How to Get More Twitter Followers—and Keep Them

by Derek Halpern · 48 comments

Twitter Bird

Look—email marketing is still king, but if you’re sold on using Twitter for your business, you might as well do it the right way.

So, what’s the secret? How can you get more twitter followers?

The answer is simple. Write tweets that people want to read, and avoid writing tweets that people hate to read.

What’s the difference?

Instead of overloading you with social media platitudes, I’m going to tell you exactly what you should write, and I’ve got data to back it up.

Who Gives A Tweet? The Value Of Content on Twitter

Three researchers—Paul Andre from Carnegie Mellon, Michael Bernstein from MIT, and Kurt Luther from Georgia Institute of Technology—ran a research experiment and figured out exactly what people like to read on Twitter. They also discovered what Twitter users call “boring,” and “useless.”

The experiment went like this:

The researchers created a website called “Who Gives A Tweet?” where people could figure out what people thought about their tweets in exchange for rating other peoples tweets.

To ensure people shared their true feelings, they made all of the feedback anonymous. In addition to short answer replies, people were also encouraged to click one of three options “Worth reading,” “Ok,” and “Not worth reading.”

And here’s what happened:

After 43,778 tweet ratings from 1,433 users, the researchers had a viable dataset and they were able to figure out what Twitter users liked to read and what they hated to read.

So, let’s talk about that now.

What Twitter Users Hate To Read

If you want to get more Twitter followers, the first order of business is to ensure you don’t annoy your current Twitter followers.

I know that sounds counter-intuitive to some of the advice I’ve given in the past—remember when I told you I happily unsubscribe people from my mailing list?—but Twitter is different.

To build a loyal Twitter following, you need your Twitter followers to click your links, share your tweets, and recommend that people follow you.

Moving on, what do Twitter users consider “not worth reading?” According to the research, the following:

  1. Cryptic tweets
  2. Repeating old news
  3. Using too many # and @ signs
  4. Just links without commentary
  5. Boring tweets

Of that list, “Boring” tweets are the most prevalent, accounting for 82% of all tweets rated with “Not Worth Reading.”

Since boring is the most prevalent, let’s dig into that a bit further. When people rated tweets as boring, they said things “so, what?,” “it’s fine, but a bit obvious,” and “Yes, I saw that first thing this morning.”

What’s the key takeaway?

When you write tweets that share common content, make sure you add some color around that content.

As an example, look at this Tweet by Ramit Sethi:

“The Economics of Big Ski Resorts.” Fascinating how these ski resorts de-risk and diversify revenues. Check it out: http://bit.ly/xZAsv4” – Original Tweet

See how he takes the headline, and then adds additional commentary after it? That’s a perfect example of a Tweet that would be labeled “worth reading.”

What Twitter Users Find Valuable

Now that you know what kind of tweets to avoid, the question is what types of tweets make your followers happy?

According to the research, the tweets labeled “worth reading” fell into four different groups: Informative (the largest group with 44%), Funny (24%), Useful (20%), and Exciting (12%).

I know that sounds vague, so here are some short answer responses that people left:

  1. “interesting perspective on something I know nothing about”
  2. “makes you want to know more.”
  3. “it’s witty and snarky, worth the read.”
  4. “few words to say much, very clear.”
  5. “personal, honest, and transparent.”

To elaborate further, it seems that people like tweets that are concise, witty, interesting, and personal.

How can you encourage people to feel that way about your tweets?

Here are some tactics:

1. Be Funny and Witty

This makes sense. People like people who can make them laugh. Go figure :-) .

For this, let’s look no further than Chris Pearson, the king of witty and snarky tweets.

“Me + hair gel + no shower = Don King” – Original Tweet

However, if you’re struggling to be funny, there are proven joke templates that you can follow to work on your humor.

To walk you through that, I’ll share my favorite which is called “the rule of three.”

Here’s how it works:

You’ll need a list of three items, 2 normal items, and one ridiculous item. Much like what Chris Pearson did in his tweet—Me (normal), Hair Gel (normal), and No Shower (ridiculous).

As another example, let’s look at the famous Chris Rock joke from one of his standup comedy shows “Women like food, water, and compliments.”

