Monthly Archives: January 2013

How not to gain a million followers on Twitter

Twitter has proven itself to be a valuable tool in business-to-business communications. However, too often an account is deemed successful simply because it has a large number of followers.

It’s challenging work gaining new followers and engaging them in a conversation. I’m currently in charge of four accounts — three for clients and one of my own that I routinely ignore. The top account has followers numbering in the low thousands. It continues to gather new followers, add retweets and garner new mentions each month.  Of course I would like, but never expect, it to join top dogs like Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, President Obama and the New York Times — accounts with millions of followers.

Then today, I received an email offering 1 million Twitter followers for $2,950. Wow, that’s still short of cracking the top 1,000, but within potential range of Twitter middleweights such as Paul McCartney, Carrie Underwood, the MythBusters TV show and aged playboy, Hugh Heffner.

Wouldn’t almost any client be ecstatic to have more than 1 million followers? And it would cost them less than a third of a penny each. Unfortunately, the offer goes against good Twitter business practices and I can’t recommend the idea. Here’s why:

  • No doubt the vast majority of new followers would be egg heads — the fake accounts without a profile picture or bio that use the egg logo supplied by Twitter. These accounts follow many, but have few followers, if any, of their own. They largely exist to inflate the number of followers of legitimate accounts. In the summer of 2011, presidential candidate Newt Gingrich was accused of buying too many of his 1.3 million followers. His large following backfired on him.
  • This type of follower, even if real, isn’t sincerely committed to a company, candidate or celebrity. Within a short time, they will go away or just sit without ever offering a retweet, mention or direct message. They will not help to attract legitimate followers or drive new business opportunities.
  • A Twitter account can’t be judged successful solely on how many followers it has. It should be attracting the best group of followers for your organization. You want people, real people, to be interested in what you have to say. You want to showcase your expertise. You want to engage in conversations. You want to create opportunities to expand your influence and gain business. If dedicated, a smaller band of followers is always preferable.

It would be nice to claim more than a million followers for each of my accounts. But for the vast majority of businesses, that’s not going to happen. Like just about everything in life, a successful Twitter presence takes hard work. You need to understand your market. You need to stay on top of industry events. You need to identify and follow major influencers. You need to tweet at times to best reach your followers. You need to tweet often enough, but not too much. And all that may win you only five to 10 new followers on a good day, but you’ll know you’re doing it the right way.

Need more proof the Internet has arrived?


If there is anyone who still doubts that the Internet is becoming the major source for us to gather news and entertainment, just look at a few estimates by leading research organizations:

  • This year, advertisers are expected to spend more of their money on Internet sites, than on newspapers. Within two years, Internet ad spending is projected to top the combined total for newspapers and magazines.
  • In 2012, mobile ad spending in the U.S. grew 180 percent to top $4 billion.  Google, Facebook and Twitter were the big winners.
  • Want to advertise in the venerable news magazine, Newsweek? You’ll have to do so online. The 79-year-old magazine released its last print issue on Dec. 31. Many other major daily newspapers and general interest and trade magazines have gone the same route over the past few years.
  • Even television, which remains the most popular medium, is facing its own problems with time-shifting and an aging viewer base. Adults age 65 and over spend far and away the most time watching TV — 60 percent more than the next highest demographic group. Ever notice how the network’s nightly news shows are heavily sponsored by pharmaceutical companies and their drugs to treat diseases of the elderly?

We may all find the end products of ad agencies to be largely irritating, often juvenile and rarely entertaining, but these people do their homework. They will lose customers if they aren’t hitting the media targets people are consuming these days.

Those of us in public relations need to take notice and follow the lead of our advertising colleagues.  We must make our clients aware that times are changing — and rapidly. No doubt, a placement in the print issue of the New York Times is still a big win. But we can no longer minimize opportunities to be in a NYT blog, the front “page” of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (online only since 2009) or making a splash on our client’s own Facebook site or Twitter account.

It won’t be long before clients will want to know the number of monthly unique visitors to a media Internet site, before asking about print circulation.

A similar trend is underway in the way we read books. Recently, a study showed the percentage of people reading printed books is declining, while e-book readership is on the rise.

And, as an aside, think of the added benefits to the environment as we use less paper, ink and fuel to deliver print publications and books to consumers.