20 October 2009

Words of, uh, Wisdom: How to Score More Twitter Followers

by Freddy J. Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango + Twitter Critic (Twittic?)…

Critical times like these spawn critical questions: How do we provide healthcare to 300 million people? Can conflicts over culture and religion ever be resolved? If wind blows into one of Sarah Palin’s ears will it come out the other?

But the question I regularly get asked is, “How do I score more followers on Twitter?” (Hmm, maybe it’s time to change professions.) I have ideas, but to ensure that I provide the Twuth, I decide to consult one of the 15,740 self-proclaimed “social media gurus” on Twitter. Since each of these gurus has more followers than fleas on a fat wildebeest, I know I won’t get heard above the herd. I need to speak to one in person…

So I set out on my quest, which first involves hacking through the Woods of Worthless Research, where one can’t see the Forrester for the trees, and where scores of studies fall without making a sound. I then cross the Deserts of Self-Delusion, where the sands consist of ground-up horoscopes, lottery tickets, and Tony Robbins recordings. @ last, I come to the dreaded mountain of business plans from every failed dotcom ever launched: K2.0. I realize I’m out of shape when I get winded scaling a five-year projection.

Almighty guru, now hoping to translate his success in movies to social media.

Almighty guru, now hoping to translate his success in movies to social media.

At K2.0’s peak squats a bearded old man simultaneously tweeting into two iPhones while cursing his AT&T reception and consuming Starbucks intravenously. At sight of an actual human being, the guru freezes then blinks spastically for 30 seconds. Since I don’t disappear, he breaks into a beamish grin and beckons me closer. “Come, grasshopper, pull up a comfy biz plan and hear the wisdom of the great Mediacrites: guru, evangelist, visionary and thought leader rolled into one très sexy package! What is your question?”

The Great Consultation in the Clouds Ensues…

“Well first –”
“I take PayPal.” Mediacrites interjects.
“Oh, right.” I type my password into my netbook, and the sound makes his eyes light up like a slot machine.
“Proceed!” he commands.
“You may call me Great Guru Mediacrites.”
“Uh, yeah. Guru Media—”
“Great Guru.”
“Right. Oh Great Guru Mediacrites, how do I get more followers on Twitter?”
“Whew, I thought you were going to ask me something tough, like how Ryan Seacrest got so rich and famous. Getting followers on Twitter is easy: just be a celebrity. Look at Seacrest: he has millions of followers, and he’s not even A-list.”
“Ryan Seacrest has millions of followers?”
“And he’s got nothing compared to Justin Bieber’s flock!” Mediacrites winks as his arm takes another gulp of latte extra hot with shots of espresso.
“But that’s not realistic. Not everyone can be a celebrity.”
“Sure they can. Just have eight kids while you’re unemployed. Or claim your son is trapped in a runaway balloon. Or become a conservative Republican who looks hot in a skirt.”
“Those aren’t realistic options for most people.”
“Then start your own company, call yourself a CEO and go to all the TechCrunch parties.”
“But I don’t have a good idea for a company.”
“That didn’t stop most of ’em. Look at this pile we’re sitting on!” The guru laughs, and a small avalanche of spreadsheets buries a realist climbing below us.
“Right. What can someone who’s not a celebrity, CEO, or giant corporation do?”
“Another question, another dollar.”
“Fine.” I type into my netbook again.

Solutions Below C-Level

“OK, on Twitter the key is, appropriately, keywords. Make sure all your tweets contain ’em.”
“Ah, now you’re talking well-grounded tactics. You mean keywords that add value to—”
“Value?!” the old man shrieks. “Who said anything about value?”
“Well, what kind of words would you use then?”
“Spammer bait.”
“Spammer bait?”
Mediacrites looks around. “Is it me, or do you hear skeptical echoes around here?”
“But why would I want spammers to follow me?”
“You know, I should charge you double for such an inane question. But I can’t allow ignorance to persist — that’s the job of Fox News. As a guru, I must enlighten and edify. So in answer to your question, spammers are the easiest way to build your follower count, and followers are what you want, right?”
“But I want followers who are actually interested in what I have to say!”
He laughs until he spits up caffeinated foam. “Please, we’re talking Twitter here! Most active users are there to self-promote, not listen. Everyone knows ‘follow’ is a euphemism. Now if you’re talking about the small percentage of Tweeters actually there to learn something — we call them ‘newcomers’ — then a huge follower count enhances your credibility in their eyes.”
“I guess that makes sense.”
“You guess?” Mediacrites snarls.
“You’re right, sorry. So even if I know a follower is a spammer, I don’t block them.”
“Of course you don’t, noob! More than that, you follow them back.”
“Follow a spammer? But then I’ll get spam messages from them!”
“And that’s what the little trashcan symbol is for! Listen, we’re talking about drumming up your following, not drawing up a summer reading list.”

