A common question related to social media that I am often asked is: “how do we grow our twitter followers?” I try to re-frame that question as “how can we get our message viewed by the right people?” and its related question: “who could best pass our message along?”
The goal is not to gain many followers, but rather to gain well positioned followers! A well positioned follower is someone who talks about topics related to your topic and is located at the center of many relationships with other people in that topic network. These highly central people are able to get their message to be visible to many people. If they re-tweet you, your message will go far. Why would they re-tweet you? First, they have to be able to hear you to re-tweet you and that means that you need to get these people to follow you. Second, you need to say something sensible enough to be worth re-tweeting.
The task is finding the important users to focus on. To find them, create a network map of the relevant topics. A few people in these network maps will occupy key positions in which they have many connections or have special ties that bridge gaps between sub-groups. There are often only a few of these people in any topic area.
Find these strategically located people and follow them and often they will follow you back. A good proxy for the strategic value of a person’s location is their “betweenness centrality” – a measure of how much a person acts a bridge between others.
If the people you select and follow do not immediately follow you back there is another opportunity to get them to follow you. If you re-tweet particularly good content from the people you have selected to follow there is a good chance that you will be followed back.
Once you have identified, followed, and been followed back by some fraction of the influential people around your topics of interest you have a increased chance that your tweets will be re-tweeted. For each re-tweet, your message is exposed to a potentially large and highly targeted group of people. Over time it is possible to create a relationship with a collection of highly influential participants who may be interested in sharing your message with their followers.