Advice on how to use Twitter to write, network with other writers, and learn about the writing business.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Getting Followers or the Art of Stalking Politely

I am now about to reveal “the secret to getting followers”…as soon as I learn it myself. About the time I think I have it figured out, I realize I haven‘t. It’s very zen like in that manner.

How to Follow
Numbers are important, but what good is 100,000 followers if none of them even look at you? There are websites promising to get you a zillion followers instantly, but who are they? Just bots promising to follow back? The whole point is for people to see your writing and maybe like it enough to actually think about buying your book. I can’t guarantee they will buy it, but at least they’ll think “Hey, I know them.”

Here is what I did. I would follow a bunch of people, then after about a week go back and unfollow those who did not follow. Repeat. If they are not following, they can’t see you, so what’s the point of following? Now according to Twitters ever changing policy, I’m not suppose to do this. This is “aggressive following” and it can get you shut down. So far they haven’t shut me down. Maybe I’m not considered “aggressive” but just “assertive.” Or maybe they just haven’t gotten around to me.

Unfortunately if I don’t introduce myself by following others, no one out there will know I exist. I see following as less aggressive than tweeting people and asking them to follow me. People can look at me at the leisure and decide if they want to follow or not.

Twitter will allow you to follow 2,000 people. After that it’s your number of followers plus ten percent. Personally I think if you have 7 followers and you are following 2000, it makes you look too needy. I usually followed about 200 more than what was following me. Perhaps that is why Twitter hasn’t gotten mad at me. I wish I could tell you the magic number that Twitter considers okay.

Who to Follow
Now the question is, who do you follow? I’ve tried to follow people I thought might be interested rather than just anybody. I generally follow science fiction fans, writers, book lovers, historians, anthropologists and the like. How do I find them? That’s the tricky part. Here are some tactics I have tried with varied success:

Lists: Anyone can make a list of people on Twitter with whatever criteria. If a list has people who look like they might be interested, I follow them.

Follow someone else’s followers: Like usually follows like--writers follow writers, historians follow historians, etc. Follow who they are following. This is not stealing. No one is going to say “I think I’ll drop my good friend so I can follow this stranger.” They’ll follow you or ignore you.

Follow a chat: Once a week various groups will set a time for everyone to get on Twitter and chat with each other. You can see them by doing a “search” or clicking on a # symbol. Go ahead, do a “search” in that box on the right of the screen for #WriteChat and you’ll see what I mean. Or sometimes people will make a comment and put a hash tag on it. If you see a hash tag that looks interesting on your Twitter Feed, go ahead and click on it and follow those people. You can also do a search for just a word without a hash mark like “time travel”. These people talking about time travel might be interested in a story on time travel.

Twibes: Twibes is a service where someone can start a group like “Anthropologists” and others can join. You are allowed to join three Twibes. Look for a group that might be interested in your book, and follow them (you don’t have to be a member of that Twibe to do that.)

Find People: Do a search in the “Find People” (located at the top of the page) for something like “SciFi”. People who have SciFi in their name will come up. Find a group like “SciFi Heaven”. This is an account that tweets news about Science Fiction shows, books, movies. This account may or may not follow you, and may not even look at your feed. However, they are being followed by SciFi fans. There is your list of people to follow.

Go to Type in “enter a tag”, a category you think might follow you. A list of people who are interested in the subject will come up. Follow them.

Twellow: This website calls itself the Twitter Yellow Pages. In “search”, type in your category and a list will come up. Your Twitter account might already be in here and you may not know it. Wendell_Howe is here listed under “Anthropology”, “History”, “Social Science”, but also “Education” and “Travel”. (Well, he does work for a University and travels a lot.) I could probably fix this if I officially joined, but then what could I whine about? So keep in mind, some of these categories are just guesses on their part.

#FollowFriday: If someone tweets something like “#FollowFriday these great historians”, follow them. Friday is when people will recommend others they think are worth following. There is also something called #WriterWednesday. I always tweet back a thank you to everyone who mentioned me in a FollowFriday And if they did a special one with just Wendell’s name, I try to return the favor. Feel free to do your own #FollowFriday, just don’t tweet the name of everyone following you if there are hundreds of names. You’ll just bore everyone. And don’t just retweet someone else’s #FollowFriday. (I’m not sure what the thinking is here.)

These are a few of the strategies you can use. Be creative.

Who to Follow Back
If I think there’s a real person who might see me, I’ll follow back--because you never know who will read you and who won’t. I don’t follow marketers generally, unless they are talking with people. And yet that person I thought was a bot (a program that does all the tweeting for you) winds up talking to Wendell. So don’t block them. If they interact, there’s a person there that’s actually following you. Follow them back.

Bots are like Cylons--it’s hard to tell who’s real. If three people following me at one time are all tweeting the exact same words--I assume they are all bots. If someone is tweeting ads, I assume it’s a bot. However, there are programs promising you big bucks if you let them use your twitter feed to tweet ads every hour. Your marketer might be a real but naïve person, so don’t block them.

