Yesterday, Kevin Kline ran across the WeFollow list of top twitterers for the SQL tag and remarked:
I hear that same question privately every now and then, and it’s not that hard. I’ve got the simple answers to get yourself to the top of the popularity list!
Set Up Searches for Key Phrases
If you’re interested in SQL Server, there are tools you can use like RSS feeds from Search.Twitter.com that will alert you whenever someone mentions SQL Server. That way you can jump right into their conversation and interrupt help them. They will surely be impressed by your knowledge and your willingness to help, and they’ll follow you for your insight.
The drawback, though, is that there’s a lot of conversations happening on Twitter at any given time. It’s seriously hard work to keep up with all of them. You could devote your time to Twitter searches, or maybe hire a savvy assistant to proactively run your Twitter profile, but sometimes even a human being isn’t enough. At that point, you’ll want to bring in the machines.
Set Up Robots to AutoRespond For You
Twitter has a cool set of APIs that you can use to build a robot. Whenever someone mentions a topic, like say SQL Server, you can build an automatic response that says something like:
“I see you’re trying to build a database. Would you like some help? I’ll be your best friend.”
If you’re really good with your autoresponses, people will never guess that your witty responses are coming from an automated, heartless piece of software. Bonus points if they try to carry on a conversation with you, and you have another autoresponse for that. They’ll line up to follow your Twitter account in no time. To see an example of a bot in action, check out @joe_kl.
Follow Everybody You Can Find
Go crazy with the Follow button. Follow anybody and everybody regardless of what they’re talking about. They might follow you back just out of sheer politeness.
There’s a catch, though: Twitter will yank your account if you follow too many people too fast. Every few days, go into your Friends page in Twitter, which lists the people you’re following. You can identify the ones who are following you back because there’s a “Direct Message” link – you can only send DM’s to people who are following you. Unfollow anybody who doesn’t have a “Direct Message” link next to their name, and presto, it’ll keep your list shorter and let you follow more people.
When you unfollow people, they may get alerted about this if they’re using a service like NutshellMail. At that point, they’re going to know you’re a bit of a spammer, because they’re going to guess that you followed them just to try to bait them into following you back. This isn’t a problem at first, but if you try that same trick repeatedly, it pisses off users because they know you’re just an absolute slimeball. (Doing it even once makes you a slimeball, though.)
Give Stuff Away to People Who Follow You
Announce that once a month, you’re going to pick a random follower and give them something juicy like a gift certificate or a free iPhone. People will do almost anything for a Klondike bar, I hear.
Once you start, though, it’s like a drug addiction. If you don’t keep giving things away, people will stop following you, and worse, they’ll start UNfollowing you. Of course, if you’re in the business of professional marketing, you should have no problem justifying giving away portable hard drives or Macbooks in order to get your spam message out to a larger audience. Heck, even just the Twitter population as a whole may not be enough, and you may want to…
Send Spam Emails Asking People to Follow You
The majority of humanity isn’t on Twitter yet, so when these measures aren’t enough, it’s time to kick it up a notch. Send out a broadcast spam email to everyone you can find asking them to join Twitter and follow you.
I’ve been watching the Twitter follower counts of one particular publication who chose to spam me with an invite like this. I was curious to see if it worked – I had this vision of people saying, “Wow, this is awesome! I don’t get enough spam through my email client, and it takes so darned long to get it. I’ll go sign up right now and follow them for up-to-the-minute spam in 140 character chunks!” Not surprisingly, it doesn’t appear to be working.
Or, Uh, Maybe Just Be Yourself
Maybe I’m old school, but I like to get my followers the old-fashioned way: I earn them.
Don’t follow people just to game the metrics. Unless you’re Ashton Kutcher, nobody really gives a rip how many followers you have. Twitter is about relationships. It’s about caring, not calculations. If you’re out to prove you’ve got the biggest numbers, cut straight to the chase and start giving away free pr0n.
Be yourself, not your company. I follow some company accounts because they have truly kick-ass products. I want to hear every single bit of news about the cool new stuff they produce. I work for a company too, but I don’t use my Twitter account as a pimp platform. If you ask me questions about our products, I’ll be glad to talk with you about it, but not in public on Twitter. Nobody wants to listen to somebody else buying a used car on Twitter, for example.
Join the conversation. Don’t just spew garbage out automatically – listen, help, and engage. When you jump into a stranger’s conversation and start blathering about yourself, your opinions or your product, people see through your act. In meatspace, you can identify the failure of your technique by watching the panicked horror in their facial expression, but on Twitter it’s not so clear. If the technique doesn’t work in meatspace, it won’t work here either.
Remember that kid in middle school whose mom always sent him in with a bag of cookies trying to make friends? The one who kept running into you and your buddies and just standing around until he could inject himself into the conversation? The one that everybody said was trying too hard? Don’t be That Guy.