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November 10, 2008

Looking for Mr. Goodtweet: How to Pick Up Followers on Twitter

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At 10:15 pm I discovered that I had not brought a Macbook power supply on the trip. I was in a hotel on Coronado Island, and early the next morning I was flying to an aircraft carrier off San Diego for an overnight visit. I doubted that the carrier had Macbook power supplies laying around, so I was in trouble. I posted a message to Twitter that I was in this predicament, and within ten minutes, five people offered to bring me a power supply. I took one of them up on the offer, and he delivered it to me within an hour.

This illustrates the practical implications of a large following on Twitter. In addition, of course, there is the sheer vanity of amassing more followers than your friends. The question, “How do I get more followers on Twitter?” is unspoken because admitting that you want more followers is to acknowledge that you don’t have many. Thus, you probably don’t need this advice, but you may “have a friend” who will find it useful.

Tip 1: Follow the “smores (social media whores*).” They are the folks with large number of followers and seem to be the opinion leaders (and perhaps even “heros”) of Twitter. You can get a good idea of who they are by viewing Twitterati.alltop, TwitterCounter, and Egos.alltop. There are three reasons to follow them: first, many have scripts that will auto follow you; second, you might learn something from watching what they tweet about; third, when people look at your profile to see who you follow, you want to appear that you have a clue. (*originally coined by @worleygirl who passed it to @pauladrum who passed it to me)

Tip 2: Send @ messages to the smores. They probably won’t answer you, but that’s okay. All you want to do is appear like you have a relationship with them to enhance your credibility. The theory is, “If she is tweeting with @scobleizeer, she must be worth following.” Bull shiitake logic, admittedly, but it helps. To bastardize what a famous PR person once told me, “It’s not who you know. It’s who appears to know you.”

Tip 3: Create an effective avatar. Your avatar is a window into your soul, so you need to create one that doesn’t look like you shot it with a camera phone while you were drunk. In most cases, use a simple, informal straight-up photo of just your face—not you and your dog, car, kids, or surfboard. Increase the exposure to brighter than you think it should be. Fix the red-eye. Crop the photo because Twitter is going to display it as a postage-stamp size image. If you can’t fix up your photo, send it to Fixmyphotos. Upload a large version of it (approximately 500 x 500 pixels) and let Twitter scale it down, so that when people zoom on your photo, they can see your gorgeousness and not an ugly pixelated image.

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If you have access to cool image tools, then create an avatar that raises the question, “How did he do that?” If you represent a company, then use its logo—but this is boring (sorry, Tony). Avatars with cleavage may help you get followers that you wouldn’t want, but that’s your call. Bottom line: When people view a stream of tweets, your avatar (and therefore your tweet) should stand out.

Tip 4: Follow everyone who follows you. When I first started on Twitter, Robert Scoble told me to follow everyone who followed me. “But why, Robert, would I follow everyone like that?” The answer is that it’s courteous to do so and because when you do, some people will respond to you and eveyone who follows them will see this—which is more exposure for you.

Having said this, when you get to more than fifty or so followers, it’s impossible to read what all your followers tweet. At that point, you have to focus on direct private messages (“Ds”) and direct public messages (“@s””).

Tip 5: Always be linking. The fact that your cat rolled over or your flight is delayed isn’t interesting, so get outside of your mundanity and link to interesting stories and pictures—you should think of yourself as a one-person StumbleUpon. The Twitter pickup artist’s mantra is ABL (“Always Be Linking”).

Fortunately, you don’t have to find these sites by yourself because there are companies and communities who are dedicated to this task. Here are my best sources.

  1. StumbleUpon. People in the StumbleUpon community mark sites that they find interesting. You can install the StumbleUpon button by clicking here and go from site to site; you can visit the StumbleUpon recently popular websites list; or you can add this feed to your feed reader. Sample picture.

  2. Alltop. If you’ve ever seen me post ten tweets in a row with links to (what I consider) interesting sites, it’s because I’m parked in front of these four Alltop sites: Psychology.alltop, Science.alltop, Lifehacks.alltop, and SocialMedia.alltop. At any of these sites you can scan hundreds of stories at a time and pick off the ones that will attact followers. (Disclosure: I am co-founder of the site).

  3. CNN. CNN is hard to beat for up-to-the minute news. You’ll be competing with CNN’s own tweets which has 52,000 followers as of today, but still leaves you about five million other Twitter users to attract. Seriously, you can attract followers just by cherrypicking the best of CNN stores. To do this, you need immediate notification of breaking news, and CNN’s email alerts are as good as it gets. Click here to sign up. This is its recent stories RSS feed, but email notification is faster and therefore better for the purpose of attracting followers. Sample: “Monks Brawl Before Religious Holiday.”

  4. New York Times. Like CNN, the New York Times is a lovely source for links because it provides both up-to-the minute news as well as carefully crafted, intellectual stories. This is its home page RSS feed. You can also pick from a bunch of feeds here. You and your readers do have to register, but it’s worth it—perhaps the only site that is worth registering for on the Internet. Sample: “A Political Manners Manual.”

  5. Buzzfeed. Buzzfeed is a also a community of people looking for interesting stuff. You can visit its home page to find stuff or subscribe to its RSS feed. Samples: “Lunch Bag Art” and “Young People Love Obama.”