The only people I block is porn spam. In fact I hit the report as spam button. These people are scaring others away from Twitter so I see no reason not to report them. It was really bad there for awhile with pornographic avatars! Now they get sneaky. They’ll have a reasonably dressed woman, some suggestive but not vulgar tweets, to make you think it’s a real person. But if you click on their website, it’s a porn site. Now the other day I got someone following me who did just this, however the Tweet said “Look at my hot photos--must be 18 or older.” Discreet but honest pornographers! I blocked them, but I didn’t report them. If they all did this, it wouldn’t be so bad. I did block them anyway because first off, they aren’t paying attention to me and second I don’t want someone clicking on my followers and finding a bunch of porn sites!

Others you want to think twice about following are people who don’t interact with others (bots), people following zillions (they probably don’t see you), newsfeeds, etc. But like I said you never know, so don’t block and follow if they prove they are real.

Okay I’m a sucker for starving artist types (struggling writers, performers, creators) and I’ll probably follow you back. Also organizations doing good things, entrepreneurs just starting out, cute kitten avatars--all right, I’m a soft touch. Some of these “pity follows” I knew weren’t paying attention turned out to be big fans of Wendell’s. Like I say, you never know.

Things Not To Do
Don’t play games. There was a philosophy that if you had a lot more people following you than you were following, that everyone would think you were a big shot celebrity and they would follow you back. So some people will follow you, then unfollow you as soon as you follow them. This makes people feel used. Don’t do it. Unless you are a real celebrity it’s not going to kill you to follow back people that are paying attention to you. Makes them feel like they are a person.

The truth is you will eventually wind up with more people following you than you are following. I’m assuming these are spammer accounts that didn’t unfollow you because the account was abandoned. No point in trying to achieve this artificially by unfollowing people you have already followed.

Don’t tweet celebrities (unless they tweet you). Don’t tweet Oprah and beg her to follow you. It’s not her anyway, but someone she hired to tweet for her. Don’t try to get Stephen Fry’s attention. He is so slammed with people tweeting him that he probably no longer even look at his replies. Tweeting celebrities just makes you look pathetic. Oprah will not discover you on Twitter.

Don’t tweet people asking them to follow you. Looks too needy--maybe even creepy. I have had people do this to me. I look at their tweets. Usually it’s a marketer probably using a bot. Sometimes it’s a clueless newbie. I go ahead and follow those. (Okay, sometimes it works, but don’t do it anyway.)

Why Won’t People Follow Me
A lot of people won’t follow you. Get over it. It’s not personal. Most people get on Twitter with no idea what they are doing. It’s a game and the one with the most followers wins, right? Then they discover they can actually interact with people and decide what they are going to do with their account. After so many followers your feed becomes “noise,” so people will start dropping people they aren’t friends with. They drop you and you can’t figure out why they are “mad” at you. They aren’t mad, but you are mudding the waters on their feed.

I’ve had people stop following Wendel,l then follow him on another account reserved for writing or role players or whatever. They are interested, they just don’t want him on the account where they talk with family or club members.

I’ve also had people tweet me that they thought this was a great idea, and then not follow me. Were they jerking me around? No, they thought it was a great idea and were wishing me luck. But they didn’t want Wendell’s tweets in with their news feed. Nothing personal.

It’s hard not to take someone blocking you as personal. It’s like the Twitter equivalent of a restraining order. And if you get enough, Twitter will probably kick you out. Blocking is just rude. Don’t do it unless you have to. That said, don’t get mad if someone blocks you. They probably block everyone that follows them. They might do it because they don’t understand what it really is, or they are paranoid, or they are just having a really bad day. I actually have one person who put Wendell on a list of history tweets to follow--and she blocked him (???). Talk about mixed messages. If a significant number are blocking you, maybe you’re doing something wrong.

Never tweet someone and ask them “Why did you block me?” or “Why did you drop me?” or “Why won’t you follow me?” You may just want to know what you did wrong, but they will probably see this as harassment. There is nothing to see here, just move along.

And sometimes people may not follow because they don’t find you interesting enough. If you are going to write you will have to live with the fact that not everybody in the world will love you. They might not like your style or your genre. It’s nothing against you. J.K. Rowlings is probably the most beloved author of our day--and a lot of people don’t like Harry Potter. (How can they not like Harry Potter?) Rowlings isn’t losing sleep over it. She’s not losing money either.

I hope this will help you in your quest for the Golden Whale. Be patient, try different tactics and above all don’t take it TOO seriously. Just do your best to tweet something worthwhile and they will follow.

1 comment:

  1. As a real person on Twitter, let me caution you.. whenever I or my friends catch someone doing the follow-unfollow-follow trick, we generally block the person for spam. Most of us do check our new followers fairly regularly, & if we don't follow back, there's a reason. When you follow-unfollow-follow, it sends a big red flag that you have something to sell, which is rather unappealing to a lot of tweeps.