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How to Grow Your Twitter Following

This post is part of a series called Twitter for Freelancers.
Twitter: To Schedule or Not To Schedule?
Tracking and Understanding Your Twitter Metrics

Now that you've set up your Twitter account, it's time you got some followers.

Followers are great for two reasons:

Followers provide social proof. The more followers you have, the more people will assume you're good at what you do. Every follower is like a micro-testimonial. Think about it: if you were hiring a freelancer, would you first check out the freelancer with 10,000 Twitter followers or 10 followers? The more followers you have, the quicker you gain the trust of potential clients.

Followers help to spread your message. When you want to use Twitter to promote your blog, business or services, the more followers you have, the bigger your reach.

In previous articles, I've covered the basics of what it takes to grow your Twitter following. First, you must complete your Twitter profile. This includes a biography targeted at your ideal followers, and a smiling picture of your face. In your biography, give people a reason to follow you. Make sure you mention what you'll be tweeting about. Second, write top quality tweets that are valuable and relevant to your audience.

Before taking a look at some more advanced tactics for growing your following, let's consider what your mindset needs to be to become a Twitter authority with a tribe of loyal followers.

The Twitter Mindset: You Are A Media Producer

Social media has completely transformed the media game.

To gain a following on Twitter, you must adopt the mindset of a producer. You’re creating media for others to consume.

Previously, the media was a one-way street. The media creators - writers, publishers, marketers, and broadcasters - spoke, and everyone else listened. A few people produced the media, such as newspapers, magazines and TV shows. Everyone else consumed it.

Social media has created a two-way street. Everyone is a media creator. We create media whenever we share a Facebook update or post a tweet. We are all both producers and consumers.

Yet despite this new privilege, many people on Twitter still act as consumers. They use Twitter to consume the latest news and celebrity gossip. The consumers are the followers.

To gain a following on Twitter, you must adopt the mindset of a producer. You're creating media for others to consume. You share helpful information, and you aim to engage and occasionally dazzle your audience.

A word of warning: Just because anyone can be a media producer these days doesn't make it easy to do well. Growing a following on Twitter takes time and effort. There's no such thing as an overnight Twitter celebrity.

Simple Tips to Engage and Grow Your Audience

Once you've written your biography and decided what you'll be tweeting about, the most important thing you can do to grow your following is to post regularly. At minimum you should tweet once per day. Once per hour is even better. The more frequently you tweet, the more opportunities your followers have to see what you're saying and share it with their followers. Having your content shared - or retweeted - is one of the fastest ways to boost your visibility and grow your following.

To ensure you Tweet regularly, set up an editorial schedule and commit yourself to it. This needn't be as daunting as it sounds. Simply decide how often you'd like to tweet every day, and follow through on your decision. Tweet scheduling services such as Hootsuite or BufferApp make regular posting a breeze. With BufferApp, once you've created your schedule, it does all the legwork of posting tweets on your behalf.

Tweeting regularly is not the same as flooding your followers with updates. Have you ever looked at your Twitter timeline to find tweets from the same person four or five times in a row? I know I have, and as soon as I see that, I unfollow them. It's great to tweet several times a day, but spread your tweets throughout the day, rather than drowning your followers with them. Again, [scheduling services] are a fantastic help here.

Going off topic occasionally can help your followers get to know you better. Going off the rails is a surefire way to alienate your audience.

In addition to posting regularly, keep your Tweets on topic. That means once you've decided what to tweet about, stick to that subject at least 80% of the time. It's okay to roam a little - especially if you're off-topic update is relevant to your audience - but always return to your core topics or niche.

Let's say you usually tweet about online marketing for small businesses. You've built up a following of people who love your insightful tweets and links. Then one day you put out a slew of tweets about your favorite hobby: tropical fish. That's like The Economist giving over an issue to Kermit the Frog and his Muppet pals. Sure, some readers might find it funny, but most would be annoyed, and many will unsubscribe. Remember, you're a media producer.

Going off topic occasionally can help your followers get to know you better. Going off the rails is a surefire way to alienate your audience.

When you get new followers, talk to them! Whenever someone follows you, send them a tweet to say hi. Start a conversation by asking them something about themselves. This is super easy as you can find out about them from their biography and their recent tweets.

Do this publicly. Rather than sending a private message, send an @message. That lets all your followers (and potential followers) know you're someone who listens and is available for conversation.

Get into the habit of asking and answering questions. Twitter's not a chatroom, but it is a place to network, and the more you reach out to others, the more they'll reach out to you. The usual rule of networking applies: to be interesting to others, you must be interested in them.

(Extra tip: Conversations starting @username are only visible to people who follow both you and the person you're messaging. If you want all your followers to see an @message, put the username of the person you're messaging at the end of the message rather than the beginning).

Hashtags and Retweets

Creating relevant, engaging content and reaching out to your followers helps people to see you're a valuable person to follow. But how do you get them to find you in the first place?

Hashtags and retweets are Twitter's top tools for boosting your visibility.

A retweet occurs when someone else shares something you've tweeted to their followers. If you're regularly tweeting valuable content, chances are you'll be retweeted. However, social media analyst Dan Zarella wanted to take it a step further. He looked at the types of content most likely to be retweeted, and he found the following:

  • Asking to be retweeted with a simple "please retweet" gives your content a massive boost. These two simple words increase the retweet rate by four times.
  • Timely content has a greater chance of being retweeted. Tweet regularly about breaking news and current affairs.
  • Tweets which include the word "free" are more likely to be shared
  • Other frequently used words in retweeted content include blog, media, help, twitter and great.

A hashtag involves putting the pound sign (#) before a keyword in your tweet, for example #marketing or #freelance. Using hashtags improves your chances of showing up in a Twitter search. However, avoid over-using hashtags, as research has found people on Twitter find too many hashtags annoying. One hashtag per tweet is plenty. Mix up the hashtags you use to further improve your chances of being discovered.

Hashtags.org can help you find a range of popular hashtags relevant to your niche.

The Biggest Twitter Mistakes

Just as important as growing your following is holding on to the followers you already have. Keep your followers smiling rather than driving them crazy!

To keep your followers happy, avoid the following:

  • Moaning, whining, sharing your gripes, complaining or telling everyone about your terrible day. Save that for your close friends. People on Twitter hate whiners.
  • Setting up an automated message to all your new followers. You won't look friendly, you'll just look like a spammer.
  • Sharing old news. Breaking news is hot on Twitter. Old news has a hollow ring to it. If you insist on sharing an old news story or blog post, at least add your own twist by rewriting the headline or giving your opinion.

Other Twitter mistakes you should avoid include:

  • Buying followers. It's against Twitter's rules. In any case, the followers you buy are worthless. On the fringes of Twitter's rules is "buying" followers using a follow-back service. I've tried one of these, and they're pointless. The followers you get don't care about what you have to say, and most of them will unfollow you in a couple of days.
  • Expecting everyone you follow to follow-back. Following others can work as a growth strategy, but expecting everyone you follow to reciprocate the favor only leads to frustration.

In Conclusion

Ultimately, Twitter is all about meeting new people. If you're interested in others, and you enjoy making connections and building your network, then you'll love every moment on Twitter. Your following will grow naturally and you'll attract the right kind of audience to help you grow your business.

If you already use Twitter: How do you engage your followers and attract new followers on Twitter? If you're starting out on your Twitter journey: What questions do you have about using Twitter as a freelancer? Share your tips and questions in the comments.

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