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Social Advocacy and Politics: Marshmallows and Twitter Lists

I've been thinking a lot lately about the marshmallow test and how it relates to social media strategy. In particular, how does the balance between instant gratification and delayed satisfaction play out when trying to grow your Twitter audience?

On the instant gratification side, there is the option to buy your Twitter followers. How often has someone followed you with a bio like this: "For $39.99, you can buy 50,000 followers." 

I am always struck by how few followers people selling followers usually have. Do they know something we should know? Do they know that the followers they are selling are newts

I, as a rule, will block new followers who are selling followers. 

On the delayed gratification side of the equation is building your audience "the old fashioned way:" earning it. This is the organic method of getting out there into the hashtag and keyword conversations that matter to you, engaging with other like-minded people on topics of shared interest and building a relationship. It is slow going, but your network will be robust and engaged, even if significantly smaller. 

Then I thought a bit more about the marshmallow test. The latest research shows that kids who waited a few minutes to get two marshmallows grew up to be thinner and more successful than those who jumped right in and ate the one marshmallow. 

But what if the kid was diabetic? Wouldn't taking one marshmallow right away be less damaging to the kid's health than waiting for two?

Yes, it would. 

This made me think that the decision between instant gratification and delayed satisfaction was not so simple. There was context to be considered. There was a balance to be struck in the face of that context. 

With regards to Twitter lists, a balanced approach—an approach that is faster than the method described above, yet still designed to get quality followers—is probably the best for building up an audience that will quickly serve your campaign's strategic needs. Accelerating the process of getting followers by following people who are highly likely to support your campaign will get you more high quality followers faster. And it will minimize the number of #newts following you. 

This process, while yielding a faster growing, higher quality audience, is more work than either of the methods described above. You have to find the right people to follow and you have to manually unfollow most of these people when they do not follow back to make room for following more people. 

This requires two important activities to be successful. First, you have to tweet content that is interesting to the people you follow. Second, you have to find a lot of the right people very quickly. 

Tweeting relevant content is straight forward and should not need a deep explanation here. But researching who to follow, well, that is a different story. 

Here are a couple methods I like to use to find the right people to follow:

Keyword Searching

The most obvious method is keyword searching. By using Twitter's search engine or a third party search tool like, you can quickly find lots of people tweeting about your issue(s). But once you find them, you still have to take extra steps to vet them. You have to check their bios and read some of their other tweets to see if they are an expert or influencer on the issue, a decision maker on policy related to the issue or an concerned citizen who is either and activist or a candidate to become one. That takes time, though time well spent. 

List Diving

An alternative to keyword searching is Twitter List Diving. This method lets other people do the research for you, giving you more instant gratification. But because you have to do a little research up front to find a few people with the best lists to dive into, the quick payoff yields very high quality results. 

Once you find a handful of really good tweeters who fit your campaign's needs, check out their lists. Better yet, check out the lists they have been added to by other people (“member of”). There you are likely to find several lists other people have curated containing hundreds of the perfect tweeters to target.

Voila! You now have a method for finding large numbers of the best people for your campaign to follow and engage. You will grow your followers much faster than by using the delayed satisfaction method described at the top of this post, but it will still be organic growth. In fact, this method will probably yield a much higher quality target list than the slow return method. 

List Diving is certainly not as fast as buying followers, but the relatively results will be an infinitely better set of followers that will help you get your campaign up and running quickly, with early impact that exceeds the number of followers you gain. Quality of followers over quantity of followers is the satisfaction you get from a balanced approach to getting satisfaction.

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