Using Twitter Effectively: Part 3 of 10 – Building a Meaningful Following

Nat RussoHow-To, Twitter, Writing 11 Comments

[UPDATED 9/12/2018]

Welcome back to my ten-part series on Using Twitter Effectively. In yesterday’s post I began to touch on the subject of building a meaningful following. In today’s post, part 3 of 10, I’m going to offer more ways to build and manage that following.

It’s not enough to simply have a lot of followers. Those followers need to be engaging, supportive, and contributors in their own right.


A Disclaimer

This series was originally written over a 10-day period in 2013. I’ve included relevant updates throughout the series as Twitter changed policies and procedures. Please be aware that I may not have caught all of the changes. If you find such a change that isn’t captured in this series, please leave a comment with the new Twitter policy, and I’ll update the series accordingly. Cheers!

Build a Meaningful Following (Part 2 of 2)

If you haven’t yet read Part 1 of this topic-within-a-series, I recommend it. It covers some of the basics and the “big picture” of what it takes to begin building a following organically. Today I’ll get a little more specific and show you some tools that make the job easier!

Follow Back

Like any community, Twitter has a few conventions you should try to follow. It is not only acceptable, but recommended that you follow back people who follow you. In fact, it’s the only form of automation that Twitter actively recognizes as valuable. This is about building a social network. That can’t happen unless you’re both following and being followed. 

Later in this post I’ll recommend an online tool that can automate this process for you.

Every rule has an exception: celebrities. It isn’t expected that celebrities will follow back, so don’t hold your breath waiting for the Twitter notification that says “Chuck Norris followed you.” Besides, Chuck Norris doesn’t need to follow you…he already knows where you are.

[Note: In the latter half of 2013, Twitter changed its policy on auto-followback. It is no longer possible. If you are using a tool or online service that allows auto-followback, be careful. It’s in violation of Twitter’s usage policy. You’ll want to read this article for my latest recommendations in light of this policy change.]

A Word on The Infamous 2000 Limit

If you’ve followed 2000 people, have less than 1801 followers, and you’ve attempted to follow the 2001st person, you may have seen a rather disconcerting message: “You are unable to follow more people.” 
But wait? Aren’t their people who follow tens of thousands of accounts?
Yes. But they got there gradually. We can debate the merits of Twitter’s following limitations, but that goes beyond the scope of this post. For now, I’ll explain what the limitation is and what you can do about it.
I mentioned earlier that the most effective way to grow your follower base is “organically”. I’ve used that word umpteen times now, but what I do mean? The word implies there is an opposite, artificial way to do it…and there is. Since the etiquette is to follow back people who follow you, and knowing many people use automated tools to accomplish this, it would be very easy to go from zero followers to millions overnight. All you would have to do is spam the “Follow” button (follow every person you can find as quickly as possible). A significant percentage of those people would automatically follow you back. If twitter did nothing to limit this effect, the results could be pretty bad. The communities that would spring up wouldn’t be true communities at all. They would be nothing more than arbitrary groupings of people that share little in the way of common interests.
In an effort to control artificial following growth, Twitter has implemented an approximate 10% ratio. I say approximate because Twitter has said the exact ratio differs for each account. But I can tell you from experience that 10% is close enough for government work. The exception is the initial limitation at 1800 vs 2000. Everyone seems to hit the same wall at 1800 followers. They can’t follow 2001 until they have 1801 followers.
What does this mean? Let’s say you have 2364 followers. The 10% ratio means you can follow approximately 2600 people (2364 + 10% = 2600). If you have 5000 followers, you can follow a total of 5500, and so on.
There is no limit, however, on the number of people who can follow you.
You can see from this that you need to be selective in who you follow. Does this mean you can’t get those updates from CNN or Britney Spears, because you don’t want to waste “follow slots” on people who won’t follow you back?
No…which brings me to:

