Why Tweeting for Growth Isn't Enough
Earlier this week, someone posted the following tweet:
“Over the last year or so, I’ve grown from 2k followers to over 10k followers by using the following complex mental model:
Is it about SaaS/startups? Yes — tweet it. No — don’t tweet it.”
The tweet sparked a conversation led by Amy Hoy about social media growth and personal branding, which you can find here.
This tweet captures the essence of a phenomenon that you’ve probably observed on Twitter: the rise of formulaic, “personal brand only” tweets. You know this formula and may have even employed it in your own writing (I have!). It has risen exponentially since the start of the pandemic and goes hand-in-hand with people using their social media accounts more for professional purposes, especially as more people explore entrepreneurship and other endeavors outside of formal employment.
The format is so popular that online courses have been produced to show people the exact tactics used to grow their online followings. One Twitter growth expert claims they won’t publish a tweet if they don’t feel people will actually stop scrolling in order to read it. They have tens of thousands of followers and have successfully sold digital products yielding hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s no wonder many want to understand what the secret to success is, and that many want “more followers” to get there!
But I’ve seen more about the how than the what and the why:
Why do you want more followers? What will a large following help you achieve?
What do your analytics show about engagement? How are your existing followers engaging with your existing content?
Two things are true: larger followings do tend to correlate with increased visibility, and tweeting on a narrow set of topics for personal branding purposes isn’t necessarily bad, especially if people generally respond well to that content. The problem stems from people thinking this is the only way to grow a following, they want to do it quickly, and they optimize tweets solely for growth. I’ve observed people utilizing these tactics without clarifying why they want a larger following and what they think it’ll help them achieve. And they worry if they ever veer “off script”, they will alienate current and potential followers.
But unless your account is a business account or branded account, there is no expectation that you will only ever tweet about select topics. There is also no guarantee that you won’t get unfollowed; someone who followed you for your web3 takes in November can still unfollow you later down the line even if you've only tweeted about web3. That’s why followers should not be your end goal.
Followers as a vanity metric
It’s easy to optimize for follower counts because it’s a metric that people infer a lot from, kind of like verification: to have a high follower count “must” mean your tweets are interesting or valuable, that you’re an important person on social media. Higher follower counts inevitably yield higher visibility, which can, in turn, lead to more opportunities and more followers. It’s not a useless metric by any means. But what’s not true is that everyone with a huge following is reaping the kinds of rewards you may be looking for. There are plenty of people who do not monetize their web presence nor do they frequently get pinged for the types of opportunities you’re seeking.
Follower count is a vanity metric because it can’t tell you anything about an account beyond how many accounts follow it. It fluctuates frequently and you aren’t always sure what leads to growth; besides, only a portion of your followers actually engage with you and your content. You need to observe down-funnel metrics to get a better sense of “performance”.
Down-funnel metrics that tell a better story include:
Click through rates on links you post in your tweets: did anyone actually click the link to your blog post?
Referral traffic & % of customers that came from social media
Retweets/reposts (including quote tweets, which spark conversation)
Comments: this is the most active form of engagement you’ll find. Plenty of people like and RT, but only a small percentage comment and participate in discussions.
Likes: Twitter’s algorithm surfaces likes on other people’s feeds even if they don’t follow your account, which also increases visibility
These metrics are important no matter your account size. If you have 1,000 followers but 80% of them engage with you at any given time, that’s more powerful than having 10,000 followers with 10% engagement. Increasing engagement will likely help you meet your goals — but you need to be specific about what you want to achieve. (Case in point: I got speaking engagements, freelance opportunities, and even a job when my follower count was just 500 people!)
Engagement is a two-way street
Besides having followers engage with you, you should also engage with your followers and the people you follow. Growth on social media doesn’t supersede the fact that we should be social on these platforms. It’s not enough to sit on a soapbox if you aren’t plugging into the community aspect of social media. Likes are fine, but retweets and comments are better — they demonstrate active participation versus passive scrolling. Share things other people are doing, participate in conversations, and answer questions.
Tweet what you want when you want!
Finally, you are allowed to be human on these platforms; every tweet does not have to be crafted for maximum shareability. You don’t have to pour your heart out, but you are absolutely free to tweet “off-topic” without being anxious about it affecting follower count. Followers will come and go regardless of what you post. And despite what you feel right now, your feed will evolve over time. You won’t be tweeting about the same exact things a few years from now.
Have you noticed how brands try to sound “human” on social media? There’s a reason for that: people respond to “authenticity” and what sounds like authenticity. So yes, tweet about SaaS and startups if that’s what you care about, but you can still intersperse “mundane” and fun tweets in between. After all, you’re a human first.
Ready to put these tips into practice? Purchase The Developer's Guide to Content Creation for more content-related tips, exercises, and templates.