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Study: What makes people follow you on Twitter?

Apr 26th, 2013 | By
What influences your Twitter follower growth?

Potential Twitter followers are influenced by our Tweetbehaviour
(click for high resolution graph)

OK, if we’re going to talk about “Increasing your Twitter followers”, then we’re going to do this well: We’ll remember that an increased Twitter following is not a goal, it is a means. A means to expand your reach, so you can deliver your messages to a wider audience, and increase your impact.

So, first things first: When you use Twitter for your organisation’s outreach, define your target audience before you even think of increasing your followers. “More” is not “better”, as there is a big difference between “reaching a lot of people” and “reaching those who matter”.

There are many “tricks of the trade” to increase your Twitter following actively, but few realize how much your own “Twitter behaviour” also influences your Twitter growth. Many people “check you out” before deciding to follow you, at least in the “professional Twitter” environment. Researchers at Georgia Tech analyzed which factors matter when “being checked out”.

Their report is based on analysing 500 Twitter users, tweeting over 500,000 times in the past 15 months. The researchers recorded each user’s follower growth, and analyzed what it was about their tweets and behavior that lead to growth.

Here were their findings – and we start with the most significant factors first:

Good: Number of connections in common

“A friend of a friend is also my friend”, or in other words: People feel comfortable in following someone followed by someone they follow themselves. The typical Twitter snowball effect: get a good targeted following, and almost by default, others in that target group will follow suit. The power of social media networking…!

Good: High frequency of others retweeting your tweets

A “retweet” or “mention” is generally perceived as “a vote of confidence”. The more you get retweeted, the better. Others, outside your network, but within the network of your followers, will see the retweets, and will almost “naturally” get interested in you. “If my friend speaks highly of someone, there is a good chance I’ll find that person interesting too”.

One practical tip: Make it easy for others to retweet you (one of the tips in my Twitter tutorial)!

Good: High frequency of informational tweets

Your tweets have to contain “original content“, preferably with links to information. Tweeps who only mention or retweet others are taken less seriously, and will less likely be followed. Obvious, no?

And be social: don’t just broadcast your own content. Broadcast also content from others.

Bad: Too many “broadcast” tweets

On the other hand, don’t make the common mistake of only broadcasting information. You need to interact: Retweet, mention and quote others. Engage in conversations. Be a socializer, not a preacher.

If people see that you interact, they will be more likely to follow you.

Bad: Too much negativity in your tweets

Don’t bitch and whine the whole time. Put positivity, hope and humour in your tweets. If people want to get depressed, they’ll watch the evening news.

Good: A detailed profile description or “bio”

Before I follow anyone, I check out their Twitter profile. A good profile tells me a lot about the tweep:

  • Upload a profile picture: Hey, why would I follow you if you don’t even go through the trouble of uploading a picture? Use a significant picture: Close-up of your face (for personal Twitter accounts) or for organisations, your logo or a representative picture. Remember that profile pictures are always shown in a small format. Make sure people can see what the picture represents.
  • Put a URL in your profile: makes it easier to check out who you are, what your organisation is all about.
  • List your location: Helps people “recognizing” who you are.
  • Make a good profile summary: Ensure that people understand what you are all about. Highlight your interests or your focus areas. Use the full profile length. Don’t give me just two words, unless if they are really catchy. And please: no grammar or spelling mistakes!

Good: “Burstiness” of your tweets

Often people ask me “how many tweets should I broadcast per day?“. My answer always is: “As many as YOU would expect from those YOU follow”.

The general perception is that people don’t like “noise”: In general, “too much is never good”. But that is relative: For some of my Twitter news channels, I broadcast about 32 tweets per hour. For the same channels, I also give people the option of following the same news channel at a lower volume, 2 tweets per hour. The average ratio I have is: 5% likes the lower volume, 95% prefers the higher volume.

I have to admit that 32 tweets per hour is rather extreme, but in general, people want to see “activity” on your Twitter account. If I see they only tweet once per week, it is unlikely I will follow you.

But there is something else, quite interesting: The report shows that people like “burstiness”: a sudden peak of fast, consecutive tweets increases your “follow-a-bility”. Research by Twitter shows that posting a “concentrated number of tweets in a short time span”, live tweeting an event for instance, can increase your engagement by 50%. And “engagement” like retweets, mentions and interactions, are very positive influencers for your “follow-a-bility”, as we mentioned earlier.

Good: Decent ratio of “followers” versus “following”

Few will follow tweeps who are not followed by many. Another positive factor is the balance between how many you follow versus how many follow you. Take two tweeps, A and B. If both have 1,000 followers but A follows 200 and B follows 5, people are likely to follow A rather than B.

