Why you should care
If social media profiles are our new identities, then God help the friendless, follower-less masses.
The author is a columnist based in New York. You should (please) follow her on Twitter. We’ll ask you again later, too.
I’m not a big fan of Justin Bieber. Yet I recently found myself tweeting a stunning piece of news about how, on a recent trip to Italy, Justin Bieber visited the doctor and ate a lollipop.
I admit it: The pandering was a horribly transparent effort to grow my Twitter following by any means necessary. I’m trying to sell a novel, and there’s nothing agents and publishers love more than an author with a big Twitter following. My sorry audience of 110 wasn’t going to cut it. I needed at least 20,000 followers.
Fortunately, there’s a lot of free advice out there on how to increase your following. I decided to try it all, starting with an embarrassing effort to engage with celebrities who have huge followings. I tweeted about Billy Joel, Mike Bloomberg, Katy Perry and local celebrity groundhog Staten Island Chuck. The result? With every tweet, a few people actually unfollowed me. But there are plenty more tips available on how to grow a following. I tried a bevy. Not all worked.
They just might follow you back. Over the course of several days, I try following everyone I’ve ever met. My first realization: Most people aren’t on Twitter. Twitter says it has 284 million active users worldwide; Facebook, in turn, reports 1.35 billion. I follow about 300 users including a parking lot company, a horse named Pumpkin and my girlfriend’s husband’s sex-therapist sister. The result: 40 new followers. Only 19,840 to go.
“Tweet Inspirational Quotes”
I don’t like most inspirational quotes, so I invent my own.
“Courage is just ‘ourage’ with a ‘c’ in front of it.”
“The bigger you are, the bigger you are.”
“The fox knows many little things. The hedgehog knows one big thing. The raccoon knows one big thing, one small thing and two medium things.”
These efforts have no effect whatsoever.
“Join a Twitter Chat”
Apparently, there are “live” conversations happening on Twitter during which participants respond to questions posed by a host. I join the first Twitter party I find, a promotion for Tombstone Pizza. I crash mid-conversation, when the host is asking, “Why is a delicious TOMBSTONE® Pizza right out of your oven the perfect dish?”
@annekadet: “You’re supposed to heat it in the oven first?”
I lose three followers.
“Invite Your Friends to Follow You”
I post a note, ironically, on Facebook: “Follow me on Twitter to help me with my little experiment, please.” This generates a slew of comments from my so-called friends about how they hate Twitter. One suggestion: “You can buy followers relatively easily. Politicians do it all the time!”
I call a former co-worker for advice. Chris Taylor and I are both freelance writers based in New York; we write about similar topics. The difference: His Twitter following is 20 times the size of mine. His first suggestion: “Pay five bucks and you can buy a thousand followers. Politicians do it all the time!” On a more serious note, he recommends I retweet others, respond to their tweets and incorporate their handles in my posts so they know I’m writing about them. “People who are mentioned appreciate that and retweet it,” he tells me. “It has a multiplier effect.” I take his advice, and suddenly, Twitter is a lot more fun … I try tweeting directly at my favorite writers or retweeting their posts, and to my surprise, they return the favor. I also add a slew of new fans including a professional bridesmaid, an “unrepentant Grateful Dead fan” and a doggie-sanitizing-wipe company. But it’s slow. At this rate, I won’t reach my goal until 2019.
It’s time to pull out the big guns — a consultation with Mark Shaw, a sharp-tongued social media consultant based in the U.K. Over Skype, he reviews my Twitter feed and says he’s pinpointed the problem: “You’re boring!” I’m tweeting too much about my own interests. “With the greatest of all respect,” he says, “no one gives a shit.” He writes a prescription. Every day, I must follow three people, tweet a question, reply to two people who follow me, share something funny and offer help to someone who needs it.
I tweet my frustration: “The 20,000 Twitter followers I just bought for a $100 are a bunch of losers!”
The Shaw system works. My follower count climbs even faster. The trouble: I’m spending an hour a day on Twitter. Plus, my self-imposed deadline is nearly up, and I’ve still got just 330 followers.
One morning, I take a deep breath and type the fatal phrase into Google: “Buy Twitter followers.” It’s easier than you’d think. The first site I hit offers 20,000 followers for $100. All they need is my email address, Twitter handle and the dough via PayPal. Sold.
The next day I log on to Twitter and blink. I suddenly have 22,300 followers. It feels like I’ve grown a second head. I’ve also got a note from Chris. “Nice follower jump,” he writes. “Lots of Russians, I see.”
He’s right. Roughly half my new followers are tweeting in Cyrillic. Most are following several thousand accounts but have no following of their own. Hello, bots. And they’re not even bots with good taste. I check the profile of one newly acquired fan, “Carolynn,” to see who else she’s following. A poker coach, a group of injury lawyers and someone named Randy the Tiger Man. I am not in good company. Worst of all: My bots are lame. Given my new fan base, my tweets should generate 10 times the response they did before. But my new followers, being nonexistent, never respond. In a fit of pique, I tweet my frustration: “The 20,000 Twitter followers I just bought for a $100 are a bunch of losers!”
The reaction from my newly acquired peanut gallery? Total silence.
I’ve already started the slow process of deleting my fake following. Because, really, who am I fooling? Meanwhile, bot or not, feel free to follow me: @annekadet.
This OZY encore was originally published Dec. 14, 2014.