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The Science of Getting New Twitter Followers

Follower count is, unanimously, the biggest indicator of success on Twitter. Some people may contend with that statement. They may argue that quality of followers, quality of tweets, level of engagement, etc. are far more important success metrics.  

However, a lot of people are, without a doubt, influenced by the number of followers somebody has. Having a huge follower count is kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. People see you have a lot of followers, assume your tweets must be extra-special or you must be extra-special and follow you, thus increasing your follower count further.  

So, what really gets you more followers? You will find articles aplenty online that tell you how to get more followers on Twitter. Why, I have written quite a few myself. Like this one.  

But this post is different.  

This post does not rely on experience, observation, commonly held beliefs, guesswork or any other abstract factors to tell you where Twitter followers come from and how to get and keep them. This post is based entirely on scientific analysis and facts – numbers, stats, hard-to-refute conclusions. So, let’s get going.  

Scientifically, these are the factors that influence how many twitter followers a particular account can amass:  

1. Meformers vs Informers

Essentially, all Twitter users are divided into three groups - meformers, informers and passive consumers. Meformers are people who only tweet about information that relates to them. Informers, on the other hand, are people who tweet informational content. Passive consumers are people who only consume tweets, that is, read, but don't contribute, in terms of tweets, too often.  

You could be one of those three or a combination, but with a strong affinity towards a certain Twitter behavior. For instance, you could be both a meformer and an informer, but more of the latter, with an occasional personal tweet now and then.  

Research conducted by Georgia Institute of Tech and University of Michigan shows that meformer tweets are a deterrent to getting new followers. Informer tweets on the other hand are a definite plus. So much so that informational content attracts new followers with a relative impact that is roughly 30X higher than the impact of meformer content.    


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Here are a few typical examples of meformer content

Paris was awesome! On my way to Barcelona now! — Nischal Shetty (@NischalShetty) May 12, 2014
my head hurts so bad but i cant take my medication because otherwise ill be totally screwed up again :D D:D:D: D::D :D:DD: D — malia* ੈ✩‧₊˚⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ (@fallouingforyou) July 16, 2014

And here are a few typical examples of informational content

How to Build a Targeted Twitter Tribe of 100,000 Followers http://t.co/Rqi8Hczytv #SocialMedia #Marketing — Jeff Bullas (@jeffbullas) July 15, 2014
#TwitterTip Use images. 40% of people respond better to visual info than plain text. — JustUnfollow (@justunfollow) May 15, 2014

2. Tweet Sentiment

Tweet sentiment refers to the tone and kind of emotion in your tweet, which can be either positive, neutral or negative. A few months ago we had asked our followers (they numbered around 700,000 at that time), what was the main reason for them to unfollow people, and negativity won hands down.  

That is, people who crib, complain, make sad remarks are not going to find sympathizers on Twitter. A lot of people will unfollow them. Not just our personal results, but the scientific paper mentioned above backs our finding. Apparently, negative sentiments in tweets are a total no-no for new followers, though they may get people who know you to empathize.  

So, as far as building stronger connections with people you already know on Twitter is concerned, negative tweets in small doses does seem to work. They get you attention and sympathy from your close followers. However, if you are looking to increase your follower count – this strategy won’t work. In fact, attention-seeking negative tweets are best not written.  

Here's what people are saying online:

If you're tweets are constantly negative, I'll unfollow you. Look at the bright side of life. — Jacob Hernandez (@hernandezj23) June 27, 2014
I need to unfollow all these negative people. Not trying to see negative stuff when I get on twitter. Sorry. Positive Vibes Only. — Jesse Donez (@JesseDonez) June 19, 2014

3. Topical Focus

Accounts that are topically focused tend to get more new followers than others. For eg. politically focused accounts would get more followers than one that has political tweets and also other tweets.  

So, a very good practice when creating a Twitter account is to decide on a theme for your account and stick to it. Occasional deviations are OK. For instance, since I am a writer, like writing and have quite a bit of experience in all things related to writing, I could keep my account focused on writing. This account would then be of interest to writers, tweeps learning the writing art etc.  

