Monday, May 28, 2012

12 ways to get more Twitter followers

Photo : cc by-nc-nd - Bruno Monginoux -
Having persuaded colleagues that Twitter can be a useful tool, inevitably the next question is "How do I get more followers?"

From personal experience, I generally recommend a combination of lurking, not being afraid to experiment until you find something that works for you and strict adherence to Wheaton's Law 

However there are some specific things you can do to improve your chances of getting more followers.

Above all, remember that there are many different ways for people to find and follow you on Twitter - they may see a #FF recommendation and read your bio, they may see a retweet of one of your posts and go read your feed. So you need to treat every publicly-visible thing about yourself as one of those potential avenues.
  1. First listen, then have a conversation, don't just talk
    Too many Twitter accounts are still using the channel to broadcast information - mostly about themselves. Although some accounts have built a following around this approach, it generally doesn't work. It's fine to make a statement or post a link on Twitter but you need to follow up. If someone comments on your tweet, make sure to answer them. If they retweet you, then thank them.

  2. Be interesting/ Be useful
    By now everyone knows that Tweeting what you had for breakfast is taboo. But it goes further than that. Think about the tweets you enjoy reading. What works in them? Will that also work for you?

  3. Be Human
    Although it's a good idea to post useful information, it's also important to behave like a human being rather than a auto-posting robot. Expressing your opinion is fine as long as you keep it polite. A quick glimpse into what's going on in your world is good too - it helps people to connect to you as a person. And you never know what might work - after a lot of concerted posting on Social Media topics, the only retweet I got this week was about my misadventure when running for a bus!

    Additionally, it's wiser to avoid any kind of autoposting or autofollowing services. Autoposting is risky - how will you look if a major news story breaks and your only comment is "watch my video on...."? Similarly if you don't have the time to decide who you want to follow, you certainly won't have the time to wade through the flood of spam you'll get when you autofollow all the spammers who exploit such behaviour.

  4. Be Original
    Half a billion people use Twitter. If you want them to pay attention to you, you'll probably have to offer them something they can't get elsewhere (legally).  I'm not saying that you have to be posting Buddha-like insights on life, but just rehashing content that your potential audience has already seen simply won't cut it. It's OK to Tweet links to other content but add your own opinion, put something of yourself into it - remember that you are the most original thing you have.

  5. Be confident enough to promote others
    If you see someone else doing something good, don't be afraid to tell others about them. It won't detract from what you're doing. Instead you'll be respected as the person who recognised it was good and was happy to tell everyone else about it. Clearly you are a dude who knows where your towel is.

  6. Follow others - and use lists
    The easiest way to make people aware that you exist is to follow them. Most twitter users regularly scan their list of followers to see if they have anyone new they'd like to follow back. I've already talked about Lists in depth. Just remember that they're a great way to identify and attract valuable followers.

  7. Use your bio
    On Twitter, your bio can work like your business card. Often, if they're scanning lists or new followers it's the first thing about you that people see. So make sure it tells them who you are and what you're about - assure them that you're worth following. Don't forget to include a link to somewhere useful like a LinkedIn profile so you can tell them even more about you if they're interested.

  8. Be consistent
    Don't leave your followers feeling conned. If your Twitter profile says that you breed racing turtles, then your twitter stream should probably contain plenty of tweets about breeding turtles and racing them. If things have changed and you're now into racing snails then update your profile accordingly. Otherwise you're misrepresenting yourself and that wins you no love.

  9. Hashtags
    You should always be on the lookout for ways to help new people find you and your content. Hashtags are an ideal way of doing this. Getting involved in a discussion around a hashtag means that a lot of people - who might never see you otherwise - can become aware of you. Just make sure it's for the right reasons so post intelligently (unless the hashtag is #eurovision in which case all bets are off).

  10. Review and make note of what works.
    It pays to step back periodically and look back over what you've been doing. Just do a quick sense check - does your output look intelligent and interesting to someone who has only just found you? Have some things worked surprisingly well (do more of them), have some been total flops (any idea why? Stop doing them)

  11. Prune your followers
    Yes, I know this sounds counter productive but by your followers shall ye be judged. So make sure they're not predominantly busty blonds fronting obviously spam accounts. Do us all a favour; report and block them. You'll look less of a novice as a result.

    And finally...
  12.  Do NOT sign up to those services that promise you 1,000 followers - remember it's quality not quantity you want

Monday, May 14, 2012

Celebrity retweets

This man can melt our
webserver with a single retweet
Since I'm one of the people who keeps an eye on mentions of Macmillan on Twitter, I regularly see a lot of tweets like this

@[celebrity]- I'm running a marathon for @macmillancancer. Please RT

Sadly, I hardly ever see any retweets of posts like that.

