This week marked 3 years since I left my job as a communications specialist and started working on Hot Pepper Communications full-time. Last month marked my passing 20,000 followers on Twitter, a far cry from the 50 I had when I converted my side business into a full-time business.

Growing my follower count by 20,000 in 3 years has taken a lot of work, including a lot of trial and error. It all comes down to 10 secrets in 3 areas: reciprocation, content, and following. I’ve decided to share my 10 ways to get more Twitter followers for free, so you, too — with hard work and a lot of time—can build a massive following.

Reciprocate engagement

One of the most important things you can do to build engagement and increase followers is to reciprocate engagement others send your way. If someone retweets you, retweet them back; if they follow you, follow them back; if they mention you, mention them back.

1. Respond to mentions

When I open up my Twitter account, I immediately open the “Notifications” tab. One of the first things I do is check for any mentions I received since the last time I logged in. They could be comments, questions, or shoutouts.

Depending on the nature of the comment, I thank them for the comment or continue the conversation. For questions, I simply answer the question, hopefully pointing them to a page on my website for more details or to a recent article I read. For shoutouts, I simply thank them for mentioning my name.

I try to like the mention, as well, to give them another nod, but mainly to help me know what content I’ve already interacted with. I don’t use liking as a primary engagement tool, however.

2. Retweet the retweeters

The next thing I look for is anyone who retweeted one of my tweets. I thank each of them, and I bring up their profile to see if they have something I can retweet in return that is related to my industry (writing or social media, primarily). Retweeting those who retweet me is a way to say thank you, and it populates my timeline with original content I don’t have to write.

3. Follow the followers

The third thing I do is check for new followers. I usually follow them back (unless they are bots or potentially offensive accounts) and add them to lists I’ve created as a way to manage my timeline.

4. Search for engagers

Not all who engage with your content will show up on your “Notifications” feed. For example, if someone shared one of your blog posts directly from your website and didn’t include your username, it wouldn’t show up.

One way to find content like this is to do a search for your website address. (Here’s my business, for example). Also, search for your company and product names.

When you find content here, thank them and retweet it.

Provide compelling content

If you want to get more engagement, don’t just retweet what others tweet. You want to create content that people will comment on and retweet themselves, and you want a balance of original content (drive traffic to your site) and curated content (increase interest from others).

5. Curate content

I try to find content to share as original tweets. I do this via 4 streams: accounts that recently retweeted me (see #2), my Twitter lists, enewsletters I received that day, and RSS feeds I subscribe to.

Once I have half a dozen or so potentially engaging articles, news stories, or blog posts, I schedule them in a service like Buffer to provide content when I’m doing client work and can’t be on my account. I use a combination of mentions, hashtags, and images to make the posts more compelling (see 6 – 8).

6. Use images

One of the drawbacks of the Twitter timeline — especially if you have many followers — is that it’s easy to miss content as you’re scrolling through dozens or hundreds of posts at a time. That means your tweets might be getting missed on others’ timelines, too. Luckily, including an eye-catching image is one way to get people to stop scrolling — even if for just a moment. If they stop to check out your tweet, they might be more likely to click on it, retweet it, or comment on it.

If you’re sharing an article that uses a photo, here are some tips for getting a better version for your tweet.

7. Use hashtags

Find out what hashtags are popular in your industry — or for the topic of your tweet — and include them in your tweet. People subscribe to popular hashtags and review them regularly, which increases the chances of more people seeing your tweet. Bonus tip: if the text of your tweet contains one of those hashtags, simply convert that word into a hashtag.

Hashtagify is a great resource for finding popular hashtags.

8. Mention others

One thing I like to do in my tweets is mention other people using their Twitter handles. This is particularly true when I am sharing an article and I mention the article’s author by name. People love it when you share their content, and you may get a retweet or a follow out of the deal.

Follow others

The key to getting more followers is following more people. Not everyone you follow will follow you back, but many will.

9. Follow more people

Look for key influencers in your industry who follow a lot of people. Key influencers who follow few people will unlikely follow you back or engage with your tweets. Also, run through their list of followers. People who recently followed them will probaly follow you, especially if you share common interests.

10. Clean up followers

From time to time, I use a service like Tweepi to cleanup my follower list, unfollowing those who unfollowed me and those who haven’t tweeted in months.

There is some controversy among social media managers around unfollowing those who unfollow you, but I’ve found that most of those who unfollow me only followed me in the first place to get me to follow them back in an effort to boost their numbers. If I managed my account full-time (I have clients to service, too, you know), I’d be more selective in who I follow. I just don’t have the time for that luxury. Some see my methods as crude, but they build followers and engagement in the long run.

These are the 10 ways I used to build my follower list past 20,000. If you think 10 things to do is too many to remember, then remember just 3:

  1. Reciprocate engagement
  2. Create compelling content
  3. Follow more people

What secrets do you use to increase your own Twitter followers? Share in the comments below.

About Kim Siever

I am a copywriter and copyeditor. I blog on writing tips mostly, but I sometimes throw in my thoughts about running a small business. Follow me on Twitter at @hotpepper.

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