How I Scored 20,000 Twitter Followers

Editor’s note: Welcome to our guest poster, Arik C. Hanson of ACH Communications. We’ve long admired the utter ferocity with which Arik attacks Twitter. So we asked him to give us some thoughts on what he’s learned as one of the premier practitioners of the Tweet.

Gotcha. Yeah, you fell for it. Admit it. The headline pulled you in. There’s no shame.

I’m not here to talk about how I amassed 20,000 followers. Heck, I don’t have nearly that many. Truth be told, I rarely check to see how many people are following me. Don’t care. Never have. It’s not my MO. And it’s certainly not why I use the tool.

No, I’d like to talk about why and how Twitter has become a critical tool for me – not only professionally, but personally. And how, to an extent, it’s transformed my professional life. I know that seems like a ridiculous statement on the surface, but believe me, it has. Let me explain.

I really started using Twitter in late 2008. I certainly wasn’t an early adopter, but I was on the front end of the surge. And, at first, I was like most folks. I didn’t get it. But I stuck with it. I kept at it. And before long, I was posting upwards of 20-30 tweets a day (conservative by today’s standards) and connecting with more people.

In the last year and a half, I’ve learned some valuable lessons, I’ve made some mistakes and I’ve met an entire family of people who have literally changed my life. Here are my thoughts on effective Twitter use:

• Meet one new person each week. That was my original goal. And, almost two years later, I’m still trying to do this each week. Expand your network little by little. Participate in a new chat. Respond to people’s questions. Offer to help. You’ll be surprised how far it will get you.

• Take online relationships offline — gradually. Identify common interests online first. Listen to your new friend’s interests. Share yours. After that, offer up a Skype chat. Get to know them, little by little. Then, if they’re local, find them at a local event. If that goes well, ask them to coffee. But come prepared. Research your new friend on LinkedIn. Check their Twitter stream, their Facebook page. Find out what makes them tick. Then, ask them a slew of questions about those things. Who doesn’t like to talk about their passions? I know this seems very “network-y,” but I don’t see it that way. It’s building relationships. Friendships. And from a professional point of view, friends are the people who refer you clients, speaking opportunities and a host of other business-related items.

• Twitter’s just the appetizer. Most times, when I “meet” someone on Twitter, I’ll immediately check to see if the person has a blog. If they do, I’ll read the last 2-3 posts– or at least a few that interest me. If it piques my interest– or, it’s someone I really want to get to know– I’ll add it to my Google Reader account. I’ll share a comment from time to time. And I’ll share and retweet their posts on Twitter, making sure to use their handle in the tweet so they know I’m promoting them. If I feel it’s appropriate, I’ll friend them on Facebook. And I’ll usually craft a personalized invite on LinkedIn. You’d be surprised how far a simple, personalized LinkedIn invite will go. The big learning here: Twitter’s just the door opener to a much larger online relationship.

• Give before you get. This is one of the key lessons I’ve learned this past year– and one I now cannot stop practicing. So many people on Twitter are in a rush to talk about themselves: how great they are, how smart they are, how terrific their products, services or companies are. What these people fail to realize is that Twitter is no different from any other interpersonal interaction. People are usually wrapped up in their own worlds pretty tightly. I know I can be. So, if it doesn’t relate directly to them– they don’t care.

So, how do you get noticed? How do you build relationships with these people? Help them. If they ask questions on Twitter– answer them. If they ask for help– offer to lend a hand. If you can’t lend a hand, offer to connect them with someone who can. If they are asking for guest bloggers– jump at the chance. (HUGE opportunity– and, you know who’s really great at this right now? Matt Cheuvront. Check this out.) If they need help with an e-book– share your story (I shared mine with Valeria Maltoni a few months ago as she wrote her “Twittertales” ebook). If they lose their job– get off your ass and do something to help (I was sick of saying “I’ll do whatever I can do to help”– and so, HAPPO was born). You get the point. It might seem counter-intuitive. It might feel awkward. But the results speak for themselves. You’ll feel better about yourself. You’ll build solid relationships. And, you’ll form the foundation of a network that will become the most valuable thing in your life.

Those are my Twitter tips. What are yours?

Arik is the principal of ACH Communications, a digital communications firm focused on serving as strategic thought partners to financial services, retail, business-to-business, health care and not-for-profit organizations. As the chief blogger at Communications Conversations, Arik founded the PR Rock Star Conversation series, the PR Reader’s Choice Awards and the Top 20 Minnesota Social Media Innovators list. He also started the B2B Voices blog and contributes regularly to the PR Breakfast Club, Ragan and PR Daily sites. Arik is a longtime PRSA member and Minnesota board member.