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What I’ve learned from growing and unfollowing over 250,000 followers on Twitter
Why would you want to purge your Twitter feed? Columnist Travis Wright explains how Twitter helped him build industry relationships -- and why he decided to start over.
Of all of my social media channels, Twitter has been the best one for building relationships. Over the years, I’ve used many tools to grow my connections, so after being on Twitter for nearly 10 years, it was time to start over and see what would happen.
Up until recently, I had never unfollowed anyone who followed me. I only unfollowed those who weren’t following me.
I’ve always maintained that if you are a real person, and you are following me, I will follow you back.
My Twitter followers grew to over 252,000 on December 1, 2016.
On that day, while looking at my Twitter timeline, I noticed some porn tweets, and I noticed a user with a swastika for his profile image. In all of the years of growing my account, the automated tools that I had used had picked up some crazy people to follow.
Twitter has been invaluable in my career
See, I live in Kansas City, Mo., right smack in the middle of Midwest, USA. I’m 1,192 miles from New York City and 1,807 miles from San Francisco — so I’m technically a tech industry outsider.
Twitter has helped me bridge that gap over the years and connect with many people outside of my local area. It has been tremendous for both personal and professional growth. This article may seem a bit self-promotional, at times, but it’s meant to showcase how valuable Twitter is as a networking tool to grow relationships from anywhere on planet Earth.
The beginning of the Twitter journey
I joined Twitter on April 23, 2007. At that time, I was the lead web developer/web design trainer at a local tech institute, Centriq Training. I was also working on a startup called AdIQus, which was working on making advertising more intelligent.
For my one conference trip that year, I chose to go to Web 2.0 Expo at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. It turned out to be very eye-opening.
Having spent the dot-com bubble burst of 2000 working on a startup of my own, MethodLaboratories, I knew that I was of a similar ilk to those in attendance at Web 2.0 Expo.
Coincidentally, while I was in San Francisco, Digg was having its One-Millionth User Party and through a Twitter connection, I was able to secure a ticket.
That week in San Francisco, I met tech luminaries such as Tim O’Reilly, Jeff Clavier, David Berkowitz, Jay Adelson, Kevin Rose, Randi Zuckerberg and one of the founders of Twitter, Biz Stone.
Needless to say, I was inspired.
When I got back to KC, I jumped on Twitter with a fervor! With everyone I met, I would share the virtues of Twitter! “You need to get on this! It’s amazing! You can chat with influential marketing and technology geniuses all over the world!!”
I taught my students at Centriq how to use social media. I began to grow my follower base.
No funding? No problem. Get drunk.
Shortly thereafter, my startup, AdIQus, was approved for a $500,000 seed round of funding. I had trained my replacement at Centriq. However, four days before we were to finalize the deal, my business partners and I got a knock on the door from the FBI stating that the principal of the investment firm was under arrest for a FINRA violation. He did something with the stock market which was similar to what Martha Stewart had done to get arrested.
I had no job. No funding for my startup. So that night, I got really drunk…
But the next morning, through my hangover, I decided that I could be a victim or I could be a victor.
It’s all about mindset.
It was time to get my hustle on. I created a new ad agency, Advangel Interactive, and I began to focus on growing relationships outside of Kansas City on this new fandangled thing called the Twitters.
The early days of Twitter growth automation
My assumption over time was that if I had 50,000-ish followers, I could turn that perceived influence into real influence. So, I began using all the Twitter tools under the sun — Tweepi, Twinfluence, Tweet Cloud, Friend or Follow, Qwitter, Tweepler, SocialBro, Twubble, Twhirl, TwitterAdder, TweetAdder, and many others — to efficiently grow my account.
Back in the day, you could follow 10 percent more people than were following you. So, I would use these apps to follow a bunch of relevant people, and then unfollow those who didn’t follow back, ensuring all of my followers were real people.
So, if you had 20,000 followers, then you could follow up to 22,000 people. Then you could unfollow the 10,000-ish or so who weren’t following back, and the next day, you could follow 12,000 new people!
It was the Gold Rush era of Twitter growth.
Twitter kills the goose that laid the golden egg
Over time, Twitter locked down its API and put limits on how people could grow their accounts, and rightly so. It needed limitations. However, it went a bit too far. In one of its worst Twitter management decisions of all time, the company essentially killed the Twitter developer community.
Twitter shut down what once was one of the most vibrant developer ecosystems in the world.
That was the beginning of its decline, IMO.
Turning ‘tweet-fu’ into opportunity
By late 2010, I had grown my account to nearly 80,000 real followers. And my original assumption was proven correct, perceived influence would turn into real opportunities.
