Get More Followers by Spending Less Time on Twitter

by Mark McGuinness of Wishful Thinking and co-founder of Lateral Action. Follow him at @markmcguinness

mountain-bluebird(image credit: tomsaint11)

Stop and think for a moment about the people you follow on Twitter the moment you see them.

These are the ones you have no hesitation in following — you’re delighted to find them on Twitter and look forward to receiving their Tweets.

Chances are they fall into two categories:

  1. You know them outside of Twitter.
  2. They’re doing something interesting outside of Twitter.

So if you really want to get more followers, you should do two things:

  1. Get to know people outside of Twitter.
  2. Do something interesting outside of Twitter.

It might seem counterintuitive, but if you look at things like this, one of the best ways to boost your follower count is to log out of Twitter and do something more exciting.

Remarkable People Don’t Spend All Day on Twitter…

The most popular people on Twitter tend to be those who are doing remarkable things elsewhere (e.g. Barack Obama, Stephen Fry, Tony Hsieh). The more interesting your background, the more people will follow you.

If someone gives the impression of being on Twitter all day every day, I can’t help wondering how interesting their day is in real life.

But if someone pops in from time to time with fascinating snippets of information, valuable links, thought-provoking questions or snapshots of their day that hint at an interesting back story, I pay attention.

Instead of skimming their updates as they flash past in the Twitter stream, I’m likely to stop, think and maybe respond. I’ll go to their Twitter page to see if I’ve missed any other interesting Tweets. I may pay their website a visit.

There are exceptions — like Chris Brogan, a social media maven whose job it is to have his finger on the pulse. I’d almost be concerned if Chris weren’t on Twitter most of the time — as if the lighthouse had been left unmanned. But of course Chris is also up to plenty of cool stuff outside of Twitter.

So if you really want more followers, spend time AWAY from Twitter doing interesting things. Pop into Twitter regularly, to connect with people and share something of your adventures – but don’t make it your home.

… Because Twitter Is Not the Main Event

Unless you’re a Twitter specialist or Twitter is the only online channel for your business (which I’d suggest is a risky strategy), Twitter is not the main event, and shouldn’t be where you focus most of your effort.

That isn’t a criticism of Twitter. I’d argue that it’s actually in the spirit of Twitter, which is above all an outstanding catalyst – for conversations, ideas and relationships. It’s now a cliche to describe Twitter as a ‘virtual water cooler’, reflecting its value as a place to chill out and catch up with people during a break. But a break is only a break if it’s sandwiched between times of effort and endeavour.

The results of Darren’s polls about blog readers vs Twitter followers suggest that most of you agree with me on this. Even here on Twitip, a site dedicated to Twitter, most of you would rather have more blog readers than Twitter followers.

Twitter is great for meeting new people and maintaining nonintrusive connection with the ones you already know, but subscribing to a blog is a bigger commitment. And for ‘blog’ you could substitute any activity outside of Twitter — such as a work project, a program of study, a shared journey or a political campaign — that involves greater engagement, energy and impact.

But You Still Need to Be Interesting on Twitter

This post was partly inspired by Maki’s response to Darren’s advice about attracting Twitter followers. Whereas Darren had written about connecting with people and delivering value on Twitter, Maki argued that Darren’s phenomenal follower count was mainly due to his fame as the creator of Problogger, Digital Photography School and other successful sites.

I think they both have a point.

I followed both Darren and Maki because I admired their blogs. But if they’d bored or annoyed me on Twitter, I’d have unfollowed them. The fact that they are both as interesting, generous and helpful on Twitter as they are elsewhere means I pay attention to their Tweets and makes me (even) more likely to read their other content.

Here’s a simple rule of thumb:

To GET followers — do interesting things AWAY FROM Twitter.

To KEEP followers — be interesting ON Twitter.

Create ‘Portals’ to Twitter from the Outside World

Don’t get so caught up in your remarkable adventures that you forget to direct people to your Twitter page.

Make sure you include your Twitter URL on:

  • Your blogs and websites
  • Your social media profiles
  • Your e-mail footers
  • Your forum signatures
  • Your business card

And when you meet someone interesting in real life, ask whether they are on Twitter so that you can follow them. If you’ve made a genuine connection with them, they will almost certainly follow back.

What Do You Think?

Do you agree that the most interesting people to follow don’t spend all day on Twitter?

