I just reached 3,000 followers on Twitter. That’s at once quite a lot, and not nearly as many as a lot of people I follow (who have not been on nearly as long as I have). I understand how one builds a large follower count. I’ve chatted with friends who have done it, and it’s a straightforward process. But I’m not interested in the number for the number’s sake. Don’t get me wrong—I love having a lot of followers. It’s just that I want a particular kind of follower. I want followers who are engaged. Followers who, as @QuipBoy recently said, “read my tweets on purpose.”
To that end, I have a process that I use with Twitter. I have no idea whether it is common, or rare, or the least bit interesting. But I figured it would be worth the trouble to write it down. In case anyone cares…
I don’t actually have a process when it comes to tweeting. I just write things when I think of them. I never try to force a tweet when I’m not inspired. I used to worry about whether I’d have anything interesting to tweet. I don’t any more. Now I just assume that they will come when they come. And then I tweet them.
Vetting on the Phone
When a person follows me or if I find a new candidate (I’ll explain that later), I go through a vetting process. Usually, this is on my phone. The process on the computer is a bit faster, but I’m rarely using Twitter and my computer at the same time. If I get a whole lot of followers at once, I’ll go to the trouble of using the computer.
I visit the person’s TL, and take a look at their bio. I then tap search, and enter from:their_handle. For example, if I was looking at my TL, I’d search from:alfageeek. Do not enter any spaces, and ignore the suggestions that come up. Just type that in (which is not always easy!) and search.
That will give you a list of their recent tweets, that mostly excludes @ replies, unless they hardly ever do anything but @ replies. I scan these tweets, and star all of them except tweets with @’s, #’s, or tweets that I don’t understand. I ignore @’s and #’s because they are either conversations I’m not part of, or they are silly hashtag games, or they are “general population” tweets.
When I say a “general population” tweet, I mean one that is typical of 99% of twitter users. For example:
I like cereal. #ameating #pleasenoticeme #whywontanyonefollowme #twitterisdumb #imgoingbacktofacebook
I don’t want to read tweets like that. And I’m certain that people who write tweets like that are not going to be good followers. They aren’t going to read my tweets. If they do read them, they won’t understand them or find them funny. And anyway, they’ll be gone in a few weeks. So I don’t even read those tweets in my search results.
After that process, I’ve either starred a lot of tweets or none at all. Note that I’m not deciding if the person is funny or interesting or any bar that high. I’m just deciding if they are my kind of people. Not general-population, and they actually tweet their own ideas (outside the context of an @ conversation). If they got stars, then I follow them. I immediately turn off RT. On the phone, that means turning on retweets and then turning them off again, because there is a bug in the phone Twitter app where it thinks you aren’t viewing RT’s on new follows, when you really are.
Next, if my new friend is a woman, I’ll go look through all her pictures to see if there are any selfies, because I’m curious. It doesn’t matter whether there are or not, but if there are, I’ll star those as well. I didn’t use do to this, but a follower once told me that she posts her selfies for validation, and it hurt her feelings that I never starred them. So now I star all selfies as a matter of policy.
Vetting on the Computer
The process on the computer is similar. Remember that I’m probably doing this on the computer because I just got a whole lot of new followers. That typically happens when a big account goes on a RT spree in my timeline. So I click my Followers link, and then I ⌘-click the AVIs of those who I’m not yet following. That opens each of them in a separate tab. Now I click over to them, and use either the “Hide RT” or “Clean TL” bookmarklet so I can easily see their tweets.
(If you aren’t familiar with those, follow the links. They are little snippets of code that I wrote to make it easier to filter out retweets and @’s when using a web browser to view twitter on a computer.)
From there the process is identical to the phone. After I finish each person, I close their tab. When I’m out of tabs, I’m done.
Sometimes when I’m going through the vetting process, I’ll notice that the tweets I’m reading are exceptional. Usually that means they are extremely funny, but they could be unusual in some other way. In that case, after I follow them, I’ll check their follower count. Depending on how big that is, and how exceptional they are, I might give them an #FF shout-out. I especially like very small accounts (less than 100 followers) who are extremely funny. I also add them to my list “alfageek’s FF club.” I’ll get to my lists later.