About Those Keywords Before We Digressed…

“OK, Mediacrites–”
“Great Guru Mediacrites.”
“Whatever. What kind of keywords make the best spammer bait?”
“The most effective are those that draw the attention of the zombies.”
“There’s that echo again… Yes, zombies. You know, multilevel marketers. MLM’s. That kind of kaka.”
I shudder at the thought of that great lobotomizing emptiness. “OK. I’m nauseated at the thought, but how do I attract the zombies?”
“Well, first, many will just show up automatically, since a zombie’s very survival requires continuously scoring fresh blood. Now, to get the attention of others, use keywords such as ‘MLM,’ ‘network marketing,’ ‘downline’ and ‘wealth.'”
I stifle a gag. “I’d rather shark dive without a cage, but OK. Who else is there besides zombies?”
“Their close cousins, the affiliate marketers. Then you’ve got your amateur SEO experts who are so bad at SEO they have to spam to get customers. Just tweet ‘affiliate’ or ‘SEO’ and they’ll show up. From there, just start using words that sales people and spambots in any industry are trained to seek out. You know, like ‘insurance’ and ‘mortgage.’ Hell, the other day I tweeted that I would fancy a nice glass of wine for a change, and I got wine spammers! How totally vintage was that?” He nudges me. “Get it? Vintage?”
“Yeah, yeah — unfortunately. What else?”
“Other keywords that serve as effective bait include any city, religion, political party, sports team or — best of all — anything related to sex. The pornbots are quite voracious.”
“That sounds like a lot of tweeting.”
“Oh, poor poor white collar worker,” says the guru, shedding false tears. “Is sweating over a hot keyboard tiring you out? If you’re that lazy, put keywords in your Twitter bio and keep that up for a while.”
“Just listening to this is numbing my brain.”
“Don’t fret! Watching your followers surge into quintuple and sextuple digits delivers an invigorating buzz that’s almost as good as mainlining Starbucks.” Mediacrites pauses for another deep vascular sip. “Anyway, if you can’t handle keyword tweeting, you certainly won’t be able to manage the most tedious and time-consuming part…”
“There’s something worse than tweeting spammer bait?”

Follow and Thou Shalt be Followed…

Mediacrates rises to his feet like Charlton Heston in an NRA production of The Ten Commandments. “Go forth and follow, you damn dirty ape!”
“Oh, I’ve done that. I’m following my friends and colleagues and a few journalists I admire –”
The guru starts beating me with his iPhone’s lightsaber app, then dunks my head into a virtual koi pond. “No, no, no, no, no! Stop obsessing over this ‘value’ nonsense! If you want followers, you must follow everyone you encounter — and then some! First, obviously, follow everyone who follows you. Many will bail on you within days if you don’t follow back. Not following someone back on Twitter is more insulting than dissing their mothers or, worse, their preferred computer operating system.”
“OK, OK, I get it,” I say, dodging his virtual lightsaber blows. “Follow everyone who follows me: spammers, bots, people I couldn’t care less about.”
Mediacrites settles down. “Good, you learn quickly. Then go out and find others to follow. The best are those already following thousands of people on Twitter. Their massive ‘following’ number tells you they’re completely indiscriminate about who they follow. Guy Kawasaki is a great example.”
“You mean, the former Apple marketing evangelist will follow me?
“Please…” The guru’s eyes roll like loaded dice on a rubber mat. “What are you smoking? Of course he won’t follow you — his Twitter team will. Didn’t you notice that ‘Guy Kawasaki’ tweets 4-5 times an hour, 24/7, and that most of his tweets consist of links to other people’s articles? Duh, it’s not Guy. But if you follow him, ‘he’ follows you, and you can boast about it to all your friends who aren’t on Twitter. In addition, following Guy makes it easy for spammers who stalk Apple fanboys to find you.”
“So people who claim to follow thousands of others aren’t really reading their tweets?”
Mediacrites sighs. “Could you read a thousand magazine subscriptions?”
“I can’t even keep up with the five I have now.”
“That’s your answer.”
“This is all making me feel very empty.”
“Call yourself a social media guru, visionary or thought leader. It’ll fill you up.”

The Point at the Peak…

“Ah-ha, so that’s the point of all this!” I surmise.
“What do you mean?”
I snark in reply. “I’d answer you, but I don’t take PayPal.”
“Talk, or I’ll beat you with my AT&T bill!” Mediacrites points out that his iPhone is set on “digital roam.”
“Alright, alright. The reason people like you want thousands of followers is not because you have wisdom to share…”
“Watch it, bucko.”
“That inflated number of followers lets you claim to be an expert, so you can charge Twitter newcomers for essentially common sense and spam. Monty Python would be proud.”
“That does it!!!” Mediacrites gives me a mighty shove that sends me tumbling down the business plan mountainside, past other social climbers, into the ravines of lost VC investments, and flattening out in the great plain of unrealized revenue models.

After I catch my breath, I stand and shake off some best practices and executive summaries clinging to my clothes and hair. I’m out a few bucks, but now I know what I don’t want: followers for the sake of having followers.

Like many of the people and companies I willingly follow on Twitter, my goal is to find and provide value. Well, that and maybe an occasional quip or sardonic remark. Of course, this means I might never have thousands of followers on Twitter — unless my plan to become a celebrity works out…

Step aside, Seacrest and Bieber, here I come…

Note: This post has been shared on Twitter. No followers were harmed in the process.

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches graduate-level marketing communication courses at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

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