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Study: What makes people follow you on Twitter?

Posted on 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.

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