Does Twitter work best as the main event or a catalyst for other activities?

Could logging out of Twitter more often help you get more followers?

Comments

  • March 31, 2009

    I get more followers when I tweet more, but I think that is because I do not promote my Twitter ID very much. (It is on the “Contact” page of my blog.)

    Thanks,
    Nate

  • March 31, 2009

    This is a very interesting, insightful and important post in that it teaches (dare I say) that Twitter doesn’t have to rule your life. Indeed, it shows that you CAN have a life outside of Twitter and by being productive or otherwise ‘remarkable,’ allows you to leverage Twitter in two important ways:
    1) Gives you an extra something of value to share on Twitter.
    2) Falls into the category of “less is more,” meaning that your absence from Twitter makes you more noticeable when you return.
    Of course, your followers need to be keeping an eye out for you, but by having a presence outside of Twitter, you should already be building that reputation with the followers who are most important to you.

  • March 31, 2009

    Interesting.

  • March 31, 2009

    OMG how could I get the Twitter id wrong. Sorry for second post – didn’t want readers to think I didn’t know how to do it… i’ll shut up now

  • March 31, 2009

    These are great points. I find after staying away from Twitter for a few days or even over the weekend. I have a lot of followers when I come back.

  • March 31, 2009

    As my blogging is focused on Twitter I guess, as you suggested, my followers expect to see me putting in the time on Twitter. How ever, through monitoring I have discovered I get more new followers from my blog than I do directly from Twitter.

    It would suggest this is due to re-tweets. When my current followers find enough value in a tweet of mine to re-tweet, this tweet is then posted in front of a new audience. Who, unlikely to follow me on the content of one tweet, will how ever click through a link in that tweet or check out my profile or blog to learn more about me.

    This backs up the wonderful saying you high lighted in this post,

    “To GET followers — do interesting things AWAY FROM Twitter.
    To KEEP followers — be interesting ON Twitter.”

  • March 31, 2009

    Being relatively new to Twitter but old to the Web, I’m still thinking these things through. The whole social network phenom is as troubling as it is satisfying in what it implies about our felt needs. That these needs are being shamelessly exploited in the market place is no surprise.

    The suggestion that someone is spending the whole day on Twitter, let alone all day every day online, raises issues of mental and emotional health. It’s my “work” justifies nothing in my opinion.

    In at least that light, your suggestion of getting more by Twittering less is helpful.

  • March 31, 2009

    Great post. There are some days that I am on Twitter more than others but it’s normally to post about great articles I’ve found or interesting tidbits.

    I have noticed that there are also some days where I don’t tweet at all but I still check to see whatothers are saying – wouldn’t want to miss anything :-)

    I do have links on my signatures to not only twitter but also to my blog.

  • March 31, 2009

    wow wow wow, this is such a nice article.

    I’ve just started twittering not long ago and really enjoy it now. What you said are correct though, i usually follow real life photographer/martial artist to see what they are doing. with exception of those famous people of course.

    looks like i need to promote my twitter more :)

  • March 31, 2009

    What some people trying to gain followers on Twitter don’t get is that Twitter is not yet where most people are hanging out online. Have a look at this graph http://kl.am/D9 . I think it proves people should be on Twitter as it is up and coming, but you must be doing other things elsewhere or you’re missing your greatest opportunities to connect.

  • March 31, 2009

    Hello,

    very insightful article, but I don`t agree with it. The strategy only works if you are already “famous” on Twitter. Sure, you can do interestings things in your life and post interesting article on Twitter, but its easier and faster to post article found on the web. At the end of the day quantity wins, after a short time and a few followers your strategy will work but as start dont, I think.

    (sorry, my english is bad, hope everybody gets the point.)

  • March 31, 2009

    Interesting thoughts. I know that I keep my twhirl up all day, but I also know that I am not actually at my computer all day. I think it is lucky that people don’t automatically see whether I am logged in or not. I do tend to agree though that some folks with something to say every few minutes are less interesting than those who update once in a while. and I have been known to unfollow the over-spammy.

  • March 31, 2009

    As of yet, I have only tweeted a couple times a day. Usually, to announce a new article, or share one I ran across that I particularly liked. I rarely throw in personal doings. I am still new to Twitter, and haven’t really gotten mt “wings” yet.

