Let’s just admit it. We all say we don’t care about the number of followers we have on social networks…but we all do!
If you’re a mature digital marketer, you know that follower count isn’t any guarantee of the value of a social media account. But at the same time, you also know having a lot of followers is far from worthless.
Like it or not, people do look at your follower numbers, which affects their decision to follow you. In addition, the more followers you have, the larger the potential reach and influence you have (provided those followers are real and relevant to your business).
There is no scarcity of posts and guides online about how to build social media followings, so what’s different about this one?
Simple: I’ve boiled it down to just nine essential tactics that meet the following requirements:
- They build real followers (i.e., not bots and/or people who could care less about you and your business).
- They are useful for marketing and business accounts without causing any potential damage to your brand reputation.
In my 10-plus years of experience in building effective social media presences both in-house and for major brand clients, these are the nine follower-growth tactics I recommend most. They are in no particular order, as which are best for any particular application will vary.
1. Follow Legitimate, Relevant Accounts
To get followed, you must first be a good follower. Finding and following accounts of real people and businesses who are relevant to your business is a first essential step to building your own following, and is a necessary base to make several of the other tactics listed here effective.
In some cases just doing this will get you followed back by some of these users, especially if your profile is completely filled out and your feed is full of valuable and relevant posts.
But more importantly, following good, active accounts in your business vertical will give you a base of people with whom to interact, which as we’ll see below has value in several different ways for follower growth.
Tools exist to help you find such accounts (for example: Followerwonk, ManageFlitter, and Audiense [formerly SocialBro]), but they tend to be Twitter-centric, because that network has more open data than most others. But you can do your own hunting, and often that turns up the best people to follow anyway.
Some ways to hunt good accounts to follow:
- Look at who influencers follow. The profiles of key influencers in my vertical is one of my favorite places to mine followers. Do this only if they have a positive follow-to-following ratio; that is, they are followed by many but only follow relatively few. That way you know they are selective about whom they follow, and the people they follow are more likely to be high quality.
- Check out Twitter lists. On Twitter, check to see if key people you’re following have any public lists. A Twitter list is a curated group of Twitter users. If you find a good list, you can subscribe to it (in which case you’ll get tweets from people in the list in your feed without following them), or follow people from the list. As an example, here’s my list of “Best Digital Marketers.”
- “Best People to Follow on…” lists. Search for published lists of recommended accounts to follow in your areas of interest. Be careful though; not all of these lists are well-curated. Sometimes they recommend people just because they are famous. For instance, I’ve seen recent lists for top marketers or SEOs that include Matt Cutts, even though Matt has had almost nothing to say about those topics since he left Google to take a job with the government early this year. Best are lists created by people whom you already know and trust.
- Groups and communities. Join groups and communities on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other networks that have them, and watch for those who consistently make valuable contributions. Follow them, and they will probably lead you to other good people to follow.
2. Have Something to Show & Share
If you want to be worth following, there has to be some “there” there. You have to have some substance to your profile.
Your best followers will be people who take the time to check out your profile before following you. They’ll want to see that there’s something worth following.
Make sure you have all of the following:
- A complete profile. Fill in every field that applies to you. On most social networks you should try to make your bio tell a story. Intrigue visitors into following you. On Twitter, where your bio space is limited, use keywords that you want to be found for. Also, have an attractive, close up head shot (preferably shot by a professional) and a relevant cover image.
- A valuable feed. Make sure your feed/timeline is always showing recently-shared, valuable content. Some careful users will browse a little way down your feed to makes sure your active and that they won’t be getting junk if they follow you. For social networks that allow a pinned post (a post that stays “sticky” at the top of your feed), make sure you always have your latest, most valuable piece of content pinned.
3. Be Active & Engaged
Of course “be active and engaged” is the number one tip anyone gives in any social media tip post, but it really is critical to building a valuable following of real people.
Social media users are tired of link feeds. Commenting on and resharing the posts of others quickly demonstrates that you’re not a bot, and that you’re present on the network.
Whenever possible, don’t just reshare someone else’s post, but add a remark as to why you’re sharing it, and tag the original poster. On Twitter, do this using the Quote option when retweeting.
Being active in the social threads of others, especially influencers, also exposes your value to new people, and can gain you followers also.
4. Post Opinions, Data, News & Trends
I’ve noticed that when I post something that gets widely reshared, I almost always gain new followers. So I’ve paid careful attention over the years to the kinds of social media posts that get those shares.