This is a perfect template for Twitter because it’s short, and can fit in 140 characters or less.

2. Create Curiosity

I’ve written about this before, but to rehash, the easiest way to create curiosity is by opening an information gap.

What’s an information gap?

As George Loewenstein puts it, an information gap is the crevice between what people know and what people want to know.

How can you do that on Twitter? Let me show you one of my tweets as an example:

“You’ve got to see this graph showing a possible link between SAT scores and income – http://bit.ly/zlIN6Y” – Original Tweet

See what I did there?

I didn’t tell people about the link, I told people about a graph, and if they wanted to see the link, they’d have to look at the graph.

What happens then? If people read that, chances are the gap between what they know and wanted to know was successfully created.

3. Be Interesting

To be interesting, you’ve got to introduce your followers to people, places, or ideas they may not have heard about.

In other words, you’ve got to break out of the “echo chamber.”

For example, over on my Twitter account, I often share links to articles about neuroscience, psychology, and other things related to human behavior.

Yes, my target audience are business owners and entrepreneurs, but I’m one of the few people who connect human behavior with online marketing. So, when I introduce an academic researcher they haven’t heard of before, they can’t help but be interested.

The Bottom Line

If you want to get more Twitter followers, you’ve got to write tweets that people want to read.

And while I showed you some types of tweets that are perfect for attracting readers, this list is not comprehensive, and I’m sure there are other tweet examples that work.

So, why don’t you share your results. What tweets have worked for you? What tweets helped you gain more followers? Share it in the comments.

Also, if you want to follow two people on Twitter, follow Chris Pearson and Derek Halpern.

About the Author: Derek Halpern ran marketing at DIYthemes, and is the founder of Social Triggers. To get more tips on how to be confident, sign up to his list here.

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{ 48 comments }

David Krug

Seriously needed to hear this as I work on bolstering my personal usage of Twitter! Thanks for the timely advice :)

Jaky Astik

I wonder the most important part of twitter was to create conversation which we have almost lost for marketing our blog posts, sharing stuff. In 140 characters, if it doesn’t create a conversation, the tweet isn’t good enough. Create conversations. That’s the key to creating more twitter followers.

David Krug

I’d agree with you there Jaky!

Randy Cantrell

Valuable advice. Pleased to tell you I’m sharing this post with a number of small business clients…AND I’m heeding it myself. Gracias!

Andrew

Great post Derek. I love that you actually explain and give examples of the valuable tweets.. Thanks!

Michael Heyne

Nice post. I am actually rethinking my whole social media strategy so this post came in pretty timely, high quality information as always. Thanks alot!

Ryan Shell

You could add an item for the “social media experts” that are constantly pushing their content on days it doesn’t really fit. For example, Thanksgiving. Everyone and their grandmother will be talking about turkey or a parade… or football, and then you have Expert X still pushing his recent article. Take a breather on occasion!

@RyanShell

David Krug

That goes to show you that much of what the experts do is automated…. They are taking a break. But consumers of content don’t.

Rob @ Atlanta Real Estate

Not on Twitter but good post none the less..

Rachel

Twitter followers also don’t want to feel like you’re trying to sell them and they DO want conversations, not just non-stop links.

Very good points here!

Megan Heaney

Great post Derek – really interesting study results. It’s nice to see some stats around this.
It definitely rings true for my personal experience. You touched on one of my favourite things about Twitter – people have the chance to ‘cross-pollinate’ and tweet about things from other subject areas that influence their work or life, like you do with neuroscience etc.
Some of the most valuable and interesting things I’ve come across online started with that type of tweet.
I think it also helps to cement your relationship with your followers – people love to join the dots and piece together what you’re doing and what you’re influenced by.

Nikhil

Entirely true, I myself follow a lot of people with witty and funny tweets, even though they don’t provide any informational value, but they are just plain hilarious at times.

I would hope if you could also elaborate more on how much to tweet and what time to tweet.

David Krug

Nikhil,
I’ve found BufferAPP and Timely.is are great tools for optimizing your delivery times. They have this down to a science as far as knowing when to deliver tweets and tracking optimal click times.

Abhishek

thanks that would be very helpful for twitter followers

Neill Watson

My pet hate?

