How to Get Big on Twitter

This will be my third post about social media in a row. I don’t want to get bogged down in the subject, but new developments are happening all the time. And since building a social media presence is, in this era, a prerequisite to publication, it’s kind of an important topic.

A Time of Growth

In the past three or so weeks, I have undergone a change of status in my Twitter experience. And while this change is welcome, I am still unsure exactly how, or if, it will help me establish myself as an author. There’s plenty to be excited about, though I’m not “internet famous” yet.

But the numbers reveal a shift in my Twitter fortunes. Let’s put it all in perspective.

  • Tweets are ranked according to two vital metrics: impressions and engagements. Impressions are the number of times a tweet is seen. Engagements are the number of times a Tweet is interacted with. Some engagements are visible (likes, retweets, replies) and others are seen only by the account owner (profile clicks, detail expands, and follows). Engagements might seem like the most important metric, but Twitter’s own analytics heavily favor impressions.
  • Before the change, my average impressions per tweet remained around 500, with some tweets getting less, and others getting considerably more.
  • Before the change, a viral tweet for me would consist of between 8000 and 10000 impressions. As an example, on July 17th, one of my tweets was replied to by a celebrity account (@StrongBadActual) and was one of my most successful tweets up until that time, with 10,251 impressions as of this writing.
  • Before the change, my average impressions per day was around 10000. I had been working toward my first 20000-impression day, but kept coming up short.

And that’s where I was stuck for a while. With good numbers, but not great ones. Growth was slow, and there was no clear sign that a catalyst would arrive.

But then I started approaching 18000 followers. Granted, it’s a nice round number, but I’ve crossed plenty of nice round numbers before and seen no major changes. Why, in my case, the magic number was 18000 is something I cannot speculate. I can, however, point out the many changes that accompanied it.

  • My first 20000-impression day was July 12th. Of course, I was coming home from vacation and had little to do, as I waited for shuttles, flights, and car rides, except for Tweeting. The anomaly had an explanation, but I racked up a few more 20k days in the coming week.
  • My first 30000-impression day was July 18th—less than a week after meeting my previous benchmark. It was starting to look like I could make 20k days a common occurrence.
  • My first 40000-impession day was July 25th. Or it would have been, except that I quickly eclipsed that to reach 50000 impressions before the day closed.

At this point, I stopped thinking of these developments as anomalies. I have been witnessing real growth in my Twitter presence. It was an exciting time, but also a time of reflection. For the sake of understanding the change, I had to retrace my steps and examine carefully everything I had one up to that point.

My Conclusion

After examining all possibilities, I revealed the result of my research in a single tweet.

It’s may be a delicious paradox, but what did I mean by it?

Well, naturally, people on social media are looking to connect to people who are doing better than they are. Everyone wants to get married above their station, as it were. So when you already have a lot of followers, people will spontaneously follow you. When a tweet already has a lot of likes, even more people want to like it.

It’s a bit upside down, I know. In such an ecosystem, the little fish are the real power, yet it is the big fish that get all the benefit.

Mr. Devil’s Advocate: “So it’s impossible, then? There’s no way of getting big on Twitter?”

Well, not exactly.

The Loophole

Because while the idea of “obtaining something by already having it” seems intractable on paper, there is a practical way of achieving it. Though it requires a cheat.

If you’re lucky, he won’t throw a bust of Van Buren at you.

Because you don’t have to actually be big on Twitter to get big. You just need people to believe you are. If you can fool the little fish into thinking you’re a big fish, they will turn you into one for real.

Now, this can only be achieved incrementally. Some people are more easily swayed than others. So you start with the people who are most easily impressed. You draw enough of them together to make a small crowd.

Then, you plus the crowd attack the next most persuadable group, until you have an even bigger crowd. Then you go after the ones who are slightly harder to convince, until you have them. And then you have enough clout to go after the die-hards.

Piece of cake, right?

The Catalyst: Creating a Disturbance

On the day I got 50000 impressions, I was fortunate enough to have two tweets that spread like wildfire.

You remember that one tweet I was boasting about before? The one that got replied to by a celebrity account and reached 10000 impressions? Well, the two tweets I made on the 25th have each reached 20000 impressions on their own, without any celebrity intervention.

Both of those tweets were disturbing.

Or perhaps it would be better to say that both tweets created a disturbance—just enough of a provocation to demand a verbal response. Nothing to offensive that it would lead anyone to seek reprisals against me.

These are those two tweets.

You’ll notice that both of these are “question” tweets. Many Twitter guides tell you to use question tweets to build engagement. But none of those guides recommend questions like the ones I do.

Instead, you get a lot of what I call “vanity questions”. In the sector of Twitter that caters to writers, you’ll often get question tweets like

When your book gets made into a movie, who do you want playing the main character?

@DesperateForAttention

Which famous politician/musician/sports star do you think would be the best spokesperson for your book? Which one do you think would like it the most? DON’T YOU KNOW IT’S YOUR JOB AS AN AUTHOR TO SINGLEHANDEDLY SAVE THE WORLD?

@FlattererForHire12345

And those questions get some attention, but they also mark you as a shill, selling delusions of grandeur.

A real question should be a challenge. It should peck at the one being questioned, being just painful enough to force an honest answer.

You know what I’ve learned by asking provocative questions on Twitter? Only that people will publicly declare, on that platform, secrets that they would not dare confide to their closest family and friends. If you ask them about their phobias, their regrets, their transgressions, their angers, their inconveniences, the things they politely shut their mouths about at home, they will willingly give to you, a stranger, the real answers.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In a highly censorious society, people need a place to confess their true feelings. Often, the responses to questions will draw others to chime in, banding around the confessor and giving comfort.

Which brings me to my next point.

Spontaneous Message Boards

Viral tweets are just that—viral. If you want to drive impressions and engagment, then you have to let the conversation get out of control.

Because a popular tweet is, functionally, just a message board that has formed completely on its own. When people add to the conversation you started, they are no longer posting on Twitter, they are posting to the spontaneous message board that you are now the owner of. This is your own personal microcosm of the Twitter universe. It has its own members, its own subject matter, with you as the face of it, though the conversation sets its own rules and goes for as long as it wants.

The more of these message boards are connected to your account, the bigger your account looks. Suddenly, you have become a “thought leader”. You’re a universal constant. “Oh, have you seen the latest @TAlanHorne tweet? It seems like he’s everywhere these days.”

It’s insidious, but it’s effective.

Conclusion

I’m not the expert on Twitter, or on how to leverage social media towards publication.

But then, the only way to become such an expert is to do what I am doing right now. And what I’m doing right now is working, at least according to the metrics. Once is coincidence, but when every day brings a new record-breaking anomaly, you have to acknowledge that something real is happening.

I’m not going to force anyone to follow my example, but don’t you dare say it is not a good example. There’s a lot to learn in this space, and most of the advice you can find is rather basic and generic. I’m looking for specific ways to make a splash. I share them here because I have to imagine someone else can benefit from them.

Show the world what you’re capable of.