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Prescreen Your Future Fans with Twitter


Two months ago, I began implementing Ariel Hyatt and Carla Lynne Hall’s strategy to increase my Twitter following, as laid out in their book Musician’s Roadmap to Facebook and Twitter. The basic idea is to follow potential fans in the hope that they will follow back. I discovered that the more selective I am in choosing who to follow, the more likely I am to connect with people who may become genuine fans. I’ll share my process and results below.

Optimize your profile. Every potential follower will first scan your profile to figure out who you are and why you followed them, and decide whether or not to follow back based on what they see. Be sure to include a short “elevator pitch” that accurately describes your sound, a link to your site, and a reference to a related band or two. I describe my music as “electronic indie piano pop for fans of The Postal Service, Depeche Mode, and Owl City.”

Follow related bands’ followers. In my case, that means finding the official profile of The Postal Service, Depeche Mode, or Owl City and following their followers. With any luck, they’ll click through to my profile, spot my reference to the related band, follow back, and maybe even take a listen. But I don’t just follow anyone! I prescreen each potential fan to ensure they meet the following criteria:

1. At least 20 followers. I learned this the hard way! After my first indiscriminate following session, I received several direct messages asking “do I know you?” People with low follower counts are likely tweeting only to close friends. The idea here is to get noticed without invading anyone’s privacy.

2. No approval required. Along the same lines, I don’t send follow requests to users who keep their tweets private. It strikes me as rude. If I click on the follow button and see “pending (cancel),” I immediately cancel. Perhaps someone more bold than me will experiment with a request-only strategy and share their results.

3. Last tweet less than one week old. There’s no point in following inactive accounts. While our main goal is to attract potential fans, we might as well narrow our focus on people who can help spread our message. That means active Twitter users with public tweets that reach a respectable number of people.

4. No egg icon. While we’re on the topic of respect, no self-respecting Twitter user keeps the default egg icon as their avatar. If they can’t even bother to upload a profile photo, they’re not worth following.

5. Following 30-300. If a user follows less than 30 people, they won’t follow me. If they follow more than 300, they won’t notice me.

6. English speaking. I realize that users who Tweet in other languages could very well speak English, and even spread my message in their native language. Still, it’s disingenuous to follow someone when you don’t understand what they’re saying.

7. No businesses. Businesses are on Twitter to promote their brand and services. Even if they happen to follow related bands, they’re not likely to evangelize. Stick with personal accounts.

8. No back-scratchers. Many profiles state something along the lines of “follow and I will follow back.” My mission is to find new fans, not to artificially inflate my numbers with people who don’t care about my music.

9. No Beliebers. Justin Bieber takes up 3% of all Twitter traffic. If I see him mentioned in a user’s profile or tweet stream, I immediately unfollow. Beliebers have a nasty habit of retweeting anything even casually Bieber-related, including desperate pleas for the little man to follow them back.

These are guidelines, not rules. If I come across a person that interests me, I’ll follow them regardless. If someone meets the criteria but rubs me the wrong way, I won’t. Go with your gut.

I keep at this until I follow 50 new users, which takes about 20 minutes. To check my progress, I use the find function in Chrome to search for the word “following” on the current page until I see 53 hits (three instances of the word appear naturally on the page before you start following anyone).

Unfollow non-followers. After two days, I use JustUnfollow to unfollow the users who aren’t following me back, usually about 40. This step is crucial because 1) Twitter only lets you follow 2000 users unless a higher number follow you, and 2) high following counts coupled with low follower counts look amateur. After unfollowing, it’s right back to following related bands’ followers, ad infinitum.

Beliebers or no, your Twitter stream will quickly become cluttered. To counter this, create a list of users you actually want to keep track of, and bookmark that page. While it’s important to interact with your new followers, it’s tough to stay on top of more than 150. I have Twilert send me email updates that mention me, my band, or my latest album at 4 pm daily, so I don’t miss out on anything of direct concern.

