How to Increase Your Online Followers for Beginners

D.R. McElroy

On tripling your numbers in just one month…and why you’d want to. 8 min read

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Almost everyone who is involved in social media cares about having followers. Not everyone, but most of us. Our reasons vary widely.

Some of us want to be influencers and an influencer’s effectiveness is judged — rightly or wrongly — almost entirely by how large their circle of influence is. Would-be celebrities want a big fan-base to launch a career from, while writers are continually exhorted to build a large platform to entice publishers to publish their work. And some of us just want to be loved.

Whatever your reasons, gaining followers takes some dedication, particularly in the beginning. Unfortunately, no matter how brilliant your content, fans don’t just pour from the sky like rain. Cyberspace is deep and wide; getting found there takes work on your part, but not as much work as you might think.

Why do you want followers?

The first step to effectively building a social media following is to determine why you want one. Your why will have a big impact on which platforms you choose and what your guiding philosophy about your followers/fans is.

For example, if you want to be an influencer then your main goal is to simply get as many fans as possible, regardless of who they are. This notion may seem odd. When we think of influencers we imagine that most of the people who follow them do so because they believe that the influencer has expertise and “insider knowledge” about whatever topic the influencer is writing about.

Ideally, they do, but sometimes the influencer is just really good at self-promotion and not necessarily at their chosen topic of influence (certain fashion and beauty bloggers are great examples of this). So, the reality is that, often, an influencer becomes “an influencer” simply by virtue of having enormous followings and the presumption that this person must, therefore, know what they’re talking about.

*...sometimes the influencer is just really good at self-promotion and not necessarily at their chosen topic…*

So, if you want to become an influencer you must gain huge numbers of followers. It doesn’t matter who these followers are because the goal is simply to grow your following as large as possible. One of the easiest ways to do this is with “follow chains”.

Follow chains are common on Twitter: They consist of certain hashtags attached to tweets, wherein everyone who puts the hashtag in a tweet, then “loves” and “retweets” the original post gets followed by everyone else who does the same. These posts can reach hundreds or even thousands of followers in just a few hours — especially if a particular hashtag is trending.

At their best, follow chains can bring together people with a common interest; for example, the #writerlift on Twitter is typically followed by writers interested in not only growing their followings but also in meeting other writers on the platform.

In practice, however, the bigger the chain gets the more likely it is to be “piled on” by people who are simply mining for Twitter handles. By attaching themselves to long follow chains, handle miners gain access to lists of people who are open to contact on Twitter and who may follow them back without checking out the handle miner’s site. This is called “blind-following” or “blind follow backs”.

Blind-following is the biggest windfall from following absolutely everyone and anyone. A general estimate of the number of people who might be expected to blind-follow you back is about 10 percent of the total number of people you follow — not a bad return for minimal investment.

Organic list growth.

If you want more than just a long list of names, if you want followers who are more likely to interact with you and have a genuine interest in what you have to say, then you need to grow your list more organically. This process is going to be slower than blind-following, but the return in people following you back will be greater than 10 percent.

The first step for organic list growth is, ironically, the same as it is for list inflation: follow other people first. The difference is, you’re not going to follow indiscriminately. Instead, start by reading the work of others on the platform or platforms of your choice. If you like Twitter, read a ton of tweets by writers you enjoy. Follow those writers, comment on their tweets, and, most importantly, retweet their original postings. There is nothing a writer likes better than seeing their work promoted by others!

*…many of those whom you promoted will happily return the favor for your work.*

Initially, some people will blind-follow you back, but that’s not the goal. The goal is to become a familiar voice on the platform and to have people initiate contact with you. The more you talk about what other people are doing, the more people will begin to seek out your opinion. Keep supporting and promoting others as you begin to introduce some of your own original work to the platform. You will find that many of those whom you promoted will happily return the favor for your work.

This is the key difference between indiscriminate and organic list growth: Indiscriminate growth is fast, but relatively few of those followers are going to be interested in what you are doing because they’re too busy doing their own thing. Organic growth is slower, but you will be building a following with a mutual interest in you and your areas of expertise.

Why would you want an engaged list of followers? Ultimately, the goal is so that you can sell them something in the future. Now, you may initially balk at the notion of selling and declare that you would never, under any circumstances, be interested in peddling your wares to people who like you.