Use Lists To Organize Yourself

If you’re going to be successful at managing that never ending stream of information that is your timeline, you need to learn how to use lists to stay organized. Right away I recommend creating a list where you will keep accounts you have no intention of following. What do I mean by this?
When you visit a person’s Twitter page, you don’t have to click the “Follow” button if you just want to check in on them from time to time. Create your list by visiting your own Twitter page and clicking the “Lists” menu on the left (my list is called “Track but don’t follow”, and it’s a private list). Navigate to CNN or Britney Spears, or whoever, and click the drop-down tool next to the “Follow” button and select “Add or remove from lists”. Select the list you just created. Do this for any account you know will never follow you back. Now you have a great way of seeing all of their tweets as if they were in your own timeline!
I also recommend creating a list of people you interact with regularly. Eventually, you’ll find you never need to look at your entire timeline. Instead, you’ll simply visit your “Mentions” tab or the list of folks you interact with regularly. These two or three places will become your new timeline, and that monolithic fire hose of information will recede into the background.
With more than 60000 followers, I never look at my “Timeline” unless I’m truly bored or curious beyond explanation. And I usually regret it instantly. As you grow your social network organically you will have a base of followers you interact with nearly every day. Other people will get your attention by mentioning you (using your @ handle in a tweet). When I have my browser open during the day, it stays on my “Notifications” tab (specifically, my “Mentions” tab).

Management Tools

There are many third party tools out there that will help you wrangle your Twitter experience into submission. I recommend you get to know some of these tools and decide if any of them will help you out. I think you’ll get a lot out of them. I’d like to tell you about one of my favorites (and no, I do not work for their company or stand to benefit in any way from endorsing them…I merely believe you’ll get some value out of their application as I have).

The tool I use regularly (enough to have paid the annual $5.00 fee for the app on my iDevices) is called JustUnfollow  [Please see “Update 8/16/2014” at the bottom of this article! I’m using a different tool now!]


JustUnfollow does several things for me.

  • It lets me see, at a glance, how many of the people I’m following are not following me back.
  • It lets me see which accounts have unfollowed me on a daily basis.
  • It lets me see which accounts have followed me on a daily basis.
  • It allows me to “Copy Followers” (this is the secret sauce…I’ll get to that.)
  • It allows me to “whitelist” and “blacklist” accounts. 
    • Whitelist is a list of accounts I never want to unfollow.
    • Blacklist is a list of accounts I never want to follow.
  • It allows me to automatically “follow back” anyone who follows me.
Why is any of this important? Remember that ratio I spoke about? If you’re following hundreds or thousands of accounts that aren’t following you back, those are valuable “slots” for accounts that may provide a mutually beneficial relationship. When I follow people I give them a week to follow me back. If they don’t follow me back within that 7 day period, I unfollow them. No exceptions. I do it mercilessly and with extreme prejudice. And I recommend you do the same.
I mentioned that “Copy Followers” was some sort of secret sauce. This will be one of the most important tools at your disposal. It allows you to easily generate a list of another person’s followers. The generated list is based on activity algorithms designed by JustUnfollow. The idea is that the list you’ll see is a list of people who are more likely to be engaging. Using this list you can follow many accounts at once. Think about this for a moment: if you’re following someone interesting, that person is probably being followed by people who also find them interesting. Sounds like you might share common interests, no?
[Note: I’m leaving the following two paragraphs in place, just as they appear in the original post. However, please keep in mind that “auto-followback” is no longer possible as of the latter half of 2013. This article is your new friend regarding “auto followback”.]
Lastly, JustUnfollow can help grow your social network by auto-following anyone who follows you. It beats sifting through your recent followers list for hours. Do you get a subset of followers you have no interest in, or who are “bot” accounts? Absolutely…but they don’t stick around long. And when they unfollow you, you’re notified and can unfollow them. Remember, you’re not tracking your overall timeline. That’s not how you’re going to use Twitter, so you’re not going to really see these bot accounts anyway. The people who are truly engaging will be getting your attention through mentions and direct messages.

Yes, that last paragraph is controversial. You’ll find some advice out there that contradicts what I’ve told you. All I can say with confidence is that it works for me, and I think it can work for you too. When you go fishing, sometimes you bait a hook looking for a specific fish. But other times you realize it would be more appropriate to cast your net wide and see what you pull in. You can always “throw back” the ones that aren’t keepers. The people who are my closest friends on Twitter I wouldn’t have met if not for auto-followback.

