Twitter is great, but you need followers to make it pay off. While you can just head over to Twitter Ads and create a Followers campaign, that will cost you up to $3 per follower. Buying cheap followers is even worse. I’m sure you already know not to give in to the temptation of the “buy 100,000 Twitter followers for $39” deals you see everywhere on Twitter. Fall for this, and you will get what you pay for.
If those two options are a bust, what’s a Twitter marketer to do? Spend a little time and effort, and build your following for free. Here are seven ways to get all the Twitter followers you need. They’ll get you quality followers – real people and real businesses. The kind of followers who will respond to your tweets, share your content and grow your business.
1. Look like you’re worth following.
You need a complete and engaging profile if you want to attract more followers. Here are some of the basic elements of an engaging profile:
- Lose the egg, aka the default profile photo. If you’re a person, add a professional (or professional-looking) headshot. If you’re a business, add your logo.
- Add a header photo. Some header photos have text and a call to action, but some are just simply beautiful. Your header should be relevant and professional as well. It can be loosely tied to your business, your geographical location, or anything else that fits your brand. Need a great header image? Try Unsplash for free high-resolution images. Death To the Stock Photo gives you a free photo pack when you sign up for their newsletter, then sends another free pack every month.
- Write a great bio. This serves two purposes: It tells people what you’re about, and it is a soft sell for why they should follow you. Use a few hashtags, but don’t go crazy. Also remember that some Twitter tools search bios, so use a few keywords you want to be found for.
- Include your location. It matters, and it’s proof you’re a real business or person.
- Add a nice background image. Muted patterns or shading are good. You can change this in Settings > Design > Customize your own > Background image. You can also customize your account’s color scheme. For how to do this, see Twitter’s instructions here If you’re not a designer, be careful with this. It’s easy to make an account look garish.
Want other ways to optimize your Twitter account? See our eBook, 10 Things Marketers Should be Doing on Twitter for ideas and tips.
2. Start following people.
But make sure you follow the right people. While it’s enticing to just build a huge list of people you’re following, what you want is an engaged following relationship. That means following people who can help you achieve your social media and business goals. You can search on a hashtag or keyword in Twitter and bring up a bunch of people you could follow. So long as they’ve tweeted recently, and they’re in your industry or prospective clients or customers, they’re followable.
Here’s an example of how to build your Twitter following by following other people or businesses:
“Melanie Tweetsalot” followed me first. I check my new followers every week and saw her new profile in the list. She’s a real person and in my industry – that was the first reason for me to consider following her. She’s also a community manager at a cool agency. That alone makes her follow-worthy.
I checked her tweets, which are useful and fun, so that nudged me closer to following her. But she does have one ding against her. She’s following more people than she’s got followers. That may be because she’s actively building her audience. The real thing that tipped me over to following her? I fell in love with that header shot. Not a logical decision, perhaps, but I can’t say no to mountains like that.
Another twist on this technique is to follow other Twitter accounts’ followers. You can “steal” followers from your competitors by doing this. You can also find potential followers by checking who’s following industry publications and organizations. You can find even more potential new followers through people who have already followed you. For example, Melanie might be following some other people who would make good followers for me.
Follow about 10-30 new accounts every day. Then give them time to follow you back. Check in about two weeks later to see who’s followed you back. Unfollow people who aren’t following you back. That’s assuming they aren’t followable for some other reason. For example, maybe they’re a potential client, donor, customer or influencer.
Keep in mind that some “uninfluentual” or inactive accounts are more influential than they appear to be. This is especially true if you’re using a Twitter management tool. If you want to reduce the number of people you’re following, have whoever manages your account use caution. Make sure they know your industry. Otherwise you might be trimming people the tool says aren’t influential, but who actually have quite a lot of influence like CEOs, VPs and editors.
It can take a bit of time to find followers this way. That’s why many people use an automated tool to help them speed up the process. There are dozens of Twitter tools that can quickly help you find the right people to follow. I’ve chosen just two. Because our focus for this post is building your Twitter following for free, these are both free.
- ManageFlitter: ManageFlitter helps you find people to follow fast. It also helps you sort the people you’re following to weed out any inactive or uninfluential accounts. To find followers, search for a keyword or hashtag, then sort the results. In this example I’ve sorted by influence.
