How to build a Twitter audience in 8 steps

This post originally appeared in November, 2010 and was updated in September, 2013.

Form up

Consider this simple number. As of this revision in 2013, I have about 69,000 followers on Twitter. You may express some sense of wonder at an audience of that size, but now consider this: Twitter has over 512 million registered users, 200 million of which are active. The people who choose to follow me represent 0.013% of Twitter. In the grand scheme of things, that’s completely insignificant, and I’m okay with that.

Now consider this: the top followed celebrity on Twitter, the person with the greatest audience is Justin Bieber, with 44 million followers. Think about that. Bieber, for all of his fame, merits only 8.6% of Twitter’s registered users as a following. That means 91.4% of Twitter doesn’t care about what he has to say enough to follow him. Twitter’s top performer by the numbers is rejected 91.4% of the time. If your success in your regular employment met with a 91.4% failure rate, how quickly do you think you’d get fired?

So what matters, if raw numbers of followers aren’t a clear indicator of success? Findability. You see, everyone has a viewpoint, a worldview, a way of communicating that will appeal to some small portion of the human race as a whole. Everyone has an audience willing to listen, but virtually all of the time, our ability to find and be found by that audience is non-existent. If there’s a secret sauce of social media, it’s the ability to find and be found by the people who want to find you but don’t know you exist. You don’t need to have all of Twitter follow you. You just need the people who want to do business with you in some way follow you.

Do you want to grow your audience on Twitter quickly and effectively? Do you want that audience to be people to whom you are perceived as influential? Here’s one recipe to find them.

1. Tweet stuff of value that’s worth sharing. All of this will be useless if you’re posting garbage. Sorry, but true. There is no substitute, no shortcut for sharing quality. Don’t know what to share? Go to Google+ and look at the Explore page. You’ll find something worth sharing.

2. Build up your audience of people you know and who like you already. The easiest way to do this? Email your friends and colleagues letting them know about your Twitter account. Ask them to follow you. If you’re active on other networks like Facebook, let them know as well.

3. Keep proving value by doing step 1 over and over again. You cannot skip by these steps or the rest of this recipe will not work for you.

4. After about 30 days of seeding your audience and sharing good stuff, go to and type in your Twitter handle, then authorize a report for free. If you have access to other social CRM tools like Radian6, JitterJam, etc., feel free to use them for this step instead. Those paid tools will do this step much more effectively, but TweetReach will get you started for free.

5. Find the list of people who have retweeted you to their audiences. Remember, these are the people who think you are so much value that not only do they follow along, but they share with their audiences. There is some likelihood that the people who follow them will have some part of their worldview in common, which means they might have something in common with you as well.

Twitter Reach Report Results for @cspenn | TweetReach

6. Follow everyone who follows them. Ideally start with the people who retweet you the most, because their audiences will have heard about you the most. This is advertising 101: you’re directly contacting people who have been exposed to your brand. Instead of billboards advertising a soft drink, you’re reaching out with considerably greater accuracy to people who have heard about you from someone they follow.

7. Repeat step 1 daily.

8. After you get through the list from steps 5 and 6, wait a couple of weeks while repeating step 1. Once you’ve had a few weeks to get in front of the new friends you’ve probably picked up and proven your value to them, repeat this exercise to see who is new in your audience that’s retweeting you. Begin the exercise over again.

Be findable by the audience you want by tweeting stuff that you consider to be of value. If others agree, they’ll become a part of your audience. Find more people who may think you offer something of value based on who is retweeting you already.

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  • Randy Cantrell

    Lady Gaga, proof of Idiocracy run amok. I appreciate your voice and your tone.

  • James Lewin

    #1 Should be “Do something off Twitter that matters to people.”

  • Pingback: Are you looking to build Twitter followers? - 21C Interactive's Digital Backchat21C Interactive's Digital Backchat()

  • Jeff Tippett

    Great list. Thanks for sharing.

  • Matthew Ebel

    Out of curiosity, are there any tools out there that will easily let you see who’s retweeting you and then follow everyone following them? For that matter, any tools to auto-follow anyone currently following you?

    • Christopher S. Penn

      SocialOomph can do the follow of the follow. For the retweeting, TweetReach will give you the user list, then you work your preferred method of magic to pursue the people.

  • John Clore

    Good stuff man. Thanks for sharing all of this. Also, I’m a fan of the “Marketing Over Coffee” podcast. Keep up the good work. – Sincerely, John Clore

  • Sherman Rockwell

    Well. all I know is that I enjoy your posts. I am just getting started in the social media word and appreciate your advice as well.

  • DJ Waldow

    Count me in the camp who appreciates your “unique, occasionally abrasive, definitely not normal worldview.” Keep rocking, CP.

    DJ Waldow
    Director of Community, Blue Sky Factory

  • Dave Lucas

    I get a lot of “junk” followers who think (wrongly) that I’ll follow them back… I like your style, Mr. Penn!

  • Nick Today

    Useful information. I can see why you have so many followers. I could even call this valuable content worth sharing.

  • Bob Garlick

    Thanks for the tips

  • Ricardo Bueno

    I’m reminded of a Gary V. presentation (Web 2.0 Expo maybe) where he said: “If you pump out good s**t, people will follow.” Plain and simple and oh so true!

    Just be yourself and connect with your fans (everyone has an audience). Don’t just yell about how awesome you are, actually take the time to connect with people and your network will grow naturally.

    Love the write-up Chris, great list of tips to follow!

  • fitzternet

    Most of this stuff seems like common sense… and maybe it is… but putting these things into a checklist really drives home the point. It’s so easy to skip these things here and there. Consistency is key.

    Thanks for the great post.

  • Janet Callaway

    WOW! Terrific post on keeping it all in perspective. Thx so much. So glad I “discovered” you via a RT. Until next time, aloha. Janet

  • Stephan Hovnanian

    great article! where does RT’ing someone else’s tweet come into play, assuming that the basis of the RT is that they found it/wrote it first?

  • Stephan Hovnanian

    Great article! where does RT’ing someone else’s tweet come into play in this method, assuming the basis for the RT was that they wrote it/found it first?

  • Craig Desmarais

    Good stuff!  What top tools do you use to manage and build your twitter following?