It comes down to being social: In general, “active” social tweeps will follow a good number of people themselves.

But don’t overdo it. Even if a tweep has 100,000 followers, I get suspicious if they follow 50,000 themselves. This, to me, is a sign they don’t monitor their own Twitter stream. Nobody can keep up with the amount of tweets coming from more than 2,000 people. It is highly unlikely you will get a lot of “social contact” with a Tweep who follows 50,000 people…

Bad: Too many useless hashtags into your tweets

People browsing online media “like it simple”, especially on “vapourware” like Twitter. On Twitter people’s attention span is measured in “seconds”, not minutes.

Hashtags should be used carefully and sparingly. Too many hashtags within the tweet reduces the readability. If you use hashtags, put them at the end of your tweet. Some people use hashtags for common words like #poverty or #hunger or #aid.. Not only do I hate that, but also, it is utterly senseless.

Good: Easy to read tweets, but not too simple neither

In just a few seconds, someone should be able to read and understand your tweet, and get interested in it. Make your tweets easy to read. Sculpt your tweets.

I know it is difficult to condense a thought or statement in less than 140 characters, but it is an art you can master by practice. Was it Hemingway who said that it is more difficult to write short stories than long stories?

But don’t sculpt your tweet with the language of a three-year old neither. The Georgia Tech study shows that tweeps using an average of 2.36 words longer than 7 characters, are more likely to be followed. So go and start calculating (c-a-l-c-u-l-a-t-i-n-g – that’s 11 characters, cool!).

Now go! And multiply your followers! :)

I discovered the The Georgia Tech report via Business Insider and Poynter, all thanks to my old friend Temmy Tanubrata.

Writing Good Blog Posts: The Art of Seduction

Apr 14th, 2013 | By
old typewriter

Writing good blog posts: a gift, an art or a skill?


For some people, writing comes natural. For most, it comes with pain. Certainly when writing for a specific and demanding audience, like blog readers.

Putting it bluntly, blog readers are lazy and hasty. Blogs are like inflight magazines: something “light” one can read in between other work, a piece of literature which is more often “scanned” than read. So whatever you do, don’t ask an effort from blog readers, but make it easy for them. They have other, more valuable things to do. :)

And IF you want them to do an effort in reading your blog, then you will need to seduce them, and make it worth their while. After all, they have hundreds of other blogs to choose from. So most of my blogging tips are centered around “Blogging: the Art of Seduction”.

While many have written about the “Art of Blogging” before, here are my ten writing tips for good blog posts. They are based on several training sessions for CGIAR researchers, and on a recent workshop for scientists at CIFOR, the Center for International Forestry Research. So forgive me if my tips are slightly biased towards “how to make scientists good bloggers”.

1. Make titles short, simple, catchy and clear.

The first thing people will read, is your title. If your title does not excite them, in five seconds, they will flip to the next blog. So, as part of the “Art of Seduction”, the title should “lure” them into reading on.

A title should be catchy, an attention grabber. It should be grammatically clear. Don’t let people read a title twice before they understand it. Keep it simple and condensed.

A title should not, as in scientific papers, summarize the content, but rather be a single line teaser. One of my all time favourites is “Too hot for chocolate?“, a blog piece by Neil Palmer about the effects of climate change on cacao production.

One important remark, though: titles which excite readers might be meaningless for search engines. So distinguish both: titles for readers and titles for search engines, by using an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) plugin for your blog. In the example of “Too hot for chocolate”, the SEO title might be: “The effects of climate change on cacao production”, pleasing both the readers and crawlers. — If you have a blog without proper SEO, you miss out on more than 50% of your traffic, which comes from search engines.

2. Sculpture your first paragraph.

In the “Art of Blogging Seduction”, after your title, you are now ready for your second date with your blog reader: your first paragraph. If your first paragraph is boring, long, complicated or ask for too much of an effort from your reader, you will loose their attention. And -Pooooffff- off they go.

No matter how much time you spend on your blog post, spend twice as much attention on your first paragraph.

Like for titles, first paragraphs should not be a summary of your blog post, but rather an extended teaser, leading into the main part of your blog post.

3. Tell a story

As part of our blog training for researchers, we found many scientists are good writers, but bound by a formulaic approach to report on their research. In nearly every scientific field, journal articles start with a general introduction, then give methods, results, and a discussion. In blogging terms: boring!

In a blog, you are not subject to those limitations. You need to grab your readers’ interest, then lead them through the content in a way that satisfies their curiosity. You might start with an anecdote, a teasing statement, a couple of questions.

Through the body of your post, you take your reader by the hand, and walk them through the story, up to the conclusion, which rounds up the story.