- Followerwonk: Followerwonk is made by the same people who created the SEO tool Moz. There is a free version that will let you do basic searches and sorting to find good people to follow, and which people to unfollow.
Once you’ve got your followers in order, it’s time to make sure they get plenty of value from you. And that means…
3. Tweet awesome stuff.
This is an essential component of building a following. It’s the other half of what I mentioned earlier: “Be worth following.” To be worth following, you need to tweet useful, interesting, sharable content.
Tweet content good enough so that people will want to share it. Make it good enough for them to look smart, cool, or to let them help others. Include hashtags in your tweets (but not too many), and add images to your tweets wherever possible. Also, vary the kind of content you tweet. Don’t just tweet text. Tweet videos, SlideShares, podcast links, infographics, research, funny stuff and more. Even tweet an inspirational quote every so often (just not every tweet, please).
4. Tweet often.
That said, the more you tweet, the more likely you are to have followers, as this graph from Beevolve shows.
That’s all interesting, but I bet you want to know exactly how many times per day to tweet. There’s no exact answer for that, but I think it should be at least once a day, minimum. If you can do more, two to six times a day is good. Other social media pros may say otherwise. Of course, it also depends on your business. A donut shop doesn’t need to tweet as often as an ad agency.
One more thing: A moment ago I told you to tweet awesome stuff. But finding awesome stuff can be hard. So here’s a ninja trick borrowed from the content creation world: Use your Twitter account as a research database.
Here’s an example: You’ve got a blog post to write. As you research the post, you’re reading several different articles. So fire up Buffer or some other social media automation tool. Set up tweets (and Facebook posts, and LinkedIn updates and Google+ posts) for every share-worthy resource you come across.
This adds only 10-15 seconds per tweet to your research, but you’ll also be finding great content for your social media audience as you research.
You can take this a step further. Turn all your old tweets into a research database by using SnapBird (to find tweets again. Make your tweets easy to find by tagging them with hashtags that are tied to topics you usually cover, or to upcoming projects. This is a great way to curate content, do content creation research, build a research database, and feed your social media accounts all at once. It rocks.
5. Add call to actions to follow you on Twitter.
Add them to your website, your blog posts and your business card. Add them to the author biography of any guest post you write, and in the footer of your email messages. Add them everywhere. If you have a public speaking engagement, ask your audience to follow you on Twitter.
There’s a new tool called WiseStamp that lets you add social media opt-ins, including Twitter, to your email signature. Here’s an example:
You can also add a feed of your latest social media updates to these email message footers. I’m not entirely sure that’s a good idea, but it’s an option. Either way, this is an interesting new way to build your Twitter following from every email you send.
6. List your Twitter account on major Twitter directories.
This won’t blow the doors off your Twitter audience growth, but it will provide a trickle of new followers. Here are the four good, active Twitter directories to list your account on. There are dozens more, but some of them are sketchy.
Just remember to limit the number of categories you submit your listing to. Trying to get into all of them will likely get you ejected from a directory.
7. Make your content tweetable.
This is not a direct way to grow your audience, but it will definitely contribute to audience growth. There are primary few ways to make your content tweetable:
- Add social sharing buttons and icons to all your content pages. If you haven’t added social sharing buttons to your blog (and the rest of your website), get on that today. There are plenty of options for sharing buttons. Shareaholic is a good choice. ShareThis and AddThis are good, too.
- Add Twitter cards. These make your content look snazzy on Twitter. There are seven kinds of Twitter cards:
- Summary cards show a title, description, thumbnail, and your Twitter account attribution
- Summary cards with a large image are the same, only with an image included
- Photo cards show a photograph
- Gallery cards show four photographs in one view, like a collage
- App cards make it easy to download an app directly from a tweet
- Player cards play videos and other media
- Product cards are used for or ecommerce
See Twitter’s official documentation for how to set up Twitter cards.
- Embed “tweet this” prompts in your posts. I like CoSchedule’s free Click To Tweet plugin, but you’ll need WordPress to make it work. If you want to set up tweetable quotes without a WordPress plugin, there’s a good blog post about how to do that here.
Read this eBook, 10 Things B2B Marketers Should be Doing on Twitter, for more tips on how B2B companies can use Twitter to gain new business, . If you’ve got any tips for how to build a following on Twitter for free, we’d definitely like to hear from you in the comments.