Social media statistics can be tricky. For one thing, a large number of followers or fans isn’t necessarily better. Twitter users who have just a few relevant and influential followers, for instance, can sometimes get more out of the microblogging service than people with hordes of random followers they don’t interact with much.
It all depends on what you’re using social media for. Let’s say you’re a reporter at The Tundra Times with a specialized beat: Arctic polar bears. On Twitter every day, you follow and interact with the world’s top 50 Arctic polar bear experts. That’s all you’ve got: 50 followers.
You’re not necessarily using Twitter to try to increase the number of clicks on your stories. But from your small, specialized cadre of followers, you get great story ideas, insider info, and sources who are available and helpful because they “know” you on Twitter.
And as your 50 followers – many of whom are influential – retweet your content, people across the land become aware of you as that great Arctic polar bear writer and The Tundra Times as a valuable organization they might rely on for other news, too, like salmon spawning patterns.
A broader audience
Yet for other Twitter users with different purposes in mind, trying to get more followers can be a good thing. You might be able to interact with only a core few, but many of the others are still reading and sharing your tweets. (Plus, to help you keep track of the most popular topics in your personal twitterverse without having to read every single tweet, there are services such as The Twitter Times.)
Two Palm Beach Post tweeters who grew their audiences significantly in April are pbpulse.com editor Jon Tully and health writer Stacey Singer.
@pbpulse followers jumped 33 percent in April, much of that by tapping into the popularity of SunFest. Jon shares details on what he thinks was behind the growth:
Interaction. Jon doesn’t just post links; he responds to and chats with followers.
Hashtags. Jon included the #SunFest hashtag in nearly every tweet related to the music festival. Because people who use Twitter often search via hashtag, that put @pbpulse’s tweets in front of a lot more local eyeballs. (By the way, @LeslieStreeter gained followers by using the #SunFest hashtag, too – she even had people come up to her during SunFest and say, “I loved your tweet!”)
Getting retweeted by our main account, @pbpost, which has 5,400 followers.
Sharing photos. Jon used yfrog to snap pictures with his iPhone and upload them directly into @pbpulse’s Twitter feed. His pictures of everything from bands to cheerleaders to pineapple chicken were viewed nearly 1,700 times. Jon also used Facebook and Twitter to link to our photographers’ SunFest galleries, too.
Stacey Singer (@staceysinger) bumped up her Twitter followers by 23 percent in April. She explains:
I’ve made a game of it to see how many new followers I can collect each day. I’ve been experimenting.
What seems to work:
Post often. Whenever I read something interesting on our site, even if it’s not mine, I shorten the URL with bit.ly and post it. It only takes a few seconds. I try to stick to what my followers seem interested in: Florida politics especially concerning health care, health reform, health in Haiti, specific diseases like cancer and Alzheimers, drug recalls …
Use hashtags. It makes it easier for people to find you if they are interested in your topic. For politics, and I still don’t know why, it’s #p2 and for health reform it’s #hcr. Posts with #health and #FL seem to attract followers, too. The hashtag thing is fluid and mysterious. From time to time I will put a term into the search and see who is using it for a hashtag.
Look for lists. Since I cover health care, I look for health Tweeters who have a large following, such as MassGen, and then subscribe to the lists they keep. Still trying to understand how this all works. (Tiff’s note: Listorious is a good place to start exploring Twitter lists.)
Follow interesting people. Find somebody important to your beat, then follow everyone they follow. In most cases, they’ll reciprocate. Make it easier for them by having a clear one-liner under your profile. (“Health writer for The Palm Beach Post” in my case).
Retweet folks whose work you respect. Sometimes they will put you out there by publicly thanking you. Every mention increases the odds of a follow.
Publicly thank people. I don’t do enough of this. If you’re following me (@staceysinger), thanks!
Get into conversations with interesting Tweeters. The founder of Craigslist is now my Twitter buddy, and he’s got something like 21,000 followers. MaddowBlog, too. When they retweet or respond to me, I get followers. But no matter how hard I try, Jake Tapper and David Corn won’t engage. What’s their problem, anyway?
Occasionally break off and tweet on a topic you don’t usually cover. I got followers by giving running commentary on a Marlins spring training game. You never know.
Why am I bothering? Because when I blog, and write, I tweet about it and am able to draw new eyeballs to my page. Even better, my personal “brand” is getting seen by people I respect. Finally, it’s just the way our profession is moving. Master social media and you’re part of the future, not the past. Bring hundreds or even thousands of followers with you and you’re automatically a more valuable media professional, because you bring the promise of more eyeballs. And the eyes now have it, don’t they?
Yet, Stacey says she’ll probably ease back somewhat on trying to continue to gain more and more Twitter followers. She feels she’s approaching a “critical mass” in terms of how useful it is to have tons of followers.
But Stacey will continue to use Twitter search to keep track of health news, which she says tends to hit Twitter “about 24 hours before you see it on the news sites.” (A couple of recent examples are news about health care reform and about the Fosamax osteoporosis drug.) She also keeps up with the Twitter feeds of Health News Florida, the Association of Health Care Journalists, pharmaceutical companies and more.