How I broke the Twitter 2000 follow barrier in less than 1 month


The quick read:

  • It’s easy to reach the 2000 following limit. Just post a profile that says who you are and why you are tweeting, add groups of 200 tweeple an hour over a couple of days, and it’s unlikely you’ll be shut down as a spammer.
  • Be prepared to handle thousands of emails. You’ll get one for everyone who follows you back and one for every DM you receive from people thanking you for following them.
  • Auto DMs to new followers are a waste of time.
  • About 40% of people you follow will follow you back.
  • Most people who are going to follow you back, will do it in 4 or 5 days.
  • Helpful tweeple exist everywhere, so you shouldn’t be scolded on the way you reach out to find new people to follow.
  • Follower management sites such as Tweepler, FriendorFollow and TwitterKarma can be very helpful in helping you manage bulk following (or unfollowing) people. Be warned, however, they are not always reliable. Double check your numbers before acting upon the data.
  • Retweets (RT) are the lifeblood of twitter. Do us all a favor and liberally retweet anything you find noteworthy.

Hang on, this is a bit of a long story.

I’ve been on Twitter almost 2 years.  Way back last summer (that’s the Twitter olden days, June 2008), having 1000 followers meant you were a pretty big player on Twitter.  Sure there were a few stars (a la @scobleizer who had 10,000 followers), but most of us had under 1000 followers and found new people to follow one click at a time.  No one even knew who @ev was for that matter.

Twitter Spammers

Then something changed last fall.  Perhaps it was CNN bringing all kinds of new people in to the tweet stream to discuss the election.  Or perhaps it was that marketing people finally “got it.”  Suddenly there were people who were mass following folks.  We called them “spammers.”  And twitter tried to slow them down by setting up a 2000 follower limit.  (For newbies:  you can’t follower more than 2000 people until you are within a 10% striking distance with numbers of people following you.)

Frankly I never understood why it was called spam – because their tweets were real enough.  Sure there were some bots, and some who only broadcast promotions, but mostly “spammers” looked like real people – they were just playing the game a different way.

Going Under Cover

I started to get curious as I began to discover all sorts of great people, who hadn’t existed on Twitter just a few short months ago, but now had 5000+ followers and great content.  So I set up an experimental account, @myupdates, on January 17, 2009 and set off to break the 2000 barrier.

I was worried I’d be shut down as a spammer so I only added two or three hundred people in an hour.   Nitty gritty methodology:  I’d find a person who had about 300 followers, and follow all of the people who were following them with the exception of people with protected accounts.  And in a weekend I was following 2000 people – with no shut down was in sight.  (For the curious:  I posted my following/follower ratio in my tweets if you are interested in my progress.)

I started to understand that the main spam involved was the 3000 plus emails I received from everyone who followed me.  Add that to the thousands of emails sent to everyone I followed – and spam begins to make sense.  I generated more email for this project than I’ve probably written cumulatively over my entire life!

A Note about Auto DMs

While I received 600 of these from people thanking me for following them, I’ve only saw one auto DM that ever caught my eye.  Basically all of them say the same thing.  And even worse – some of the “personalized” auto DM services inserted the wrong name in the tweet to me.  With new twitter apps being notoriously unstable, I wouldn’t count on them auto-inserting the correct name 100% of the time.

If you want to say thank you to a new follower, a better way to do it is to comment on something in their profile or tweetstream – and do it publically.  After all, it’s great exposure for them if you tweet about them, they’ll probably get a bunch of new followers, and you’ll get the conversation started.

Pruning dead wood, or rinse and repeat

In the beginning I was manually unfollowing people who hadn’t followed me back, after all that’s how I’d been doing it on my other account.  Then one of my helpful new followers, (yes, helpful tweeple is one of the great things about twitter… and they exist everywhere!), pointed out that should use TwitterKarma to bulk unfollow people who weren’t reciprocating.

I started a process of unfollowing people who didn’t follow me back, grabbing a bunch of new followers until I hit 2000, and then sitting on them for 4 or 5 days to give them a chance to follow me back.  Then I’d use TwitterKarma to bulk unfollow everyone who hadn’t followed me back and add more people.

Amazingly as I reached the 2000 follower level, I discovered my tweeps were encouraging people to follow me and help me break the 2000 barrier.  And at 1831 followers I was able to surge over the 2000 wall – to the tune of 10% more tweeple than who were following me.

