So you’ve decided you want to inspire people and change the word! Awesome! So, how do you go about finding followers who will listen to your message? Tag along and I’ll share with you my approach and a few tips that will help get you started towards building your own network of followers.
If you happened to have read my first blog post in this series, Inspiring The Future Through Social Media, Tools of the Trade, then you know I said give people more of what they like! While that blog post earned me just a modest number of views compared to really popular bloggers, it certainly seemed to have struck a cord with at least a few people. So, I thought I’d follow my own advice and share a bit more about what I’ve learned about attracting and engaging followers.
Let me just say right now that the term follower has always irritated me a bit when talking about social networks. For one thing, we’re not talking about mindless lemmings that hang on your every word – at least I hope that isn’t your goal! The second thing is that it’s a “network”, which implies to me that it should be more of two-way dialog. There are far too many people that use social media as a one-way communication tool. How boring!
The goal behind attracting followers is to find people who will personally engage with you in a meaningful way.
What exactly do I mean by “engage”? In the simplest terms, you want people who read what you have to say and then respond in a productive way. The best responses are those marvelous little comments where people share a bit of their own stories and experiences. Everyone learns something! Beyond that, people who spread your words by sharing what you have to say with others or simply like what you had to say, are all useful forms of engagement.
Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty: how do you find such people? There are probably dozens of different ways to attract a lot of followers very quickly. Most of them are unproductive, costly, or even unethical. What I am going to share with you is my approach and the tips that I follow. I primarily use Twitter and LinkedIn, but I believe most of what I have learned applies to other social media outlets as well. If you experience with some of the other social networks, share your thoughts in the comments below – we will all benefit!
Let’s start with some quick tips:
Tip #1 – People prefer to follow people who already have a following. After all, if other people aren’t already following you, how interesting can you really be? If you’re just getting started, that puts you in a pretty tough catch-22 situation. The first thing to do is politely encourage your friends, family, and close colleagues to follow you. That will give you a running start and further below, I’ll show you how to nurture that seed and turn it into something much bigger.
Tip #2 – Engage. Engage. Engage. If you want people to engage and follow you, you need to return the favor. Find people who have interesting things to say about your field of interest and then provide thoughtful comments. Share your own opinions, experiences, and story. Doing so serves two purposes: (1) the original authors are much more likely to follow you in return and (2) you are creating visibility for yourself outside of your own immediate network.
Tip #3 – Content is king! People have said this so may times that it’s become cliché but it’s absolutely true. None of the advice in this blog works if you don’t regularly generate interesting content. If you don’t know what I mean, take a quick look at my first blog post covering this topic.
Tip #4 – LinkedIn is not Twitter and it’s definitely not Facebook. Don’t know what I mean? Try sharing one of those hilarious videos of cats doing clever things on LinkedIn and prepare yourself for an ego-bruising backlash. On LinkedIn, the general expectation is that the content you share is professional, thought provoking, and not just fluff. Also, unlike Twitter, people don’t expect to see their news feed scroll endlessly with updates – particularly from the same person. So, my advice is to pick and choose high impact content and share it with people on LinkedIn no more than a few times a day.
Tip #5 – Twitter is not LinkedIn. Twitter is far more informal in terms of content but people still don’t like to be spammed with useless drivel or excessive posts from the same person. However, the range of content that people do find acceptable on Twitter is far wider and often more personal. It’s a bit like you are having a discussion with a bunch of friends and loose acquaintances. So, loosen up a bit! A little well placed humor goes a long way. I use a tool called Hootsuite to post on twitter about 12-15 times a day – approximately once an hour spread out over a 12-hour period. On occasion, if I’m tweeting about a live event like a space launch, I may break that rule but it’s definitely the exception.
Tip #6 – Connect with everyone you know. Every business card you receive, every person copied on an email, and every person you meet are potential contacts to add to your network. The great thing about social networks is that even when people change jobs and that business card you have tucked away becomes worthless, you can still maintain contact. LinkedIn is particularly good for this purpose and I rarely keep business cards for longer than it takes me to add them to my network. The point is, people you already know are low-hanging fruit — invite them to your network!
Tip #7 – Use the suggested contacts feature. Both Twitter and Linked regularly recommend people to add to your network based on a variety of factors. On Twitter, it’s as simple as examining the person’s profile and, if you like what you see, clicking the “follow” button. LinkedIn is a bit different and technically the rules say that you shouldn’t try to connect with people that you don’t know without an introduction. However, I can tell you from experience that most people appreciate making a new network connection with someone who shares something in common, like a large number of shared contacts or a similar field of interest. If you have nothing in common, I have no idea why you would be trying to connect with than anyway! That said, use some discretion on LinkedIn and, if you are really unsure, send them a note introducing yourself using the InMail feature.
Tip #8 – Create original content. If you have the time and talent, consider periodically creating your own blog. Generating original content is one of the best ways to attract and engage new followers. This is especially true if you want to establish yourself as a thought leader. If blogging is not your thing, even a couple of short sentences that expresses your personal opinion or ideas can carry you a long way. It’s actually not as difficult as it may seem, and once you get started, you’ll find that it becomes much easier.
