key to strategy #2 is to find and create great relationships, and this means the more you give the more you get. Start by being a resource, mentor or inspiration for people that can benefit from your help, and only then make connections with influencers who can help you.
How we use Twitter
You can read some of the details here, but first let me say my wife Sarah (@SarahJL) and I (@Oppora) engage differently. She’s mostly active on Facebook, since she’s extremely social and has a number of large and ever-growing, real-world networks in dance and voiceover. I’m primarily active on Twitter as @TweetSmarter, since it’s a full-time job that doesn’t leave much time for anything else! In our shared relentless search for great content to share with Twitter users, we come across other great stuff as well, which we post on some other Twitter accounts such as @LaughItUp, @WritersGroup and @CreativityBoost. To keep it simple for folks, we also engage from those accounts as “real” people, but let anyone know who chats with us a lot about @TweetSmarter and our personal accounts.
Of course, as always, use what advice makes sense to you and discard the rest!
When you’re logged into Twitter’s web interface, you can find your friends on Twitter by their email address from https://twitter.com/invitations/find_on_contacts…but only if you have saved their email information in Gmail, Yahoo, AOL or LinkedIn. Twitter doesn’t offer an option to upload and search your Outlook contacts. However, you can easily upload your Outlook contacts to a place Twitter can check them to find your friends.
Four steps and you’re done
Here’s what you do. Don’t worry—it’s actually pretty simple, just four steps:
- Click here to get a free gmail account to put your contacts into for Twitter to scan. This is really fast and easy, so don’t be put off by it. Just use any nonsense name, but remember the username and password you create! (You can also use an existing gmail account, if you want to merge your Outlook contacts into it.)
- Click here to download and install Google’s free new tool to export/upload your contacts into Gmail. Also much easier than you might expect. It also offers to upload your calendar and email, but deselect those options—they will fail anyway unless you are using and are familiar with an existing Google Apps account (which are different than Gmail accounts).
- Run the tool to put your contacts into your new Gmail account. Now make sure you’re logged into Twitter.com and click here to go to Twitter’s find friends from contacts page.
- Put in your new Gmail email address ([email protected]) and password into the boxes and click “Find Friends.” You’re done!
A big reason we started this blog was to be able to provide more detailed answers to the Twitter questions we get. @Amy Willis was the most recent person to ask us this question:
Update: On September 2, it finally got to Chris, and he unfollowed everyone to try to shake off all the spammers he had autofollowed. He also said he would quit Twitter if they didn’t like that he had auto-unfollowed everyone.
Brogan’s: “Power Twitter Tip #2:
He recommends: “Follow anyone who follows you (and unfollow spammers/jerks).”
✔ Tip: This is usually done by turning on “auto-following” in a third party Twitter application such as SocialToo, because if you’re going to follow anyone and everyone, doing it manually is inefficient.
I asked Chris what his reasoning was. He said “Benefit to me is that I get several hundred followers a day. It’s a full time job if I want to do it by hand.” I asked if he unfollows both manually and automatically, he said “Correct. I unfollow mostly manually, and then let Socialtoo.com take care of the rest.” Have to disagree with Chris on this one.
Update: I asked Chris some follow-up but didn’t hear back. @SherryinAL points out that maybe Chris meant that manually unfollowing saved him time vs. manually following because he gets so many followers per day. I still think this isn’t a situation most Twitter users find themselves in. I’ve responded further in the comments.
Sometimes users with a lot of followers give advice that doesn’t work as well for users with not so many followers. This seems like one of those times. Autofollowing is kind of the land mine of tips for using Twitter. Potential problems include:
1. Auto-following everyone makes you a target for spammers
Spammers make lists of accounts that auto-follow, so auto-following everyone makes you a target for spammers …and your stream gets cluttered with spam. Even Chris has run into autofollowing problems. So, while it seems like checking out people before you follow them takes more time, becoming a target for spammers by auto-following them can end up costing you more time (and more spam) in the long run. However, like everything else on Twitter, your mileage may vary. Always remember Twitter Rule #1
2. You have to either manually follow, or manually unfollow
While both are work, autofollowing and manually unfollowing attracts spammers, and makes work for yourself. Chris himself wrote how he had to suspend autofollowing some time back because he was getting too many spammy DMs. I think any advice to autofollow needs at least an asterisk on the reason for doing so and the dangers of doing so.
3. You don’t need to auto-follow to get a lot of followers
Whether Chris autofollows for this reason or not, it’s important to consider whether this is something users should consider doing to get more followers. Users ask me frequently if they can grow their accounts without doing things like autofollowing, or following lots of other users. Of course, Chris has been a HUGE name in Social Media for years and recently had a bestselling book. So his results are difficult to use to gauge how well his methods help the average user.
We have a lot of followers because we focus relentlessly every single day on sharing and writing good tweets and helping people on Twitter. That creates a lot of friends, and a lot of retweets. Chris has a lot of followers because he provides similar value. I just want to point out that you don’t have to autofollow to get followers! We actually have 50,000 more followers than Chris does and we do NOT autofollow. (Stat comparison.)
So to get followers, you don’t need to:
- Spend money advertising your Twitter account;
- Trade tweets—you tweet me, I tweet you;
- Follow more people than follow you hoping many will follow you back;
- Tweet things just because they are popular or likely to get retweeted, i.e @GuyKawasaki‘s strategy.
None of things are necessarily bad in all cases, I just want to point out that they are not necessary. As of June, 2010, we do NONE of these things. When users with a lot of followers give advice, often what they say is take as gospel: you must do these things to do well on Twitter. I just want to say it ain’t necessarily so
Stats current as of 6/18/2010 8:25:41 AM CST.
- FOLLOWERS: 140,841
- Following: 128,346
- Joined: 24 October 2006
- Listed: 12,576
- Retweets received: 104,754
- FOLLOWERS: 192,636
- Following: 126,996
- Joined: 22 August 2008
- Listed 9,372
- Retweets received: 523,702