The Twitaway: An Experiment In Social Media
It’s never too late to build a large, loyal Twitter following—if you think outside the box. In this guest post, Matthew Magain from SitePoint shares some tips on how you can grow your Twitter following to more than 10,000 in less than a week.
I admit it: we were a bit slow to recognize the potential of Twitter at SitePoint.
Sure, a few of us had dabbled with personal Twitter accounts, but we never really acknowledged Twitter as a viable medium for communicating with customers until, well, everyone else was doing it! By the time we decided to jump on board, our preferred username had already been snapped up by an enterprising squatter (we had to settle for @sitepointdotcom). Not the ideal beginnings for building a successful Twitter presence—and more than just a little ironic considering we pride ourselves with being at the cutting edge of the Web!
Despite beginning on the back foot, we were able to attract 13,000 followers in less than a week—an impressive following that surpasses CNN and the New York Times.
Here’s how we did it.
Dangling The Carrot
Everyone loves free stuff. At SitePoint we publish around 10 books in a year (yep, of the dead-tree variety). We decided to make one of our best-selling titles available as a free PDF to anyone who followed us on Twitter within a 14-day period.
It was a somewhat risky proposition for us—it’s both expensive and time-consuming to produce a high-quality book. We were therefore faced with the very real possibility that we might be giving away something of considerable value to thousands of people, only to have them un-follow us immediately afterwards (luckily, this hasn’t happened!).
However, the fact that we offered a free book is only one reason our campaign has succeeded. If you’re thinking of running a similar promotion, here are six tips, based on our own experience:
1. Give It A Name.
Any successful marketing campaign needs to have a catchy name. Before this venture, our marketing manager had jokingly used the phrase “Twitaway” a couple of times around the office, to mean a “Twitter giveaway”. We realized that this was in fact quite a catchy compound, and decided to run with it. We quickly registered the twitaway.com domain, and referred to the Twitaway promotion in all marketing material that went out.
2. Do Your Homework.
We hit a couple of hurdles on the first day we set our campaign live—primarily due to the fact that we weren’t aware of Twitter’s throttling of the number of Direct Messages you can send in a day (as you can guess, we hit our limit pretty quickly).
It is possible to get around this limitation (it requires that you submit a request to Twitter for your account to be whitelisted). If we had done our homework better, we’d have realized this before embarking on such a project. Perhaps you’ll learn from our lesson, so you’re not scrambling desperately to get hold of Twitter support at odd hours, requesting that your request be accelerated in the queue. Not that we would ever dream of doing such a thing…
3. Have a Plan B.
We knew from the beginning that there would be visitors for whom signing up to Twitter would be a friction point. We gave these folks the option of submitting their email address instead of forcing them to sign up to Twitter—as a result, we’ve ended up with 60,000 email addresses as well as our 13,000 Twitter followers (and counting!)
4. Roll Your Own.
We opted to auto-follow every one of our followers, and sent them their download link immediately after following us. Initially we made use of the third party service Tweet Later, but it became obvious early on that auto-follows and Direct Messages were getting dropped.
Luckily, we have some smart developers on the team, and they were able to throw together a custom tool based on the Twitter API that duplicated the auto-follow and Direct Message functionality in about a day. We also added the ability to send mass Direct Messages (so we could send the download link to our existing followers, as well as new ones).
We’re currently running both tools—Tweet Later does the majority of the grunt work, and our custom tool steps in and picks up the crumbs whenever Tweet Later drops the ball, which gives us the added benefit of a crude form of failover.
5. Plaster It Everywhere.
Once our giveaway had launched, we did everything we could to get the word out—we emailed customers who had purchased the print book or who had downloaded sample chapters from sitepoint.com; we blogged about it, posted in our forum, modified our email signatures … everything short of screaming from the rooftops (although I’m pretty sure I saw our marketing manager doing that, too!). Most importantly, our download link encouraged the recipient to help spread the word, so retweets formed a huge part of the viral momentum that gathered.
6. Give It Some Iron.
There’s no point inviting tens of thousands of people to visit your site if your servers aren’t up to the challenge. We’d run similar giveaways in the past, and had our fair share of being slashdotted or dugg. We knew in advance to host our landing page on a scalable, fast infrastructure (read: a cloud computing service such as Amazon) so that this would be a non-issue. And it was.
Regardless of your initial follower count, it’s possible to grow a large Twitter following by giving people real incentive to begin following you—such as an exclusive offer for Twitter followers. The SitePoint Twitaway reinforces the notion that Twitter is more than just a tool for attention-seeking individuals looking to forge personal relationships and discuss breaking news—it’s a legitimate channel that companies can leverage to strengthen their brand, expand their customer base, and increase traffic to their web site.
Of course, once you’ve attracted these followers, it’s up to you to keep them by delivering timely, relevant content to the Twitter feed. That part is up to you.