10,000 Twitter Followers, and 10 Ways I Built That Twitter Following

Yes, Charlie Sheen got more followers in a day than I did in three years. Ok, I had to write almost three Tweets for each of my Twitter followers – more words than are in the Bible, twice as many as in the first Harry Potter book, though I’ve become neither revered nor rich. But when earlier this week, I reached 10,000 followers on my Twitter feed @NewYorkTheater, I congratulated myself. Self-congratulations is of course epidemic on social media, so let me try to turn this into a lesson:

10 Ways to Build A Following On Twitter.

1. Find a niche and plug into a community

I decided to make my Twitter feed about a subject – New York theater – rather than about myself. I do have other interests but, as a journalist, I was treating theater as my “beat.” And I picked a name that instantly told people what my Twitter feed was about.

I found other people with the same interest. You can do this with such directories as We Follow and  Listorious and  MuckRack, but I didn’t do it that way. I just…hung out, had one theater-related Twitterer lead me to the next one.

I followed them, and announced I was doing so every Friday – using the hashtag #FF, or #FollowFriday. I was telling my (mostly non-existent followers) to follow them – which also made the #FF recipients aware of me.

2. Provide information

Sure, I link to my own work — my reviews and features and posts. But I also present breaking news (about New York theater) swiftly and clearly. I offer interesting quotes and tidbits culled from my reading. I Retweet (RT) what I find useful,instructive or compelling from other people on Twitter. When I live-Tweet while watching a televised event or from the audience at an in-person event, I don’t make snarky comments (or at least not many) – I say who won which award at the Tonys or the NYIT Awards, or explain the background of the guest star on Glee or Smash. (Theater people are now denying that they ever looked forward to either show.)

3. Tweet regularly, consistently

Twitter is a great way for the unemployed or under-employed to feel productive. It helps to have many hours when nobody is returning your telephone calls or e-mails seeking work. It also helps, even when people do return your calls and give you some piece-meal work, to be an Olympian procrastinator, and believe in “creative procrastination” – in lieu of your actual paying work, doing something that you can convince yourself is just as worthwhile (but isn’t) – Twitter.
Unless you’re a celebrity or for other reasons already have a devoted following elsewhere, building a following on Twitter requires persistent, regular effort over time. (It means Tweeting on Twitter, not just connecting to Twitter from your Facebook posts. We know when you do that.)

4. Try to be your better self

I try not to Tweet when I’m angry or despondent or resentful, just as I wouldn’t write “I’m hungry” in the middle of a news article I’m writing for a newspaper. I try not to use Twitter to settle scores, or look smart at somebody’s expense. I’m not always successful at this, but I also try to ignore those Tweeters who don’t even try to avoid such “free expression.” I try not to respond to provocation. If you don’t try reaching for some Zen Twitter state, social media can feel like you’re back in junior high school but this time privy to the hipper kids’ “private” conversations. It helps to have a sense of humor.

5. Spread the word on other platforms – including subway platforms.

The truth of Twitter, at least for me, is that it does not drive much traffic to your blog or your articles. But your blog and your articles – and your website, email, Facebook profile, LinkedIn profile, Instagram profile etc. — do drive traffic to your Twitter feed, if you put a link to it. Put your Twitter name on your business card. When I was most fanatical, I printed up postcards about my Twitter feed and left them with all the postcards by shows and actors and acting schools at The Drama Book Shop. (This was very early in the life of Twitter, when it was I hope a novelty rather than an embarrassment to do something like this.)
Every week for more than three years, I have put together a weekly summary of my Tweets, culling through the week’s worth of Twitter conversations and news. I used to call it “The Week in New York Theater Tweets,” though now I’m slyer about the titles. Latest example: “Must Actors Be  1. Narcissists and Opportunists. 2. White. 3. Human?” 

6. Protect yourself

I NEVER click on ANY link from ANYBODY who has sent me a direct message – no matter how well I know them – and especially not somebody who wants me to look at a funny picture of myself. These are hackers trying to give you a virus. I don’t engage with prejudiced people, and block buxom broads who have zero followers and zero Tweets.

7. Have no hidden agenda – or openly obnoxious agenda

Nobody likes a hard sell. I’m amazed at the people who send 25 individual Tweets to Tweeters with large followings asking them to buy their book or see their show – nearly guaranteeing that not a single one of those 25 will buy their book or see their show. And how many people want to follow a feed from a business or a theater or a  show – even a business or a theater or a show that they like — that does little more than say how great they are?

8. Write clearly and completely.

In the beginning, I treated each Tweet as if it was a story unto itself – whose only purpose was to provide information (See #2 Provide Information). I included links sparingly. If I could tell the whole story in a Tweet, I did so – and often I could; most of the news stories I could have linked to were one Tweet’s worth of news and a page full of background information.

This has changed somewhat as I now am greedy for traffic to my new blog, but I still try to keep a sense of integrity – the root meaning of integrity is “wholeness.” You should be able to tell the whole story in a single Tweet (on rare occasion, you might need two).  I look at a Tweet as a more detailed headline. This is my approach to retweets (RT) as well, which are often MT (modified tweets). I use my copy editing skills to make the other person’s Tweet as clear and complete as possible. (When I do provide links, of course I shorten them. I happen to use bitly.com to do that, but there is a whole industry of link shorteners. Indeed, there seems to be an industry for each and every aspect of Twitter)

9. Engage! And be surprised at the power of Twitter
Participate in conversations. Ask questions. Answer questions. Pursue your curiosity. Attempt engagement (politely) with people to whom you otherwise have no access. My proudest moment on Twitter (so far) was reaching the co-creator of “Slings & Arrows” who, in an impromptu interview, told me they are considering creating a fourth season of this old cult TV show – creating headlines all over Canada.

10. Depend on the kindness of strangers – and friends too.

I acknowledge that so many people on Twitter are smarter, more knowledgeable and funnier than I am, and I treat them like an amazing resource, enlisting their help (occasionally against their will – for which I apologize) Last night, I Tweeted: If you were putting together a list of the ten best ways to build a Twitter following, what would be one of the ways?

‪@NYTheatreLover ‪ A strong value proposition. What do they get from following? Discounts? Insider info? Cool stuff to RT and share on Facebook?

(Here I interject that I regularly run contests for free theater tickets; one of the requirements to enter is to follow me on my Twitter feed.)

‪@RaymondMcNeel ‪Suggest your followers to your followers ‪#FF

 ‏‪@jffmiele ‪interesting/relevant/timely information of a single topic or genre; don’t be all over the place. Also, respond to followers and connect so they know you care and are listening

‪@StageElf ‪ Respond/acknowledge tweets mentioning or addressed to you; be aware of followers that interact multiple times and engage them. ‪ Also, follow back where possible; and retweet sparingly, especially those that are self-promoting.

Anything we left out?

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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