How I Lost 2,000 Twitter Followers and What I Learned In the Process

Tom earned his master’s in IMC from WVU and his bachelor’s in public relations from Utica College of Syracuse University. He joined the Site-Seeker team in 2013 as an account manager.

My story.

At my “Twitter peak,” I had around 11,000 followers. That was in late 2015. Today, I’m down to 8,980 and counting and I typically lose a few followers each day. Here’s what happened, and here’s why I don’t mind seeing them go…

I graduated from college in 2009. It was a tough time to be a college graduate due to the Great Recession that hit earlier that year. Thousands of companies were laying off so when positions did happen to open, those who were laid off with plenty more experience under their belts, were acting as competition.

On the flip side, this new thing called social media was beginning to gain traction. Though many platforms were a few years old, it was the period when businesses wanted to try to understand and exercise the benefits of these channels. I was instructed by several mentors to get involved, learn the tools, appreciate how businesses can take advantage, etc. So I did.

How I gained my following.

I set out on a – what would soon become a seven-year journey – to be a Twitter all-star. I treated it like a second job. I would get home from work each night and devote at least two hours to the cause.  

I’m not Twitter famous by any means. I’m not even verified. But for someone who wasn’t/isn’t a full-time blogger, member of the media, or a celebrity, I think having several thousands of followers was a nice feat. It certainly helped give me credibility when I spoke to clients about social media marketing.

Throughout the time when I was highly active, I was often asked my peers and clients how I accumulated such a following. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a magic bullet, and it didn’t happen overnight. I don’t mind sharing some of my best practices for gaining a following:

I talked to everyone.

I would use the search tool and hashtags to find people in PR, marketing, and technology, etc. Then I would engage – the good ‘ol true definition of the word. I’d reply to people for hours on end, asking questions, commenting, getting involved in professional conversations with my opinion and limited expertise. This was before it was all too common to use the “fav” feature (now “like” feature) so it was all real commentary. Many users came and went. Some I continue to talk to today. (Shoutout to @jesslaw ‏@aubzim ‏@Courtz112 and @bitty_boop ‏ for holdin’ it down since day 1.)

I participated in a ton of Twitter Chats.

#PRChat, #JournChat, #ContentChat, #PPCChat, etc. These were/are weekly chats focused on a variety of topics in my industry – public relations, blogging, marketing, technology, etc. I’d answer every question and stay involved for the full hour. After each event, I would follow all users who I interacted with throughout the chat. Most would immediately follow back.

I hijacked live events.

There were many users who would list and/or follow users who were participating and tweeting about certain live events. This could be music festivals (#WarpedTour), TV shows (like the #Oscars), or trade shows (#NRAShow) and industry conferences (#INBOUND). By using the owned hashtags for the event, my tweets would be noticed among other participants (both live and online) and cause quite a few follow backs. I also participated in a few live Tweet-Ups, gatherings made up of active Twitter users in a certain area.

I followed relevant people.

I wanted to follow (and get follow backs from) people who were in my industry. As a shortcut, I knew that people who engaged with marketing/ad agencies would be related to my field. I used Twitter lists like mad to classify and organize my following. I followed tons of those who were connected to local/regional agencies.I also used Twitter directories to find relevant handles based on topics. Having a professional headshot, detailed bio related to my job, and a website with supporting material helped ensure that I was legitimate and wasn’t a bot. It helped me get noticed.

I created and shared a lot of content.

I’ve seen Twitter users who tweet a lot, but it’s nothing meaningful. Content creation is important because people look to you as a source of rich information, as a thought leader. I created/shared blog articles, short videos, photos, charts, infographics, etc. Some on behalf of my business, some that I did on my own time simply to support my Twitter initiative. I also used relevant hashtags when posting. These pieces got shared, caused reactions, and led to follower growth.

There’s been a ton of articles over the years on ways to develop a following. Do a quick Google search. Blogs from 2009 up until yesterday. Many of them have decent suggestions, beyond some that I mentioned above. Here’s one.

How I lost my following.