Hey look, it works! On March 18, I had 700 “organic” followers, the natural result of using Twitter since December of 2008. Eight weeks later, I’m approaching 1000.

On the flipside, I’m following almost 400 users, four times more than when I started. And I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a chore. 20 minutes every two days may not seem like much, but it sure ain’t passive promotion.

If you’ve got any ideas to further refine the process, please share them in the comments! And if one day you discover I’m following you on Twitter, I hope you’ll recognize the high honor it confers and follow back. ;)

Brian Hazard is a recording artist with sixteen years of experience promoting his eight Color Theory albums. His Passive Promotion blog emphasizes “set it and forget it” methods of music promotion. Brian is also the head mastering engineer and owner of Resonance Mastering in Huntington Beach, California.

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Reader Comments (18)

I'm gonna give this a go dude. Thankyou.

I'm kinda bad with Twitter. I've been following quite a few people that request to be followed. But, I don't follow the egg accounts, super spammers, and people that have nothing to do with what I'm sharing.

For my band's twitter account, I've also gone out of the way to follow the additional accounts:
* local blogs, news, and zines.
* some famous people who send out interesting tweets. (Weird Al is awesome.)
* local, small businesses

I could be totally wrong with the above, but I think the local bloggers (especially music bloggers) are very important to connect with and get on their radar. Local news might use my band for a news article since I interact with their tweets.

And famous people tweets are just fun to share with my followers. George Takei just made a funny joke, and I thought it would strike interest for anyone following me. (Especially if I can't think of anything interesting to say.)

I also follow other successful twitterers. I actually learned a great deal from Amanda Palmer just watching how she interacts with her followers. Seems like she does 1 hour bursts and tries to microcommunicate with every one of her fans in real time. Snoop Dog knows how to keep people in the loop with his recording sessions as well as getting cool hashtag conversations going.

Also, despite being the worst twitterers on the planet, I make sure to follow other local bands that are in my genre. I try to retweet their shows and successes. Though they rarely check their damn twitter accounts, I still consider it good form to help other bands out and build community. Just like going to their shows.

And lists are essential to tone down the noise. I can't live without my lists.

Great article, Brian!

This is great as it takes an idea (better use of twitter) and gives it a methodology (actionable steps).

Using JustUnfollow is both good and bad for the ego, yet necessary. Sometimes it's important to detach ourselves emotionally and remind ourselves what our objectives are and then what really matters.

I think many (myself included when first dipping the toe in to twitter) think of twitter, facebook, etc. as a numbers game.

This approach proves, once again, that it is a quality game.

I'd rather have fewer, authentic and appropriate followers than a large number of randoms. At present it's about a 50/50 split. I've only just begun to apply Brian's steps above but the approach feels right.

Wondering why I have many random followers prompted me to:

i) update my about page and twitter bio
ii) update my twitter picture (from logo to photo)

as I feel it is my responsibility to make sure I am clear and authentic.

The only exception I am making is that I will follow bands, artists and businesses in which I am genuinely interested.

May 18 | Unregistered CommenterRob

I am onto your game. I get a bunch of people (mostly musicians and politicians) speculatively following me, then after a week of not following them back, they unfollow me. It's quite transparent.

Follow me if you want to read what I write. If you don't, don't pretend you do. It makes me think you're a tool, though I'm sure you aren't.

May 18 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Kay

Seth, those are some great suggestions! I should probably devote an hour or two to hunting down local blogs, businesses, and bands (the 3 B's?).

Rob, I don't unfollow everybody who doesn't follow me back - just the ones I don't recognize. It's hard to find the time, but I try to interact with my prescreened "leads" whenever possible to make a personal connection.

Andrew, I totally understand where you're coming from, and I've noticed the same thing. I'm guessing the behavior of those larger accounts is automated.

Thanks for the post.Its look awesome for promoting your music through twitter and is the best way for music promotion.

