From Simon: I’m hopelessly unqualified to talk about matters relating to social media. Until I started RSP, I didn’t use Twitter, I’d not used Facebook in years, and I still don’t know what a Pinterest is. I’m getting there, but I’m far from an authority, which is another reason why it’s great to have these guest posts, I can bring on pros like Tim Lewis, who know what they are talking about, and I can sit in the corner, listen and learn… Over to Tim.
You can listen to an audio reading of this podcast if you like! Just click play in the player below.
After creating my @StonehamPress Twitter account on July 1st 2014 it took me just two months to get to a thousand Twitter followers. This post shows you how I did it.
Above is a screen shot of one of the tools I use – Social Bro – showing a graph of my followers between 1st July and 1st September. The range of free tools for Twitter is astounding. In my initial two months I used only two free Twitter tools – Social Bro and Buffer.
Why does it matter?
It is easy to either overstate the influence of social media or say it is irrelevant. My own personal view (and experience) is that it is somewhere in between. Using the built-in twitter analytics tools (found at https://analytics.twitter.com/user/ followed by your twitter handle name), I can see that the actual number of people who see each of my tweets even with 1200 followers varies between 20 and 140 people. This lack of reach is why many people say social media is worthless. However I would flip things on their head. Imagine if every day I filled up a room of 20 to 140 people to pitch your books and generally engage with, wouldn’t that be a fantastic opportunity? Once you have over a 1000 followers on Twitter this becomes something you can do every day. Twitter and social media in general gives a way to get noticed, to get that audience of people to hear what you say. It is a lot easier than booking crowds of people to pitch to in the real world.
What I did to build up followers
In July and August my daily Twitter activity averaged just 30 minutes a day. At the beginning you may need to spend longer (up to an hour a day) to build up some momentum. My strategy consisted of four parts – maintaining a posting schedule, finding people to follow, selective retweeting and housekeeping.
1. Maintaining a posting schedule
One important way not to lose followers and to organically grow your account is to tweet regularly. I schedule tweets for 4 times a day. Unlike Facebook, everyone sees everything – which is good and bad. It is good that if someone looks at your Twitter feed they will see everything you post. It is bad in that a Twitter stream contains everything that everybody that person follows posts. To have a chance of getting seen you need to post frequently. To reduce the time I spent on posting on Twitter I use a free tool called Buffer.
Buffer is a website that lets you “buffer” up a queue of tweets to post at a set schedule of times later. You set those times using its Schedule tab:
For each day of the week you specify the times it will post tweets. Then you go to the Content tab and add in a list of tweets to queue up to be posted on the times you have just set up on the Schedule tab:
This “queue” of tweets automatically posts each tweet at the times on the schedule you have set up. This means that you don’t need to individually set the timings of the tweets unlike some other Twitter scheduling tools, just worry about making sure there is always at least one item in the queue.
The free version of buffer only allows you to buffer up to 10 posts at a time. I haven’t found this to be a massive issue apart from requiring you to look at your queue every day.
If you include a website link in your tweet Buffer conveniently auto-shortens the URL so they take up less of your 140 characters. Notice that on many of the posts I have attached a picture – this is quite easy to do on buffer and a picture tweet has much better visibility than a text only tweet.
After you have a few followers you can use a feature of the Social Bro tool to run a “Best Time to Tweet” report – you can then adjust your Buffer schedule to when your followers are actually using Twitter.
So where do you get things to post?
You do not want to be someone who just tweets “Buy My Book” all the time. That is a guaranteed way to ensure people unfollow you. Most of the time you want to ensure your Twitter stream contains a series of interesting articles – either your own, or in my case a carefully selected list of other people’s articles.
Originally I struggled with ideas for filling up my buffer queue each day. Now I’ve become a lot more organised in my process. One answer is to use news and web aggregation sites. Sites I have used are StumbleUpon which lets you “stumble” through a selection of web sites on a topic, Pulse.me – a news aggregator now bought by Linkedin and Swayy – a site which bases what it shows you on what it analyses your Twitter followers are interested in.
If you have an iPhone then there is an extremely useful free app from Buffer called Daily. This presents you with a list of possible articles which you can look through and post automatically on buffer with a single button press. This has reduced filling up my buffer from about 15 minutes to about 2 minutes per day.
Another very recent change is that Buffer now has a plug-in to the Chrome Browser that lets you Buffer a post from a website just by clicking a button! Click here to download the plug-in!
An important thing to remember about Twitter is that it is worth posting things quite a few times – especially for your own content. Most people’s Twitter feeds are so busy that they may not see your posts if you post just once.
2. Finding people to follow
What is great about Twitter is how visible all the data in it is. You can use this openness to follow people who might be interested in your genre or writing style.
One simple procedure is to go to Amazon and find the authors who are charting highly in the genre your books are written in. Look up their Amazon profile and see if they have a Twitter profile or search for their name on Twitter. Then go to their follower list and look for people who look like readers of their books (as opposed to other authors or friends) and follow them. Twitter doesn’t let you follow too many people at a time, so spread this out, adding maybe 10-15 a time. Not all will follow you back, but many will.
Another approach is to use many of the hundreds of Twitter tools out there to identify people to follow. One great tool is BuzzSumo which lets you type in an expression and see the top shared articles on that topic. You can then drill down and see who the top sharers of that content were. Buzz Sumo limits the number of free searches you can do a day but is an awesome tool. You can also use the Influencers tab but on the free version it only gives you a limited list of influencers.