  • March 31, 2009

    I couldn’t agree more! People flock to those who seemingly don’t care but live riveting lives. Maybe all social media people should take up an extreme hobby! :D

    I recently saw a good example of this being used by @PolaroidMike in his creation of the Genius Project. More info at http://thegeniusproject.tumblr.com/ if you’re interested. Pefect example I think.

  • March 31, 2009

    This is my first comment on TwiTip. I am new learning Twitter (not in primary school) but online. Read many articles and enjoyed great stuff of information here. I loved this concept of GET & KEEP followers.

    Thanks for sharing great ideas!!

  • March 31, 2009

    Twitter is simply 1 of the many tools out there that you can use in any way you want. It’s 1 more way to get eyeballs on you and then hopefully eyeballs on what you are doing (business). But you are very right that there should be something more. The top people on twitter have a background and are using twitter as a tool not as the end all. If Tony Hsieh was given the choice of giving up zappos or twitter I think we know the answer.

  • March 31, 2009

    I’m quite interesting, actually. But I work online all day. Oh, and I’m a writer. And I don’t use pen/paper. Sometimes it’s hard not to share things like how my grass is so lush and green that you don’t see the dog’s dung until it’s too late. I think I’ll go to Wal Mart now and send a couple of tweets from the checkout line.

  • March 31, 2009

    Twitter is the place to connect with people.

    People want to connect with interesting people.

    People who spend all day on Twitter are generally not that interesting. (Twitter probably get’s few people laid). That being said–do something outside of Twitter that’s cool and then talk about it with your network!

  • March 31, 2009

    Thanks everyone, glad you found the post of interest.

    @Ade – Well if your blog is about Twitter, that gives you more of an excuse than most of us. :-)

    @Neal – Excellent points:
    1) Gives you an extra something of value to share on Twitter.
    2) Falls into the category of “less is more,” meaning that your absence from Twitter makes you more noticeable when you return.

    @Patrick – I’ll respectfully disagree with you here. On Twitter, as in the rest of life, I believe quality is better than quantity.

    @Jared – Nicely put!

  • March 31, 2009

    I would rather have more followers because I target the right people.

  • March 31, 2009

    Good article. Lots of truths.

  • March 31, 2009

    Very nice perspective. I’d agree and have see it hold true for me. I’m no problogger :) , but i’ve see that when i’m putting up good content, sharing on other blogs and in general doing things OUTSIDE of Twitte my Twitter followers go up.

  • March 31, 2009

    I most definitely agree with what you posted here and in the end it all boils down to “balance.” Twitter is a great tool especially when used properly.

    For me, it is more important who I follow because my goal and focus is to build relationships…it’s definitely quality over quantity!

    Thank you for sharing such an invigorating post! :~)

    “When you build relationships, value is born!” ~Henie~

  • March 31, 2009

    I agree. But I also think that with the mobile affect many people can be more connected/tweet more.

    That being said, I enjoy people Tweeting especially during interesting activities. :)

  • March 31, 2009

    I’m not “trying” to build a Twitter following but the numbers keep growing. From what I can telll, they go up because I tweet content about real things in the real world: bike commuting, higher ed communications, active transportation, public policy, my city (Spokane) and what’s happening there, gov 2.0. People either find me through a search on key terms, or because I end up on a list of people who tweet about these topics.

    While I tweet occasional tips on Twitter, I’m not an expert. I’d find it endlessly navel-gazing if all we ever did was tweet about Twitter and follow links to blog posts about Twitter. I got here through my subscription in Google Reader, not a link on Twitter, even though I’m following @copyblogger.

    @BarbChamberlain

  • March 31, 2009

    So…. if I could EDIT my comment I would point out that I follow @PROblogger…. sorry Darren!

    barb

  • March 31, 2009

    Very true. I’ve noticed the less time I spend tweeting about random stupid stuff and the more I retweet and post interesting links the more followers I get.

    Still, my main focus on Twitter is networking not gaining as many followers as possible, though I will admit it’s a nice side benefit. :-)

  • March 31, 2009

    Perhaps what you’re saying is quite true. Certainly, if one doesn’t have a life off Twitter, one won’t be interesting on Twitter. I have seen those who just won’t tweet about much other than standard things they “think” they are supposed to tweet about. Much of their personality doesn’t come through. They don’t draw others. I have encountered others on Twitter whose tweets I am absolutely fascinated by. They do do a lot of things when not on Twitter. So it’s true — you must be interesting both on and off Twitter to get more followers. That’s the key.

