Cultivating Twitter Followers & Social Commerce: What Followers Do and Don't Want

Written by James GunterMay 4, 2011

The origins of Twitter reach back much further than its 2006 founding. In fact, they reach back further than the invention of the internet or the personal computer, all the way back to late 19th century England where speakers began to use a small corner of Hyde Park, London, for public debate. It was called Speakers’ Corner, and anyone and everyone could haul a soapbox to that corner of the park, stand atop it, and speak about their views and opinions to anyone who was passing by. Interesting speakers drew crowds. Boring speakers talked to the pigeons. And the tradition continues today.

In the 21st century, the soapbox is Twitter, and your speech is only 140 characters long. But the principles are the same. If you are going to run a social media campaign involving Twitter, you have to know how to engineer your tweets to gain followers, or you’ll be tweeting to the pigeons (metaphorically speaking).

What They Do Want

Imagine you were walking around Hyde Park, circa 1890; what would make you stop and listen to an individual speaker? The best speakers were the ones who could disseminate compelling information and validate the views of anyone listening. And that really hasn’t changed. With Twitter, your followers want the same two things: information and validation. Let’s take a look at theses individually.


First and foremost you have to be useful. Your brand Twitter feed has to provide value to your followers. That value can be just about anything as long as it is relevant to your target audience. For example, if you own a software company, and you’re tweeting for end users, give them value in the form of tips, tutorials, links to resources, and more. If you own a retail store, you’ll want to use your tweets to inform your followers about upcoming sales, events, and new products. Whole Foods’ Twitter does a great job of handing out interesting facts, recipes, and relevant news items (not always about their own company). This is why people follow you. They want to get the inside scoop, and they want a resource they can turn to when they need help. Your brand Twitter feed needs to become that resource.


The other aspect people look for in a Twitter feed is validation. That is, your followers want to know that your brand Twitter feed isn’t just a robot spitting out promotion after promotion. If your followers ask questions, answer them or point them toward the appropriate resources. The Red Bull Twitter does a great job of validating followers. Although they tweet recipes, they also ask questions and retweet the best answers and respond to their followers in ways that validate their followers’ views and relationships with the brand. As your brand following increases, you may not have time to respond to every @reply, but your followers should get the sense that you read their tweets—that there is a human behind the feed.


Primarily, followers look for information and validation, but another important aspect of your tweets can be entertainment. Sometimes, your brand will gain followers simply because you are humorous or fun to follow. Certainly, your brand’s tweets need to reflect your corporate image, so entertainment may not be an option for all brands. But if you take a look at brand tweets by Skittles, you’ll see that not all tweets have to be serious. You can simply provide value to your followers by being fun.

What They Don’t Want

If you can provide value to your followers in the form of information, validation, and (sometimes) entertainment, you’re on your way to gathering a crowd around your proverbial soapbox. However, there are also a lot of misconceptions and missteps that your brand Twitter feed can fall into, problems that will alienate your followers and make it difficult to get anyone to follow you. Here are a few examples.


Nobody wants to follow Grumpy Smurf. Your brand Twitter should be positive and uplifting. You want your followers to feel good about themselves and about your brand. So tweeting negative thoughts, opinions, and sarcastic remarks will probably be met with a bevy or unfollows. Sometimes you may have a bad day, but keep in mind that your brand Twitter feed is no place to take out your Monday blues. Remember, everything you tweet is public, so don’t tweet anything you wouldn’t want to share with the whole world.


The value of a precious stone lies in its beauty and rarity. Your Tweets should be the same. Just because your brand has a Twitter account doesn’t mean you have to tweet every five minutes, 24 hours a day. First of all, that’s annoying. And second of all, you’ll dilute the power of the tweets that actually matter. Before you hit the tweet button, ask yourself if your tweet holds value for your followers and why. Restrain yourself to a handful of meaningful tweets a day and you’ll gain the respect and interest of your followers. And never retweet a link that you haven’t looked at or thoroughly read through. Make every tweet count.

Constant Self-Promotion

Yes, your brand Twitter account is there to help promote your brand and your image, but that doesn’t mean that every tweet has to include the words “buy today!” In fact, the majority of your tweets should not be self-promotional. If you follow the 80/20 rule (80% non-promotional, 20% promotional), you should have a nice ratio. Commercials suck. And if all your brand tweets are simply advertisements, don’t be surprised if you’re finding it hard to get followers. For example, take a look at the Naked Pizza Twitter. They do a good job of balancing promotional tweets with links to other resources and interaction with their followers. If you create value and relationships first, your followers will be much more open to your promotions.

Personal Information

Lastly, keep in mind that your brand Twitter account should be about your brand, not about you. If people are following your brand, they don’t care about what you had for lunch, if you had the flu over the weekend, or if you’re depressed that it’s raining outside. Keep your personal life and your brand tweets separate, and we’ll all be better off.


Dragging your soapbox to Hyde Park is only an effective marketing strategy if you can send the right messages and get the right responses. Your brand Twitter strategy should be—primarily—about providing value to your followers in the form of information and validation. Stick to the 80/20 rule with your promotions, stay away from negativity, useless tweeting, and your personal life, and you’ll have created a solid Twitter strategy that will help boost your brand image and your profits.

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