I’m not sure if it was the changing usage patterns of Twitter or maybe I had just grown tired of reading tweets from total strangers. Either way, for me, Twitter had lost some of its luster. I decided to make a change.

It took me about four hours (since they got rid of all the mass unfollow tools) but I cleansed myself of about 8,000 following. I only left remaining: 1) those who I personally knew, 2) those who I had developed Twitter relationships with over time, 3) trusted media outlets that I often read, 4) select businesses and brands that I pay close attention to. I left myself with about 200 following.

A lot of users on Twitter play the “I only follow people who follow me back” game. It’s not a bad form of etiquette. If you don’t care about what I have to say, why should I care about what you have to say? It’s not like Facebook or LinkedIn. If we don’t know each other, there are no real repercussions if one of us hits “unfollow.”

After I had cleansed my list, I watched as 2,000 followers slowly unfollowed me over the course of about three months. Since then, a few followers fade each day. I still have 8,000+ but, more importantly, I have true connections with many that have stayed and I continue to engage with them regularly.

I had preached it for years but I wasn’t living it – until now. Quality > quantity. The number doesn’t mean anything if those individuals weren’t paying attention, engaging, sharing a connection, communicating. I have no interest in spectators – on Twitter, in business, or in my personal life, so the following number means nothing to me. It’s all about the conversations.

How Twitter has changed.

Twitter is very different today than it was in 2009. From my experience, it’s become much more of an article exchange center rather than a source of original content. What I mean is there’s a few creators, namely big bloggers or media outlets, and the rest of users simply add to the commentary with a RT, like, or reply (remember the 90-9-1 rule?). The ability to reply with animated gifs and emojis has only fueled this behavior since you don’t need to leave Twitter to find these reactions. Of course, Twitter as a source for instant news is still a critical function, especially with the addition of live streaming – but again – most people sit back and watch the 1% do their thing.

Jay Baer at Convince & Convert predicted this as soon as Twitter updated its software to algorithmically show certain tweets ahead of others. He also alluded to the rise of Twitter ads to help businesses find their way to the top of user feeds.

Here’s what I feel Twitter still does really well and where I feel it struggles. This can help you and your business decide if/when to use Twitter and how much attention to give to it.

Pros:

  • Customer service. Those on Twitter expect instant responses. That’s the nature of the tool. It’s real-time. Business can/should use Twitter as a way for customers to ask questions. The only caveat – you should be ready to respond immediately, at least within the hour.
  • Skews younger. If you’re a brand whose target audience is tweens, teens, and twenty-somethings, this is a great outlet. It isn’t as shiny and new as SnapChat, but it does boast these users in great numbers. Plus, Twitter outweighs SnapChat with the ability to add call to actions, have versatile content, and remain top of mind longer.
  • Show off your brand voice/personality. I’m sure you’ve read about Wendy’s on Twitter. It’s amazing. They are sassy, sarcastic, even sometimes rude, but it fits the personality they want to convey. Their target audience is younger, more urban, with less income. It fits them. Other brands should follow suit, find a voice that makes sense, and embrace it wholly.

Cons:

  • The novelty is gone. Twitter still continues to claim that it has 320 million users. But it doesn’t take a Twitter expert to browse around and see all the dormant, dead accounts that exist. Not to mention the crazy amount of spam or fake accounts. I think the numbers are inflated. The newness of Twitter has faded and many social influencers have taken to Instagram or SnapChat as an alternative.
  • Short life span. Despite the “In case you missed it…” feature, the very nature of Twitter means that tweets have a short life span. Within hours, sometimes even minutes (depending on the user), the tweet is buried and gone. This requires users and brands to tweet often to stay top of mind and more resources are needed to make that happen.
  • Challenging ad interface. It’s not challenging to use. It’s challenging to find success. Unless you’re a company with a very broad target audience, it’s tough to find your niche. The targeting features on Twitter aren’t nearly as good as Facebook and LinkedIn. You can use keywords, related followers using handle names, geography, and interests, but even just a few keywords or handles will put a lot of people on your list that aren’t relevant. When I used Twitter ads, it took some time and a lot of babysitting and adjusting to find my sweet spot. You can certainly find success, but you may waste money in the process.