How to Gain (and Lose) Twitter Followers: Part #1

If you use Twitter for your business, you may be frustrated at how long it takes to start growing your followers and keep growing them to a substantial number. Yet, you see so many competitors and other seemingly mediocre accounts doing very well, attracting lots of followers in a short space of time. You may be tempted to employ a social media management company who promise to deliver on followers, but before you do, have a read about a little experiment I've been doing over the last 8 months or so. Disclaimer: these experiments are in no way scientific or controlled in such a way that you such try to emulate them or base any financial decisions on them; these are merely my observations.

Background: I set up a Twitter account for Skittish back in 2011 where I began to follow industry leaders and people I knew. My followers grew steadily as I tweeted relevant information and started following people I met when out networking and at conferences. As I neared the end of 2013, I was 100 followers away from 1000 followers, so as the end of the year approached, I decided it would be a good milestone to get to 1000 followers before 1st January. I achieved this no problem by simply following lots of relevant accounts who then followed me back. Did reaching 1000 followers this way feel good? Not really. I knew they were only following because I followed them; they weren't genuine fans that would be hanging on my every word.

Fast forward to 2015 and I've been lucky to have several books published, speak at several high profile industry events as well as more local events which have raised my profile and gained me more Twitter followers the natural way. I've also been more active, posting daily, using appropriate hashtags and all the best practice stuff to grow my followers to over 3,000. I was pretty pleased with that.

What often saddens (and confuses) me on Twitter is the number of people who follow and unfollow in an attempt to gain you as a follower. Sometimes they'll follow you for a few months then unfollow you if you don't follow back. Others will follow you for a few minutes or hours, then automatically unfollow you. I've had clients tell me they use an automated service to constantly follow and unfollow people to grow their followers over time and they are happy with the results. So should we all be doing this?

So it begins...

In December 2015, I decided to experiment on my own account to see how easy it was to grow my followers over a 30 day period. Please do not try this at home - Twitter's guidelines advise against this and it can lead to your account being suspended. Read this article here to find out more.

During this experiment I maintained a pattern of tweeting 3-4 times per day, sharing links to my blog posts and other articles I thought my audience would find interesting, with the odd bit of human interest/personal stuff from time to time. I followed 100 accounts every day for the 30 days. I was very careful to not just follow any accounts, but I mainly followed people in my industry with a few local businesses thrown in too. I wanted to make sure that the content I was posting would be relevant to them (so they would be more likely to follow back) and what they tweeted would be relevant to me too - after all, I was going to be following an awful lot of people by the end of this experiment!

So, what happened?

Well, before the experiment began, I was gaining 3-5 followers a day. During the experiment, this grew to between 20 and 50 followers per day. So as a way to build followers, it certainly worked. However, I did notice that the people who were following me weren't necessarily the people I had followed. In fact, towards the end of the experiment only around 1 in 5 seemed to be legitimate follow-backs and the rest were basically garbage; SPAM accounts trying to sell followers or fake accounts. So although I grew my followers by around 1000 over the 30 days, not many of these were genuine follow-backs.

After the experiment ended, I continued to grow my followers at the natural rate of 3-5 per day. No long term damage was done and my account wasn't suspended.

Then, on 27 April 2016, something weird happened. I lost 500 followers over night. I checked Twitter Analytics to try and pinpoint the date, but Twitter didn't record a drop at all, it was only in Buffer where I could see my reach drop that I was able to see when that happened. What's weirder was my Analytics didn't acknowledge that I'd ever had these 500 followers and although they were in my reports the week before, after 27 April, they were gone and it would appear they had never existed. I put this down to Twitter removing the fake and SPAM accounts that followed me during the experiment. So no real loss here, then (although slightly annoying that stats had been back dated by Twitter).

In conclusion

Was it worth the effort? I don't think so. I don't believe the number of followers a Twitter user has should be a metric of success. It's more their follower-to-following ratio. It's easy to gain followers if you follow lots of people yourself and there's no skill in that. You'll see this time and time again with accounts that have, say, 100k followers, but they are also following 101k people. We know, therefore, that these are not genuine followers. You wouldn't voluntarily want to see tweets from that many people in your timeline, it's all done just to get the follow-back.

The only natural way to grow your followers on Twitter is to engage with people, share relevant content, use appropriate hashtags and raise your profile through blogging and speaking. Oh, and you need to be doing this daily!

Stay tuned for Part #2 where I see how easy it is to lose followers on Twitter!