How I Got a Six-Figure Twitter Following (and Why It Doesn’t Matter)

Twitter

It’s almost a running joke. Whenever my manager introduces me at an event, he always starts by saying how many Twitter followers I have, which is inevitably far more than anyone else in the room. Today, my follower number is a little over 175,000, and it grows by a few hundred every week.

How did my Twitter following reach six figures?

  1. I was an early adopter. I started my Twitter account (@JaneFriedman) on May 22, 2008.
  2. I’m active. Except for the first 7-8 months of joining Twitter, I’ve been actively tweeting for more than four years.
  3. I’m relentlessly focused. Mostly I tweet about writing, media, publishing, and technology.
  4. I mostly share links that I hope are helpful or insightful.
  5. I’m somewhat reserved. It’s rare for me to tweet more than 6-8 times per day. (My total number of tweets has not yet cracked 10,000.) The way I look at it: Each tweet is a potential waste of someone’s time.
  6. I joined Twitter while I was publisher of Writer’s Digest, and I also created the Writer’s Digest Twitter account. Writer’s Digest now has about 370,000 followers, and for its first two years, I operated its account in tandem with mine. It was helpful to have my name associated with a big brand when I got started.

However, none of that probably matters as much as what comes next. Here’s a graph showing the history of my follower growth on Twitter:

Jane Friedman Twitter growth graph

One immediately wonders: What was I doing from summer 2010 through fall 2011—the part where the graph is stepping up? A few things:

  1. I started blogging better (better headlines, better topics, better solutions for writers) and blogging more consistently. (This was during my years at There Are No Rules at Writer’s Digest.)
  2. I ran a weekly blog feature called Best Tweets for Writers. I curated a few dozen of the best online articles (for writers) I’d found via Twitter. The series started around May 2009 and concluded in summer 2011, when I asked Porter Anderson to take the reins, and he created Writing on the Ether.
  3. Also during this time I was actively live-tweeting conferences and other events, which usually results in a following boon.

My blog content reinforced what I was doing on Twitter, and what I was doing on Twitter reinforced the blog. I created a rather virtuous circle that I believe boosted the follower count. But most important, the Best Tweets round-up wasn’t about myself or my own content. It was about drawing attention to other excellent work, which resulted in a lot of mentions, links, tweets, and so on. Some call this link-baiting, and it’s a fairly well-known strategy for building blog traffic. If done well, everyone wins.

There was one thing out of my control, which I can’t track very well: At some point, I became one of Twitter’s “Suggested Users” in the Books category. If I’m still there, I believe my account is listed fairly close to the bottom. If I was being shown higher around 2010-2011, that could also be playing a significant role. But keep in mind, I probably would’ve never been listed if it weren’t for the activity I’ve just described.

Why the Size of My Twitter Following Doesn’t Matter

Some studies show that smaller, more loyal followings are more effective. Check out this ReadWriteWeb article from 2010:  The Million Follower Fallacy: Audience Size Doesn’t Prove Influence on Twitter. That aside, here’s a big reason why no one needs to be impressed by my following:

Fake Twitter Following

[You can check your own stats for free by clicking here.]

What does this mean? That my following is more accurately stated as 71,750, after you weed out the fake and inactive accounts. Of those “good” accounts that follow me, how many do I actually engage? Klout notes that, in the past 90 days, I’ve had more than 2,000 mentions and 1,000 retweets. That’s probably a better reflection of how many I influence via Twitter.

And now you know not to be impressed by that 175,000 number.

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Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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