The connections we made at the 2011 CES opened many new doors. So, I kept building relationships and working as a one-man band at my digital agency.
Growing your Twitter account with Twitter lists
Sometime around 2009, Twitter debuted lists. Twitter lists allow you to curate people into various subjects so that you can monitor those streams more effectively. Since I had thousands of followers, my tweet-stream was full of noise, and it was hard to identify the signal.
Lists changed all of that.
I set up lists to monitor my favorite people in Kansas City. I set up sports lists. I set up as many lists as I could. And now with tools like Nuzzel, you can find the signal from the noise from your Twitter stream, especially when you curate lists.
My favorite list was a list called Brilliant-Tech-Women. This list was originally set up as a way to curate brilliant, beautiful and hilarious women in the tech space. I figured calling them brilliant would be less sexist. Most of the time when I create a list, I do it creatively so that it gives the listees a nice compliment of some sort!
I’ve not added anyone to that list in years, but back in those days, you could only have 500 people to a list, so I curated it accordingly. One of the people that I had serendipitously added to the list was Mia Dand, my future boss at Symantec.
In 2012, Ms. Dand was looking for someone to run social media communities for @NortonOnline with Symantec. My good friend Chris Zakharoff was a marketing architect there and recommended that she talk with his good friend, Travis Wright… me!
By putting Dand in a Twitter list three years prior, it opened the door for me to become part of the Global Digital Strategy team at Norton.
Bang zoom! Straight to the moon, Norton!
While at Norton, I grew the Twitter community from 3,200 followers to over 105,000 active followers. We grew the Facebook account from around 12,000 followers to over one million. The engagement and sales from those channels exploded.
It was an amazing experience and opportunity that I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t been active on Twitter (and if I hadn’t added Dand to a Twitter list!)
From there, Dand went on to work at Google, and she wanted to hire me on her team. I went through the ridiculous interview process, and of the 14 total interviews, 13 liked me. One did not. To be hired at Google, it must be unanimous. I just wasn’t Googley enough.
In fact, I’ve been a finalist for a digital role at Amazon, Facebook, Adobe, Google and LinkedIn. I didn’t get any of those jobs.
Did that stop me? Nope. In this space, you’ve got to keep on keepin’ on!
A couple of years ago, I began a new chapter; I forged a new digital agency called CCP.Digital, except this time in partnership with a couple of very smart people, so as to not fly solo again.
The @teedubya tweet to the Chiefs
While I was at Symantec in 2012, I sent a little tweet to the Kansas City Chiefs, after they were blown out in the first game of the season. This was the fourth year of the inept Scott Pioli regime. After talking to a friend I’ve known since fifth grade, I decided to send out this tweet.
As you can see, it was very friendly. It was just one tweet. It didn’t rail on them. I was grumpy, and I voiced my opinion. They sent me back this tweet.
That’s when the social media upheaval began. The Chiefs tweet ended up being the first domino to fall in a movement that became Save Our Chiefs.
We ended up rallying the community via social media, and the general manager and coaching staff were ousted. The next day, the Chiefs’ ticket office called me up and gave me half-price season tickets!
The power of a tweet can be intense.
The Chiefs were saved… in fact, we’ve been to the playoffs three of the last four years. Just yesterday, I took my son to the Chiefs vs. Steelers playoff game! It was cold, but it was rewarding to know that my one angry tweet back in 2012 had a small part in rebuilding the franchise.
Turning tweets into speaking gigs
I used this experience with the Chiefs and my position with Symantec to begin speaking on various subjects pertaining to social business, digital marketing, content marketing, digital advertising and marketing technology.
My first big speaking event was at SMX Social in Vegas in December 2012. It was a great venue, and the audience was awesome. That one speaking event turned in 13 more speaking events, including one at Disney World with Disney’s search and social teams.
This also happened as the result of a tweet.
Since then, as a marketing keynote speaker, I’ve spoken at over 140 events in the past four years across 15 countries. Having a background in business and stand-up comedy has really helped create entertaining and engaging presentations.
Most of these opportunities occurred out of my decision to grow my Twitter account.
While at Symantec, I demoed over 500 different marketing technologies that encompassed many areas of business, web, e-commerce, marketing automation, analytics, social media, search, content, tag management, personalization and many other tools and technologies. This became the foundation of my focus on marketing technologies.
The genesis of all of these opportunities goes back to Twitter.
Now, having a strong background in journalism and content, I began to write more and more. On Technorati, Marketing Land, CMO.com, and on Salesforce’s blog — pretty much wherever I could get a byline. That turned into an opportunity to become a columnist on Inc. Magazine.
