April 18, 2014

Twitter: Breaking the Four-Figure Follower Mark

A colleague recently posted on a freelance forum with a question about breaking the four-figure follower market on Twitter. Being the savvy content creator that I am, I’m polishing and repurposing my response to him so that hopefully some of you will glean some value from this information as well.

Before you start to build your following, though, ask yourself these questions:

Why do you want more Twitter followers? Plenty of successful authors aren’t on Twitter because they’re focused on writing books or other long-form pieces. If that’s your focus or you really don’t enjoy Twitter, maybe it’s not the right platform for you. Despite what some people tell you, not everyone has to be on Twitter. I resisted joining for quite awhile, but once I jumped in, I discovered that I love the short, fast-paced conversations that serve as a virtual water-cooler for me. In fact, I like Twitter a lot more than Facebook, because it’s simpler and the relationships can be asymmetrical.

What kind of followers are you looking for? Most likely, you want followers who are interested and engaged in the things you tweet about, so go for quality, not quantity. (If quantity was all you were after, you could buy followers on eBay, but that’s sketchy in my opinion.) Since I blog about writing and freelancing (as @UrbanMuseWriter), most of my 5k+ followers are fellow freelancers, writers, editors, and other creative pros. Since I sometimes crowdsource sources, PR pros and people I’ve interviewed in the past follow me as well.

Still want to boost your Twitter following and break the four-figure mark? Here’s what has worked for me:

  1. Participate in Twitter chats. @MichelleRafter hosts a monthly Twitter chat for writers (#WCLW) so I participate when I can and I always find relevant followers through that, not to mention the camaraderie and tips I enjoy along the way. @EFAFreelancers also hosts a monthly chat called Freelance Fridays (#EFAchat) and I was the March “guest,” which again boosted my following.
  2. Post retweetable content. I’ve found that interesting quotes, enticing headlines, and pithy tips tend to get shared and RT’ed, which exposes my Twitter handle to my followers’ followers. Make sure your tweets are short enough they can be RT’ed with your Twitter handle without shortening. Otherwise, it’s too much work for the RT’er. Using the phrase “please RT” sparingly also tends to get RTs (it sounds suspect but there are studies that back this up).
  3. Livetweet events. I attended the Blog Better Boston Conference (#BBBos) a few weeks ago and tweeted up a storm. As fellow attendees follow the live feed of the conference hashtag, they tend to follow other attendees and RT interesting sound bytes, which again exposes me to their followers. I’ll also be tweeting at #ASJA2012 later this month.
  4. Participate in #FollowFriday. Most people tweet a list of recommended follows each week, but I’ve found that I get more mileage out of highlighting one person and explaining why they’re worth following. For instance, “Happy #followfriday to @NikkiGroom. Just discovered her blog & am enjoying the sassy style & interesting topics.” When you send something personalized like that, the personis more apt to RT the #FollowFriday shout out or RT your other content in the future. Now I’m more focused on #FridayReads, where I mention the name of the book I’m currently, give a capsule summary in some cases, and include the author’s handle whenever I can.
  5. RT others. When you RT other people in your niche, they’re more likely to follow you and/or RT you in the future. However, some people are turned off by too many RTs, because they want your point of view rather than you just repeating what others have said. That’s why you need a happy medium of original content and RTs.
The bottom line? Building a quality following on Twitter requires quality content and a commitment to participating in micro-communities on Twitter, which isn’t that different from any other online platform. Have you found this to be true? What strategies work well for you?

Image courtesy of Master isolated images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Musings on Being Suspended from Twitter

Last night I went to follow someone new on Twitter and discovered that my account had been… suspended! I read Twitter’s help page on contesting a suspension and still could not figure out for the life of me what technical or other violations I’d committed.

Several of my friends on Twitter have had their accounts hacked, so I clicked on my feed to see if I might have fallen prey to the same issue. Well, apparently Twitter hides the feeds of users who are being investigated for spam, so I couldn’t even see my last tweet (though I’m pretty sure it mentions a book I’m reading). Another writer I know had her account suspended after her website got hacked, so I checked that, too. Nada.

I emailed support begging them to restore my account and promising to be a better citizen of the Twittersphere (though in truth, I think I’m already a pretty good citizen). This morning, with just as much warning (meaning zilch), my account was mysteriously back to normal. There were no signs of a hacker, and Twitter didn’t even bother to send me an automated email (Dear Twitter: I know you know how to send automated emails because I get several per day!).

