What on earth has happened to Twitter? What started as a way of connecting with existing friends and “interesting” people has now turned into a numbers game of who can amass the largest group of followers. If the whole Ashton/Oprah/CNN saga has taught us anything, it is that follower counts are actually kind of meaningless. I'm sorry, but Ashton Kutcher, while not a bad actor, and a likable enough guy, is NOT more interesting than CNN. Mr Kutcher seems to believe that his ability to amass more followers than CNN is some kind of meaningful statement from the people about who they want to be listening to online. (Giving credit where credit's due, Ashton Kutcher donated 10,000 mosquito beds to charity for World Malaria Day for winning the race... all commentry aside, he deserves respect for that)
But is that really the case? Or is it merely that a popular and attractive MTV personality can generate more buzz than a news service among the 15 to 25-year-olds who are the core age group of the social media market? After Ashton graciously introduced her to the service, Oprah has amassed more than a million followers (he should be glad he didn't have her to contend with on his sprint to a million). But a quick browse through the 45 tweets that the talk show host has sent out and it is terribly obvious that the million milestone is not an indication of interesting content. Now I'm not trying to make a cheap dig at Oprah, but personally, I don't care that she just hugged Whoopi Goldberg after not having seen her for a long time, or that she's trying to make dinner plans with Hugh Jackman.
My Dad always told me that less is more, and it seems to me that follower counts are meaningless if they're people who aren't actually listening. I'd rather talk to 10 people who want to hear what I have to say than a million people who are distracted.
So, while it’s all good and well for affiliate marketers to amass followers, they should be the right followers. That is, people who will be interested in what you have to say, who will be interested in what you link to, and ultimately, people who are likely to buy stuff from you! Here are my tips for increasing your popularity with the right people.
1. No one cares about “What are you doing?”
If I could change anything about Twitter, it would be the question that appears on the front page: “What are you doing?” While that might have been the original concept of Twitter – similar to Facebook’s status updates – Twitter has evolved into much, much more. Forget about telling people what you had for breakfast – unless it was at a new restaurant that you think other people would like. Your daily routine is inane chatter, but going out to a restaurant is something that might be useful to other people.
So, instead of answering the question “What are you doing?”, answer the questions: “What are you thinking?”, “What do you know?”, “What are you reading?”, “What have you discovered?” or “What are you doing THAT'S INTERESTING TO OTHER PEOPLE?”
2. Regularly post links to other people's content
If the only links you ever tweet are your own then you're on the wrong track my friend. People don't mind if you link to your latest blog post or to an interesting article you've written, but if that's all you do, then you're basically just working like an RSS feed... and you know, we already have those!
I’ve found that the easiest way to keep your stream flowing with interesting content is to use a combination of Google Reader (or any RSS aggregator) and Tweetlater (or anything that allows you to schedule tweets in advance). You probably already subscribe to a bunch of blogs (if you don't and aren’t sure where to start, then take a look at this blog post on the 10 best blogs for internet entrepreneurs), which means that all you need to do now is set up four or five tweets about them each day via a service like Tweetlater. Write a short blurb saying what the post is about, or even just the title if you're in a hurry. Just make sure you leave enough room to be ReTweeted (so the length of your username plus about 5 characters). Also shorten the URLs (Tweetlater has this built in), so that your tweets are consistent. This also means that when you link to your own content, it looks the same as when you link to someone else's.
3. Integrate Twitter into your everyday browsing
Up until recently I had hardly touched my personal Twitter account. After spending my working hours on the @Affilorama account, I couldn’t really be bothered doing it all over again on my own account at home.
Then I discovered TwitterFox. It’s a cool little Firefox plugin that allows you to access your Twitter account from a little pop-up menu in your Firefox browser. Not only does it unobtrusively display new messages, it allows you to link to the page you’re currently viewing, and reply and retweet with ease. It also lets you to manage multiple accounts – something that’s very important if you have personal and business accounts.
By incorporating Twitter into your everyday browsing, you'll find it easier to engage in conversation (reply as soon as you receive an @Reply or something you wish to comment on, rather than saving them up and doing them all at once). I also find that being perpetually “plugged in” to the Twittersphere allows me to take full advantage of the real-time nature of Twitter. I’m up with the play the moment something interesting starts to happen, so not only can I get in early (for example, retweeting an emerging story), but I also stay up-to-date with new developments in the ever-changing world of internet marketing.
4. Know when to follow back
It can be hard to know the exact etiquette for “returning the favor” when someone follows you. For example, on the @Affilorama feed, we don't follow everyone who follows us, because we have thousands of followers and we want to be able to retweet the most interesting content for ALL our followers. That is why we typically follow other “gurus” or feeds of other people and sites that regularly post interesting links and content that our followers would like – for example @Mashable @AbestWeb and @CopyBlogger.
On my personal account though, I follow back anyone who follows me if they meet a few simple criteria – they update regularly, they post interesting tweets (not just the “what I had for breakfast” babble), and they're not just trying to build up their own follow numbers by randomly following lots of people (you can usually spot these people by their unusually high “following” number versus a low “followers” number, combined with a lack of good content in their tweets). It can be a hard decision to make, depending on what you’re using Twitter for. I recommend opening at least two accounts – one personal; one business. Your personal one can also be used for creating connections with business contacts because it can be harder to do this with a faceless company account.
A final thought...
If you’re regularly posting interesting content on all your accounts, then people will naturally start to follow you. If you engage in conversation and follow back interesting people, this will increase your followers even more.
The most important tip I can give you though is to stop worrying about follower quantity and start being more concerned about follower quality. If you try to attract people who are genuinely interested in what you have to say rather than just the mutual-admiration and social proof club, then you will get far better returns from Twitter both personally and in your business.