Leadership is influence.
Twitter is also about influence—when your followers read your work, they are influenced by you. Twitter is a remarkable tool for leaders, as it widens the audience of people who can be led by them. But that raises the unpleasant question—Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?
That question is a core management and leadership question that was popularized back in the 1990’s in an article by Goffee and Jones in Harvard Business Review. Leadership is defined by followers—if you have no followers, you are not a leader. (So that Twitter follower count hurts a little more now, doesn’t it…)
So why should anyone follow you on Twitter?
Forbes has a good list here on how people become influential, and a lot of it has to do with things you can do on Twitter—like helping people, giving compliments, and being positive.
But why should people follow you on Twitter in the first place? Why should they let your 140-character insights into their consciousness?
There’s been very little work done on how people decide whether or not to follow an account, but here’s a framework of how the process is likely to work, and 7 reasons why people may choose to follow you on Twitter:
- Reputation. What reputation do you already have? Are you professionally well-known? Is your brand a big deal? If you’ve already established a strong brand, the choice will be simple, as either your brand speaks to the reader or it doesn’t. They have already made up their mind about you.
- Appearance of legitimacy. Do you look legit? The egg as an avatar shows that you’re just screwing around. Equally, your handle also makes a difference. Twitter is public in a way that very few platforms are—anyone can read your tweets (unless they’re locked down), anyone can communicate with you, and you are going to be judged. If your handle is ambiguous or hard to understand, or your bio is vague, you are showing that you don’t necessarily want to be held accountable for what you say (and hey—leaders are accountable). Finally, do your design choices show that you are worth paying attention to?
- Numbers. What do the numbers say? Someone with less than 100 tweets and less than 100 followers gives off a very different aroma than someone with 5,000 tweets and 10,000 followers. People make up their minds very fast. If your record shows that you’re liked by a lot of other people, which makes a big difference. Social proof is a powerful force.
- Content. Is your content relevant and interesting? This is what we all hope is the first criteria, but human behavior being what it is, the above signals come first. What can we say? Humans aren’t rational. Nevertheless, good content is still very important.
- Followers. Are you followed by people the reader trusts? People trust their friends more than anyone else. So even if you look amateurish, the right set of followers helps convey authority. Do you have other external proof of authority like a high Klout score?
- Personal relationship. Does the reader know you personally? That’s your last legitimate hope. Even if your Twitter feed is weak, your friends still love you. At least for now.
- Instant followback. Last of all, some people will only follow you because they think that you will follow them back. This is a pretty low bar. This strategy will get you a lot of 15-year-old Panamanians, but not many legitimate readers. Even though you shouldn’t count on this (or personal relationships) to get your numbers up, some people do care about follower count (see #3).
Different segments may have slightly different paths, but these criteria are unavoidable.
Take a hard look at your own Twitter account—almost all of these issues are under your control.
No matter whether you’re a social media professional (in which case, we hope that you’d have these figured out by now), a young entrepreneur, or a middle-aged businessman, seeing how you fit into these 7 factors can help you set a strategy for making the most of your Twitter moving forward.
Though this may not be hard science, it’s still a heck of a lot better than twiddling your thumbs and waiting for people to follow you.
Image credit: CC by eldh