“Just been told some really cool stuff, but I can’t tell anyone…”

Quite possibly the most pointless Tweet #unfollow

Sometimes, something a little contentious can work, such as my tweets about a blog post I wrote on copyright infringement

Gregory Ciotti

Had to chuckle, as I agree, but it’s used to build anticipation, and it does work.

Derek Halpern

That would fall under cryptic tweets. You’ve got to be specific, but not vague.

Barbara | Creative Culinary

I see people now posting tweets about posts that tell nothing about what the post is about. It does not build anticipation for me; it simply builds annoyance. Way too contrived and less real.

Jenn Swanson

This is a great post. I have struggled to know what to put out on Twitter, as I don’t think my everyday life would do anything but bore people to tears…so have been going with quotes, several of which have been retweeted…but I also don’t think inspirational quotes are the ticket all the time either…I think it needs to be shaken up a bit and I love the idea of using humour and causing curiosity. Thank-you for this!

Ruan

Excellent post Derek!

Funny how I am always working on something specific and trying to find answers, then comes along Derek and makes my day! I’ll be sure to follow these guidelines and put them to good use; let’s test them out!

Follower’s dream, here I come!

Rachel

I love the idea about getting personal. I try to do this in blogposts to connect with my readers so that they see me as a person, not just an organization. I definitely need to up my game on twitter though!

Raymond Parker

I don’t have any particular “strategy” around Twitter. I just try to be real.

I’m not particularly trying to attract followers, either. I’d rather have people follow me because they are interested in what I have to say, rather than attract another number to their “follower” count.

I see no merit in a scattershot approach to attracting followers. If I’ve applied any kind of strategy, it’s that I’ve built my following slowly, taking nearly three years to reach 1,000.

I don’t follow back unless I’m interested in a followers’ main topic.

Works for me.

Sheila Hibbard

Many thanks for sharing the research. Hard data is so much more informative than self-proclaimed expertise. I also noted that study participants were skewed to more ‘savvy’ Twitter users and some may have Twitter audiences with different value judgements. That said, “boring” can be pretty universal.

Great tips on interjecting humor. Not easy to pull off for many.

Thank you.

Danny Cruz

Great post Derek. It’s been a while since I’ve read a good Twitter article. This gave me some good ideas. On the other hand, I can’t say I’ve been doing much wrong on Twitter. I’m quite pleased at the results I’ve gotten over the years, but reading things like this is good to help keep things in check. -D

Rosemary Jayne

This actually ties into an article I was reading on Problogger yesterday called “What motivates readers to share?” (link: http://www.problogger.net/archives/2012/01/13/what-motivates-readers-to-share/) – it highlighted the most and least retweetable words. So logically if I combine that with the information in this post I will have a killer twitter feed that has every single link clicked on by every single follower. Hmm…

Dreaming aside I’m definitely going to implement the tactics in this post. I like to post “personal” tweets as well as links, so I guess my goal now is to make them more humorous!

Jon Rieley-Goddard

Hi
Tnx for helpful and interesting post (as usual).
What is not usual for you, though, are two typos and a questionable quote –

“North worth reading.”

“they kept help but be interested.”

and

“it’s witty and snarky. worth the read.”

I would either silently cap the w or pick another example.

Blessings and peace
@baldyblogger

Kyla

This is a really helpful post for people who are still getting the hang of twitter. It not only is a guideline for what followers want to read about, but it also gives new users ideas on how twitter can be used. I am working with a company right now who is just starting to use social media and I think that this article will be really helpful for them to grasp the important and unimportant parts of twitter. Thanks!
@kyylamarie

John Everett

Is there a good tool that tracks how many followers clicked a link in your tweet? I guess I could put a ref- at the end and track using Google Analytics if all else fails. Hadn’t really given it much thought before.

Barbara | Creative Culinary

I guess I am lucky. I have a food blog. People love food. As part of my food blog, I do a cocktail once a week. As much as people love food; they love booze more. Twitter is my friend.

Kris

Thanks for a very useful article. Especially the information gap you explained in #2.

