Twitter superstar: Win friends and influence followers
- 13 April 2014
- From the section Technology
Whether you are new to Twitter or a seasoned pro, this week's announcement of the rollout of a revamped look for the social network was a reminder that you need to make the most of the options it offers if you want to build up your number of followers and keep them hooked.
Success is valued so highly that some people now make their living offering hints and tricks about how to prove popular.
Nick Taylor is one such expert at London-based PeerIndex - a firm that crunches data on millions of tweets a week to advise its clients on what works.
He stresses a need to start with the basics. Pause to think about your profile picture and description before you start tweeting.
"Pick something personal which says something about you specifically," he says.
"Remember the Twitter profile photo is very small so a full-face image is going to be easier to see than a full-body."
"With your bio try telling people about the sort of things you tweet about, that way they can easily decide to follow you based on shared interests."
Twitter's new layout allows you to add a Facebook-style banner image at the top - so, it's worth thinking about whether you want to use the virtual real estate to post a second larger photo of yourself or another image that tells visitors about your interests.
Seriously, be funny
An uncluttered wallpaper that also speaks to your personality can also make your profile seem appealing. But once you have finished fiddling with the layout how should you reel people in?
Time to turn to David Schneider - an actor who has starred in I'm Alan Partridge and Mission: Impossible, and who now uses his comedic skills to help brands and businesses boost their Twitter engagement.
"Your perfect tweets will have at least one of the following: information, insight, and humour," says the founder of the consultancy That Lot.
"If it has all three then it is going to be incredibly shareable.
"Information is stuff that people want to know. Insight is 'here you are behind the scenes', and humour is humour."
He adds that it is also important to get the right tone, saying successful tweeters usually sound as if they are writing an email to a mate.
His colleague David Levin later follows up with a few other dos and don'ts - all helpfully running to less than 140 characters:
- Keep it short. Don't feel compelled to use all 140 characters unless you need to. Research shows that followers prefer short sweet tweets
- Keep it coming. Be the account that does that recurring thing (be it a weekly Twitter quiz, monthly Twitter interview or a Friday giveaway)
- Know your @s from your elbow! Remember that starting a tweet with an @ means that it's only seen by that person and your mutual followers
- Don't #overuse hashtags. They are important when they're used #correctly but are #pointless and #annoying when #overused
Twitter etiquette suggests that you should also follow and retweet others.
It's not obligatory - a spoof account for the Queen has racked up more than one million followers without doing so.
"One's a leader, not a follower," explains @Queen_UK.
But parody accounts aside, it can prove wise to appear neither too self-involved nor too trigger-happy.
"The follow-back can become a bit of a game on Twitter, which is not what it's designed for," says Mr Taylor.
"You should only really be following someone if you're going to be interested in what they tweet.
"Some users will un-follow you if you don't follow them back after a certain period - but are these really the followers you want in the first place?"
He says there are also a couple of rules to be aware of when using the network's name function.
"If you are talking about someone - especially when you have something bad to say - mention their @ handle - it's rude to talk behind people's backs," he explains.
"And remember that any tweet starting with @person will only be seen by the people who follow you and @person, no one else.
"If you want to start with their name but have it seen by others, put a full stop before it. For example: '.@person is great.'"
While breaking through the 1,000-follower barrier can be seen as a sign that you're doing something right, one expert suggests you should not become too fixated on your follower-count.
Dr Meeyoung Cha used software to analyse the network's first three-and-a-half years of public posts - a total of nearly two billion tweets.
"Our work is about how individuals, companies, and celebrities exploit social media to increase their influence," says the academic at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science.
"What we find is that follower count does not equal influence - in fact it is a bad indicator.
"We came to this conclusion after seeing those with the highest number of followers do not receive the same high level interaction with the audience - like retweets or mentions.
"It takes other qualities to make someone do an action like forwarding your message, engaging in conversations, being talked about."
It seems your Twitter skills can only get you so far. Ultimately it's what you do with the rest of your time that determines your true social status.
Or, as Brooklyn-based artist and rapper Cortez told his 30,000 followers last month: "Why have followers if u do nothing with them? 40k followers & no mixtapes, videos, Merch, shows! Nothing!!!#HustlinBackwards"