I already know a bit about gaining an audience on Twitter as I have Twitter accounts for a bunch of my other businesses and hobbies.  There are basically three ways to gain a Twitter following without paying or using any additional services:

  1. Create great content and tweet about it.  This is probably the best way but also the most time consuming.  If you create a blog post that is read by 10k people that has social buttons and a call to action (e.g. please follow me on Twitter)
  2. Retweet other people.  I know there are some Twitter accounts out there that have thousands of followers simply by retweeting other people.  This too takes some time, but not nearly as much as option number one.  As a general rule the more engaged and focused you are on Twitter, the more likely you are to gain followers.  So if you retweet 50 people on a topic related to your brand and audience you are more likely to gain followers than if you retweet 10 random people.
  3. Follow people.  When you follow others there is a certain percentage that will follow you back.  That percentage goes up if you already have a large audience or are well known to your target audience.

All of these ways of gaining a following have the pre-requisites of social buttons and a call to action.

My personal Twitter account is intentionally small, because I only follow people I personally know and like.  I have a Twitter account for my college football recruiting blog that has about 600 followers.  I haven’t actively tried to get any followers on that account but do follow athletes that I write about and many of them follow back.  I’ve also set up my blog to automatically tweet out a twitter card for every new article I publish.  I’ve found that after each article I pick up a new follower or two, and if the new article I’ve posted is popular or gets retweeted by someone well-known than I might pick up 10-20 new followers.  So that audience continues to grow even though I’ve done little to further the growth.

I do have one Twitter account that currently has 8,000 targeted Twitter followers and has grown by 300-900 new followers each month throughout this year.

So today I set up my new Twitter account and added the channel art and bio description.  My goal for this week is to follow 1000 people and see how many follow back.  I will not yet discriminate on my target audience except to disallow obvious spam or porn accounts.  I’m going to time myself to see how long it takes to follow 1000 people, searching for those that “follow back.”  I’ll track how many follow back and then follow a different group of 1000 next week and track the results.

I found a “followers group” (@followersgroup) that said they’d all follow back and simply followed until Twitter said I couldn’t follow any more.  To follow 981 people it took me about 32 minutes… I’m sure I could have done it in half that time on a desktop computer with a mouse, but that’s not too bad.  I was expecting a follow-back rate of at least 20% but hopeful that it’d even be up over 50%.  Man, was I ever disappointed.  The next morning I had exactly 14 followers for an effective follow-back rate of 1.4%.  Fortunately there were another six people who followed me not from the list so I’m up to a whopping 20 followers.  Pretty horrible for my first day.  I’m going to unfollow all of the first list and try again with another similar list (surely this must be an aberration).

O.K., day 2 went much better.  I followed @LetsAllFollowB  and 1000 people who followed that account.  My 24 hour ROI for following there was ?