Abby CrowleyHow Startups Can Get More Twitter Followers

Twitter widgets

Image from Flickr by webtreats

Why should you care about Twitter?
According to a 2012 social media marketing industry report by the Social Media Examiner, 82% of marketers use Twitter as part of their marketing mix. For B2B marketers, the figure is 74%. Twitter is an important platform for marketers for at least two reasons. First, it provides a distribution channel for your content, especially if you’ve built up your following. Second, it provides a method for two-way engagement with others that are interested in your space, whether it’s customers, partners, or other industry participants.

As a channel for distribution and engagement, Twitter provides marketers the ability to drive qualified referral traffic. For instance, blog posts shared on Twitter generate 113% more inbound links and 117% more pageviews than posts not shared at all. In addition to driving referral traffic, Twitter enables startups to build their brand and thought leadership within a niche. It also helps them cultivate relationships with prospects and customers.

All followers are not created equal
You might have numerous followers, but if the bulk are low quality, then most will care little about your product/startup and your content. Low quality followers will rarely click on your links, retweet your content, or engage you in conversation. More importantly, these followers will rarely progress from viewing your Twitter account to visiting your website and engaging your startup in a relationship.

Simply put, your primary concern should be to attract and retain quality followers. What’s a quality follower? A quality follower is an individual or company that is genuinely interested in your startup or industry and in the content you’re sharing on a regular basis. These are individuals and companies that are your target customers, potential partners, suppliers and competitors as well as analysts, journalists, evangelists, and hobbyists.

For more discussion on the quality versus quantity of followers, here are two interesting posts.

Success starts with your profile
Success in attracting quality followers starts with your profile. Your profile needs to accomplish at least two things. First, it needs to explain to potential followers the value they will gain by following your account. What’s in it for them? What kind of content can they expect from you on Twitter? Second, your profile (and bio photo, background, etc.) needs to emotionally grab potential followers. It needs to grab their attention in the split second they take to review your profile and your prior tweets. If your profile is poorly constructed, then expect to attract fewer followers as well as followers that have little interest in your company and products. For more details on structuring your Twitter profile, here’s a useful article.

Methods for growing your Twitter following
While there are a variety of methods for increasing your followers on Twitter, we’re focusing here on the techniques that we’ve found to be the most effective. By effective we mean methods that help you attract high-quality followers. Although the following techniques are highly effective, it takes time and effort to build your following, so don’t expect instant results.

Curating Quality Content
Posting quality content: It’s very important to share content that provides significant value to potential and existing followers. This high value content needs to be the focus of your posting efforts. The content can be pithy insights, curated 3rd party content, and the very occasional plug for your starup. Several commentators also encourage people to go off topic every now and then. This signals that real people are behind the account and that it’s not just a virtually automated advertising channel for your startup. We wouldn’t recommend taking this approach too far. Focus is important.

Keywords and hashtags: To attract quality followers it’s important to incorporate the primary keywords and hashtags used in your industry. These keywords or hashtags are often what people search for when they’re looking for new content and people on Twitter. As an example, if you’re working in the area of Startup Communities, then you would want to include keywords in your tweets such as founders community, founders network, founder group, startup group, and so on. You might also include these as hashtags, such as #startups or #techfounders.

Regularity: Tweeting great content on a regular basis is crucial to building a following. If you’re tweeting drops significantly in a week there’s a good chance your follower count will decrease. There also might be a negative residual effect that persists into subsequent weeks. Some suggest you should post at least 3-4 times per day. Others suggest the optimal number of daily tweets is as high as 22.  It’s hard to say what the right number is and it depends on your time availability, the amount of quality content you can create or curate in any given day, and the nature of your audience. The above figures provide a reasonable range, and you should then experiment to dial in on the right number.

Timing: As for the best time of day to Tweet to gain followers, it depends on your market and the nature of your potential and existing followers. For instance, if you’re targeting business users on the West Coast of the United States, then the best time to Tweet is likely between 9-11am and 1-3pm on weekdays Pacific Time. If your target market is students, then the evenings and weekends are likely better times to tweet. To find the best times for your market, you should initially spread out your tweets and identify the time windows when you observe the most engagement from your quality followers (e.g., retweets, replies). Here are several useful resources for determining the best times to tweet.

Engagement with others
Following the right people: Following others on Twitter will make them aware of your presence, and there’s a reasonable chance they’ll follow you back. Because you’re trying to attract quality followers, you want to follow the people who are most relevant to you and your area of focus. You can use Twitter search to find the right people by using the keywords and hashtags for your industry. You should also look for the influencers you’re already familiar with. Another approach is to look at who your quality followers follow. Twitter directories can also be helpful in the search for relevant people to follow.

Help others to promote your account: Since you want others to promote your Twitter account for the purpose of gaining followers, it’s important to make it easy for your followers to retweet your content and give you credit when doing so. The key here is the length of your tweets. You have 140 characters to tweet but if you use all of them, people won’t have space to include your @account (e.g., RT @youraccount: Someone just found your awesome tweet and it still has room for you to be credited when retweeted. That’s great!! #example).

Sharing other people’s content: Another method for gaining quality followers is to share content and include @mentions of the content author. For instance, let’s say you just read an interesting post on the Scobleizer Blog and you’re hoping to get Robert Scoble’s attention so he will follow you. In this case you should include @scobleizer in your tweet. Retweeting is another great method for building followers. When you retweet, there’s a good chance the original author will notice you and in turn follow your account.

Hashtag discussions: Hashtags are a useful way to signal that your tweet is part of a larger discussion around a particular theme or topic. If people within a community realize you are part of that community, they are more likely to follow your account. A discussion (and related hashtags) might focus on a current event or live conference. There are also numerous “twitter chats” on various topics. For instance, here is a list of regular twitter chats on social media marketing.

Advertising & promotion
Paid advertising: There are two places where you can effectively advertise your Twitter account and gain quality followers. The first is advertising on Twitter. The second is advertising on Twitter Counter. There may be other places to advertise and gain quality followers, but we’re not aware of them.

Promoting your Twitter account: Aside from advertising, you should use every opportunity outside of Twitter to promote your account. For example, you should promote your account on your homepage and blog, as well as on other social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. You should also include your Twitter account in your email signature and potentially on your physical business cards.

Twitter is an effective tool for startups and marketers, but you need quality followers before you can reap any benefits. We’ve offered some best practices above on how you can increase your followers. There are many other approaches and techniques. For those interested in digging deeper, below are several useful articles and resources. We’d also love to hear your tips and tricks in the discussion below!

Useful resources:

If you’re a tech founder, and want to learn about the latest tips for building a successful tech venture, please follow us on Twitter @foundersnetwork or click here to learn more about how we can help your startup.

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A version of this post first appeared on the Intigi blog.