3. Selective Retweeting
When you have a few followers you can periodically check your Twitter feed during the day looking for content to retweet. This helps in many ways – by retweeting great content you are supplementing to that which you are already tweeting out. It also signals to the person you are retweeting that you have retweeted their content. Many people will follow back if they haven’t already or they will retweet some of your content if they like it. If someone retweets your content then it becomes visible to their Twitter followers as well as yours, some of whom may well follow you as well. Don’t expect anything from retweeting content (and don’t retweet content that bores you just because of who tweeted it) but it will help you in the long run.
The last part of my strategy is a house keeping activity – making sure I unfollow people who unfollow me. If you post regularly you will get people who follow you who you haven’t yet followed. My policy is to follow back everyone who isn’t trying to sell me Facebook, Twitter or other social media followers!
I try during the day to follow back using the mobile Twitter apps but it is very easy to miss people. So I use the Social Bro site each night to ensure that I follow people back who have followed me and unfollow people who haven’t followed back.
On the Social Bro dashboard there are two useful sections provided:
The area highlighted in red above shows “New Followers” – you can click through and see if you have followed all these people back (except the spammy ones). The area in blue above shows your recent unfollows – check this list and unfollow them back if you are following them.
Occasionally check the green highlighted “Not Following You Back” section to ensure it is just full of people who are influencers or people you just want to follow for some reason. These are the people you probably want to retweet occasionally or engage with. It is easier than you think to eventually get these influencers to follow you back. Then if they retweet or interact with your tweets you may get a whole load of new Twitter followers from getting the exposure on their Twitter stream.
The mistakes I made in my first few months
The first mistake I made was not being focussed enough on my target followers. I am not suggesting that if you are a horror writer that you refuse to follow anyone who isn’t a horror fan, but in my initial efforts I did not make enough effort to seek out science fiction fans. I added a lot of authors and social media marketers, the effect of which was that it diminished the potential for selling sci-fi books to my Twitter followers.
The second mistake was not setting up a blog or podcast or having much of my own content to share. To use any social media effectively for marketing you need to be able to send people to somewhere where they can increase their engagement with you. The logical next step from social media is to your blog. A podcast or video series would work as well (almost certainly better). Trying to sell direct from Twitter is hard – getting people to read an interesting blog post is not. If they regularly read your blog and it is in a subject area related to what you are trying to sell (say horror books) then you are far more likely to sell from your blog (or at least get them onto your e-mail list) than from Twitter directly.
The third mistake I made was not to make better use of Twitter lists. Lists allow you to follow a smaller selection of Twitter followers which is good for monitoring particular subject areas or groups of people who you consider important – either as you think they are important in your genre or they regularly post great content you can retweet.
Lists aren’t an obvious feature of Twitter. Hidden on a menu you get when you click your photo on the title bar is a drop-down menu to get to the lists screen.
Selecting this takes you to a screen where you can create a new list – click the button and a pop-up appears prompting you for a name and description.
Be careful with your choice of name and description if you set the list as ‘Public’ – if you add someone to that list they will be notified that you have added them. So try and be complimentary in Twitter list names or make them private!
Once you have created a list you can add people to it by going to their profiles. Again this isn’t obvious. If you go to someone’s profile and then select the gear wheel you can add or remove someone to a list.
Now that you have added some people to the list if you go back to the Lists menu item it will show you a screen with what they have recently tweeted. This is a good way to ensure you don’t miss out on tweets by people you are interested in when you start to have more than about 100 followers. This is a feature I’ve only just started using and it gives a great way to keep up with people without them getting lost in your general Twitter stream.
My fourth mistake was not making more use of hashtags. If used well then they can increase your visibility substantially. In the tools I list in the next section, many involve hashtag identification. I can’t say I’ve entirely mastered hashtags but they give you the opportunity to get your tweets seen by a much larger audience than just your own followers. One thing I would warn against is over-cramming your tweets with hashtags – this looks awful and gives the impression of being unprofessional. I would try and limit yourself to at most 2 hashtags per tweet.
There are loads of great Twitter tools out there I have discovered since August. Here is a selection of some of these:
Twitonomy – a great app similar to Social Bro. I may well switch to this from Social Bro at some stage.
Tashtagify.me – a great site for seeing hashtags related to a subject.
Tagboard – this site will show you all the tweets on a particular hashtag and the trends for that hashtag.
TweetChat – a great site for following a Twitter chat (that is a conversation on a hashtag) without having to constantly refresh your Twitter client.
Hootsuite – a competitor to Buffer and used by many people to schedule posts. I find it a bit harder to use than Buffer though. One great feature is that it is great for monitoring Twitter lists on mobile devices (unlike the Twitter apps) so can be good for monitoring real-time Twitter activity.
My Challenge to You
I believe that if you follow my steps above and set up proper Twitter lists and focus on followers primarily in your genre area then you too can quickly build up your Twitter account to 1000 Twitter fans and beyond. Let me know how you get on!
If you liked this post then let me know by sending the tweet below (I’ll add you as a follower if you do!):
Tim Lewis is a self-published author of 3 novellas (under his full name Timothy Michael Lewis). After the death of his wife in 2011 he decided to give up a career in IT to commit himself to the new world of self-publishing and has fallen in love with both writing and social media along the way. He has recently started the Social Media for Indie Authors blog at www.smfia.com.