How to win followers and influence journalism: lessons from journalists with the most followers on Twitter

How to win followers and influence journalism: lessons from journalists with the most followers on Twitter

Anderson Cooper is the most followed broadcast journalist on Twitter.

In the Mid-Year Social Journalism Report, Muck Rack CEO Greg Galant ranked the broadcast and print/online journalists with the most followers on Twitter. With more than 5 million followers, Anderson Cooper ranks far ahead of all other journalists. Several standout journalists boast over 2 million followers at press time: Rachel Maddow, Larry King, Chris Hardwick, Adam Schefter, and Bill Simmons.

We aren’t all aiming for millions of followers. But even if we start with an audience of dozens or hundreds of followers, we can look to the Twitter habits and strategies of these most-followed journalists for tips on gaining more followers and readers for our work.

Using the ForSight social media analytics platform, built by Crimson Hexagon (full disclosure: I work there), to monitor tweeting and engagement tactics and trends, distinct patterns of highly successful journalists on Twitter emerge. These patterns suggest that visibility through high-profile jobs like Anderson Cooper’s gig at CNN aren’t they only thing separating most followed journalists from the rest of the pack. For this study, I analyzed the activity around the Twitter handles of the five print/online journalists with the most followers as of June 2014 (Adam Schefter, Bill Simmons, Arianna Huffington, David Pogue, and Nicholas Kristof) from January 1, 2014 to July 4, 2014. 

There are plenty of ways to gain followers aside from having a daily gig on a major television station, including getting widely retweeted, inspiring people to mention you when they share your work and participating in conversations that are important to your audience.

Here are five concrete lessons I took from my analysis of highly-followed journalists that you can incorporate into your approach to tweeting and using Twitter in your journalistic work to gain a larger audience and more influence: 

1. Tweet Every Day. Regular engagement is the key. If you want to build your follower count, put out Tweets every day. Think of Twitter like a Giga Pet, those electronic toys back in the day that needed to be fed and watered. Each of the five exhibit peaks and valleys in sending Tweets, but send them they do – nearly every single day, weekends included.  

2. Send a Flurry of Tweets About Events. Intensify your Twitter presence around events related to your beat or expertise. Each of the journalists’ owned media profiles on Twitter exhibited significant daily activity, as well as distinct spikes in sent Tweets and engagement, including mentions and Retweets, around events.

For example, Arianna Huffington’s Twitter handle saw its most engagement on a single day on Mother’s Day, a day when @ariannahuff Tweeted actively. With 360 million total possible impressions from Tweets and Retweets in one day, you can be sure @ariannahuff picked up new followers as a result of her Mother’s Day Tweets.

Bill Simmons saw a burst of engagement in late April of this year when he Tweeted 22 times about Donald Sterling, Adam Silver, and the NBA from April 26-29. During that time, an on-location Tweet from the Clippers game garnered 2,422 Retweets. Over four days, @BillSimmons added 6,000 new followers.

Similarly, Adam Schefter covered the NFL free agents action on Twitter from March 11-March 14 by sending around 200 Tweets. During those four days, he increased his follower count by 2%. 

3. Use Your Byline Name in Your Handle. You are most likely to be mentioned alongside one of your articles or podcasts online. Make it easy for your audience to mention you by making your handle close to your name. From @AdamSchefter to @NickKristof, all of the print/online journalists with the most followers used a close variation of their byline name for their handle. 

If you started out Tweeting as @FunGuy or @JournoLady, it’s not too late to change your Twitter handle to your real name. Take it from Muck Rack’s own @Gregory: names matter on Twitter. 

4. Be Clear About Your Interests. What’s your beat? What do you do? Who are you? The five journalists with the most followers are clear and consistent on Twitter about what they cover and what they care about. If you want to find your audience, help them find you by tweeting about the topics, people, and events that matter most to you and to your audience. 

The word cluster visualization of @BillSimmons Tweets and engagement with his handle show a close connection with sports coverage in his Twitter presence.

5. Share the Love – Retweet!. Getting people to Retweet you is a critical ingredient for gaining followers, but don’t be greedy. The five journalists whose Twitter practices I looked at all shared the love and retweeted other journalists and others. In order to succeed in building an audience on Twitter, make it a conversation, not a one-way broadcast medium.

Elizabeth Breese, PhD is a sociologist and is Senior Content and Digital Marketing Strategist at Crimson Hexagon, a social media analytics company in Boston. Elizabeth publishes academic research on journalism, media, and the public sphere. At Crimson Hexagon, she manages content marketing and the Social Research Grant Program, in addition to PR work in the US and UK. The author thanks Morgan Johnstonbaugh for her research assistance. 

Photo: Screenshot of Anderson Cooper's Twitter profile from Twitter

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