Part of the strategy I teach for growing your social media audience on Twitter instructs you to follow people who might like your content. If they don’t follow you back, you unfollow them. This is a common and effective strategy taught by many.

This isn’t a follow “exchange,” as some like to call it. You’re simply using “following” as a tool to say hello to someone else. When another user sees a notification pop up that says “@bradpauquette followed you,” it prompts them to check out my profile. If they like the content that they see, they follow me, and we have a mutual opportunity to build a relationship. If they don’t like my content and don’t follow, then it’s not an opportunity for a relationship, no hard feelings.

From a promotional and a human standpoint, our end goal is to establish real relationships with individuals, and for those relationships to have value. Ideally, your social media follower becomes a blog follower, who becomes a mailing list connection, who then becomes a personal connection or at least an advocate for your work.

Simply having a lot of followers on a platform has limited value. What we really want is to be in a position to influence other people to take action.

The drawback of this Twitter strategy is that you’ll typically end up following a lot of people. While you should have some interest in everyone’s content (that’s why you followed those people), it may become too much to keep up with, and it will prevent you from fostering more valuable connections with specific contacts. If you follow 2,000 people, 500 hundred may tweet regularly. You don’t have time to interact with that many people, nor do you have sufficient memory to actually build upon a shared history. The volume of people you’re following will make it more difficult to form real relationships.

The solution is private lists.

A list is simply a collection of users. When your list is private, only you can see it. You can find your “Lists” page from the left-hand navigation of the Twitter website.

For instance, I have a list that I call “Valuable Tweets.” I add people to this list who consistently produce content that I really like. When I visit the list, I only see the most recent tweets from the people I’ve added to this list. This is content that I know I’m more likely to retweet, interact with, or they’re people that I want to be an advocate for.

When I’m on my general feed and see a great tweet, I click on the person’s profile, consider their most recent content, and add them to this private list if they’re someone I want to keep an eye on.

This allows me to follow lots of people (and to spend some time seeing everyone’s tweets), but also to keep track of a few accounts that I’d either like to support or build a more valuable relationship with.

Liking a celebrity or national politician’s tweet probably won’t do you much good. But if you consistently engage with other Tweeters who are at your level or slightly above, they may begin to notice you and to reciprocate that relationship.

We’re not trying to be a creep, we’re simply trying to occupy similar space with like-minded people. When you wanted to make a friend in school, you’d try to sit at their lunch table every day. You’re simply building yourself a lunch table on Twitter.

You may also have an “IRL” list, for people that you know “In Real Life.” You don’t want to miss liking your aunt’s tweet about her birthday party because it’s crowded out by tweets from 2,000 strangers. An IRL list will keep track of your personal friends.

And you can create other lists as well. Whatever helps you to develop relationships, define your expertise, and build out your professional persona.

The single most important element to grow your Twitter following is to consistently produce great content. Following others will help to generate more exposure for your great content. Lists will help you to manage your attention and invest in specific relationships.

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