    However, I was thinking, perhaps, it’s not even an issue of how much time you spend off or on Twitter as much as what you do with your time when you’re not on Twitter. There are those who spend a lot of time off Twitter and still, perhaps, may not have a lot of interesting things to tweet about, because they’re not willing to give life all they have, attempting to learn new things. And then there are those who do spend a lot of time on Twitter, in addition to spending a lot of time off Twitter doing many creative, interesting things — we call them go-getters, bc they grab life for all it’s worth. Perhaps it’s the quality of what you do on Twitter, not exactly the actual amount of time you spend on it that matters?

    Some who are spending lots of time on Twitter are also spending lots of time offline doing interesting things when they get off. In other words, they play hard offline, and play hard online (not taking many breaks, LOL). That’s me. I tweet a lot, but I do a lot of other things also. That’s me — work hard, play hard, tweet hard. But then that’s always been me, I grab at life… Hope that made sense. krissy knox :)

  • March 31, 2009

    @Krissy – “it’s not even an issue of how much time you spend off or on Twitter as much as what you do with your time when you’re not on Twitter. ”

    Agreed – quality, not quantity every time. :-)

  • March 31, 2009

    I use Twitter to find people of like interests and to learn from them. Since you are only given 140 characters to send others a message, I find Twitter easy and fun to keep up with! I have learned so many new tips since I joined, and that is what is important to me. And I did it in a no-pressure environment, which is even more important to me. I love this place!

  • March 31, 2009

    Such a great post! (Of course I expect nothing less of Mark.)

    If you want to form relationships by creating content, that content has to be interesting. And for most of us, the insides of our heads just aren’t that interesting to anyone we aren’t living with or related to. (Probably not to them either, but they’re supposed to be patient with us.)

    Becoming a living directory on Twitter, going through sites like Alltop & spitting back what you find to your stream, is probably a short-lived strategy for most, unless you’re able to put a genuinely interesting spin on what you find.

  • March 31, 2009

    The bottom line is that you have to have something of value to offer your followers regardless of if your tweets are about your offline or online life.
    Great post.

  • March 31, 2009

    It’s important to realize many of the people on Twitter with huge followings were celebrities in their own right long before Twitter came on the scene. Their followers come from what they do, not necessarily from how they Tweet. Of course the ones who add value back to Twitter have more value to the community.

  • March 31, 2009

    surprised to see the old discussion repeated for every new medium

  • April 1, 2009

    I agree, but notice when I am not using Twitter – weekends – I get few followers. I’m quite new to twitter but that’s what I am seeing right now …

    @30dp

  • April 1, 2009

    Thats def true. Most of my followers come from my blogs and twitter applications not actually being on twitter. Many retweet my post or my tweets . Also leaving interesting comments on blogs like this.

  • April 1, 2009

    Yes its really i have some friend in colombia that have fallowers not alot but a lot in a way and they dont tweet as somuch as i do it.

    Its more a catalyst becuase you cant live from twitter, and including in my case that i link on twitter it dont mean that they will go there.

    great pots but i dont know i will have to try put stop log in on twitter offten to see what happend.

    Could logging out of Twitter more often help you get more followers?

  • April 1, 2009

    I happen to agree. I also admit that there are days (many) where I feel like I should make sure I get on twitter. I feel like I miss a lot, but when I scan, I notice the personal brands where I expect to learn and RT.

    I am not an aggressive follower at all, but notice those who are adding value and follow. I appreciate new people following me, I look and follow most back. I notice an uptick in new follows when people RT me. That is the real trick. That must be why tweets like Brogan remain popular, you expect value and get it resulting in RT and the cycle of authentic follows begins.

  • April 1, 2009

    Great point. I always come back and notice I receive more followers. Sometimes, twitter users get caught up with Twitterfox or logging into the homepage. If you use a third party client, you can save a ton of time because it’s fast and easy to work with.

    I recommend HootSuite to use twitter. That way, you can accomplish 1 hour worth of twitter time in 5 minutes and still have time to check other blogs :)

    Now, there are just so many fun ways to get twitter followers. I sure hope they find a way to monetize so it sticks around. Great post.

  • April 2, 2009

    Another thing I thought about as I read the title was the fact that if you tweet less, people are more likely to be able to keep up with you. Typically, I don’t tweet more than 7 -8 times a day, because the most important updates tend to be the last 5.