Whom to Vet
Note that I’m talking about my process for deciding whether to follow somebody, but mostly this process is about them following me. I assume that most people I follow-back are going to stick around, and most people I don’t follow-back are going to go away. So even though my vetting process is all about who I choose to follow, it ends up controlling who follows me.
This is, of course, particularly true of the case where I’m looking at someone who isn’t following me yet. That happens because I noticed them in my notifications (they starred or RT’d something of mine that they saw on someone else’s TL), or because I noticed them on someone else’s TL.
“Noticed,” of course, is all about the AVI. So these people I’m possibly going to follow who are not following me, are very likely to be beautiful women.
I use an app on my phone called “My Manager” to keep track of unfollowers. I’m not going to link to it, because it’s actually not very good. I wouldn’t recommend it. But it works well enough that I’ve never bothered to try to find something better. I track unfollowers because if I’m following the person who unfollowed, then chances are I was following them back. And if they then unfollowed me, that means my vetting failed, and I picked someone who isn’t really my kind of tweeter after all. So I look a the TL of these people, and see if they meet a higher standard. If they are really funny, I’ll keep them around, but otherwise, I’ll unfollow back.
Sometimes I get a surprise in my unfollow list: someone who I know and like has unfollowed me. Maybe I offended them, or maybe it wasn’t on purpose. In these cases, I add this person to my “Hey, why’d you unfollow?” list. They should get a list add notification and if it wasn’t intentional, they’ll probably follow me right back. If it was intentional, at least they know they are missed.
The other kind of culling I do very infrequently. Only twice since I’ve joined twitter. That is to go to a web site that gives you a list of people you follow who are not following you back, and makes it easy to unfollow them in bulk. I like twitnerd.com for this. I look through the list, and anybody who I recognize gets to stay. I’m just culling out people that I follow, who don’t follow me back, who never interact with me, and whose tweets I never see.
The vetting process takes up most of my time on twitter. And in that process, I do read a lot of tweets. But, of course, it’s part of the social contract of twitter that if I expect you to read my tweets, I should be reading yours. So I try to live up to that several ways.
When I see a person in my notifications, I will pop over to their TL and browse. What I call “browse,” most people call “star bang.” That’s how I read twitter. I star everything I understand. It’s how I keep track of what tweets I’ve already seen! Note that this is pretty much the only time I see RT’s, and even then, I don’t pay much attention to them. (Unless the woman in the AVI is beautiful, as already mentioned.)
I also try to visit my feed now and then. It gives me a chance to check in on all those other people whom I follow, but never interact with me. Since I turned off RT as part of my process, the TL is only people I follow, which is nice.
The Inner Circle
I use lists heavily. I keep track of people who regularly star or RT my tweets, and I have my FF list that I mentioned earlier, and then I have a lot of other lists that I’ve built up over time. All together, there are about 200 people on these lists, and I consider them my inner circle. My personal twitter community. I try to read everything these people tweet (except for a few, whom I love, but seem to tweet 100 times a day—it’s just not possible to read all that).
To keep up with these folks, I use tweetdeck.twitter.com. Tweetdeck used to be a separate company, but Twitter gobbled them up, and made their tool available as a web site. You can set up a column for each of your lists, and set those columns to not show retweets. They automatically filter out @’s. So you just get the tweets of the people on the list.
I browse (read: star-bang) these lists whenever I get a chance. Before today, I couldn’t do this on my phone, because the screen was too small. But I just got a new big ridiculous phone, so hopefully I’ll be able to tend to my lists this way more often now.
So that’s it. That’s how I twitter. It really works for me. It is definitely not a recipe for building a huge follower count, but many of my twitter friends have told me that they envy my list of followers. My process builds a quality following, which keeps twitter very enjoyable for me. Note, for example, that I look forward to @ replies, which is the opposite of the experience of most people I know who have big accounts. My twitter. My way.