Follower count is often considered one of the vainest of vanity metrics. I can relate. I've had my fair share of ego tied to that golden number on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn---pointing out my follower growth to a friend one day and archiving emails just as fast as I could when growth doesn't come.
Still, despite the vanity, there is value in follower count. While it seems like a smug number to chase, followers have a proportional impact on how far and wide your message spreads and the volume of how you convert.
I think the best bit of advice on followers I've read on the topic of from our co-founder Leo:
Quality is key. Quantity can't be forgotten.
Follower count is one of the metrics we keep a close eye on with our social media reports and audits. There is a lot of great advice on how to grow your followers on social media (much of which I'll relay below), and at Buffer we've always been interested in the research behind the advice. How, specifically, can you increase your followers? Which actionable tactics can you take today to grow your follower numbers?
I went looking for data--and I think I found a few good answers.
Before we get into the research-backed methods for growing your followers, I wanted to start off with some best practices for follower growth. You're likely to come across these ideas when you're searching for social media tips or reading up on how someone got the followers they did.
Here are the Big 10:
There's lots of really good advice here on what works and what doesn't in terms of adding followers. These strategies are really good for consistent growth of your followers, and most of the advice you'll read---How I Went From Zero to 380,000 Followers and Twitter Tips From a Marketer with 200K Followers---will be variations on many of these bullet points.
You may have noticed that there is no single, simple hack to get more followers. I'm afraid there's no switch to flip to get the followers flowing. I've seen firsthand that the above tactics do work for building your follower count, so long as you can remain patient, determined, and consistent.
But while there's no magic bullet for getting more followers, there is at least a good deal of research that can take you down the right path and ensure that your efforts are not in vain. Looking for a surefire way to gain more followers? There's a good blueprint in this data.
Are you an informer or a meformer?
Researchers at Rutgers University found that only 20 percent of us are informers on social media, while the other 80 percent are meformers. What exactly is a meformer?
The Rutgers team ended up creating the term "meformer" after analyzing data from a sampling of Twitter accounts. Their analysis, based on patterns of usage along with tweet and follower data, found a clear divide between those who share information and those who share about themselves.
And how does this relate to followers?
Informers had more than two times the followers of meformers.
It would seem that sharing information on social media is better for your follower count than sharing about yourself.
How can you tell which cluster you fall into---informer or meformer? The research study included an interesting breakdown of the classification of tweets. Researchers rated a sample of tweets and assigned a category to each. Overall, there were nine major categories that were used for classification. Do you recognize some of your tweets in the following examples?
According to the study, 53 percent of the tweets from informers fell into the Information Sharing category, whereas 48 percent of the meformers' tweets were Me Now.
Aim to boost your information sharing on social media so that you more closely align with the informer cluster rather than the meformer cluster.
Roy Povarchik has an interesting idea about follower growth. It's called Twitter Greatness, and it goes something like this:
The real quick way to get a bunch of people following you: Be Barack Obama. Or Katy Perry. Or Joel Gasciogne.
What do folks like these have in common? Fame, yes. But they are also creators and doers and leaders. The act of creating is what sets them apart. Povarchik went so far as to create a helpful pyramid to display the heirarchy of greatness on Twitter. You can apply this pyramid to most other social networks, too, with a few tweaks (e.g., reporting is greater on Twitter than other networks).
Do you see yourself somewhere on this pyramid?
Of course, this interesting idea of greatness is made all the more powerful with some stats to back it up. Hubspot data scientist Dan Zarella researched the effect of authority in a Twitter bio. Have you heard variations on the theme of "don't call yourself a guru"? Zarella found this to be false. Self-professed gurus have an average of 100 more followers than a typical Twitter user.
And it's not just "guru." Many different types of authoritative titles can help boost your follower count.
Create amazing things and be a leader in your industry. Then don't forget to mention it in your bio. Terms like author, expert, founder, and official can be powerful assets to growing your followers.
You could also approach the question of getting more followers from the other side: Part of having lots of followers is knowing how to keep them.
There was an interesting study by a group of Korean researchers into the how and why of unfollowing. They looked at 1.2 million Twitter accounts and analyzed 51 days' worth of tweets and interactions. Through analysis and interviews, they found that the following factors came into play with unfollowing:
The interview portion of the research study revealed the concept of "Bursts"---too many updates all at once. More than half of unfollows come as a result of bursts.
There are other factors at play here, too, and many of them are areas that could ring true for marketers or brands. Do any of these types of tweets hit home for you?
To get a lot of followers, minimize the number of those who unfollow you. Avoid bursts by sending your updates with a scheduler like Buffer. And keep in mind other types of updates to avoid---politics, mundane topics, lack of personality, etc.
If you are a brand looking for more followers on social media, it'll help to know what your followers are after. Nielsen research conducted a study for Twitter UK back in March, revealing the top ten reasons why people follow brands.
Among the top 10 reasons, one of the biggest themes was discounts. Reasons for following included special offers or promotions, freebies, and exclusive content. Interesting, the fact that a brand posts entertaining and useful content the seventh-most popular reason for following a brand. This would seem to indicate that there's more to being followed than good content marketing.
Give things away. Twitter users love discounts and freebies, and they are likely to follow a brand to get some goods. If you can add value in this way---along with your content strategy and branding---you might see your followers grow.
This one might fall under the title of "common sense" for many of you, so it's great to see that there's data to back up the claim. Social media analytics company Beevolve analyzed 36 million Twitter profiles and 28 billion tweets to find the correlation between tweet frequency and twitter followers.
The results (as you might have guessed): Those who tweet more have the most followers.
The big question with data like this is whether the correlation equals causation. In other words, why do people with a lot of tweets have a lot of followers? Could it really be true that tweeting 10,000 times next week will be a free pass to gaining 5,000 new followers?
I think it's important to keep a few things in mind with this data:
Lots of tweets equals lots of activity. And the more active you are on social media (see the tried-and-true tips at the top of this article), the more likely you are to gain followers, make connections, and build relationships.
Lots of tweets equals lots of experience. As you tweet more, you get better at tweeting. This could play into your becoming a better Informer or simply iterating on tweeting formulas that work.
Lots of tweets equals longevity. It makes sense to think that that the longer you're around on social media, the more time and opportunity you'll have to grow your followers. Posting 10,000 updates would mean a years' worth of 27 posts daily. You'd deserve all the followers you get at that awesome pace!
Post to social media often, as part of a consistent, dependable strategy. You're bound to get better as you go, and people are going to notice and appreciate that you're sticking around to stay connected.
(Note: One of my favorite nuggets from the Beevolve study was that the average Twitter user is an English-speaking, 28-year-old woman with about 208 followers. So if you happen to have more than 208 followers, you can feel good about being above average!)
The tone and voice you have on social media really does make a difference. Dan Zarrella's research into followers---how factors like conversations, self-reference, and avatars affect follow count---touched on the topic of tone. He found that negative remarks are tied to lower follower counts.
Share happily. Take care to avoid coming across as sad, aggressive, angry, cynical, or morbid with your social media updates. Users notice. They're more likely to follow a positive account than a Debbie Downer.
We've touched on a lot of tips here for growing followers: Informers vs. Meformers, authority, bursts, freebies, frequency, and happiness. Hopefully one (or more) will be key to getting your follower count growing!
I'd love to hear from you about what has worked in the past for growing your follower base. Any tips you'd like to share? Any tactics you're itching to try out?
P.S. If you liked this post, you might also like 10 Surprising New Stats to Help You Reach Your Followers and 7 Ways I Accidentally Got More Twitter Followers.