    Great article, I think it’s totally important to have a life outside of Twitter, and I must admit I’m a little put off by some (not all) people who are sending tweets from every medium imaginable, all the time.

  • April 2, 2009

    Thanks everyone for the great feedback.

    @30dp – Simply spending time away from Twitter won’t boost your followers. That comes from what you are doing when you’re away from Twitter, how interesting it’s likely to be to potential followers – and how you communicate that to them, both on Twitter and elsewhere (on your blog, website, social media profiles, and face to face).

    Good luck to you all on your adventures!

  • April 4, 2009

    Utility and value beat numbers any day

  • April 12, 2009

    I get your point about not spending all your time on Twitter, but I don’t agree with the premise in your title.

    Of course Obama has lots of followers- he is president, so everyone has heard of him. Fry is a celebrity, another bad example.

    For people who aren’t famous, I think the more active you are on Twitter, the more followers you will tend to get. Before someone can follow you, they have to know you exist, so if you are tweeting, replying to others, etc., this exposes you to more people.

    Being more active doesn’t have to mean spending all day there, though.

  • April 17, 2009

    @Chris -You talk about famous people and celebrities as though they were a different species to the rest of us. Obama wasn’t born president and Steven Fry wasn’t born a celebrity – they became famous by are doing remarkable things that people value.

    Yes, it’s possible to attract more followers purely by spending time on Twitter – but my point is that there are more meaningful goals to aim for, and more interesting ways to achieve them.

  • May 5, 2009

    i figured that the most interesting people do spend alot of time on twitter.. ex: diddy.. lol but he is still interesting so i continue to follow him… , i dont understand how normal people .. ex: me LOL.. would have alot of followers, how how we would get alot of followers.. because people are usually not interested in what another “normal” person is doing..

    just sayin..

    but good post
    :)

  • August 2, 2009

    When using Twitter for/with clients, or for other work purposes, I find it useful to kick off a new Twitter a/c with an intensive period of looking for followers and tweeting, to get it established. At times this process may need to be repeated.

  • August 2, 2009

    P.S. I suspect Barack Obama has a minion or two to spend their whole day in front for the Twitterscreen!

  • August 3, 2009

    tell it like it is……

  • August 10, 2009

    I have noticed that there are also some days where I don’t tweet at all but I still check to see whatothers are saying – wouldn’t want to miss anything :-)

  • November 22, 2009

    really helpful. I wish to follow back my followers.

  • November 24, 2009

    I agree that the most interesting/informative Tweets come from individuals that are not Tweeting all day about nonsense in the attempt to drive traffic to their spammy sites.

    This post hit the nail on the head in regards to getting off Twitter, and doing something interesting!

  • December 8, 2009
    Alyse Anderson
    @Its_Uh_Lease

    That’s probably true, but right now I’m recovering from a serious and very rare illness that I was hospitalized and on full life support for 4 1/2 months and in rehab for 1-1 1/2 months to learn how to walk and everything again. So I’m home a lot right now, and plus I live in a very rural area as in middle of the woods lol! So right now I’m online most of the day. But otherwise I am always doing something interesting. But my tweets can cross the line in some cases and be offensive to some, but I saw on another twiTip that, that wasn’t a bad thing.

  • December 11, 2009

    Twitter is just a tool — a vitally important one, but just a tool. Creating a relationship with an audiece is the goal — and that is about being trustworthy, friendly, and communicating things of value.

  • January 12, 2010

    Very good point, I seriously wish Twitter would bring back the original question of “What are you doing?”

    “What’s happening?” is passive, like we just watch. The people to follow on Twitter don’t watch, they -do-.

  • June 21, 2010

    Twitter Marketing: How to be Follow-Worthy on Twitter
    “How do I get more followers on Twitter?” is a question I’m often asked. Paying someone to find followers for you isn’t the answer. What works better is providing useful, helpful information to those who follow you.

    Read full article: http://bit.ly/d4WzZX

  • July 15, 2010

    Yes but when you are starting off its is very difficult to build up a following

  • January 26, 2011

    I have found that I am getting much more twitter followers by sending out a Thank you message to those that follow me, using the hash tag in front of the word follow. I have been getting some very interesting people who are following, and most, I follow them back. My numbers have increased by 21% in less than 2 weeks.

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