There are a lot of reasons for this. Before I get started though, let's be clear that this isn't going to be a charity person having a pop at unhelpful celebrities. The celebrities who work with Macmillan are a great bunch who are all willing to go the extra mile to help and we love 'em to bits. However we also know of at least one presenter who now refuses to work with any charity whose supporters swamp them with fundraising requests.

Let's look at it from the celebrity's point of view:

Imagine you're a celebrity with a twitter account. You run the account yourself and you try to follow everyone who follows you but a lot of people want to contact you and it's making things pretty unmanageable. In fact you have so many followers that you've had to turn off twitter alerts on your phone as they were flattening the battery.

Consequently, when you check your twitter feed, there are several things you'll be prioritising:

1. Check for messages from friends or fans you already know.
2. See if there are any messages you need to get answered urgently
3. Make sure no-one's being too rude about you

Let's assume that once all those are cleared out of the way, you still have time to read other messages and you see one addressed to you: "@[celebrity]- I'm running a marathon for @macmillancancer. Please RT". Let's also assume - unrealistically - that it is the ONLY charity retweet request you've received (in reality there will be loads)

Now, if you've got time to do anything with this, firstly you'll ask is "who is this person?". Do I know them?. Is this from a fan?. Have they tweeted me before? You take a look at the sender's Twitter page and it looks like this:

I'll leave aside the fact that this account has obviously just been set up and the sender can't even be bothered to do it properly.  Anyone looking at this page will realise a few things -
1. "This person is spamming" (even if they don't intend to)
2. "I don't know them from Adam"
3. "They're asking lots of people for help; if I don't have time to do anything they probably won't notice".

The response of most people would be to block this account and report it for spamming. However, you're a beneficent celebrity so you don't do that. In fact you give serious thought to a RT but you have a responsibility to your followers. What will happen to your reputation if you pass on a message that turns out  to be a scam? With no other information available, how on earth do you make sure this person is legit?

And at that point our beneficent celebrity finally gives up - and who can blame them?

So how can a fundraiser stop that from happening? What can make one tweet stand out from a load of very similar posts?  Here's some ideas. They don't guarantee success but I promise they'll work better than spamming a bunch of overloaded celebrities.

1. They'll pay more attention if they know who you are
Firstly don't set up an account just to promote your fundraising activity. This may sound obvious but it isn't. If you already have a twitter account use that. Make sure you've got a sensible photo in your bio and some genuine information. Use the link option wisely too - either link it to a page about the event itself, or to your Justgiving page.

Additionally, you're much more likely to get a retweet if you have a pre-existing relationship with the celebrity and they recognise your name. I'm not suggesting you have to take them out to lunch, but taking the time to have a chat, making it clear you know who they are and what they do can make a difference. That may sound like a lot of work but you're much more likely to get a response from a few celebrities you've taken the time to engage with rather than 50 you've casually spammed.

2.Keep it personal
 Pick your celebrities wisely. It helps if you know they are already interested in a charity or a cause. Highlight the connection if you can (although if it involves a illness or bereavement, you'll need to be very tactful about it). Alternatively explain why this fundraising is personally important to you.

Make it relevant - if you're taking part in a  local event, approach local celebrities. They may not have as many followers as Lady Gaga but their audience is more likely to be interested in what you're doing.

3. Avoid looking stupid - do your homework
Rather than blundering in, check out your celeb beforehand - see what kind of messages they post and what time of day they're likely to be online.
  • Does your celeb run their own account or is it clear that someone handles it for them? - if it's clear their agent tweets for them, asking for a retweet during office hours might work better. Also if you can connect with the agent themselves, perhaps they have another client who might be interested in tweeting your request?
  • How Twitter-savvy are they?- whilst I'm not suggesting you exploit newbies, I did once get a lot of publicity via a retweet from an actor who had only just signed up on Twitter. He got over 2,000 followers overnight and was innocently happy to publicise the awareness week I was working on.
  • Do they normally retweet fundraising requests? If it's clear from their twitter stream that they rarely pass on fundraising messages, you may be wasting your time.
  • Have they already published guidelines on their website about how they handle retweet requests? - Big twitter users such as Stephen Fry and Philip Schofield have been asked for RTs so often that they have put up useful guidelines on their own websites. The best way to annoy a celebrity who has gone to that kind of trouble is to ignore the guidelines and expect them to pay attention to you regardless.

