Today, I want to talk about how I leverage Twitter to build an audience, build relationships, and find opportunities. I’ll talk about my overall strategy and the little day-to-day things I do, and which tools I use.
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I started using Twitter regularly to engage with other founders and talk about my work in October 2019, just shortly after Danielle and I sold our SaaS FeedbackPanda. I had around 400 followers at that point, painfully accumulated over almost ten years. I never tweeted much back then. I may have liked a Tweet here or there, but I wasn’t a very active user. Just a year before that, in November 2018, I had a net negative ten followers.
Once I had decided to give Twitter a real shot, everything changed. Today, I am north of 11.000 followers. Back in June 2020, just before I released my book, I had 4000 followers.
The sale of our business and the journey leading up there had given me a very interesting story to talk about. I see similar things happening on Twitter every day. Someone decides to build a project in public. Another person has a revelation or decisive experience, and they start sharing their story. No matter what the story is, no matter how successful or not the founders are, people are always interested in real and truthful messages.
That’s what I decided to share from the start—real experiences, packaged as short and condensed messages. I wanted to share what I had learned without feeling pushy. I’ve never liked accounts that only tweet fragments of knowledge without engaging in discussions.
That’s why I am following the “Engagement first, then Content, then Sharing” approach. Above all, I want to prioritize interacting with other founders, other entrepreneurs. Then, I want to share my experiences and learnings, and finally, I want to lift and amplify other people’s messages.
Let me share how I approach each of these things.
I have two rules when it comes to engaging with other Twitter accounts: “engage everyone, no matter the follower count” and “engage to empower, not to debate.”
I will talk to every person who has something interesting to say, whether they joined Twitter in 2009 or yesterday. As long as I sense that someone has the founder community’s interests at heart, I will reply to their Tweets or quote-tweet their content.
What I won’t do is dive into unreasonable debates. There will always be people who thrive on conflict, and they will attempt to focus my attention on themselves. Once I notice that I usually retreat from a conversation.
That doesn’t mean I don’t discuss polarizing topics. I’ll defend my point of view, but I try always to do that from a position of empowerment. I have often deleted a draft reply because it turned an exploration of a topic into a battle of rhetoric. In these cases, I carefully try to reflect on how I can give a reply that shows the person I am talking to that I appreciate their opinion (even when I don’t share it), and, more importantly, how I can show the community that will read the conversation that there is something useful to learn from the exchange. Twitter is a public medium. I consider discussions on Twitter to be akin to a panel discussion at a conference. Respect for the other panelists and awareness of an audience that listens is integral to a good panel. It’s the same for Twitter.
Empowering people also means that I actively seek Tweets and replies that I can retweet for reach. If a founder is looking for help, I amplify their questions. If they are celebrating a win, no matter how small, I share their tweets. I know from my own experience that sometimes, all you need for a big win is for that one person to see your work. That’s what I want to make possible. Making other founders more visible is fun; it doesn’t cost me anything other than a click or two, and it generates a lot of interesting conversations.
I’ve been writing articles, a newsletter, and recording a podcast every week since I started using Twitter. Every week, I post a link to each of these pieces of content on the day they are released.
I learned that linking to the content is the most important thing, but linking to a location where people can find more is equally as important. Whenever I link to a newsletter episode — which I publish on my blog as a static page as well as the original email that is being sent out, I add a reply tweet that links to the newsletter signup page. When I share a blog article, I link to the newsletter in a follow-up tweet as well. Giving people the option to learn more or sign up with just one click has generated a good amount of traffic.
Threads are very useful, too. They allow me to share the key points of the articles I write as some form of a teaser. I start with a tweet that introduces the theme of the article and includes the link. Follow-up tweets in the thread go into detail and raise interesting questions that I answer in the piece. Finally, a tweet with the article’s link ends the tweet: one thread, two identical links.
I also take a day every few weeks to write some standalone tweets. Those often contain quotes from my book, articles, or things I have jotted down in my notes over the weeks. Whenever I talk about a topic that I have written about before, I create a thread that has a link to either my book or my blog where readers can find more information.
