If you’re a Twitter user or a consultant, there’s a good chance that, like me, you’ve struggled with various strategies like fad diets. Keto or Reply Guy? High volume or no carb? As the campaign season heats up, I want to share with you my personal, 113,000-tweet odyssey and the simple, repeatable lessons I’ve learned along the way.
I first started using Twitter actively in 2008 to tweet out my impressions of the presidential debates between Barack Obama and John McCain. Twitter quickly became both my creative and emotional outlet and my nervous addiction. The following March, I used Twitter to launch a campaign for Congress that garnered me more followers than votes.
“Here’s another milestone for Twitter,” Politico reported. “The first congressional candidate has announced his campaign through the trendy social networking site.”
As you might imagine, after that I was really hooked.
Flash forward to 2017 and the beginning of the Twitter presidency. It was clear that while I’d had lots of networking success on Twitter, my use of the platform as a media tool was far short of what other power users were experiencing. The pond had grown much faster than I.
A marketing colleague, Really American founder Nathan Mackenzie Brown, with whom I had started a Facebook page that grew to nearly a million users in just three short years, suggested I give him my Twitter account for a month.
I could still use it, but he wanted to test out a new strategy of replying to Trump tweets with memes. In that month, I saw daily impressions on my account soar threefold. But the style of the meme tweets, centered on Russiagate, wasn’t right for me. We let the experiment drop.
Now it’s 2019 and, like everyone else, I am looking at a multi-billion dollar digital campaign season in the most politically charged cycle of my lifetime. In February, I began tweeting up a storm again—almost back to the days during my campaign where I averaged 60 tweets a day.
As a result, Nathan proposed: “How about instead of me trying to run your account, I coach you on what I’ve learned about using the Twitter algorithms and we leverage your familiarity with your current audience to dramatically boost your visibility on the platform?”
With just a couple weeks of advice, I saw my monthly impressions on Twitter go from 750,000 to more than 4 million with the same level of effort. Through that experience, I learned five simple techniques that any serious Twitter pundit can apply to see similarly dramatic growth in their reach and influence:
1. Develop a list of Twitter users who have more reach than you and comment on similar topics. These can be people you would agree with most of the time, or who you would argue with in a virtual cocktail party. Engagement, whether passionate agreement or conflict, is what drives Twitter audience growth. Each of these 15-20 Twitter accounts should get a large number of comments, at least 2,000 retweets on a single tweet on a regular basis, and tweet at least a few times a day.
2. Once you have your user list, you’ll want to turn on notifications for their tweets. I use mobile.twitter.com in a Chrome desktop browser to manage my tweets and took Twitter off my phone after Nathan pointed out that I was ignoring our strategy while on the go. When you’re at work on the computer, you’re working the algorithm, he pointed out. When you’re on your phone, the algorithm is working you.
Ah, so that’s why I’m not in Congress, I thought. You’re turning on notifications per user so that when you are in front of the browser, you see those notifications pop up the second they post. In general, you want to try to reply to new tweets right away, with comments that are likely to get a lot of engagement.
3. Get used to replying on the timeline of your new Twitter best friends. You don’t always have to be the first person to reply, but you need to get in quickly so that others see your tweet and react to it as well as to the conversation starter. Write your replies as much as possible so that they stand alone in context and will be shared. Yes, it’s a bit of real work! But with two-three hours of work per weekday and lighter effort on the weekends, my tweets garnered the equivalent of $100,000 in paid engagement. My profile saw 40,000 visits—and you bet we optimized the text there.
4. One of the easiest ways to jump quickly into a reply thread with highly engaging content is with Twitter polls. A short intro with compelling or controversial questions can quickly take off as you compose a full thread. If it doesn’t, you can spare yourself the effort and wait for the next opportunity.
My best day in April saw 700,000 impressions—nearly the same as the entire month of March before the coaching began paying off. In fact, my five top tweets for the whole month were all from one April 16 thread replying to Trump’s mockery of Bernie Sanders after the senator appeared on Fox News. “Who does Fox News like better?” I asked. “Bernie, or Donald.” Nearly 4,000 people voted, and 153,000 saw that tweet.
5. Surfing engagement through popular replies has layers, too. If your comment doesn’t catch fire, you can comment on someone else’s that does. And when it is yours, as in the case of the Trump/Sanders tweets, you can reply to yourself two or three times to create a prominent thread of tweets right below the popular user we started with. This kind of extra effort pays off. My tweets were cited in four (1. 2. 3. 4.) political articles on top Twitter topics during our April experiment—extra promotions that were on top of Twitter’s internal analytics.
Thinking more about each tweet and its audience, how my messaging would fit the news cycle, with a coach’s voice in my ear, really changed my Twitter game. I don’t think I’ll be going back.
Adriel Hampton is a political advertising strategist at The Adriel Hampton Group and treasurer of The Really Online Lefty League Political Action Committee.