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There are as many social media strategies as there are active social media users. This one is mine, for Twitter. Remember that nearly all of the Twitter accounts with huge follow counts reached that status through Twitter.com’s “suggested user list,” which automatically signs new Twitter users up to follows a select groups of accounts. However, any purposeful Twitter user should be able to quickly target and grow a significant and relevant follower list of hundreds or thousands using these methods. This strategy is comprehensive and parsing it is likely to produce substandard results. There are alternatives to most of the tools explained here, many of which work just as well or better and can be substituted.
Growing followers: There are three proven ways to generate followers: Be famous outside social media; tweet A LOT; and, follow lots of people. We’ll tackle the latter two, especially following targeted users.
If you’ve not already been tweeting regularly, skip down to “Strategic messaging” and make sure you’ve got at least 30 good tweets before you start following anyone. Be sure to put in a photo, a link to your main website, and a complete bio – including the Twitter or full names of everyone responsible for the account.
Twitter has limits on how many people you can follow in a day, and in total. You may also be suspended as a spammer for randomly following people or for unfollowing too many people at once (“churn”). The strategies outlined here work best over the course of several weeks or months – don’t try to rush them.
Regional campaigns/causes: To identify and follow local tweeps, use LocaFollow and Twellow.
Issue campaigns/causes: To identify tweeps who are likely to be interested in your agency or cause, search keyword tags at Listorious and TweepML. TweepML will save you substantial time by allowing you to follow up to 250 people from a subject matter list with a couple of clicks and a few minutes of processing. You can take lists straight from Twitter and follow the users through TweepML, and you can also create custom TweepML lists using Twitter Search on keywords or hashtags.
Identify key supporters/influencers in your target community and see if they have lists on their Twitter page. You can also find accounts with similar messages to yours and follow the people who follow them.
Pay special attention to locating and following all tweeting journalists who might write about your agency or cause. Remember that even small groups of followers can be very valuable if they are influencers who have blogs, write for newspapers or have their own large social media communities.
Do not follow people randomly unless your only purpose is to generate a large number (sometimes good for traditional campaigns, but generally ill advised). If your intent is to simply amass followers, there are many popular lists on TweepML for reciprocal following.
While you should monitor an engage the people you follow with some regularity, for an agency or cause account, you won’t want to follow many, if any, people who do not follow you. Because Twitter discourages unfollowing and has shut down many sites that facilitate mass unfollowings, take care. Unfollow only after you have at least a few hundred followers and limit it to 100-200 a day or 10-20 percent of the people you follow. Use ManageFlitter daily to ratchet down the number of accounts that are not following you back (an alternative with more manual selection is MyTweeple).
If you don’t want to lose connection with someone by unfollowing, ask them with an @ message to follow you, and/or add them to a public Twitter list.
Disciplined, consistent following and unfollowing is key for building an influential account.
Autofollowing: You can automatically follow people who follow you using tools like Twollow, although manually screening the people you follow back is a quick process and advisable. Twollow also allows you to autofollow using keywords (though this can also get pretty spammy and is not suggested for official accounts). If you use Twollow’s free trial, note that it automatically bills if you don’t cancel.
Spending 30-60 minutes a day reading the stream of people you follow and retweeting (RT) or messaging them with authentic responses to what they are talking about is key to building a successful Twitter community. You can also use this time to search for people talking about relevant issues and to engage with them. This is simply not done well by most agency and cause accounts, but you can look at tweeps like @kim (arts community), @MayorSamAdams (Portland Mayor), and @CoryBooker (Mayor of Newark) for examples of highly interactive Twitter practices. Following and engaging with people may get you some interesting responses – often it will lead to positive messaging or even blog posts about your campaign or agency. If it gets a bad reaction, just ignore it and keep going.
It is absolutely essential to respond to relevant replies and direct messages, and in a timely manner.
You’re tweeting for an agency or a cause, so you know the message you want to send. Remember that Twitter runs on immediate gratification – many people like to RT or even donate or participate directly in relevant causes. It’s also a busy ecosystem and if you don’t tweet often enough you will not be seen. Three to 5 original tweets a day should be the minimum, plus RTs and replies. Tweet messages and links to interesting and relevant articles. You may need a community before you need a community, so be consistent.
(Note: Tweets that start with @ are parsed by Twitter as replies and are seen only by that user and people following both you and them. @s within a message are seen by all following you.)
Scheduling and managing: Use HootSuite on the web and on your smartphones to schedule tweets in advance and manage multiple accounts or share duties. Avoid repeating the same message more than twice a day or 5 times a week; however, building up to an ask or breaking a message into several tweets spaced by 10-30 minutes is good, too. Alternatives to Hootsuite include CoTweet, TweetDeck and Seesmic.
Automating: You can use Twitterfeed to keep your account going with relevant content, 24-7. Never schedule more than 1-2 messages every half hour, and consider spacing these automatic tweets out even more. Use the feeds to RT as specific user, or users tweeting about a hashtag or keyword (however, the latter can be dangerously random and is not suggested for most accounts). Twitter does not allow you load an RSS feed directly, so you need to create a simple Yahoo Pipe and then run the RSS and paste it into Twitterfeed. You can also link your blog’s RSS to a feed and set up several for an account. Setting up feeds can be a little tricky, so make sure to monitor it for funny business at the outset.
Pipe to RT a user or hashtag (remove your account name to avoid loops). Example: @Govwiki, which RTs messages with the hashtag #gov20 twice every 30 minutes
Linking your Facebook account(s) to update Twitter can also be a good move to keep content fresh, though the reverse is a major faux pas because it generally overloads the news feed of your Facebook friends.
If you’re still working on the basics of Twitter for organizations, check out this helpful guide from Learning Pool.
~ Adriel Hampton is a San Francisco public servant and new media strategist. His successful social media projects include Gov 2.0 Radio and Save Natalie.