Twitter etiquette: how to grow your Twitter followers the right way

Posted by Rob Kendal on 14-Dec-2015 12:30:00

Social media for business is an important part of your overall marketing strategy. There are a lot of articles about how to get started with social media, guides on how to run a successful social media campaign, what platform is right for what, and when the best times to post updates are.

The thing that's missing, however, is an explanation on the subtle online social rules, the etiquette. When and how should you respond to questions? Who should you follow and why your choices are important?

We're going to explore the finer points of Twitter etiquette, how to grow your twitter followers the right way, and how to get the best from your business twitter account.

Image of cutlery representing twitter etiquette and how to grow your twitter followers

Learning to play nicely on Twitter - the online social dance

Anyone who's spent any time following us across our social media accounts will see that we're pretty keen on this social media stuff, especially Twitter.

Twitter is a great place to find relevant, immediate information, build your brand's voice, and (perhaps most importantly) get involved in real-time conversations with other users, other businesses, your potential clients and customers.

It's also a good platform for taking your business networking online through various Twitter Hours

But it can also be a confusing place. One day not so long ago, I came across a discussion on LinkedIn that revolved around a business owner managing their company's social media presence. He had some questions around Twitter:

"I've noticed a phenomenon on Twitter since we started following anyone who followed us. Whilst we've seen a decent organic growth in our following, we get a few people follow us then all of a sudden the total number will drop over a couple of days.
Do people just follow accounts to get a follower themselves, then unfollow later on?  Is this ethical?  Is it expected or standard behaviour?"

This sparked a great debate and conversation, of course, with a few split opinions on how best to approach following others, looking at metrics, and some general do's and don't's of Twitter. 

So we thought it would be handy to put together a few pointers around this discussion, based on our years of Twitter experiences, on what Twitter is good at, how to use it, what to do in certain situations (should I follow this person?), and how to get the best from it.

1. To follow or not to follow, that is the question

Image of ducks following each other to show who to follow on twitter

Maybe it's good old British Politeness, or some other strange sense of guilt, but it's not uncommon to see someone start following you and then immediately hit that 'follow' button and give them a follow right back.

But is this common practice the right thing to do? Well, it depends, but we'd say 'no, not really'. 

When someone follows you, before you follow them back, have a think about why you want to follow back? What will you / they get out of it? 

Good reasons to follow someone might be:

  • They're interesting (for whatever reason), or relevant to your business / industry;
  • They provide a good mix of helpful information in with their promotional material;
  • They're a pivotal person in your industry who might make a good connection for you or your business;
  • They're a potential client that your company can help;

To some degree it doesn't matter whether they follow you or not, your reasons and motivations should be the same.

To help make your decision, have a browse through their recent tweets: are they all a bit spammy? Too much promotional material? Too frequent for you to connect and keep up with? Do they align with your business interests?

The bottom line is that you should follow who you want for your own reasons and don't feel like you have to follow someone because they followed you.

Twitter is pretty limiting...

The 'gotcha' to watch out for with Twitter is their limits. Twitter love limiting just about everything:

  • number of characters in a single Tweet? Yep, 140;
  • number of words in a Direct Message? Yep, 140 (actually they recently removed this so we'll let them off!)
  • follow limits? Yes indeed, it's currently sitting at 5000. 

The following limit is particularly interesting. You can only follow 5000 other accounts, at which point it gets...interesting...

After 5000 followers you can add more, but there is a mystical, unknown ratio of followers to followees that comes into play. Which is why you'll see a lot of accounts that have something huge like 20K followers:19.5K following. They've had to expand their follower base to this huge amount of people, simply to increase their ability to follow more people themselves!

Feeling a little confused? Don't worry. this simple follower limit and ratio is really just there to make sure you make your follows count.

Another reason to be more selective in who you follow!

2. Use the right tool for the right job

Picture of a hammer showing that some tools do some jobs better than others

Hammers are awesome for putting nails into things, but they're a terrible choice for performing your next haircut. So it is that different social media platforms are good at doing different things. 

Twitter is built around the immediate, real-time exchange of thoughts, ideas, and information; it's really a collection of online public conversations between many different people and organisations across the globe.

