They’re not listening, are they? Most of them aren’t, anyway. Or at least that’s what you think. But you’re not alone. That feeling of shouting into a void is a part of most people’s Twitter experience, and it’s where the more serious social media analysts are now focusing the bulk of their attention. Any idiot can get 5,000 followers on Twitter, but 5,000 followers who actually listen? No. That kind of attention is reserved only for the famous. Or is it?…
Well, non-celebrity Twitter accounts range widely in terms of engagement. Some can have 100,000 followers, tweet ten times a day and elicit about three replies per month. Others, meanwhile, have just 50 followers, but average three replies per Tweet. In this post I’m looking at the reasons behind this. If you have a problem with disengaged Twitter followers and feel like you’re always posting into a chasm of emptiness, this article is for you…
I should stress first of all that a lack of Replies, Favourites and Retweets does not necessarily mean no one’s reading what you tweet. It may just mean they’re not motivated to respond. That could be for a variety of reasons, which I’ll cover. But there are different levels of attention when it comes to Twitter accounts, and there are various types of content which can lead to high attention but low feedback. These include:
- Some types of useful content. If there’s more of an impetus for people to keep your useful information to themselves than to pass it on, you may get a lot of readers but very few wanting to share or acknowledge.
- Mechanically delivered content. Even if you’re a real person, if you present yourself in a style which looks like it could be automated and you rarely or never interact, people will inevitably think your account IS automated. Even if there’s value in what you tweet, people won’t respond because they don’t think their response would register.
- Embarrassing content. Some people’s Twitter is such a spectacular car crash of emotionally-erratic or flat-out weirdo behaviour that people can’t take their eyes off it. However, accounts like this can appear to be getting no attention at all because people don’t want to associate with them.
And there are numerous other examples. It definitely doesn’t follow that zero feedback equals zero attention. However, a lot of people do struggle to get any attention at all on Twitter. Here are some things you can do to ensure you’re not left screaming into a void…
DON’T TWEET TOO MUCH
See my article on Muting for an overview of intolerance towards heavy tweeting and how easy it now is to be mass unfollowed without even knowing it.
DON’T RELY ON DIRECTORIES
Directories such as Twiends are terrible when it comes to engagement. They’ll get you followers, but none of the followers will listen to you. I’ve explained in depth why this is in my Why Twiends Doesn’t Work article. If most of your followers have come through a directory such as Twiends, it’s no surprise that you feel no one is listening. It would be a miracle if any of them were listening, regardless of how clever, useful, entertaining or original your Tweets are.
TWEET ONLY WHEN YOU HAVE SOMETHING IMPORTANT TO SAY
If you tweet because you think you ought to rather than because you’ve got something to say, your account will inevitably get classified as junk by the people who matter. I watched a ‘training’ video made by a Twitter user with a very big Follower count. He went through the process of using Twitter, and the actual content of his tweets was just about the least of his considerations. It was all secondhand crap, basically, and guess what?… Yep, despite having six digits of Followers, his Twitter account virtually never gets any response. People aren’t stupid. Serve them with ‘filler’ and they’ll paint straight over you.
BECOME MORE IMAGE ORIENTATED
The power of image on the Internet is immense. Making your profile pic more striking and using a lot more images in your Tweets will at least catch people’s eye. One successful trick for non-photographers has been to make the actual text of the Tweet into an image, upload that, and then just use the text part of the Tweet for hashtags. I’ve also found that when I tweet links to blog posts, they get a lot more click-throughs when I upload a relevant photo into the same Tweet…
USE A RESOURCE TO ENSURE YOU FOLLOW THE RIGHT ACCOUNTS, AND THUS GET THE RIGHT FOLLOWBACKS
Unless you’re famous or a genius, the primary way you’re going to get Twitter followers is to follow people and hope they follow you back. It doesn’t matter how impressive someone’s stats look – if they’re not famous, and their followers are real (i.e. not bought), this is almost certainly what they will have done. The people who look more popular and have many more Followers than Friends have just been more sneaky and unfollowed more people.
But if you just randomly follow accounts with no attention to their behaviour, only a small percentage will follow you back, and of those who do follow back, very few are likely to listen to you.
Using a resource like ManageFlitter or Tweepi you can see a lot of useful information about people’s Twitter accounts at a glance. With ManageFlitter you can also run a refined keyword search which will seek out accounts with similar interests to yours. You can see an example of a very simple search below…
Once you’ve done your search and been served with a list of matching users, you can read their bio, read their most recent Tweet, and see what their profile pic is like. You’d also see all that on Twitter, obviously. But what you don’t get on Twitter is critical stuff like an account’s average number of Tweets per day, an instant Follower/Friend ratio statistic, and a time for the account’s last published activity. This is information you could work out on Twitter itself, but you’d have to view each individual profile page, and that’s really just groping round in the dark – even before you start doing the sums.
ManageFlitter will present all this info in a list, and can order the list based on the criteria you consider most important. I’ll show you an example in a moment, but here’s a look at what the important criteria are…
AVERAGE TWEETS PER DAY
The Average Tweets Per Day stat is important because you instantly see who’s a spammer and who’s barely active. Someone who tweets 0.1 times a day (or statistically, just once every ten days), is probably not going to read much of what you tweet if they follow you back, because they most likely spend long periods away from Twitter. On the other hand, someone who tweets 50 times a day is probably going to drive you mad with their constant spam, but more importantly, these extremely heavy tweeters are very often automated accounts. There’s no one there. It’s just a bot. They may follow you straight back, but they’ll never read a word you say.
