How I Got a Six-Figure Twitter Following (and Why It Doesn’t Matter)

Twitter

It’s almost a running joke. Whenever my manager introduces me at an event, he always starts by saying how many Twitter followers I have, which is inevitably far more than anyone else in the room. Today, my follower number is a little over 175,000, and it grows by a few hundred every week.

How did my Twitter following reach six figures?

  1. I was an early adopter. I started my Twitter account (@JaneFriedman) on May 22, 2008.
  2. I’m active. Except for the first 7-8 months of joining Twitter, I’ve been actively tweeting for more than four years.
  3. I’m relentlessly focused. Mostly I tweet about writing, media, publishing, and technology.
  4. I mostly share links that I hope are helpful or insightful.
  5. I’m somewhat reserved. It’s rare for me to tweet more than 6-8 times per day. (My total number of tweets has not yet cracked 10,000.) The way I look at it: Each tweet is a potential waste of someone’s time.
  6. I joined Twitter while I was publisher of Writer’s Digest, and I also created the Writer’s Digest Twitter account. Writer’s Digest now has about 370,000 followers, and for its first two years, I operated its account in tandem with mine. It was helpful to have my name associated with a big brand when I got started.

However, none of that probably matters as much as what comes next. Here’s a graph showing the history of my follower growth on Twitter:

Jane Friedman Twitter growth graph

One immediately wonders: What was I doing from summer 2010 through fall 2011—the part where the graph is stepping up? A few things:

  1. I started blogging better (better headlines, better topics, better solutions for writers) and blogging more consistently. (This was during my years at There Are No Rules at Writer’s Digest.)
  2. I ran a weekly blog feature called Best Tweets for Writers. I curated a few dozen of the best online articles (for writers) I’d found via Twitter. The series started around May 2009 and concluded in summer 2011, when I asked Porter Anderson to take the reins, and he created Writing on the Ether.
  3. Also during this time I was actively live-tweeting conferences and other events, which usually results in a following boon.

My blog content reinforced what I was doing on Twitter, and what I was doing on Twitter reinforced the blog. I created a rather virtuous circle that I believe boosted the follower count. But most important, the Best Tweets round-up wasn’t about myself or my own content. It was about drawing attention to other excellent work, which resulted in a lot of mentions, links, tweets, and so on. Some call this link-baiting, and it’s a fairly well-known strategy for building blog traffic. If done well, everyone wins.

There was one thing out of my control, which I can’t track very well: At some point, I became one of Twitter’s “Suggested Users” in the Books category. If I’m still there, I believe my account is listed fairly close to the bottom. If I was being shown higher around 2010-2011, that could also be playing a significant role. But keep in mind, I probably would’ve never been listed if it weren’t for the activity I’ve just described.

Why the Size of My Twitter Following Doesn’t Matter

Some studies show that smaller, more loyal followings are more effective. Check out this ReadWriteWeb article from 2010:  The Million Follower Fallacy: Audience Size Doesn’t Prove Influence on Twitter. That aside, here’s a big reason why no one needs to be impressed by my following:

Fake Twitter Following

[You can check your own stats for free by clicking here.]

What does this mean? That my following is more accurately stated as 71,750, after you weed out the fake and inactive accounts. Of those “good” accounts that follow me, how many do I actually engage? Klout notes that, in the past 90 days, I’ve had more than 2,000 mentions and 1,000 retweets. That’s probably a better reflection of how many I influence via Twitter.

And now you know not to be impressed by that 175,000 number.

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Master the Principles of Social Media Without Feeling Like a Marketer

Jane's newest online course focuses on how to take a holistic and strategic approach to social media that’s based on long-term reader growth and sound principles of online marketing. You won’t find gimmicks or short-term approaches here. Rather, my philosophy is that (1) your work—your writing—is always central, and (2) you have to enjoy what you’re doing on social media for it to be sustainable and eventually become a meaningful part of your author platform.

A big challenge for authors is deciding what types of marketing will work for them strategically, and figuring out what will be effective in cutting through the noise without consuming huge amounts of time. Over the course of 12 weeks, our goal will be to answer this question for you, eliminate as much guesswork as possible, and retain your authentic voice regardless of your strategy.