May 19 | Unregistered Commenterdacey

After you've done this for awhile, you might want to scan the people you're following to check for junk accounts using TwitBlock:

Hit "more options" then "Scan your x friends (the people you follow)"

I've been meaning to try to figure out exactly how Twitter functions for generating more followers. Thanks for the ideas!

Perfect answer "Seth" :) And Andrew, I totally agree - I hate that sordid little dark practice.

Nice one Brian some great ideas to keep the fans targeted.

There is a tool called "tweepi" which let's you un-follow the people who don't follow you back after a few days.

Nice little bolt onto this tactic.

- Chris


I learned the same lessons you did. Point "No.5 30 -300 followers" is particularly pertinent. I've certainly noticed my Twitter experience from a consumer perspective has nosedived since I started following over 300 people. Thank the gods for lists.

The only point that I disagree with is No. 6 "English Speaking". There's a great little function on most twitter apps that translates tweets for you, and I use it when a foreign tweet catches my eye. This is a personal preference though and will depend on your own knowledge of other languages. I do however, look to see if the person tweets in English occasionally though. I guess that's my method of verification that my message won't get lost.

As for the controversial "unfollow", I'll unfollow if the person if they don't follow back, but I give them a fair bit of time and quite often will try to engage them in conversation. I do a cleanup every so often of those who refuse to engage.

Thank god for lists, Kristian!

Having just discovered lists and applying them in context of the aforementioned; this has, so far, been a valuable exercise. I'm down to following 80 *quality* individuals (from 200) and now have lists, to cover most aspects of the industry and my interests - and not a useful tweet lost! was useful, finding 7 spam accounts following me - thanks Brian.

My process was to review each single of the 200 or so followers and add them to an appropriate list having created a new one if there wasn't an appropriate one.

I then reviewed my lists and consolidated 'members' if I found at the end of my review I had a list perhaps with only one or two 'members' in it.

Lists rock.

May 24 | Unregistered CommenterRob

The English-speaking requirement was definitely a tough call, and wouldn't be such a big deal with lists. That said, I decided I was sick of lists! The other day I unfollowed the 200+ users I didn't know or feel like following, to bring me down to 80. Only a half dozen unfollowed me in return. Totally worth it!

It's such a hopeful headline: 'your future fans'.

Are you making more money? Is it worth it?

Your post causes conflicting emotions. On the one hand, I applaud the kind of hard sell spammy attack mode of it all, as I don't see why people shouldn't use the online experience for any kind of corny advertising they can get away with. Who says the internet is some kind of holy space where you mustn't sell yourself as hard as the Chinese viagra companies? I personally don't accept the rules - this isn't a high street and if I want to bump into virtual shoppers, I will.

On the other, it all seems a bit desperate, on a par with the old traveling bible salesman.

At the very least, I hope you're having fun and discovering all kinds of interesting things via your new Mode and Owl City friends.

May 27 | Registered CommenterTim London

Thanks for the music profile tips for twitter. I will try your suggestions to appeal to music fans based on what you have written. I am hoping to increase my following.

Good points Tim!

Is it worth it? For me personally, no. My time is very limited, and it's hard for me to find a spare hour to make music, much less promote. That's why I unfollowed everyone I wasn't interested in and went back to gaining followers the old-fashioned way: by doing nothing. :)

Still, I think the experiment was worthwhile, and should be useful for others, especially in a band situation where duties can be delegated. I don't know of a better "Twitter strategy." Whether or not it's worth having a Twitter strategy in the first place is a judgement call.

This is a great article Brian! I think you take an analytical approach to Twitter, an approach that is easily overlooked and tough to measure with social media. By dealing with the quality of followers over the quantity you have a better opportunity to connect with folks who are interested in and more likely to share your music. It will be interesting to track twitter follower trends.

Twitter users should take note of the tips shown here. Sure, you're active, but you have to take note of some points because there are things that might affect the traffic flowing to the links that you share.

-- Man Ray, SEO Reseller

November 16 | Unregistered CommenterMan Ray

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