November 27, 2013

How I Got My First 1,000 Twitter Followers

70% of My First 1,000 Twitter Followers Were Qualified70% Qualified Followers

I just hit 1,000 followers for Flaunt My Design's Twitter account. It took me roughly 9 months and 3 weeks. I'm very happy with my followers, since 70% of them clearly belong to my target group. I gained my first 1,000 Twitter followers almost exclusively (91%) through follow-backs. That is, I first followed them, then they followed me back.

To me, a qualified Twitter follower is:

  • a graphic designer, illustrator, or web designer
  • is freelancing
  • has an online portfolio
  • has significant design skills
  • has tweeted at least once past two months
  • tweets in English
  • follows other industry related Twitter accounts
  • has customized his or her profile image
  • uses a URL in the profile

How Many Do I Need to Follow to Get 1,000 Followers?

I followed 5,115 people to gain my first 1,000 Twitter followers. That's roughly an 18% follow-back ratio. Good or bad? I'm not sure. From what I heard it follows the average. Anyway, my exact numbers looked like this: Pre-qualifying 309 576 Twitter Users

I Qualified My Twitter Followers Before Following

To get a high proportion of quality followers, and to decrease the work load, I aimed to pre-qualify people as far as possible before I followed them. I did not want to follow 309,576 people… The blue ones (5,115) were the people I finally followed.

Step 1: Download followers of industry related Twitter accounts

My starting point was people following other industry related Twitter accounts (e.g. Smashing Magazine.) I figured following such accounts showed both interest in the industry, and interest in improving personal business and creative skills.

During 9 months I downloaded in total 309,576 followers from 139 industry related accounts.

Also, part of step one was to clear the downloaded follower lists from spam (commonly 30 to 40%.) I weeded out all users without URL:s in their profiles or users using default profile images (both are spam indicators.)

I chose to download followers from Twitter accounts such as:

Tool: Tweet Adder. You can fully automate step one (on a per account basis.)

Step 2: Identify users belonging to my target group

I run the 309,576 users against my criteria for my target group. If the user's Twitter bio text matched my keywords for creative freelancers he or she qualified.

Illustration: Twitter user whose bio text matches the criteria

In average 2% of the 309,576 matched the criteria for my target group. However, the percentage varied a lot between each account: From as low as 0.2% up to 20%. In general, really big accounts contained the smallest proportion. However, due to sheer volume, some big accounts were interesting to dig into anyway.

Part of step two was also to weed out users I already followed once. I didn't want to spam the same user with new follow requests over and over.

Tool: I run the data through Microsoft Access (again, on a per account basis), but any database application should do. You can almost fully automate step two with the help of a database application. You can also, painstakingly, do this step manually.

Step 3: Screen online portfolios, and follow

The users that met my criteria so far I then screened for:

  • online portfolio
  • significant design skills

It turned out that 16% lacked one or both = no need to follow.

I did the screening by manually visiting each and everyones website.

Screening portfolios took roughly 1 minute per user. After screening thousands of portfolios I got the knack for quickly spotting skills and talent.

The users who passed the portfolio screening I then followed on Twitter.

[box] Take care not to follow (or unfollow) too many users the same day! “Aggressive following” violates Twitter's terms of service. Such behavior can lead to a suspended, or banned, account. Only Twitter knows exactly what makes up “aggressive following,” but if you keep your following/unfollowing to under a 100 a day you should be on the safe side. [/box]

To increase the chance for a follow-back I followed the user when he or she had tweeted the same day or the day before.

Finally, I unfollowed people who didn't follow back within one week.

Tool: Tweet Adder. This was the most time-consuming step, since portfolio screening has to be done manually. However, for everything else in step three Tweet Adder was a good help.


I gained my first 1,000 Twitter followers slow and steady. In average, I only followed eighteen users per day.

In retro-perspective I could probably had increased the following pace 4-5 times. I might do so in the future. However, with such a pace, I can't manually screen all portfolios.

As always, comments and further suggestions are welcome! Do you want to become better at promoting yourself? Sign up for blog updates in the below box!