  6. Newswise. Newswise is “a trusted resource for knowledge-based news, embargoed research results, and expert contacts from the world’s leading research institutions: universities, colleges, laboratories, professional organizations, governmental agencies, and private research groups active in the fields of medicine, science, business, and the humanities.” Holy kaw! In other words, it features hardcore science. Some stories are embargoed and you have to register to prove you’re a journalist for them, but even the stuff that’s not embargoed is very good. Its RSS feed is here. Sample: “New Generator Produces AC Current by Stretching Wires.”

  7. ZDNet. If you want to push out info-tech links for nerds and geeks, it’s hard to beat ZDNet. Just about every day there’s some story that will interest the 95% of the world that uses Windows. ZDNet pushes out email notification here, and its RSS feed is here. Sample: “In Depth Look at Windows 7.”

  8. Digg. Many people think that Digg is a good place to find stuff that approximately 100 forty-year old men living with their parents find interesting. I don’t use it very often because that’s not who I’m trying to pick up, but you can find many few gems there. Its main RSS feed is here, and you can find specialized feeds here. Sample: “Gears of War 2 sells 2.1 million copies on day 1.”

  9. Kirtsy. Kirtsy on the other hand is “Digg for chicks.” It’s a social networking site where women post and rate stories. The stories here range from mommy/homey stuff to “Liz Hurley’s Boobs: They’re Real and They’re Fantastic” (I’m not making this up). Its links are particularly effective to attract female followers and sensitive men (oxymoron?). Its RSS feed is here. Sample: “5 Jobs You Wanted as a Kid (And Why They Suck).”

  10. Techmeme. Techmeme makes no bones about it: it uses technology to find the hottest tech stories. It’s a community of one: Gabe Rivera, and he’s a good guy. Where ZDNet usually contains ITish stories, Techmeme casts a bigger net for anything tech. Its feed is here. Sample: “Google CEO on Obama Tech Czar Job: No Thanks”.

  11. Bonus: Rewrite the headline. Here’s a power tip for you. The most powerful way to start a headline on Twitter is with the words such as ”How to… ” and “Why… ,” so don’t hesitate to blow out the existing headline and rewrite it to make it more interesting and relevant to the kind of followers you seek.

    Double Bonus: Scan Goodtweet.alltop. To make it easier for you to scan the best sites for interesting links, we created Goodtweet.alltop. It aggregates the feeds mentioned above plus my favorites from the various Alltop sites to make life even easier for you.

Tip 6: Establish yourself as a subject expert. One thing is for sure about Twitter: there are some people interested in every subject and every side of every subject. By establishing yourself as a subject expert, you will make yourself interesting to some subset of people.

Step 1 is to actually be an expert—but that’s beyond the scope of this posting. Step 2 is to find tweets that you can supplement (I explain how to find these tweets below in the TweetDeck and Twellow sections in Tip 8). Example 1: you’re an expert on Macintosh. Search for “Macintosh” and answer people’s questions. Example 2: you’re an expert in public speaking. Search for “Powerpoint,” “keynote,” and “speech” to add value to tweets. People are likely to not only follow you, but also retweet your posts and therefore give you additional exposure.

And if/when you are an expert, don’t be afraid to express your opinion. It’s better that some people follow you and some people refuse to follow you than no one knows who you are at all. There are so many people on Twitter that some are likely to agree with you.

Tip 7: Incorporate pictures and other media. Who can resist a tweet such as “Picture of my new puppy”? Nobody, that’s who. And your topic doesn’t have to be anything as sweet as a puppy. I’ve tweeted pictures of shower heads from Microsoft in the Singapore Airlines lounge, the world’s longest toilet flush, and two sacred cows in Mumbai to get followers, so I know multimedia works. The key is the tweet leading to the picture. Stuff like ““If Microsoft made shower heads,” “World’s longest toilet flush,” and “two sacred kaws/cows” works. (See reference to Posterous below to see how I post pictures and video.)

Tip 8: Use the right tools. At the end of the day, you either have many followers or you don’t. A good effort doesn’t count, so you might as well use the right tools to make picking up followers as easy as possible. Here are my four main Twitter apps:

  1. Tweetdeck. This is the Twitter client that I use on my Macintoshes.

  2. Objective Marketer. I repeat my tweets and to frame pages for tweeting. (Disclosure: I advise the company)

  3. Twitbird. This is the best iPhone and iPad client that I’ve found.

  4. Social Oomph. This service automatically follows everyone I follow and sends them a welcome direct message.

  5. Twitterfeed. I use this to automate turning RSS feeds into tweets.

Tip 9: Repeat your tweets. Try this experiment: take your most interesting tweets (as measured by how many people retweet them, perhaps) and post them again three times, eight to twelve hours apart. I used to think that people would complain about repeating tweets, but I’ve never had a complaint. My theory is that the volume of tweets is so high and most people check in at about the same time every day, so people don’t notice repeat tweets.

Tip 10: Ask people to follow. That’s right just come right out and ask them to follow you. For example, I’m here if you want to follow me.


If you have more ideas, please add them to the comments for this blog, and I’ll add them to my list. I look forward to watching you blow by me in the number of followers! Just remember: “Always be linking.”

For more news and information about Twitter, you can also visit Twitter.alltop.

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