Kids Health

I think for a while now I’ve been wondering if my tweets were boring, informative or even worth clicking on or reading. I think now (bases on this info) that they were OK but there’s a lot I can do to spice them up and garner some more traffic. Excellent info…..I read a lot during the day and I learned more here in 5-mins then I did all day (which means I’m probably reading the wrong stuff!)

Dustin

Great post. Thanks Derek!

Jill @ Single Mom on a Budget.com

Great post. Comes at a very good time. Thank you for the great and detailed information. It makes sense.

Jenny

Seriously needed to read this as I’m guilty of too many boring tweets! Must do better must do better….Thanks Derek!

Dan Sumner

Thanks Derek, this for me was a god send. Just what I needed to get a better handle on my Tweets.

Cheers man,

Dan

Alexandra Young

Thanks for your advice here it makes total sense.
I am a big fan of your posts. Particularly, your explanation of how to write a good About page. Any explanation I’ve read (for an About page) are vague and examples are cheesy – including mine! I am currently fixing that as per your recommendations. Thanks!

Julie South

Another great post Derek – thanks.

I was skeptical about Twitter and only joined because I thought we “ought”. I have to say though, that Twitter has been just about The Best Social Media platform for us. By global standards we don’t have many followers (around 2,100) and we haven’t yet had our first birthday… but I can say a huge thank you to Twitter for radio interviews (and now our own radio show), TV interviews, newspaper articles, together with heaps of learning & education.

Some of our Tweets are automated but everyday lots are also manual – where we connect with others. [@HaloBizNZ]

I’d therefore fully recommend Twitter as a platform worthy of consideration.

With smiles,
Julie

Amy Joy

Thanks so much for the suggestions. I’m going to pass this along. It’s something all twitter users need to read!

Anna

Great article – I loved the “Who Gives a Tweet” idea, but I was disappointed when I checked it out, looks like their system is a little overwhelmed right now. Anyway, that doesn’t change how much I enjoyed reading your article.
Another way to get more followers is to show some “Twitter love”, meaning retweeting other people’s tweets, especially of those who you would like to become your follower. Often, people will start following you to show their appreciation for your retweet.

Al Spaulding

Great Info as always. I am pretty good with my followers but am always looking for ways to boost them up and keep them. Thank you for the tips.

~AL

Barbara | Creative Culinary

I am a very active Twitter user and will soon have 9000 followers, all accomplished without using an auto follow process. Granted; I blog about food so it’s a pretty universal topic but what I’ve found is that people who try to hard have trouble making it work. Be yourself, jump into conversations talking about something you are interested in; offer advice, encouragement, tips.

But most importantly…some things NOT to do that I and others see an an automatic unfollow.

Don’t make it hard. If you think you need to protect your tweets or have me confirm that I want to follow through a separate process maybe Twitter isn’t for you. If you send out auto DM’s when someone follows promoting your business, I’ll unfollow immediately. I, like many others, value the contact, the sense of getting to know someone; using Twitter totally as a way to push your business is often subject to just making your business look bad in the eyes of fellow Twitter users.

As I told someone recently, it’s called ‘Social Media’ not ‘All About Me’ media. Interact and give a bit and you’ll get more in return.

Laura E. Kelly

Barbara,
Saw your comment and visited your site. What great photos and posts! Those cocktails are to die for. Glad I found your site, and I’ll follow you on Twitter now, too. (Although I have to spend a few hours and organize my Twitter deluge further into lists—I’m missing too many of my favorite tweeters.)

The Nerdy Nurse

Great advice for new and old tweeters alike.

thanks

Trung Nguyen

Thanks for your great advice on how to get more twitter followers, I will follow your way to get more my Twitter followers because Twitter is an awesome traffic source.

Mj Ces

You can’t imagine how many people I quit following because they Tweet nothing but lots of @! :)

LaMystique

I had never thought of it that way, but you are right. The kind of tweets I read are either witty and snarky or mostly informative. But they have to be captivating and not boring. I see headlines and links all day, but the ones who add something to them are the ones I read.

Keller Coleman

Great information, I will use some of this on my site, thanks for sharing.

Andrew HaHa

Derek,
My man! This post continues to amaze me and makes me think of new ideas all the time. It’s funny how every time I’m doing research on Twitter I somehow always find my way back to this article.

Cheers and keep up the great work.