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Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has more than 15 years of experience in the book and magazine publishing industry, with expertise in digital media and the future of authorship. She speaks around the world at events such as BookExpo America, Frankfurt Book Fair, and Digital Book World, and has keynoted writing conferences such as The Muse & The Marketplace. She currently teaches digital media and publishing at the University of Virginia. Find out more.
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60 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this. Not only the numbers, but what you’ve done to build your following. I’m not on Twitter, but planning to join soon. But I think you’re right that the numbers don’t tell the whole story and it’s in part how many people you interact with. The reality is that if I follow 1000-2000 people, I won’t have time to read their tweets every day. At least that’s what I’m thinking.

  2. This is one of the reasons I like you so much. Anyone who’d put a Fake Follower graphic on their own site is someone… well, it sounds an awful lot like something I did. And we do love ourselves (sometimes).

  3. Those numbers are still a lot better than most even after the weed out! Too bad Twitter feeds are so hard to go through these days that it is becoming nearly useless.

  4. Still most people would prefer to have a large number of followers, even if it means a lot of them are fake, because it sounds so good to others, especially those not very twitter-friendly. But I see your point! And thank you for the link to check the validity of followers. I will be using that!
    Iulian

  5. Also, note that she follows very few people (Although it will be interesting to hear from JF how much reading she does.). To be effective, to create work, you have to produce. You don’t have time to consume. She’s not the only one.

    • Very true. It’s impossible to keep up with even 200-300 people on Twitter, though I do keep an eye on the Twitter stream throughout the day.

      I did start out following many more (up to 3,000+ at one point), but there are so many reading services (Flipboard, Zite, etc) that pull in reading material based on who you follow that I had to become ruthless to keep the aggregated content meaningful and valuable.

      • tru dat. Precisely why I cap my followee count at 49 and ruthlessly prune back the week’s accrued excess every weekend. Quite fun, actually, seeing who makes the cut. Not so much for those tossed under the bus but hey, you can’t please ‘em all.

  6. Jane, your strategy for a well-oiled machine of a social media platform is amazing! It’s not something I can fully achieve currently without giving up on either sleep or child-rearing, but I love reading how successful folks like you do it. You are my definitive go-to for most of my writing-business knowledge. As one of your non-fake followers on Twitter, I want to say thank-you from the bottom of my heart! :)

  7. I enjoyed running my own account through this analysis. But what I really want to emulate is your ability to grow a readership through better headlines, content, etc. I know that I don’t yet have this art mastered. I’m getting more focused on audience, though, and that feels good.

  8. I’m at 94% with true followers at 18K and I follow almost 17K. How nice! At times, I would like to extricate myself from Twitter. Yet, it’s the first place I go to find out what’s going on the in the world and it will be the nicest tweet from a follower that makes me want to stay. I tweet inspirational quotes & philosophical posts about things or people that inspire me or my writing and engage with readers there (Some of my most loyal ones are on Twitter and found me there, somehow).

    I don’t think it’s about the # of followers you get or have, as much as it is about giving and getting something back with the ones who choose to engage (with me). In that way, Twitter is a much more interesting forum than say FB or Google+ or Pinterest or Tumblr, which all tend to be once removed or one-way communique entirely. If I were giving any of those up, I’d start with the one that’s usually at top of my superfluous list and tends to serve as the bane of my existence on a daily basis–FB. Oh yes; I’d start there. : ) Just IMHO

  9. Great insight. And thanks much for the “fake follower” link. I was pleased to see I’ve got 97% “Good” followers in my 4K Tweeps. I use Tweepi for a sweep of inactive accounts and those creepy people who follow you and then unfollow immediately in order to rack up numbers.

    • Wow, Anne, that’s a terrific Faker score. I might try Tweepi to pull out my inactives — I’m actually doing pretty well, but I do have a percentage of inactives that I likely should offload. This is such a good piece, thanks, Jane.

  10. If you measure conversion, your rate is %0.5 based on the 1,000 mark. This is fairly common of most verticals. I’m glad to see you sharing data like this. Hopefully others will be more concerned about what they’re getting out of social media and less worried about internet fame. :-)

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  12. Hi Jane

    My Twitter following of 88,400 followers shows as 0% fakes, 4% inactive and 96% Good.

    Why? For the same reasons you state. 4 years of interaction, always blogging, always trying to help, and never trying to ‘artificially’ inflate follower numbers. It’s all personal and real.

    However, it’s sad but true that people are dazzled by numbers. In fact to underscore this, today I took time to email and gently dissuade an author friend from BUYING 10,000 ‘followers’. What would it achieve? She eventually (reluctantly) saw the light.

