If you want to increase your visibility, share your ideas, or promote your business using Twitter, nothing is more important than picking up followers who respect you and look forward to reading your tweets. Building your Twitter reputation and finding more people who want to follow you go hand in hand. This advice is from the perspective of a scientist with a passion for promoting discussion of developments in the world of science and space exploration. But it can be useful to anyone using Twitter.
If your goal on Twitter is merely to get a lot of people to follow you, this is a fairly easy thing to do. Just find people who have thousands of followers and who follow about the same number who are following them. Usually this means that they follow back just about everyone who follows them. If you follow, it's almost guaranteed that they'll follow you, do this over and over with a lot of people, and voilà! Before you know it, you'll have several hundred followers, even if you haven't tweeted a single update. Then, you can begin tweeting links to your website or your published articles, and all of those followers will go to your link, or at least some fraction of them, right?
Wrong. Very wrong, in fact. The problem is that, by following random people, all you've done is is to get yourself on the lists of twitterers who don't have a particular interest in your articles, the products you seek to sell, your thoughts about politics and religion -whatever it is that you wanted to promote using Twitter. These are known as "junk followers". They are following you, only because you are following them. Sure, they may be nice people who might chat with you occasionally about a baseball game, but they won't read the tweets that have the links to send them where you want them to go. And even worse, to have them on your list, you're paying a high price. You need to follow them. Why is this bad? The answer is simple. The reason for following somebody is because you want to read what they're saying. Follow hundreds of people whose tweets you don't want to read, it will clutter your timeline, and you'll miss the good stuff from those whose tweets you do want to read.
Suppose, for instance, you wanted to ready my tweets. I'm an astrobiologist, tweeting as @CosmicEvolution and you are welcome to follow me, whether you're very interested in science, or not. I tweet a lot about the search for life on other planets, probably not something related to your business, but I have many people following me whose careers have nothing to do with science. They follow because they're interested. I might tweet a link to a new article related to the current discussion of the possibility that an ocean once covered most of the surface of Mars. You may have enjoyed reading that article on your coffee break. Twenty minutes before that, a business associate of yours might have tweeted something that could be important to you, regarding an investment, or a lead to get a book published. When you open Twitter though, the tweets from your associate, and from me, would be buried in a stream updates from many of your junk followers, tweeting useless things that you don't want to read. They may be talking about what they had for breakfast (studies show that about 40 percent of tweets are of this category), they may be talking about something that is useful in their particular business or niche.
Or, they may be tweeting links that they were paid to tweet. People who have several thousand followers actually can earn money by re-tweeting sponsored tweets. But before you consider paying a service to have your link tweeted to what could amount to hundreds of thousands of followers, consider who these retweeters are, and who their followers are. Just out of curiosity, I tried one of these services. I wrote a tweet saying that anyone interested in space exploration, science, ancient history, and some other subjects might be interested in following...At this point I inserted my twitter handle and the URL for my website. For ten dollars, it was retweeted by twenty or thirty people, making its way into a total of more than 200,000 twitter streams.
It got me five or six new followers and, by my best estimate, about two visits to my website.
Why such a puny response to a tweet that went to more than 200,000 people? The answer: These were mostly junk followers. Sure, among those 200,000 followers of those other people, it turned out that there were a few who were happy to find out about my Twitter stream and followed my, just because they were informed that I exist. But that's a horrible response --especially comparing it to the response that I enjoy from tweeting anything into my own Twitter stream of about 2,100 followers. Generally, when I tweet a link to an article, it gets about ten to twenty clicks within a couple of minutes, provided it's a weekday and mid-afternoon to evening in the time zones where most of my followers live. This is because the people following me are high quality followers. They follow me, because they want to read my tweets, just as the 900 or so people I follow tweet things that I want to read. Otherwise, I'd not be following them.
The basic lesson here is simple: Follow only those who tweet things that you actually want to read. Don't follow somebody, just so that they will follow you. That will clutter your Twitter stream, and probably hurt your reputation at the same time. When deciding whether to follow somebody, one of the things that I check, after their biography and timeline of their recent tweets, is their friend list, the people whom they follow. If I see that somebody is following a string of people who are not relevant, I wonder if they will be tweeting anything interesting themselves, so I tend not to follow. Certainly, you should follow somebody if you think you might enjoy their tweets; you can always unfollow later, if you are disappointed. But do not start following a bunch of people with the intention of unfollowing as soon as they follow you. On Twitter, that type of behavior is not tolerated, and your reputation likely will suffer.
This talk about whom to follow and whom not to follow brings me to another topic, and that is the follower-to-friend ratio. I've written above about people who follow back everybody, just so that they will be followed and therefore build a following that appears large, but effectively is not. The follower-to-friend ratio of such people, of course, is approximately 1.0. In Twitter, this is a respectable ratio, but only if the followers/friends are of high quality. If you tweet about solar power, have 300 followers, follow them all back, and they tweet good information about solar power, that's great. If you tweet as a "social media expert", have 50,000 followers and follow 50,000 people, that's junk. So, if you find someone with an equal number of followers vs. friends, look carefully at their friends and following lists. Look at what they tweet, and importantly, see how much they interact with their followers. Somebody who carried on two-way discussions in Twitter is a good person to follow, and a good person to have following you.
This may not be true in all cases, but I have found, at least in my niche of science communication, that a people with a high following/friend ratio tend to be good people to follow. I'm not talking necessarily about celebrities who may have a million followers and be following five people, their personal friends, though some celebrities certainly are posting some provocative tweets. You should not avoid them, just because they are famous. But I'm really talking about people with ratios of say between 1.5 and 10. Beyond 10, I'd say the person is in the rock star category, in which case you probably knew who they were before you discovered Twitter. Apart from celebrities, if you see that somebody has significantly more people following them than they follow, generally it means that they are tweeting things that people find interesting, or useful. They are following that person, not for the sake of being followed back, but because they really want to follow them. And maybe you ought to be following that person too, if their topics are relevant to your own. You shouldn't judge people purely by their Twitter numbers, but if you're going to use numbers as an initial screen for potential Twitter friends, following/friend ratio is more important than the total number of followers. Someone who is following 2001 people and being followed by less than 100 is almost certainly a spammer, someone you should not follow, even if they give you the honor of being one of those 2001 people on their list of friends. Usually, such people's timelines have only one or two updates, since they spend all of their time following people and saying nothing, or tweeting the same link over and over.
So how can all of this be useful, if your goal is to get high quality followers as well as build your reputation in your Twitter community? Well, first of all, these two goals support one another. Attracting high quality followers, following high quality friends and avoiding following junk twitterers will go a long way in supporting your Twitter reputation. It's alright to have some junk following you; as your Twitter presence grows, junk will find you. You can block it, but you don't want to spend too much time on that, unless it's obvious spam or offensive enough that you don't want others to find it by way of your follower list.
A better use of your time is posting informative, interesting tweets, and choosing to follow people who are appropriate for you to follow, regardless of whether or not they are following you. If you follow this basic approach, you will find that your list of followers grows steadily, and that people retweet you and mention you in their own tweets. This is a sign that your reputation is growing within your niche of the Twitter community. Along the way, you'll make some useful contacts, and very likely some new friends.