Blogs are often written from a personal perspective. What did you do, what do you think about the subject. This is a challenge for scientists, who are used to write objectively, peer-reviewed and all. In the science world, blogs are often subjective pieces about an objective content.

4. Use pictures

A blog post without a picture, is not a good blog post, simple as that. Use at least one picture at the top, under the title, or in the first paragraph. It will help stir up the interest and attention of your reader. Seduction, remember?

You can use several pictures, or illustrative figures within the body of your post, but make sure not to over-do it. I rarely use more than one picture per blog post.

5. Make it short

My statistics show that people spend an average of two to three minutes reading one blog post. If you want to stretch their attention span, you’ll have to make it worth their while.

It is more difficult to write a short blog post than to write a long one. So, make an effort to shorten your post. About 500-800 words is a general rule. If the story is interesting, it can run long a little longer.

6. Use a simple, concise but a correct language

Most blog readers are not native English speakers. Avoid complex sentences and complicated Oxfordian English idioms. Make short sentences, running over one or two lines only.

Oh, and spell check your text! A simple language is no excuse for grammatical errors. I usually proofread my blog posts aloud. It helps me spot mistakes or errors in the flow of sentences.

7. Use short paragraphs

“Air” your text: split your blog post into paragraphs. Use plenty of blank lines between different parts. If your blog post is longer than a page, use paragraph titles to structure your text.

8. Use hyperlinks

When you write a blog post about a scientific subject, back up your statements with links to reference literature. Use links to illustrate what you talk about.

9. Round up your blog post

Unless if it is intended to stir up your readers, your blog post should have an ending. “The End” should give the reader a feeling that the story is complete. It should be a conclusion, a solution, a clear end to a summation of things,.. Whatever your ending formula is, the reader should think: “Ah, I have understood what the issue is”.

Like in movies “The End” of a blog post should never come as a surprise.

10. Have fun

If you have fun writing a blog post, grinning as you go along, there is a good chance your readers will smile too. If you get all excited and winded up, probably your readers will be too. The more fun you have, the more inspired you will write.

After all, “seduction” should be fun and exciting, no?


Ready for more? You might also be interested in Hemingway’s tips for bloggers.

This post is inspired by a blogging guide by Michelle Kovacevic (CIFOR)
Picture courtesy Channel4

How to define a social media strategy

Jan 15th, 2012 | By

young wheat plant

Long gone are the times where nonprofit organisations saw social media tools as a “nice add-on”. Time and again, social media has proven its potential in fundraising, advocacy, campaigning, live event reporting, knowledge sharing,..

Now comes the time where organisations’ media people are actively seeking to merge the “social” media with their more “traditional” media outreach.

Now, we have more social media tools on offer, than ever before. Which tools are the best suited for your cause? Which give the best return on investment? How do you use these tools best?

Now, more than ever, our management asks questions on our social media efforts. “What is its return?”, “What does it cost us”, “What is the measurable impact?”.


BlogTips Tutorial:
How to use Twitter

Mar 25th, 2011 | By

Twitter cartoon

Twitter is, with Facebook (but better :) ), THE most written about and the most cheered social media tool in the past years. But it is also one of the most powerful tools for nonprofit organisations to create a community, to propagate your core messages and to kickstart fundraising and advocacy. It is a conversation tool, a repository, a news source, and anything short of a combination of bread toaster and espresso maker.

And yet, it is not evident to get started on Twitter. Explaining what Twitter is all about, is not just going to a website, registering and experiencing a lift-off. It takes a while to grasp the enormous amount of tools, and how to use them right. It takes some skills to make the most of Twitter.

But.. if you use Twitter right, you will find it to be the “Black & Decker” of social media power tools, the “Ferrari” of speed dating a large social community and more fun than watching “Titanic” with your loved one on a Saturday night. Popcorn included.

So, what is Twitter, what is it about, and how can you use it? Specifically in a professional context where you want social media tools to work for your nonprofit organisation.


BlogTips Tutorial:
How to evaluate a blog

Sep 14th, 2010 | By

Fishing nets on shore

It is encouraging to see how many nonprofit organisations discover the power of social media and the added-value of blogs. Comes a time, though, where any blogmaster asks the question: “I am on the right track here?”

You can look at your own blog until you are dizzy. You still won’t see what someone else sees. You’re too deep into it. No wonder that often people ask others for help. “Have a look at my blog, what do you think”? Some ask for a subjective one minute glance, others request a more in-depth analysis and concrete help to improve their blog.

How does one approach a detailed analysis of a blog? How do you structure the areas you want to cover and offer suggestions?