Tip #9 – Thank and acknowledge people. When people say something nice, thoughtful, or otherwise interesting, let them know. I routinely thank people on Twitter and LinkedIn who share something I said or positively added to the conversation. This not only creates goodwill, other potential followers will see that you are someone who is engaged – someone that is social. It always amazes me how many people forget the social part of social networking.
Tip #10 – Develop a thick skin. I promise you that the moment you start amassing a large number followers, some of them are going to be numbskulls. There are people out there that enjoy entering into pointless debates or even get down right nasty if they don’t share your viewpoint. My advice: ignore them! I love a friendly and thoughtful debate but I don’t respond to insults or comments that are, quite frankly, stupid. Don’t rise to the bait and those people will soon go fishing in someone else’s pond.
So, how do you grow your followers a bit more quickly?
First of all, the techniques I’m going to talk about only applied primarily to Twitter and they are not tools I recommend you use with LinkedIn. I’m also going to warn you right now that some of these approaches are controversial topics but I’ll share with you why and when I think some of these methods are acceptable.
Paying for followers is a no-no! You’ve probably seen advertisements that say things like we’ll deliver 10,000 followers for a few dollars or some such nonsense. Not only are these effectively scams, they also violate Twitter’s terms of service and you could find yourself with a suspended account. So, don’t do it!
Is there any way to legitimately pay to gain followers? Yes. Though I’d say it’s a bit of a gray area and caution is warranted. One example, in particular, is a popular mobile application called Twigrow that essentially encourages a follow-me and I’ll follow-you back type model. Twitter could easily block Twigrow from functioning but they haven’t and, in my book, that means Twitter finds it at least somewhat acceptable. In fact, you can use Twigrow for free or pay money to move things along faster. Before you get too excited, there are some real drawbacks to discuss. As you follow people using Twigrow, you collect points and you expend points for each person that follows you. If you want grow your followers faster, you can purchase points. As part of your Twigrow profile, you specify what types of topics you tweet about from a rather narrow list. The theory is that the people who follow you using Twigrow are also interested in those same topics. The reality is that most of them are just trying to see how many followers than can collect (just like you) and have little interest in engaging with you. So, are tools like Twigrow really useful? Maybe. Remember tip #1? People like to follow people who already have a following. Tools like Twigrow are certainly one way to do that, but just remember those followers are not the types of people who are likely to engage with you or stick around for very long. They are really nothing more than a number and fairly worthless in the long run. What about in the short-term, when you’re just getting started? I’ll leave that to you to decide but there are other methods to explore.
Follow-me and I’ll follow-you. It might sound trite, but this technique actually does work and can generate good results if done properly. Some people find it controversial but you’ll have to decide for yourself. The basis of this approach is that, on average, about 20% of the people you follow on twitter will follow you back – out of curiosity if for no other reason. Twitter does frown upon rapidly following and un-following people simply for the purpose of growing followers, so don’t do it! However, there are allowable ways to make this approach work when done in moderation and with the proper goals in mind. They key is to make sure the people you follow are also genuinely interested in the same topics as you. One way to do that is to review the long list of people that Twitter suggests you follow. That list contains people who are tweeting about topics that Twitter believes you are interested in seeing. Go through the list, review the profiles of each individual, and follow all of the ones that look interesting to you. Twitter allows you to follow up to 1000 new people a day. However, there are some challenging limitations once you’ve followed 2000 people. From that point forward, you can only follow 10% more than the total number of people who are following you. To clarify, let’s use an example: If you have 3000 followers you can only follow up to 3300 people. Once you hit 3300, you’re stuck until more people follow you. This effectively limits people from running amok and abusing the system. This is where un-following people comes into the picture and get’s some people a little riled up. Once you hit that initial 2000 person limit, you have to start un-following people who don’t follow you back. This creates room so you can follow more people. Through a deliberate cycle of following and un-following people you can grow the number of followers you have fairly quickly. But, again, remember that the goal is to add engaged followers and not just any follower. As I mentioned, if you thrash Twitter on a frequent basis by following and un-following lots of random people you are (1) going to end up with followers who care nothing about what you have to say and (2) Twitter is quite likely to suspend your account. You have been warned! If you want to get more sophisticated, you can use tools like Unfollowers to get even more selective about the people you follow and un-follow.
Reaching Critical Mass and Wrapping Up
If you follow the tips, generate good content and go after the rights types of followers, you will eventually reach a critical mass. At that point you will find that you are gaining new followers with very little effort other than providing new content on a regular basis. You’ll begin to enjoy the network effect of social media as people increasingly share your ideas and content with a growing audience. If you’re lucky, some of your content will go “viral” and that is always exciting to watch. I believe the point of critical mass varies greatly depending on your topic but, in my experience, it becomes noticeable somewhere between 5000 and 7000 followers.
If you forget or ignore almost everything in this blog post, the two things to remember are good content + engaged followers. If you do those two things well, you’ll ultimately succeed in building a solid social media brand for yourself. The rest is all technique, experimenting, and fine-tuning your approach.
So, get out there and change the world!
If you valued this article and want more, please hit the ‘like’ button and also share via your Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook social media platforms. I encourage you to join the conversation or ask questions so feel free to add a comment on this post.
You can also find me on twitter at @NewFrontierCIO for more commentary on the frontiers of technology, leadership, space exploration, and science.