Finding my first 500 followers on Twitter as a writer

A screenshot of Rey’s twitter profile, showing a photo of the author and a Black Lives Matter image next to a rainbow.
My Twitter profile

I don’t exactly like Twitter. Logging on feels like walking into a crowded party where everyone is on their own separate rant and no one will make eye contact if you speak. But Twitter does have its advantages.

News hits Twitter first. I watched Matt Fuller live-tweet the insurrection reaching the Capitol chamber in Washington, D.C.

Writers share opportunities on Twitter not available anywhere else: calls for pitches, workshop announcements, and journalists’ requests for interviews. A writing teacher I admire, Lilly Dancyger, posted a Barrelhouse writing workshop that had sold out in hours last time, and I saw it and successfully signed up a few minutes later.

Writers talk about their process and share their work on Twitter. It feels good to see people’s finished work and successes and celebrate them.

I wanted my writer account to not be followed by friends and family at first, because I wanted to be free to share about gender identity and sexuality without worrying about what my real life community would think or who I had come out to yet. I’m shy.

So how did I grow my new account to 500 followers? First, I had to convince one stranger to follow me.

My account stayed at 0 followers for a while. No one wants to follow a new account with 0 followers. I had to prep the account by adding a profile picture of my face, putting my real name as my display name, adding a bio, and tweeting, even though no one would see the tweets. I had to make myself look like a real person before anyone would even consider engaging with me.

I started following accounts of writers, finding people by searching for hashtags or looking up writers I admired. Looking at the accounts those people retweeted or mentioned, I found some smaller accounts I also followed. No one followed me back, because my account had 0 followers and few tweets.

Leaving supportive comments on her tweets is what convinced my first follower to take a chance on me.

Reaching out and talking to people, with comments, not just likes, is what continues to grow my network. Posting a few tweets on my own profile is good, but my interactions with people are generally in their comment threads. Likes are fine. Direct messages are generally unwanted. But people love comments.

What about follow trains, writer lifts, #FollowFriday, etc, etc…? Yes, I tried these, and gained a lot of followers quickly. I was happy and satisfied. Until I posted to my new, inflated follower population and realized none of them were looking at my tweets. I still had 0 likes and comments. Most people who are primarily concerned with their follower count are less likely to actually engage with your content.

The best follow-back activity I participated in was in a writer’s group on Facebook with a lot of engaged, dedicated writers. Following people I knew in another community was a way to build a more long-lasting connection than random people using a hashtag on Twitter.

I appreciate being able to maintain some level of connection with people I actually know on Twitter. But their posts get lost in the feed. Twitter thinks I want to see the hottest posts right now, but I would rather see my friends’ posts even if they are not popular.

The best way I have found for keeping in touch with friends is to add them to a private List. If the list is private, they do not get a notification that I have added them, and no one else gets to see who is on the list. I can view a chronological feed of posts from just the people on that list, go through and add likes and comments. You can create more than one list — writing class friends, martial arts friends, want-to-be friends, etc.

A screenshot of the Twitter Lists page, showing “Workshop” and “Potential” private lists.
A screenshot of the Twitter Lists page, showing “Workshop” and “Potential” private lists.
The Twitter Lists page

In Twitter numbers, 500 followers is not impressive. I’m not an influencer. I’m getting very little engagement on my posts. But I’m able to feel the pulse of the writing community with my account, see opportunities that aren’t posted anywhere else, and reach out to members of my community.

A great post from Emma Lombard (@LombardEmma) on Jane Friedman’s blog has excellent ideas for growing your Twitter following even further. She comments, “Until newbies have at least 1,000 followers…the algorithms don’t push them onto their followers’ feed.” I’m a glass half full kind of person, so I think I’m halfway there.

You can find me on Twitter at @reywrites and at my website, reywrites.com.

Writer | Athlete | Software Engineer