I don’t care much for the number of likes or retweets of my shared content. I care about engagement. Whenever someone replies to my tweets, I make sure to like their reply and give them a meaningful response. It’s often just an expression of gratitude, but every now and then, someone asks a question, and I get to reply to it. That is what I care about. Stating a conversation — and then having it. This allows me to be consistent. It shows my followers that I am worth engaging because I actually respond. I see people sharing my Tweets more and more because of this.
Most of what I share is automated. For that, I use Hypefury, a Twitter scheduling app. Whenever I write a Tweet draft, I put it into Hypefury as quickly as I can. There, I can set an automatic follow-up Tweet that gets added once a few likes have trickled in. The tool also automatically retweets my Tweet 6 hours after I post it.
That brings me to an important point. I live in Berlin, and my main audience is North-American founders. When my day starts here around 9 am, it’s somewhere between midnight, and 3 am in the US. Not a good time to tweet. My second-biggest audience, however, is India. It’s already 01:30 pm there at that point. And that’s a good time to tweet. That’s why the 6-hour retweet delay is so powerful. The people who are already awake and working get the original tweet. The people from other time zones get the retweet once they open Twitter.
Scheduling is key for me. I don’t need to be in front of Twitter to post a Tweet. I can organize this ahead of time. In fact, over Christmas in 2020, I had over 40 items queued up in my Hypefury queue so I could spend Christmas with Danielle and still create interesting Tweets and share interesting links for the people who might not celebrate this holiday. Consistency is key.
Whenever I find an interesting Tweet that I want to share, I make a choice. Instant retweet or queueing it up. For conversations that are ongoing or time-sensitive, I usually retweet right there and then. For timeless things, I find the next slot in Hypefury and queue it in there. This might mean that the Tweet won’t be retweeted for a few days, as I only have ten-ish slots in a day. That’s fine, though, and it allows me to load up on content for days when I know I’ll be busy.
That’s the power of automation. It creates certainty, opportunity and allows for an organized approach to this communication channel.
Let me share a little tactic that I have used to find quality followers. I regularly use the SparkToro Fake Followers checking tool to get some insight into my followers’ quality. Right now, it’s quite high, and I want it to stay like that. Followers who are actually interested in what I say and who share my Tweets are what I am looking for.
I usually get those by following people who like replies to my Tweets. I tweet, someone replies, and their followers react. This implies some sort of transitive connection, which seems to increase the likelihood that those people follow me back.
When I follow someone, I make sure that their bio checks out. If they have a description that shows that they’re interesting, a non-default avatar picture, and at least a handful of followers, I am quite likely to follow them. When they are particularly new accounts, I make sure they’re not bots. But that’s it. I can always unfollow them if they act weird in the future.
I follow those who engage with me. It’s pretty simple. You shout me out on Twitter, I follow you. You link to my book, I follow you. You say something that I find interesting and insightful, I follow you. This approach has served me well, and a lot of interesting conversations and learnings have come from that.
I have yet to dive into Twitter lists as a concept of following people. I follow a few but haven’t really done much about this myself. That’s something I want to tackle in the future.
Let’s talk about dealing with platform risk. I’ve seen too many Twitter accounts being banned for numerous reasons, losing all their followers in one swoop. No matter the reason, this risk very real: Twitter owns the platform, they own the profiles, they own the connections. They are, and they own the network.
For that reason, I am glad I have the newsletter. The many thousand subscribers on that list will always be accessible to me, no matter what happens to my Twitter account. I recommend attempting to diversify like this early on. Twitter probably won’t implode as MySpace did, but there is always the risk of being de-platformed. I have the list to fall back on and re-build, even though I hope I’ll never need it.
Twitter is an incredibly useful platform for making connections. I’m glad I invested all this time into it so far, as it has created ample opportunities, either in public conversations or in DMs. It’s a tool for exchanging knowledge and empowering others.
Hope to see you there! You can follow me on Twitter at @arvidkahl.