Since this is a business-oriented guide, I’ll leave aside memes and other silly content that certainly can get big reshares.
The kinds of posts that tend to increase your exposure and therefore lead to new followers fall into these groups:
- Opinions. Expressing a strong opinion about an issue that matters to your audience can be risky, but it can also gain a lot of engagement, sharing, and exposure. When I first posted my stance that social media signals are not a direct Google ranking factor it was considered heresy by some, but I was careful to back my claim with careful reasoning and evidence. That post, written three-and-a-half years ago, has become my most widely shared, and I’m pretty certain has been responsible for many of my social followers.
- Data. People respond strongly to data that either backs up their beliefs or challenges them. They’ll share those things either way, and if you’re the originator of the data, and do so on a regular basis, they’ll want to follow you to not miss out. Christopher Penn is an excellent example of the power of a data originator on social media.
- News and trends. If you can become a good source for breaking news important to your industry, people will want to follow you to not miss out on what’s happening. Barry Schwartz has created amazing opportunities for himself simply by monitoring important sources in the search industry and being one of the first to break new stories.
5. Post Frequently, But Appropriately
The hardest truth about social media is that no matter how popular you become, if you stop posting and engaging you’ll be forgotten in no time.
You’ve got to maintain a regular presence, but you also don’t want to overdo it.
I can’t give you any hard rule of thumb for posting frequency, but generally post less frequently on networks where the newsfeed is heavily controlled by an algorithm (Facebook, LinkedIn) and more frequently where it’s more “real time” (Twitter).
Over the years I’ve seen that the pace of gaining new followers tends to rise and fall with the ebb and flow of my posting regularity.
6. Rally Your Subscribers
If you have an email list that you regularly send content to (and you should!), include your primary social media links in your newsletters. And every so often make a special appeal for people to follow you there.
People who think enough of you and your content to open your emails will probably gladly follow you on social media.
7. Use Hashtags
I’ll admit that I don’t use hashtags as often as I probably should, but when I use the right ones on networks where they are valued (such as Twitter and Instagram) I often gain new followers.
Always look before you leap with a new hashtag. Search for it on the network and make sure it isn’t being used for something you wouldn’t want your brand associated with.
Tools like Ritetag can help you find the best hashtags for each of you posts.
8. Get Speaking Gigs & Interviews
Speaking at conferences and meetups, or being interviewed on a video show or podcast, can obviously be good for your career, but they also great ways to get exposed to new people.
Best of all, the people at conferences and meetups are highly likely to be relevant to your business, and they just got a good taste of your value, so they’re highly motivated to follow you on social media.
Include your Twitter handle at the bottom of your presentation slide decks, as long as the conference allows it.
I almost always see a discernible bump in followers immediately after gigs like those. For example, here’s my Twitter follower graph when I spoke at Mozcon, and then later was the guest instructor on a Moz Whiteboad Friday video:
The same thing can happen from guest posting opportunities (such as the post you’re reading right now!). It’s a safe bet that many readers who got something from this post will click through to my author profile and follow me via the social media links there.
9. Build Partnership Campaigns
My agency’s CEO, Eric Enge, talks a lot about the value of OPA (Other People’s Audiences).
Conferences, webinars, and guest posts are all effective ways to get your expertise in front of OPAs, but one of the best is through partnership content and campaigns.
By that I mean building relationships with non-competing companies that still have relevance to your business area and then pitching to them ideas for joint content and social media campaigns. These work best when each partner has something to bring to the table.
Because each partner will be promoting the content to its own audience, each has the opportunity to gain new followers from the other.
Perhaps you have some interesting data from your business that you could offer to a tool or analysis company in your vertical to produce a joint study.
Or, get even more creative, like Playboy and Red Bull did when they jointly produced a video of Red Bull-sponsored stunt cyclist Danny MacAskill jumping over Bunnies lounging around the pools at the Playboy Mansion. The resulting video got more than 5 million views.
The campaign was effective because it capitalized on the common denominator in the two brands’ images: exciting lifestyles.
One Last Thing
The tips I’ve provided here are not “hacks.” They won’t necessarily blow up your social followings overnight.
However, these nine tactics will put you on a solid foundation and trajectory for long-term, sustained growth. More importantly, they will give you a following that will actually benefit you and your business.
Why invest time and effort in building a following for any other reason?
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