I’m happy to have my account restored and I realize that Twitter is a free service (for now, at least), but I’m also a little miffed that they can suspend someone with zero warning and without even an automated courtesy email explaining why. (In retrospect, I’m guessing it was because I’d scheduled a few tweets using Tweetlater.com and maybe they mistook that for a spambot.) Sure, they’re trying to protect other users from spam, but if a real person took 20 seconds to read my feed, they’d see that I’m a real person, too, and I’m actively engaged in the Twitter community.

Frustration aside, there is an important lesson in all of this. I had something similar happen to my Google documents account several months ago, and it prompted me to stop relying on Google docs for important files. Online apps are fun and easy-to-use, but they’re not always reliable. They (Twitter, Google, etc.) can yank your account access if they suspect foulplay (or even sometimes just “because”) and, of course, service is often spotty anyway. So it’s best not to rely on Twitter as a communications tool or contact manager, as some people are starting to do.

Your turn! Have you had this happen to you? How long did it take to resolve?

10 Things to Tweet About

I’m getting a huge kick out of Twitter, but I’m also noticing that many users are unsure what to Tweet about, especially when they first join. They’ll take the “what you are doing?” concept literally and write things like “figuring out this Twitter thing” or “eating sushi.”

Fascinating stuff, isn’t it?

Not so much. I prefer not to read Tweets about what you had for lunch (unless you have something witty to say about it), your bodily functions (just plain gross), or what the weather is like on a beach in Maui (first of all, it makes me jealous and second of all, why are you Tweeting on vacation?). Instead, here are ten things to tweet about.

  1. Goals. Twitter is the perfect place to post your goals, because you’ll have people cheering you on and keeping you accountable in real time. Try it.
  2. Accomplishments. Say you just landed a new client or finished a big project. That’s a good reason to Tweet your own horn and share the elation or relief with your followers. If you’re working under a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), then be sensitive to that and don’t reveal the details.
  3. Questions/polls. Chances are, if you have a question, someone on Twitter has the answer, so don’t be shy about asking for advice or opinions. These Tweeple love to share!
  4. Responses to others’ Tweets. Just as you might ask for recommendations on web hosts or hints on handling a difficult client, you should be willing to @ and chime in with your own suggestions or words of encouragement.
  5. Quotes. Quotes are very retweetable without being blatantly self-promotional. Look for ones that are short and funny or thought-provoking.
  6. Retweets. This is ultimate to complement to your fellow Tweeple and a great way to share interesting links/resources, but it’s best to balance Retweeting with your own Tweets. Too many RTs and it looks like you have nothing original to say. Too few and you might appear self-serving.
  7. Link love. Like Retweeting, linking to interesting news articles or blog posts boosts goodwill and spreads useful information. Funny links are good, because they show your humorous side, but don’t post too many of those if you’re trying to create a professional persona on Twitter.
  8. Blog posts. I don’t Tweet every single blog post, but if it’s one I’m especially proud of or think my followers might find interesting, I’ll include a link. I usually get a little spike in traffic, but I try to balance my own links with other resources.
  9. Tweetups. Admittedly, not everyone feels comfortable Tweeting about a physical location or event. But if you’re going to a public event like a book reading or a blogging seminar, you might post a Tweet asking if your followers are going so you’ll have a few familiar faces and let others know about events in your area.
  10. Leads to jobs or freelance gigs. In this economy, most people appreciate any leads they can get. If you see an interesting job or project that isn’t right for you, why not spread the via Twitter? And if you happen to be job hunting, then there are tons of users who focus on job leads, including @JobAngels and @freelance_jobs.

What do you Tweet about? Anything I’ve missed?

Flickr photo courtesy of williamedia

I gave in and joined Twitter

I know I resisted because I worried it would become another potential time suck (I still worry about that). But then my freelance idol, Michelle Goodman, assured me it was a worthwhile pursuit. Jenny Cromie and Michelle Rafter blogged about all the cool things you can do with it. Andy Drish gave me a friendly nudge. Even my boyfriend, who is not into blogging or social media but read about it in a news article, asked why I wasn’t doing it.

So now I’m on Twitter.

You can follow me here: @UrbanMuseWriter. I promise not to post inane things like “I’m eating a grilled cheese sandwhich” or “just got home from the gym.” But I am enjoying the creative challenge of writing something meaningful in less than 140 characters. And the fact that there’s so much going on, it’s totally acceptable to miss things. I wish I were that way about Google reader, but I’m thorough to a fault when it comes to reading blogs.

If you’re new to Twitter like I am, then you’ve joined at an exciting time! I’m totally digging other people’s inaugaration tweets. Plus, @mariaschneider just posted two great lists of people to follow on Twitter: 25 good follows for freelancers and 25 publicists/agents/authors. Many more Twitter resources to follow, I’m sure.