If the presidential election—coming to a polling place near you in November—is the nation’s foremost popularity contest (more than 65 million Americans voted for President Barack Obama in 2008) the ongoing battle for followers on Twitter, from a purely competitive standpoint, isn’t far behind.
It has been reported that Twitter has more than 175 million users. But Business Insider says the number of active Twitter accounts (users following 8 or more accounts) is closer to 56 million. Either way, it’s a big number.
If the election were decided on Twitter instead of at the ballot box, the Leader of the Free World would most likely be a Canadian-born pop singer named Justin Bieber. The Bieb’s nearly 17 million Twitter disciples are more than those of President Obama (12.3 million) and Republican hopeful Mitt Romney (300,000) combined. Throw in Newt Gingrich’s 1.4 million followers and the old guys in Washington still don’t have a prayer. Though with his 1.2 million followers, Tim Tebow surely does.
The numbers can be daunting, especially if you’re new to the social scene. Fortunately, you’re not running for president. In the gray matter that bridges content marketing and social media, wins can be achieved any number of ways. Size does matter—that is, the larger the following, the more likely it is that your content will reach more people. But don’t be intimidated by the numbers achieved in the celebosphere. Gauge the size and reach of your social community against the needs and social habits of your target audience.
If you can count on both hands the number of days that have passed since a gaggle of screaming tweens last chased you into a waiting limo, you’re not even in the same league as The Bieb—and that’s a good thing. Being small gives you a chance to focus on incremental progress. Start by setting modest goals and watch your following grow.
Rather than harp on the number of Twitter followers or Facebook likes you’ve acquired, take solace in smaller victories. Look at the ways in which people are interacting with your content. Are they sharing your stories with others? Are people leaving insightful comments or criticisms in the comments section? Are they linking to your content or using it as a bridge to stories or media on your web site?
Every possible action and reaction represents a measurable social media win for your organization.
Want to achieve a level of social media success that will make you unbeatable in the eyes of your readers? Consider these tips to help you build an audience (If I’m wrong, cast your vote for my opponent):
Journalists like the word “writer” because it sounds sexier than, say, “content aggregator.” But any journalist who has spent time in the trenches will tell you that reporting is 70 percent research, 30 percent writing (and that’s being generous).
If you’re an editor or writer whose job is to create content for a living, you likely spend countless hours wading in the online ether in search of news relevant to your audience. Don’t go all old school and keep that information to yourself, create a Twitter account and share it with your readers.
Rather than view Twitter or Facebook as potential resource guzzlers that threaten to siphon time away from your reporting, use these tools to animate the editorial thought process for your audience—build communities, increase your readership, gauge reaction to controversial topics, interact with fans and critics alike, and make your content stronger!
When I first started using Twitter, I assumed my tweets would be so irresistible that the members of Twitter Nation would hang on my every character (up to 140, of course). That was a mistake. Don’t dive into Twitter with a big head.
Plot your tweets carefully. If someone responds to something you’ve written, either by retweeting one of your posts or @mentioning you in one of their own messages, consider extending the favor by passing along one of their tweets to your followers or by sending them a private message thanking them for the recognition with a comment to keep the conversation going. The only way to win at social media is to be social. Do yourself a favor and make friends.
As you grow your online community, it might seem like a good idea to target the users with the largest followings. Here’s a tip: The biggest whales aren’t always the easiest to catch. If you @mention a fellow Tweeter with 1 million other followers, there’s no guarantee he or she will respond to, or even see, your tweet.
There’s no harm in following these people—and you might actually get lucky a time or two—but the best and most interactive social media relationships usually happen on a smaller more intimate scale. Find someone who shares common interests—a user who, like you, is still building a following—and work the relationship. As they grow, so will you. And vice versa.
Twitter is not the AP news wire. Injecting a little personality into your tweets can go a long way in helping you establish an online identity—a persona that people will connect with. Try framing tweets in the form of a question or using a joke to get peoples’ attention. If you’re simply pumping out tweets like newspaper headlines, your followers are apt to treat you like a newspaper and leave you on the bus.
Still struggling to embrace the social you? Ask yourself one question: What would Justin Bieber do?