4. NEVER indulge in sour grapes.
Obviously if they retweet you, make sure to thank them promptly for their help. However if, after doing all that work, you STILL don't get any attention the worst possible reaction is to complain about it.  That just makes you look petulant and will get you blocked. Everyone's human - perhaps there wasn't time, perhaps they didn't understand what you were asking them to do. So rather than whinging, see if there's anything you can learn from the experience.

And, with a bit of homework and some effort you can get that retweet.....

....just don't ask Stephen Fry; I wasn't kidding when I said he can melt our web server.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Deciphering the Geek Greek

The one thing that seems to deter newcomers from using Twitter is how much jargon they think they'll have to learn: “HT, RT, <, +1,LOL,#,, yfrog, #ff,” - to an outsider the list can seem endless.

The truth is, like every other group, Twitter folk can behave like a clique - a private little club with its own jokes, language and culture. Some of the Twitterati probably like it that way.

However, that's not how to be a good member of the Twitter community. With a 140-character limit, some abbreviations are necessary but they're not to be used as a badge for the in-crowd. Remember that Twitter is for communication and that's not possible when you're hiding behind a load of clique-speak.

So with that in mind, here's a handy guide to the most commonly used shorthands:

@[username] - indicates a message that is intended for a specific person. Use this and Twitter will notify them that they have had a mention. Twitter's web site tends to filter tweets starting with @ out of most peoples' feeds on the grounds that  they're not likely to be interested in messages intended for other people. However, Twitter clients such as Tweetdeck or Seesmic don't always work the same way so don't assume that you're having a private conversation - use DM for that (see below). Conversely if you want to get around that filter - for example if you want to direct a message at a specific account but you want everyone to see it - then just start the message with a full stop
eg: .@TalkTalk you have dreadful customer service! 

DM[username] - in theory you should NEVER see this unless you wrote it. It indicates a private (direct) message to a [username].

RT = Retweet. Reposting another Tweeter's message. Indicated by RT followed by the original author's name. Normally this is so you can comment on it or just boost the signal a bit for them (more information)

HT or via – used to give credit when you’re not retweeting someone but have based your message on something they have tweeted (HT = hat tip). Normally followed by the original poster's name. 

MT - modified tweet. Usually used in similar situations to HT but when you're still quoting some of the original message.

# - hashtag. When followed by a phrase (no spaces or punctuation allowed), this will appear on Twitter as a link to a feed of all other tweets also using that phrase. Proper explanation of hashtags will get a blog post of its very own shortly, but basically hashtags are a great way to pull people together around a topic - check out #bbcqt which is the one for Question Time. It's also a great way to find new people who may share your interests.

< - often used as a separator between the content of a retweet and your own comment on it

+1 = quick comment on a retweet meaning “me too” or “gets my vote too”. Not to be confused with all the signage for Google Plus likes, although probably inspired by that. – URL shortening services. Twitter’s web interface and a lot of the twitter client programs will automatically shorten URLs so that they don’t take up an entire tweet by themselves. If you're given a choice of services, is currently the one least likely to be blocked by firewalls. is Twitter's own shortener and you'll probably get that if you tweet using Twitter's web site rather than a Twitter client.

Twitpic, Yfrog – photo hosting services that let you upload a photo and automatically tweet a link to it. Most of them let you log in with your Twitter account so you don't have to worry about a separate sign-up process. A lot of twitter clients will connect with your favoured service automatically, you just have to let them know which one you use.

OMG = Oh My God. Twitter has embraced many of the acronyms originally used in chatrooms and in text messages. Plenty of other bloggers have documented them. However take care not to overdo it. Text speak is not welcome on Twitter. Tweets are not text messages and your tweets can be read by anyone rather than just the mate you texted.

Trending = when a lot of people are using the same phrase at roughly the same time, Twitter will report that the term is trending and it will appear in a list of trending terms on your twitter home page. Often the trending terms will be hashtags but they can include breaking news or commentry on sporting or TV events. Twitter has been taking advantage of this by selling an advertising space for "promoted terms" at the top of the trending list which can be unhelpful. Nevertheless, news can break on Twitter up to an hour before mainstream channels report it so it's worth keeping an eye on the list if you need to keep up to date (remember that news of Twitter is not verified). 

Bear in mind that, like every other language, Twitter-speak is constantly evolving and a lot of it is unique to specific groups or cultures. So this list is not comprehensive and some of it may even be out of date before I hit post. I'm always happy to update so if you come across something I've missed, just sling it in the comments below.

Or tweet me