How should your business use it then? Well, twitter can work exceedingly well for businesses in a number of ways:

  • Engaging with customers experiencing problems as a direct support tool,
  • Delighting clients and promoters who are shouting about your great products and services,
  • Getting involved in helpful conversations with people having issues that your company is ideally positioned to help solve,
  • Promoting events, product launches, and your services,
  • Reaching out to industry influencers and thought leaders to get your discussions opened to a wider audience.

3. Growing your fan base organically

Most social media experts you will come across are likely to recommend a steady, consistent approach when it comes to growing your social fan base. Unsurprisingly, we would agree. 

That doesn't mean you shouldn't work at it and try a number of different strategies to help boost your numbers, but by using online tools alone, paid services, or even intriguing adverts like 'get 10,000 followers for $5', you're simply going to end up with tons of empty and meaningless connections. 

By positioning your products and services in a helpful way, promoting them with some personality (just because you're a serious, corporate business doesn't mean you can't engage with your users on a human level!), and interacting with your audience in a genuine way, you will get much more from your Twitter account than you ever will by simply aiming for giant follower numbers.

3. Automation: the rise of the Twitter machines

Image of a toy robot representing twitter automation techniquesAutomation is fantastic. Hell, most of our modern lives are built on it; ever used a washing machine?

It's even better when it helps you boost your business productivity by using software and online tools to take care of laborious repetitive tasks. Being a HubSpot partner, we're no strangers to automating part of our sales and marketing processes too, which ultimately gives us more time to spend with clients and on client work.

But there is a darker side to all this clever intervention by the robots: SPAM...

If you opened a brand new twitter account today and left if for a week, I can almost guarantee that you'd have at least a handful of new followers; followers that are probably going to be made up of automated business accounts, or otherwise spammy robots. 

Don't feel that you have to follow these clever automatons back, at all.

Sure, some of them might be helpful, especially if they've arrived at your door through picking up on keywords your talking about, but largely they're set on some sort of autopilot, however clever the autopilot may be...

4. Numbers don't matter; relationships do!

Taylor Swift has close to 70 million followers. Now, not all of them are going to be real accounts representing real people, but I would bet that there will be several 10's of millions of accounts that follow her that are connected to real live Taylor Swift fans at the other end. 

Taylor herself, however, only follows around 250 people comprised of friends, family, other celebrities, and maybe some very special fans. 

What does this tell us? Well, it highlights two things:

  1. Millions of genuine people follow Ms. Swift because they want to hear what she has to say about her music, gain an insight into her life, and basically want to find out the latest Taylor Swift news, right from the horse's mouth;
  2. Taylor herself follows a tiny fraction of those numbers and those she does follow are the people she values the most and wants to keep herself in the loop with their news and events.

This is a somewhat skewed example because it would be virtually impossible to follow almost 70 million people back and hope to have a meaningful interaction with all of them, but you get the idea.

What matters here is that she might have millions of followers, but they're largely genuine fans not empty numbers. Your company might only have a few hundred, or even a couple of thousand by comparison, but if they're made up of a lot of fans, promoters, clients, and genuine interested parties then this is going to help you out in the long term much more than having 10's of thousands of poor, dead-end connections. 

Use twitter to follow and engage with people who can help you and whom you can help, industry influencers, and local potential clients.


Say the right thing, in the right way, at the right time

Sounds like a tricky prospect doesn't it?

Sure enough, managing your social media for business successfully can be a scary thought and full of pitfalls, but if you think about what you want to say about your products and services, what voice you want to use for your online business communications, and have a decent post creation and scheduling routine in place, then you'll be well on your way to social media glory!

Try not to worry too much about what you think you should do because you feel obliged, or what others do; there are some good general pointers (like we've talked about above) to consider, but in the end you'll meet success by starting off with a few solid base principles and building on what works well for you.

Don't worry too much about the numbers (i.e. quantity), but focus on the relationships you create (i.e. quality!) and success will follow.

 Social media is one of many great ways to generate new leads. Check out our FREE book for more!

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Topics: Social Media

Written by Rob Kendal

Rob has enjoyed a rewarding career in technology, from IT infrastructure through to software development, working with clients such as Virgin Holidays and the NHS. He understands the needs, challenges and logistics involved in making technology work for business and how to market it effectively.
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