However, if I were to think that since I am a writer, I like chess, watching cricket and going on nature trails, I will tweet about all of these, I will actually not be tweeting for anybody. If a writer were to follow me, she would find my writing-related tweets interesting, but likely wouldn’t find my chess, cricket and nature trail related ones as interesting and would most likely unfollow me. 


4. Profile Completeness

The more complete your profile, the more followers you will have. Profile completeness means including your real name (first and last), description/bio, url and location. All of these are standalone factors in driving follower growth, i.e. adding each of these individually also significantly effects follower acquisition.  

In fact, the study showed that users with completed profile content have about 2X to 3X as many friends as those who have incomplete profiles. 

Profile completeness for the most part is important because it serves as an identity indicator. It increases trustworthiness and gives people the extra push they need to follow you. The more elements you include (photo, description, url), the more success you ought to have in getting new followers.   If we were to think logically, it does make sense that most of us would be far likelier to follow a profile that displays a person’s photograph versus one that displays the infamous Twitter egg.  

5. Reading Index

Interestingly, the research paper cited above reveals that using more sophisticated language, essentially writing tweets with a reading index above average, has a moderately strong effect on follower growth.  

Walther’s Social Information Processing theory explains why this may be so by suggesting that in a social setting, such as on twitter, where face to face communication isn’t possible, people use linguistics cues, such as spelling and vocabulary to compensate for the lack of sensory cues.  

So, while you shouldn’t use superfluous words to embellish your tweets and make them sound so sophisticated that no average Joe would be able to understand what you mean, using good language and vocabulary is a definite plus.  

According to a tool on Time.com, 33% tweets are of the fourth grade reading level.


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What impression are your tweets making for you?

6. Tweeting In Bursts

This is one is pretty commonly known. Tweeting in bursts, i.e. too many tweets in a short span of time (say 15 tweets in an hour), will lead to unfollows. The reason behind this is pretty logical too. While people do want to read their tweets if they have followed you, they do not want to read only your tweets. If you were to flood their feed with too many tweets in too little time, be assured that you will be annoying one tweep too many and a few unfollows are sure to result.    

7. Hashtag usage

Hashtags are commonly touted as a very mode to get more followers, more exposure and more engagemet. However, it is a boost best taken in small doses. Indiscriminate use of hashtags, however, is a clear negative. Using one or two hashtags is good for your tweets and account, since research by Dan Zarrella shows that tweets with hashtags get more retweets:



However, three or more hashtags in a tweet is not a good idea. Abusing hashtags this way will very negatively impact your follower gain. In fact, research by Buddy Media shows that tweets with more than three hashtags show a 17% drop in engagement.  

Key Takeaways

Science seems to back most of our own logical conclusions. To attract and keep Twitter followers on your account, here's what you should do:

-Complete your profile. Completely.

-Choose a core theme and stick to it.

-Keep self-referencing meformer tweets to a minimum. Instead tweet informational content that is retweet-worthy.

-No negativity. Period.

-Good grammar. Good vocabulary. Good impression.

-Space out your tweets. Don't send out too many in too short a span of time.

-Use hashtags. Don't abuse them. Two is a good number.  

Join The Conversation

  • andersorsander's picture
    Jul 20 Posted 3 years ago andersorsander

    Thank you for an interesting post, but I will claim that you IMHO are wrong in your opening sentence "Follower count is, unanimously, the biggest indicator of success on Twitter."

    If that was true buying followers, or #followback would be hailed as success, since it gives you what you say, a great follower count. But it's not. Because apart from quantity there's also authenticity and quality that comes into play. 

    • A profile with 10k followers and three tweets has offered no quality and bears no authenticity. It's always a nofollow. Follower count alone is not the biggest indicator of success.
    • A profile with 100k followers and every followback hashtag in the profile and junk tweets has no authenticity and no quality. It's always a nofollow.
    • A profile with 100k followers, no interaction, no replies, retweets, sharing content but only broadcasting their own content is almost certainly a nofollow, unless you actually are so interested in the content that the lack of interaction doesn't matter

    While follower count of course is important it doesn't have such importance that it stands by itself. It stands side by side with quantity and authenticity. Together they indicate the success of a Twitter profile

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