Be advised, I found reliability inconsistencies between TwitterKarma and other follower-management sites such as Tweepler and FriendorFollow.  After quite a bit of playing and observation, I’ve decided the one I trust the most is FriendorFollow – in part because they warn you up front to check on their data before acting on it.

But what about social capital, you ask.

Okay, so getting a pile of people to follow you really isn’t that hard.  But do you really have influence with them?  Apparently, yes.

I conducted a little experiment and asked people to retweet something for me.  I also posted the same link on both my main and experimental account and looked at how many clicks they received.  Guess what?  The link got clicked on about the same amount.  Even more of a surprise is @myupdates got 8 retweets of my request to retweet this experiment, and my real account, @freerangemom, got 9.  The big surprise for me was that only 3 of the RTs on @myupdates were primary RTs.  I actually got 6 “secondary RTs” (that is RTs of my RT) from people in @myupdates network.  Apparently that community I’d created was more viral-prone than my old school twitter world!

A few other things I learned you might like to know —

Don’t forget to save room to follow back people who have followed you first.
People will start finding you about 3 days into the project.  And if you don’t follow many of them back, they’ll drop you.  After all, they are doing the same thing you are.  So save room for them and don’t follow more than 1900 in bulk at once.

Retweets are NOT redundant.
You share only about 1 in 20 followers with someone you follow.  So if you retweet something they said, most of your followers won’t have heard it before.  This applies to heavy hitters like @problogger and @marismith, too.  It took me about 2000 people before I followed @marismith and @scobleizer.  And I never found someone who was following @problogger.

So do us all a favor and retweet anything you find that’s interesting.  That’s one of the great things about Twitter – finding cool stuff that you’d have never heard about otherwise.

Poach from Gary McCaffrey
Wanna find a bunch of people who are looking to build their follower list?  Go follow everyone on @garymccaffrey’s list.  Gary Mccaffrey is the creator of the twitter pyramid scheme:  Tweetergetter.  I tried it, and think I got about as many followers as I did recipes from the last chain letter I participated in years ago.  But funny thing, the people who have signed up for his service are all people who want new followers.  Their follow-back ratio is much higher.  So just go over to his list and follow the people following him if you want to get a whole bunch of friendly new of tweeps.

Now that my Twitter experiment is over, will I do anything different?

So will I go out and mass follow people myself?  Probably not.  It doesn’t fit with my style or what I’m trying to accomplish on Twitter.

But would it work for you? Maybe.  Depends on what your objectives are.  If you are someone like @kathyireland who is wanting to market her product to moms, following as many of them as possible makes complete sense.  But before run out and follow a ton of people, consider this —

Can you really manage relationships with so many people?  I’m not convinced I could.  Recently @scobliezer and @loic were discussing the merits of unfollowing everyone except a small group of people you actually converse with.  Apparently managing the replies and DMs from tens of thousands of followers is impossible.  And I see the logic in this.  I want relationships with people on Twitter.  You build them by reading your tweet stream and tweeting with people over time.

So here are a few ways that I’d suggest meeting new tweeple that you’ll click with:

>>Follow people who are having interesting conversations with people who you follow

>>Look for people who stand out in a hash tag conversation and follow them

>>Search the tweet stream (via search.twitter) or twitter profiles (via find people) for a keyword term, like SEO or mom or ADHD. Follow these people and send them interesting information. When you continually provide great content, people will find you.

>>You don’t have to follow everyone you talk to on Twitter. Sometimes you might just have a short interaction, not a lasting relationship.

I met some great people over at @myupdates.  I hope that the people who followed @myupdates and people who interested in continuing to learn about Twitter, marketing and my FreeRangeMom world, will follow me and continue the conversation!

Postscript:

It may not surprise you that as I was finishing up this post, I came across a very similar one by @jessenewhart.  He’s someone I’ve followed on Twitter for quite a while and enjoy our interactions.  Visit his site to find even  more great details on how to build, and keep, a twitter following.

Of course, I would love to hear from you.  Do you want a ton of Twitter followers?  And if you already have them, do you have any advice for how to manage all of those conversations and relationships?  Hope you’ll leave a comment.  And don’t forget to addd your Twitter address.

Note:  June 25, 2009, I’ve had to turn off comments to this post because of a ton of spam making it past Askimet that is targeting just this post.

  • http://jessenewhart.com Jesse Newhart

    Good job on an insightful post.

