Not Always a Numbers Game: Creating a Quality Following on Twitter

Beth Monaghan

Twitter can be daunting, and distracting. But it does not have to be. I tell people looking to get real value out of their interactions to apply the same principles they would when attending a networking event. While some people race around forcing business cards in everyone’s hand, others use their time more selectively to get to know people through conversations so they can understand if an opportunity exists. 

Likewise, people use Twitter for different types of interactions (and self-promotions), and while quantity is always a goal when building your online network, if you want to use Twitter as a means for finding and participating in conversations of substance, you need a quality following. 

The first step, as with any type of introduction, is to present yourself in a positive, unique way. Your Twitter bio only gets a small piece of real estate, but you can use it to make a big first impression. If your bio sounds like a marketing brochure, it will likely cut off the connections you’re trying so hard to cultivate. Dead giveaways: exclamation points and words such as “proven strategies,” excessive hashtags, and promises to increase my “earning potential” or grow my business overnight. 

The next step toward increasing your quality following is to make sure you’re actively participating in the conversation. A common hurdle is Twitter terminology: RT, MT, PRT, CC, HT, etc. Knowing these terms often feels like a secret handshake in a private club and can be a huge deterrent for inexperienced Twitterers. But it shouldn’t be that way (check out our cheat sheet). Once you’re set up, here are 10 tips for participating in effective, quality conversations:

1. Be yourself

It's important to include a photo (of yourself, not a flower, city scape, dog, or favorite food) on your profile page, but it goes beyond that. If you aren’t tweeting about things you care about and about which you have an opinion, it will be obvious.

2. Steer clear of self or product promotion 

With rare exception, an auto-DM is the equivalent of the iPhone’s “Ignore” for incoming calls. It tells other Twitterers that you are too busy or important to take the call. I often return auto-DMs with an immediate un-follow, particularly those that have nothing to do with me and everything to do with self-promotion. Like real-world interactions, people are interested in themselves, so to gain their attention, you must become interested in them. 

3. Respond when people talk to you

If someone says hello via an @ message, a retweet (RT) or a direct message (with the exception of automated DMs), respond. It’s appropriate to say thank you, enter a conversation or express enthusiasm for the connection.

4. Beware of fake followers

About a month ago, I gained about 30 new followers in two hours. Each was a pretty girl who was following roughly 10-times more people than were following her, had tweeted a maximum of 3 to 10 times about things that sounded good on the surface but did not make a lot of sense and lacked a biography. While I don’t normally block these followers because they naturally drop off if I don’t follow them back, this experience motivated me to exercise my right to block.

5. Don’t be a stalker

If you mention another person in a tweet through an @ message, great. If they do not reciprocate, let it go. Your shining opportunity might be that person’s blatant sales pitch. Send one @ message, and if that does not elicit your desired response, move on. There will be lots of other opportunities to tweet and be retweeted.

6.  Avoid frenemies

Don't send someone a DM thanking them for the follow if you aren't going to follow them back. It feels like a slight when you try to reply to a DM only to discover that the person isn't following you back.

7. Give credit 

If you found a blog post, article, idea or any other type of content through another person on Twitter, give him or her credit, particularly if that person is the author. You would not claim credit for someone else's idea if she was standing next to you at a networking event, so don’t do it on Twitter. 

8. Be appropriate 

If there is one part of you, even a tiny part, that is uncomfortable with a tweet, don’t send it. Twitter is a public forum and, unlike Facebook and LinkedIn, virtually anyone can look at your Twitter feed, even if you block them in some cases. 

9. Be proactive

Retweeting is a great way to increase your tweets, however, I recommend taking a proactive approach over a passive one. Retweeting without adding your own take is fairly passive. Tweetdeck allows you to edit your RTs, so if you’re feeling ambitious, take this step forward and proactively tweet the news articles and blog posts you find interesting. Don’t just tweet their headlines: add your own perspective on the story. This will position you as a thought leader and help your follower count.

10. Contribute

One of the most effective ways to gain an audience on Twitter is to add quality content to the conversation. A blog is your ticket to this party. And the key to closing down the party is an awareness that your blog is not about your product or service, it’s about your point of view. If you contribute thoughtful ideas to the discussion, an audience will follow.

Beth Monaghan is a principal and co-founder of InkHouse Media + Marketing, a PR and social media agency based in Waltham, Mass. You can e-mail her at [email protected], and find her on Twitter @bamonaghan