But, you don’t know what the future holds for you or for any potential future relationships you might have. Perhaps you’ll have a stay-at-home partner who needs your financial support, or maybe you’ll have kids to feed. Maybe you want to be a millionaire someday, even if the goal of being rich is so that you can set up a home for stray dogs or feed all the hungry children in the world. Money isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

*…even when you are appealing to someone’s sense of charity you are absolutely selling them something.*

Sadly, most people don’t just go around giving their money away for nothing. We all want something in exchange, whether that something is a material object, an exchange of ideas, or just a warm fuzzy feeling. Keep in mind, however, that even when you are appealing to someone’s sense of charity you are absolutely selling them something. You’re selling them the idea that they are a better person for their donation; you’re selling the warm fuzzy feeling, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Just recognize it for what it is.

When your list is grown organically, you can expect somewhere around a 20–50 percent follow back rate. The range varies widely depending on a number of factors, including some not necessarily listed here: your chosen platform, your areas of interest, your content, the gross number of people you promote, the amount of posting and reposting you do, the frequency of your involvement on the platform (obviously, the more frequent the better), the length of time in months and years spent growing your list, and so on.

Refining your list of followers.

There’s a school of thought that believes that the number of people you follow back should be drastically lower than the number of people who follow you. Particularly with regards to Twitter, the reason is that having more fans than people you are following keeps your account from hitting a predetermined ratio that stops you from following anyone else until more people start following you. The ratio limit is in place allegedly to keep spammers and bots from following millions of users on the platform indiscriminately.

The problem with this is that it leads to people following you then immediately unfollowing as soon as you follow back so that they can keep their numbers down. This is a huge time-waster for everyone, and such practices are punishable by being censored or banned on the platform (even though it’s the platform’s fault because of the way they wrote the rules in the first place.)

But your number of followers won’t grow in a vacuum; in other words, a lot of people expect you to follow them back if they follow you. This is totally reasonable since people are not as naive about the internet as they once were, and there aren’t nearly as many users who are willing to follow without the expectation of some kind of reward.

Therefore, in order to refine your follower list even more, try vetting every account you follow back. Before you follow back someone who has become your fan, click on their profile and see what their level of engagement on the platform is. Not everyone is going to do a lot of posting, following, writing, etc. But if you go to the profile and all you see are retweets of a few random people — or worse, nothing at all — consider whether it is worth refollowing that person or not.

*Vetting takes time, but greatly improves the quality of the list of followers you grow.*

If a potential follower isn’t engaged with the platform, then they are not likely going to be engaged with you or your content either. They’re only going to blow up the numbers of emails you send that are never opened. It’s also possible that a blank profile is a front for a bot that will mine your list of followers to benefit the bot owner, and risk annoying your legitimate followers by spamming them or selling their info elsewhere.

Vetting takes time, but greatly improves the quality of the list of followers you grow. Developing your followers into an email list is a topic covered in other articles. Just keep in mind the reason you want followers in the first place.

Summary.

So, I promised to tell you how to triple your follower numbers in one month’s time. Here’s a summary of how to do that:

  1. Follow other people first. Don’t sit around and expect them to flock to you without any effort on your part. After you reach a certain number of followers (which varies depending on the platform), you will find that your follower numbers take on a life of their own and continue to grow without as much effort on your part. But in the beginning, you’re going to have to work at it.
  2. Get involved with the community online. If you don’t have a solid social media presence (e.g. you just have a bare profile and you don’t post much on the platform), people aren’t going to follow you. They’re going to think you’re not real, that you’re a spammer or a bot, and even if you follow them first your account will eventually be targeted for deletion.
  3. Focus your efforts. It’s easier to gain followers when you are focussing your attention on one or two platforms at a time. I started with just LinkedIn, then added others about every 6 months. I didn’t start focussing on growing my Medium followers until 3 months ago and I’ve gone from 68 to over 540 since then.

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D.R. McElroy is a published author, writer, and copy editor with 15 years professional experience. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture and a Masters in Environmental Resources. A conservationist, naturalist, and environmental advocate, she spends her time writing nonfiction articles on a variety of topics, as well as writing books on contract for publishers. D.R. wants to build a community of people who love nature and wildlife as much as she does, and who want to help protect our resources for public use.

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