The Dos and Don’ts of Building a Following

By Jeff Barrett


There is strength in numbers on social media. Even if you’re not trying to be an influencer, social capital has its value. Whether it’s purely perception or designed for lead generation, the size of your audience matters now.

When I speak, my audience is usually entrepreneurs or aspiring media professionals. The most common question I get from both groups is, “How do I grow a following?”

That’s a tough question. Like with a lot of pursuits, there is no single answer. It can be achieved in a variety of ways. But from someone who has built an audience, I can share what I have learned. And this may surprise you, I would have done some things differently.

Reach beyond your audience

Most of the advice I see for growing a following centers around content. Expecting that better content alone will grow your following is like believing in unicorns. It sounds amazing, but there is no proof. Content is important but it’s only part of the mix. You also have to think beyond your existing audience. Determine how to appeal to other audiences.

For example, I’m in PR. If I only talked about PR and appealed to PR professionals then there would be a cap to my growth. So I slowly, strategically and methodically began to identify and connect with groups one degree separate from my own. I started talking about advertising and entertainment. I created humorous content around pop culture—carefully tying it all back to my PR experience. Because of this, I could talk about pop culture. I began interjecting myself into all trending conversation. This year I have started talking about politics because it is, to an extent, related to PR. Being funny about the political circus got me in the door—now I’m starting to speak intelligently about the Syrian refugee crisis and brokered conventions.

Trust content

No person is just one thing. Share more of yourself, branch out and you’ll be able to grow your audience. There are a million ways to find and connect with new audiences, but you have to make that connection stick. Responding to questions from your audience quickly and honestly, and providing feedback are great ways to engage. Live streaming and podcasts are both great ways to allow people to get to know you. The more people know about you, the deeper they can connect.

People connect with real people over robots. Engaging with your audience in an authentic way is one of the strongest ways to build connections and engage others.

Maximize points of visibility

Look to sources outside of social media to help elevate your following. This is something I didn’t do enough in the beginning. You can spend all day on social media trying to grow your following but one media appearance can achieve months’ worth of work. Create as many points of visibility as you can. Go on local news, guest blog, do whatever you can at first but continue to keep networking up so you can increase opportunities for visibility.

Q&A with Twiends CEO Dave Sumter

I’m only one opinion. So I asked a friend—Dave Sumter, CEO of social directory Twiends—because he works every day with a mass of people looking to build a following.

What are the do’s and don’ts in building a following?

There are a lot of ways to achieve follower growth. Generally the best approach is to be honest in your intentions when connecting with new people, interact well, and add value to everyone’s feed. This may sound like a lot of fluff, so let me give you some real world examples:

Don’ts: Buying followers on any service that quotes you X followers for $ is a big no-no. These are all generally fake accounts created with the sole purpose of following you. Another bad option is resorting to interaction tricks—such as following large groups of people and then unfollowing them after they’ve followed you (known as churning). Both of these approaches will make your follower count go up, but will not add value to you or your followers. And both could land you in hot-water with Twitter.

Do’s: This side of the camp is actually full of great options, such as featured promotion, Twitter ads, contests, targeted content, Twitter chats, and many more. It’s best to try and grow your audience and engagement at the same time. A common approach is using something like Twiends to do broad-based featured promotion, or Twitter ads to do targeted promotion, and then use contests, polls, Twitter chats, visual tweeting, and daily interacting to grow engagement with those new followers. Twiends and Twitter ads provide the reach, and the later options provide the ‘conversion.’ Most people skip the later part and move straight to ‘broadcasting.’ This unfortunately doesn’t work—as in real life you need to take the time to bond with people before they’ll listen to you.

Why is having a large online presence valuable?

There are so many benefits to having a large online presence, most notably being able to get your message out and influence others in line with your goals. Whether it’s getting the word out about a new initiative or asking for feedback about something important, it’s an incredibly useful tool in this new digital world we live in. It’s like being able to walk into a room and ask 100 people what they think about an idea. In the past, companies had to spend thousands of dollars doing customer research, now anyone can do it multiple times a day.

The real power though is that this can be done in a casual and conversational way, continually and forever. You can build real connections with your customers, peers, colleagues, or with anybody who shares your interests. You can provide real-time support to those who need help, build your brand, or even subtly plug your product. But it does take time to build, and it’s not just about adding followers. That’s just the first step, and it should be combined with building a great timeline, building engagement, and of course connecting with people at a slightly deeper level.

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