How’d you get so many twitter followers?

I get this question a lot. At the time of this writing I have a little over 75,000 followers of my personal twitter account and over 4,500 on three other business twitter accounts I run (@athleticlab, @elitetrack, @carycrossfit). Not bad for a relative nobody like myself. I’m not a celebrity, sports star or political figure. I’m not a spammer or a twitterbot. I’m first and foremost a coach, sport scientist and fitness enthusiast. I’m also an entrepreneur who has launched several successful ventures on a shoestring or non-existent budget. This is where twitter came in to play.

Early on in my various business and web ventures, it became obvious that I was the brand or commodity that people were paying for even if I tried to make it otherwise. Being that I’m uncomfortable with self promotion or sharing too much about myself with people I barely know (hello Facebook), I quickly saw twitter as an avenue for promoting “my brand” at a cost I could afford (free!) without sacrificing my integrity and becoming a narcissistic internet guru (my field is filled with these). I wanted to get this right because as much as I hate self-promotion, it was clear that my livelihood depended on it. I had time to spend on social media (being a workaholic who sleeps less than 6 hours each night helps) but didn’t have the money to run a marketing campaign or sell ads.  Twitter was 140 characters (minimal time investment), free, and growing quickly at the time I opened my personal account (2008). I could share ideas, things I’ve written, videos I’ve made, and things I was reading. This would help to establish me as an expert in my field. More importantly, if I grew my followers organically and expanded outside of my special interest followers (track and field and strength coaches), I could also occasionally send out tweets to people outside of my small niche to bring awareness about my business ventures to people who might otherwise never know.

So that answers why it would be beneficial for me to have twitter followers. But many still want to know how I got to more than 75,000 followers. While I’m not actively trying to amass lots of followers, I do recognize that it doesn’t hurt for branding and business purposes. So while I don’t claim to be a twitter expert by any means, I can tell you some things I’ve done along the way that seem to have helped:

  1. Be Useful. I try to provide meaningful info by sharing links, content, and short thoughts on my areas of interest. This has cultivated my following more than anything else and done so organically.
  2. Don’t Spam. Spam is any unwanted content. So while I might occasionally throw in some news or publicity for my company or personal recognitions I really try to limit it because this isn’t why people are following me. I try to provide followers with useful insight and thought-provoking content and in return I have a captivated audience for the occasional self-marketing tweet.
  3. Engage. Retweet and reply when appropriate.  Occasionally ask your users questions. I’ve met and made some great connections with people in my profession through twitter.
  4. Follow. When I first started on twitter I would follow others regularly. As it turned out, people regularly follow people who’ve followed them. This was a great way to get started.
  5. Target. I would find someone in my area of interest and follow their followers. These people were more likely to provide me with useful content and as luck would have it, were more likely to follow me back because of our similar shared interests.
  6. Syndicate. About 50% of my tweets are automated now. Every blog I write (7-15 per week) are automagically sent to twitter. I also syndicate other blogs that I trust to provide great content that would be interesting to my followers 95+% of the time. I always personally read the content but sometimes it’s actually been auto-tweeted before I’ve personally read it. I’m careful to only syndicate blogs that I know will always be relevant and interesting to my followers. If there’s a chance the blogger or site will go off-topic or write about something you don’t agree with you probably don’t want to syndicate it.
  7. Consistency. I try to ensure my account is always active. Automation helps with this when I’m very busy but I’m always sharing things from the web that I’m reading for my professional development. Even when I’m too busy to blog for my other sites I still try to tweet. It’s easy. There’s little little excuse if you…
  8. Lower Barriers. If all my tweeting went through twitter.com I’d be in trouble. I can send tweets from books I’m reading on my kindle and webpages and RSS feeds on my ipad and iphone. I’m currently using hootsuite to manage my various accounts and it makes things a lot easier. That means that it’s very easy to share a short tweet on something I found interesting at the press of a button rather than copying, pasting, opening a new tab, logging on to twitter, etc.
  9. Timing. Know the best times to provide content. A tweet sent at 3am EST is like the sound of a tree falling in the forest…it might as well not exist.
  10. Don’t be annoying. Receiving 20 tweets in 5 minutes from the same person is annoying to most people…especially if it’s not relevant or interesting.
  11. Don’t be too personal. People don’t care about me. They care about the information and content I provide. As a result, you’ll never find me tweeting about brushing my teeth or going out with friends. Nobody cares.
  12. Be real but not too personal. Self-aggrandizing tweets get old quickly. Likewise with danny downer tweets.

I’m sure there are plenty of other ways to increase your follow count but this is how I stumbled on to organic growth with little effort.