    One thing I would offer about Gary Mccaffrey’s Tweetergetter. Be careful when using these ‘viral’ promotion techniques. I try almost every Twitter app that comes down the pike.

    I tried Tweetergetter just to see how it works and two people sent me @ replies saying that they unfortunately they unfollow everyone who uses Mccaffrey’s tool.

    My recommendation, and what I plan to do in the future is ask first how your followers feel about a particular app or tool or if your curiosity must be satisfied, setup an alternative Twitter account for just such experiments.

  • http://messaginglab.com Karl S.

    Great article. I am working on my own experiment and will try some of the tactics you employed. Keep up the great work.

  • http://www.clevermom.me Ilana Johnson

    Fun experiment to read about. I thought this was really interesting. Congrats on completing this. Looking forward to reading about what you do next!

    • admin

      Thanks for your comments. I really learned a lot about Twitter from a completely different perspective. I’m still waiting to hear how the big guys manage their twitter relationships at the 10,000+ level. I suspect Twitter would either take over my life or I’d lose touch with people I enjoy tweeting if I amassed followers like some do. I sense the Twitter culture is changing. It will be interesting to see how it all evolves.

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  • http://jssvd.blogspot.com Scott Smith

    Very informative article! Lots of noise out there with purportedly informative Twitter insights, but this one stands up. Well done!
    http://twitter.com/jssvd

  • http://twitter.com/MoovoomArticles @MoovoomArticles

    Thank you for this great information I thought there was no way to brake that 2000 barrier but with your post I have learned alot of great ideas and tips very good article.

  • Francesca

    thanks !!! very helful 😀 oxox

  • http://twitter.com/stylishmrgordon Stylish Mr Gordon

    Fantastic post.  I am relatively new to Twitter.  I have just learnt that one doesn’t have to follow large number and I am at the stage of concentrating on relationships now.

    Thanks for all of the information above – I will put most of it into practice. 

    • http://www.freerangemom.com Freerangemom

      Glad you found it helpful. Twitter has changed a lot since I wrote that post. Lots of people still want to follow mass numbers of people. That’s fine if you are into broadcasting content, but others want to build relationships. That’s easier if you follow fewer. The great thing about Twitter is there is no wrong way to use it.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Invest-Guru/100003168966544 Invest Guru

    Nice One…

    Do Follow me @investorpedia7:disqus  and help me break 2000 followers

    http://investorpedia.blogspot.com

    • http://www.freerangemom.com Freerangemom

      I am happy to check out your profile and see if you are providing the engaging, entertaining and informative content I like to follow. If I were you, I’d worry less about how many people are folowing you, and more about what your goals are for twitter and how can you provide content, engagement and value. For example, a better way to get people to follow you is to reach out to them on Twitter. A lot has changed since I wrote this article and simply playing the system won’t get you the kind of results you are hoping for. Good luck.From: Disqus Sent: Thu, Dec 8, 2011 1:0 AMTo: freerangemom@gmail.comCC:Subject: [provientmarketingblog] Re: How I broke the Twitter 2000 follow barrier in less than 1 month>NOTE: This comment is waiting for your approval. It is not yet published on your site.

  • Imcruelleayours

    ThnkGod u answered my question.(When can i start fllwn more than 2000 people on twitter?)im not greedy or anything.i just fllw evry1 back & stay fllwed.unless they’re r unfollwers . Friend or Follow is great 2help manage unfollowers.i guess i’ll wait 2 get closer 2 the 10 per cent u mention & see.   i hv 2 be able 2 follow the right  ppl first in order to attract the right follwers & not some random idiot who just want a follow back & then unfollow immediately after.There are some evil mean & lyin corrupted cheating twitterers out there.I hope they’re not the same people trying to  sort out the world economy.  

    • http://www.freerangemom.com Freerangemom

      Glad to be of help. I strongly encourage you to take it slow to build followers. There are lots of instant ways to grow your follower base, but many of these will get you followers who aren’t reading your tweets. You want the people following you to care about what you have to say, right? Or why tweet at all?

  • http://thefollowerthe.blogspot.ie/ The Follower

    Hello, thanks a lot for this article, very useful
    Love this part: Retweets (RT) are the lifeblood of twitter. Do us all a favor and liberally retweet anything you find noteworthy.
    Based on this vision I created a blog recently: http://thefollowerthe.blogspot.ie, check it out see what you think. Thanks.

  • Lori Ermi

    Very helpful!