I leveraged Twitter to get a podcast on Technorati with Jennifer Wong. It was the “Wright and Wong way to do social media, mobile and digital marketing.” We had about 40 episodes or so, and then the CEO of Technorati shut down their content and blog directory.
Coincidentally, the Technorati podcast with Jennifer Wong happened as a result of a tweet.
I needed a brilliant co-host, so I tweeted out asking for recommendations, and at that time, she serendipitously tweeted me about something else. Crazy. We did nearly 40 episodes and had amazing guests on the show!
Since then, I’ve been co-hosting the weekly VentureBeat VB Engage podcast with Stewart Rogers.
I met @TheRealSJR solely on Twitter. We’d never actually even met before we recorded our first interview. We’ve already done 35 episodes interviewing tech luminaries such as Gary Vaynerchuk, Robert Scoble, Paddy Cosgrave and Alexis Ohanian, to name a few.
Twitter opens up the door to write a book
After 50+ columns written on Inc. Magazine, an editor at John Wiley & Sons reached out to me and asked if I’d be interested in writing a book. She said she had seen some of my tweets and read of some of the Inc. articles and wanted me to submit a book proposal to them.
Coincidentally, two days before, Chris J. Snook and I had discussed and decided on co-authoring a book. Snook and I had met after the KC Chiefs tweet debacle. Over the next 12 months, that book project became Digital Sense, which was released by Wiley on January 9.
I decided to unfollow everyone on my account
Once I discovered the swastika follower and the porn tweets on my Twitter timeline, I decided that I wanted to start over.
I used a tool called RoboTwity to unfollow everyone. RoboTwity would unfollow about 600 people or so per hour. This was a multi-day process.
There are a lot of tools out there that will notify you when people unfollow you on Twitter — tools like CrowdFire, ManageFlitter, StatusBrew and others. I don’t use these types of tools, because I don’t want to know. Nothing good can come from it.
By the time I had gotten back down to following zero people, my account had already lost about 8,000 followers, many of which were automated unfollows, and other people were using tools that tell you who has betrayed your “twust.”
Some people who noticed I unfollowed them started to cuss me out. cc Get a clue, Travis!! The responses I received ranged from sad and angry to downright indignant. People were legitimately upset.
One guy was so upset when I unfollowed him that he left this review on my book at Amazon. We don’t even talk about Twitter growth strategies in “Digital Sense!”
This was pure sour grapes. He lives in the UK, and the book isn’t even available there yet! But as Jay Baer says, “Hug your Haters.”
If the Twitter account that follows you is a real person, follow back.
While I was unfollowing people, Marsha Collier said to me, “Honey, if someone is a real person and they engage with me on Twitter, I will follow them. You never know — they may buy a book, someday.”
At this time of writing, my Twitter account has 227,207 followers — a decline of nearly 35,000 accounts, many of whom may now think I’m a jerk for unfollowing them.
If you are one of them, just follow me back. Don’t hate. Turn off that auto-unfollow bot, guurrrrrl.
I miss you, baby. I’m sorry.
I’m going back and following all of the real people who follow me currently.
Just no accounts with swastikas!
Now, A.J. Ghergich has another spin on unfollowing all of your followers,
A few years ago, I was getting more and more noise in my @SEO Twitter feed. Twitter had lost that good stuff and “nothing but the good stuff” vibe I was used to.
I used ManageFlitter and unfollowed absolutely everyone. It was liberating! In the end, I was left with a few hundred people whose thoughts and opinions really mattered to me.
Only engagement and real connections matter. Your time is valuable. Use it to focus on the connections that matter most.
Now, about once a year I do the same exercise of unfollowing and re-following accounts I can’t live without. The start of 2017 is the perfect time to give it a try.
Put your favorite tweeps in list
Now, one of the first things that I did was follow my favorite people that I could remember. I then followed back people who retweeted me. I would look at various lists that others had curated. I followed back my peeps from Kansas City. I looked at who my favorite accounts were following and followed some of them. I also followed various people who engage with me or have amazing content.
I’ve have since added them to a new list, my Top Twitter Follows. A tool called Tweez.it helped me add everyone into that list.
Would I ever unfollow everyone again?
Now that I’ve done my purge, I don’t think I will do it again.
I will use my curated list to monitor those that I believe have the most valuable or engaging tweets. I’ve already begun following back all of the real people in the marketing world, and those with whom I care to grow relationships.
Twitter has been instrumental in my personal and professional career. With it, I’ve made friends and business connections with people with whom I wouldn’t have ever crossed paths. And for that, I’m forever in debt to Jack and the Twitter team. I hope they can right the ship, because it’s a valuable business resource.
Whoa! I just used the word “whom” in back-to-back paragraphs. I’m sooo going to go tweet that.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.