Journalists often ask me how to build a following on Twitter. It’s really pretty simple:
- Tweet frequently.
- Have something interesting to say.
- Livetweet events and breaking news.
- Find and follow people who share your interests.
- Join the conversation.
- Give more than you ask for.
- Join tweetups and Twitter chats.
- Be yourself.
I was tempted to end this post right there, because this really is simple. But I’ll elaborate, with the acknowledgment that even with elaboration it’s all simple.
Let’s start by addressing the notion of “followers.” If you just think of the people reading your tweets as “followers,” that might be part of the problem. That feels and sounds like a one-way relationship (or two sets of one-way relationships, when combined with the people you follow. Twitter is most valuable as a conversation, so think of followers and the people you follow as your Twitter community or simply as your tweeps. And here’s how you grow your circle of tweeps:
Tweet frequently. I occasionally hear from journalists who say that they don’t get much response when they try crowdsourcing on Twitter. Or they complain that they don’t have many followers on Twitter. Then I look at their Twitter profiles and see that they don’t tweet very often. Building a Twitter community follows the Field of Dreams approach (“If you build it, he will come“). If you tweet, they will come. Especially if you do some or all of these other steps.
Have something to say. Don’t just spew headlines and links. That might work for a news brand (though I think they should be more conversational), but it doesn’t work for people. You have something to say. You’re publishing content throughout the day. You’re talking with colleagues throughout the day in your newsroom and by email, phone and other tools. Say something more than just the headline when you tweet a link. Turn some of the clever, thoughtful or funny things you say to colleagues into tweets.
Livetweet events or breaking news. I blogged livetweeting suggestions last year and about breaking news earlier in this #twutorial series. Journalists should livetweet any event worth covering and certainly should livetweet developments in breaking stories as they verify facts. I have heard again and again from journalists who livetweet events that they pick up new followers. If you’re worried about annoying (and losing) followers who don’t care about the event, consider a warning/apology before the event. That should be enough to satisfy most. You can also recommend muuter, which people can use to block your tweets temporarily without dropping you altogether. But mostly you should livetweet. You’ll pick up followers.
Find and follow people who share your interests. My last #twutorial post was about finding people with shared interests to follow. As you follow people who share your interests, many of them will follow you back.
Join the conversation. If all you’re doing is tweeting links to your own stories, you give people only one reason to follow you. Your community (whether it’s a geographic community, a community of interest or both) has a vibrant Twitter conversation going on. As you join that conversation people will find you and decide you’d be interesting to follow. Watch your mentions and reply to people who are tweeting to or about you. Use some saved searches to check periodically for people discussing topics you cover or care about. Reply to things people say. Retweet (with or without response or elaboration) interesting tweets. Thank people who answer your questions or who compliment or retweet you. If you’re part of the conversation, your username is going to show up in other people’s tweets in interesting ways and people are going to click on it and some of them will follow you. At the risk of stating the obvious: Joining the conversation means listening to the conversation. Don’t just tweet or search for sources when you’re working a story. At least a few times a day, browse your timeline and check your mentions and your saved searches. See what people are saying that interests you and reply to some of them.
Give more than you ask for. If you just tweet links, with an occasional crowdsourcing request, the impression you will give on Twitter is that you’re constantly asking for attention or help. You don’t find people like that interesting, so don’t be surprised if people aren’t interested in following you. Share some links that you didn’t write – content by your colleagues or competitors that you found interesting. Answer questions from your tweeps, whether they are asking you specifically or just asking the community at large. If you don’t know the answer, you might retweet a question just to pass it along to see if your tweeps can help. This is just human nature: You are more inclined to spend your time with people who are helpful than those seeking attention. If you’re helpful yourself, your tweeps will be more inclined to read and retweet your links and to recommend you to their followers.
Join tweetups and Twitter chats. When I was in local news organizations at the Cedar Rapids Gazette and TBD, I attended tweetups (some organized by my newsroom, some by others in the community). The personal connections I made there always brought new followers. I met people who were already following me (and vice versa), and strengthened those connections. But I also met people I wasn’t following. I pulled out my phone right there and followed them on the spot. I’m still following some of them. Many of them followed me back. If your community has any regular Twitter chats, join the conversation in those and you’ll pick up some new followers. Or maybe you should lead a chat. Some journalism chats are #wjchat and #dfmchat. If you’re unsure how a Twitter chat works, sit in on one of those and consider how a similar chat would work in your community or on your beat.
Be yourself. Some journalists cultivate a monotone voice in their writing. I won’t argue the merits here of using a stronger personal voice in other formats, but social media is social and you don’t attract much following by using a monotone voice in social settings. Show some personality. If people in your community feel as though they know you, they will be more likely to keep following and to engage with you, which exposes their followers to your tweets.