By setting aside about 15 minutes every few days to manage your following/followers, your follow base will grow with people who are more likely to be engaging. This has been my experience in the several months I’ve used the tool. I’ll definitely be renewing my $5.00 membership when it comes due.
Some warnings:
  • Twitter discourages aggressive follow/unfollow behavior, and your account can be suspended if you’re routinely unfollowing hundreds of people and subsequently following hundreds more.
  • You can follow a maximum of 1000 people per day, but in reality you should be nowhere near this number. If you’re reaching that 1000 people per day limit, you’re probably way too aggressive in your following behavior. Remember, this isn’t about numbers! This is about building a meaningful social network of mutually beneficial relationships.
I usually unfollow about 100 people every other day. Once or twice a week I use the “Copy Followers” feature to follow about 250 – 300 people. I’ve met so many wonderful people using this process that I wouldn’t go back and change anything.

Before I close this entry in the series, I’d like to leave you with the following advice: Worry about contributing value to your community and you’ll be rewarded with a community of followers (and people you follow) who add value to your life and endeavors.


[UPDATE 8/16/2014]

I’ve recently moved away from JustUnfollow toward a tool called ManageFlitter. Unfortunately, as my following grew above 60k I found JustUnfollow to have some bugs that made it difficult to track the numbers that counted most to me. This lowered my overall trust in some of their algorithms, and the folks I interact with on Twitter are too important to me to place our relationship in the hands of software. I was also contacted by someone on Twitter asking me why I was repeatedly following/unfollowing them. →I DON’T DO THAT← So this was a huge red flag to me.

These “counting” bugs didn’t present themselves until my following grew quite large, so it’s very possible I’m simply an outlier, and their software can’t adequately aggregate my numbers. I’ve been a computer programmer for more than 30 years, and the number 65536 isn’t a coincidence (That’s how many bytes are in 64kb. It’s the memory allocation size of certain primitive datatypes, depending on the machine the code was compiled on/executes on). While I can’t pretend to know specifically what the issue is—I don’t have access to their source code—the number is too specific and too special for it to be a coincidence. 

I stand by everything I said in this article regarding the software, and I still would have no trouble recommending it to people who are in the beginning stages of building their platform. I would advise they move to a more robust tool as their following grows above 60k.

ManageFlitter is turning out to be a wonderful tool. I was skeptical at first, because I didn’t see the key features that I used JustUnfollow for: Copy Followers, the ability to flag accounts that I’ve followed in the past so that I never attempt to follow them again, etc. After digging through ManageFlitter’s UI (and doing some Google searching), I discovered it had all of these features and more. They’re just not readily apparent (and not available at all in the free version). You access them by way of “Power Mode”.

Power Mode is awesome, plain and simple. You can construct the most elaborate “filters” to find precisely the accounts you’re looking for. Want to find accounts that 1) you’re following, 2) have no profile image, 3) have not been active in 2 months, 4) usually don’t Tweet in English, 5) are not on your whitelist, 6) live in Chicago, 7) have a protected account (TrueTwit), 8) has never mentioned you, 9) is probably a spammer, and 10) has a dog named Charlie?


Well…not the “dog named Charlie” bit, but after playing with Power Mode, it wouldn’t surprise me if they added a “Dog Named ___” filter! I just demonstrated 9 of the filters available to you. There are 36 as of my last count!

The downside is that ManageFlitter costs a little more to use. I think it’s running $12.95 per month, where JustUnfollow was $9.95. However, as I mentioned above, it’s far more robust.

As always, if I ever switch away from this tool, I’ll keep you all informed as to what I’m using instead, and why I made the switch.


In the next post of the series I’ll cover the even more controversial topic of Auto Tweeting. 