I find accounts that tweet between 1 and 5 times a day tend to be both good followers and good to follow. But always support this statistic with the next point…
MOST RECENT ACTIVITY
ManageFlitter tells you when an account last tweeted. I’d tend not to follow anyone who last tweeted more than 2 days ago, and I definitely wouldn’t follow an unknown person who hasn’t tweeted in more than a week. They may eventually follow you back and they may not, but why try to get a followback from someone who’s currently inactive and appears disinterested in Twitter?
THE ALL-IMPORTANT RATIO
The most telling stat of all is the Follower/Friend ratio. I use this as the main ordering criterium for my ManageFlitter search list.
ManageFlitter converts each Follower/Friend ratio to a single number. The number represents the ratio of Followers per Friend. So if the number is exactly 1, the user has 1 Follower per Friend, meaning they’ve got the same number of Friends as Followers. If it’s higher than 1, they have more Followers than Friends. If it’s lower than 1, they have more Friends than Followers.
If you learn and get used to this system, it becomes easy to isolate users who are more likely to follow you back, AND more likely to listen to you. Why? Well, without getting too elaborate, those with a high number of, say, 50, have 50 times the number of people following them as they are following. In other words, they don’t follow back. Forget them entirely.
Conversely, those whose ratio is just a small fraction, like 0.1, are following many more people than they have Followers. Statistically, only 1 person in every 10 they’ve followed follows them back. These accounts MIGHT follow you back, but they’re extremely hard to predict. Many of them are simply natural followers. Not really there to be followed – they just want to see updates from accounts they consider important or interesting. Therefore, a lot may not care whether you follow or unfollow them, and that means they won’t follow you back just to keep your follow. If your account is of real interest to them, there’s a good chance they’ll follow back, but if not, you may have zero chance.
Additionally, this area of the spectrum is littered with people either approaching or actually on their follow limit. People who CAN’T follow you back even if they’d like to.
There’s also a high incidence of volatile users in the very low ratio area. They may be disillusioned with Twitter and prone to closing their accounts, or scaling down or stopping their use. They may be prone to hitting their follow limit then almost randomly unfollowing a mass of people (which is likely to include you). They may also encompass a range of other erratic or undesirable behaviours – including trolling. You can of course pretty quickly check who’s a troll and who isn’t, but even setting that aside, following low ratio accounts isn’t in my experience a greatly productive measure if you’re just looking for followbacks.
So the really likely bets for a reliable followback and some actual attention are among the people who are following roughly the same number of accounts that are following them. This is rarely a coincidence. They probably have a followback policy, they probably won’t close their accounts, and they probably know what they’re doing to the point where they’re not suddenly going to unfollow a random mass of people. The ratio number you’re looking for on ManageFlitter is something between 0.5 and 1.5. A straight number 1 is the real hotspot, and in my experience if you stick around this area, taking into account the activity stats I’ve already discussed, you should get a good number of lasting followbacks.
THE ACTUAL NUMBER OF ACCOUNTS YOUR FOLLOWERS ARE FOLLOWING
This is also very important, because clearly if you’re followed back by someone who’s following 100,000 accounts, they’re not even going to SEE your Tweets, let alone take notice of them. Fortunately, however, ManageFlitter allows you to restrict this number at the initial search stage. If you set a maximum of, for instance, 500 accounts for the ‘Following’ stat, your results list will only include people who are following that number or less. The maximum you set is up to you, but if you set very low (like 10), you’re back into that volatile, unpredictable territory, and if you set very high (like 10,000), your tweets are not realistically going to be seen even if the user does follow you back.
Above, you can see how all of this works on ManageFlitter. My search has produced a list of results, which I’ve ordered based on Followers/Following Ratio. The selection for this and other ordering criteria appears above the list – you just click the appropriate tab. I’ve then navigated to a point in the list where the ratio is around 1. That puts me in a good ballpark for likely followbacks. Now I simply look down the list to see when the accounts last tweeted. Obviously I wouldn’t worry about the “20 days ago” account, but I’ve noticed an account that last tweeted 14 hours ago. I can now hover the mouse over that account to see the bio, tweets per day, and actual number of followers and friends.
IF YOU DON’T LISTEN TO THEM, THEY WON’T LISTEN TO YOU
So you now have some Followers who can feasibly see your Tweets and are at least open to the idea of reading them. Still not getting much in the way of replies? That may be because attention is reciprocal. If you meet someone in a bar and they don’t look like they’re interested in what you say, you’re quickly going to stop trying to talk to them. You might actually find what they say quite interesting, but if they appear to be talking at you with no regard for your views or feedback, you’re not going to respond.
It’s just the same on social media sites. If people can see you’re chatty and friendly, and particularly if you talk to them, fave their Tweets and what have you, they’ll talk back. If you’re just issuing information and not yourself engaging with individuals, you shouldn’t expect any engagement back in return. This is one of my own key problems on Twitter. I’m not naturally sociable and I don’t start interactions with people. I respond if people tweet me (as long as they’re real people and they’re not just trying to market or push something), but my responses tend to be businesslike as opposed to chatty. Using Twitter isn’t greatly important to me or the things I want to do on the Internet, so I’m not worried about trying to change my approach at the moment, but I know that if I did I could improve my accounts’ engagement.
THE REAL BATTLE…
If you have a fair number of followers and you don’t do anything annoying, you’d probably be surprised at how many people already DO read your Tweets. I’ve experimented with different ways of tweeting links, and found that if I just cite the article title, the number of click-throughs is low. If, however, I pose an intriguing question and insert an attention-grabbing photo, the uptake can rise tenfold. It wasn’t that no one was seeing my Tweets, it was that no one cared about them, and that’s always going to be the real battle on a site as instant and noisy as Twitter.
Try all of the above if you’re not already doing so, but remember that people will never do anything you want them to do. They’ll only ever do what they want to do. So you have to make them want. You probably already have much more attention than you think – all you have to do is convert it into action.