    But another acquaintance went ahead last month and actually bought over 5000 ‘followers’. (I’ve looked through them – they’re all fake accounts). Why on earth would anyone do this? Well, I’ve figured out that in his case it’s so he can impress potential social media clients with his high follower number.

    Looks like they’re going to get a fake expert.

    Jonathan Gunson

  13. I like this style, the here’s-what-I’m-doing detail.

    It reminds me of the style of another new-media star who also started early, Australian Darren Rouse of Problogger. I started reading his work years ago, liking his blog for exactly this same reason, his here’s-what-I’m-doing tidbit news that seemed almost personal.

    Another new-media star Joe Konrath, does the same thing. Here’s how much money I make, here’s how many books I sell, here’s how I do it- and, by the way, this is what I think.

    This blog style doesn’t sell. It binds.

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  16. Well golly Jane, two thousand active followers is still nothing to sneeze at. But I know what you mean. I have 41,000 followers on a little-known music site (Blip.fm), but it’s not even the most effective source of traffic for my blog.

  17. “The way I look at it: Each tweet is a potential waste of someone’s time.” Brilliant pithy thought there. Maybe even a potential ironic tweet! I never followed you because you have loads of followers. I followed you because I was drawn into the great, useful and insightful content on your blog. Just so you know! Thanks. :)

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  20. Thank you! Most interesting! And of course I checked myself on the fake twitter and a nice surprise awaited – 97% good. I have a small following – about 150 and I follow about 150. It’s irritating though when the feed has dozens of retweets from the same person of uninteresting – to me – tweets. I always retweet interesting ones and favorite ones I can go back to.

  21. Thank you! Most interesting! And of course I checked myself on the fake twitter and a nice surprise awaited – 97% good. I have a small following – about 150 and I follow about 150. It’s irritating though when the feed has dozens of retweets from the same person of uninteresting – to me – tweets. I always retweet interesting ones and favorite ones I can go back to.

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  23. This is great, Jane. I’m a big believer in the quality over quantity (my fake followers are at 1%), although as a social media practitioner I find that others look at that number and make assumptions so as a result I’ve been looking to more actively beef it up. I find that a lot of it is the engagement on the channel–talking to people means that more people are seeing my name in their replies. Having great content makes all the difference too…what I tweet determines the retweets which in turn spreads the love around.

  24. Thanks for sharing this Jane. It’s always interesting to hear how people with great followings got to where they are! Like many others here I’m coming in at 97% good, 2% inactive, 1% fake, on around 15k followers. One tool I like for weeding out the fakes and inactive accounts is ManageFlitter. It looks like it’s time for me to use it again too.

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  30. Twitter does a lot to try to stop fake tweeters from signing on to Twitter. It’s a big job, considering how many people sign on every day, though. Twitter has what referred to as the Spam department. That department spends most of the day writing algorithms to catch spammers before they can tweet. Their goal is to close those accounts before anyone follows them. I don’t work for Twitter, but I know about this group because my daughter heads up the Spam department at Twitter.

  31. I also have over 100,000 followers, and have a 95% good rating. I think using tweetdeck where I have many columns for different people helps, my followers are lined up by close friends, agents, other writers, celebrity, fans, french, Russian, Italian, etc,

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  33. First off I want to say awesome link. I ended up at 97%, so woohoo for me. Funny enough, I had just blogged something a bit similar yesterday about how it is far more important to converse WITH people than AT people on Twitter. This in turn creates true followers for what you are saying and can lead to a real following instead of an inflated number which does absolutely nothing for a person.

    Great article. Thanks for writing it.

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  37. Yes, I’ve been blogging for three years now and only realized (1.) My topic–“encouragement”–was too broad and not niche-y enough (“encouragement” is a field often populated by Christian groups and born-again’s, while I am neither) and (2.) I will change the fact I almost never Tweet. To that effect, I’m putting up big banner to remind me. Then, I’ll work on my titles, too, that’ll suggest what the heck I’m writing about (I always went for vague, artsy types that gave no clue–not good for SEO.) It’s total learning curve and I hope I get it before senility sets in…You, Jane, are one of the few I read for the true value you provide…Thx…

  38. What amazes me, is the folks that want to sell you followers. I prefer that someone follows me on twitter because that is what they want to do.

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