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About Nat Russo

Nat Russo is the Amazon #1 Bestselling Fantasy author of Necromancer Awakening and Necromancer Falling. Nat was born in New York, raised in Arizona, and has lived just about everywhere in-between. He’s gone from pizza maker, to radio DJ, to Catholic seminarian (in a Benedictine monastery, of all places), to police officer, to software engineer. His career has taken him from central Texas to central Germany, where he worked as a defense contractor for Northrop Grumman. He's spent most of his adult life developing software, playing video games, running a Cub Scout den, gaining/losing weight, and listening to every kind of music under the sun. Along the way he managed to earn a degree in Philosophy and a black belt in Tang Soo Do. He currently makes his home in central Texas with his wife, teenager, mischievous beagle, and goofy boxador.

Comments 11

  1. Glad you liked it, Destiny. I registered for my Twitter account back in 2009 (if I recall correctly), and had absolutely no idea what to do with it. So it just sat there, idle.

    It took a while for me to wrap my head around how to use it as a tool that could integrate into my daily life, but I’m glad I took the time to figure it out. It’s been extremely rewarding.

  2. I am curious about your Lists and how you interact with people.

    I currently have only 100 people I am following. I am working on building my follow/followers up every three days by finding 50 people to follow, and giving it a week for them to follow back. However, at 100 people, my timeline is a mess, and I can’t even imagine what it will be like in a couple weeks. So my question is this; How do you know who to “list?”

    If you are only interacting with people who @you or DM you, are you even seeing what other people say? The interesting thing I have found thus far about twitter are the links and blog suggestions people throw out. It is tough to sift through with all these people yelling, “Read this, buy this, review this,” but I have found that the people who are blogging and generally trying to communicate for the sake of communication are the people I am interested in talking with. How would I find those people if not for the timeline?

    Anyway, I am enjoying this series, and it is really similar to a Twitter for Authors guide I read recently.

  3. I’m glad you’re liking the series, Jeff! And thanks for your comments.

    On occasion you’ll need to dip your feet into your timeline. I still do, from time to time, but you’ll find the need diminishes over time. The reason for this is that the friends you find on Twitter will be retweeting those links you’re interested in. This, in turn, will lead to new friends, and so on. A true network.

    Until you get a base of people you interact with daily, you’ll need to keep checking your timeline. I recommend making a list of “friends”, and whenever you find yourself getting into regular conversations with a particular person add them to that list. Twitter allows several hundred people per list (if I recall), but you’ll find the lists to be useless with more than about 25-30 people on them. At that point I’d add additional lists and think about categorizing the people I interact with.

    From time to time, when my regular folks are somewhat quiet, I’ll load up my full timeline and spend a few minutes scanning it. Every once in a while I find a gem, which leads me to a new friendship.

    I just remembered an analogy I heard once. Think about your timeline like a very large, noisy cocktail party. You wander into the party and it’s overwhelming at first. You could shout something at the top of your lungs (Tweet), but it probably wouldn’t get you very far. So you start wandering through the party looking for people you think are interesting (Tweet/search hashtags). Now you’ve narrowed the crowd down a bit…but there’s still too many people. As you’re walking through the smaller crowed you overhear some conversations. You like what you hear, and you’d like to get to know these two or three folks better. So you approach them and interject (mention). Next thing you know you have some bowling buddies 🙂

    I recommend against DMing folks you don’t know. That’s like leaving a note written on someone’s mirror that says “I like what you wore last night” before they’ve even met you. It can come across like stalking…you know, when two people take a romantic walk but only one of them is aware of it? 🙂

  4. They certainly are Nat. Already things are so much more manageable. The whole deal is making more sense to me day by day and as I work my way through these articles now that I am live on twitter it is making more and more sense!

    1. About two years ago I remember having a conversation with my wife that went something like this:

      Me: “I just don’t get this whole Twitter thing. It’s confusing as hell.”
      Wife: “What do you mean?”
      Me: “What the hell’s a hashtag? And why would I want to tell the world I’m eating a sandwhich?”
      Wife: “Maybe you should just stick with Facebook.”

      I had the hardest time wrapping my head around it. Once I did, I /facepalmed myself and swore I’d try to make it easier on the next guy 🙂

  5. These are excellent posts Nat! Thank you 🙂 And for this line “It can come across like stalking…you know, when two people take a romantic walk but only one of them is aware of it? :)” I thank you as well – absolutely hilarious!

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