birds on a pole

Prescreen Your Future Fans with Twitter

Two months ago, I began implementing Ariel Hyatt and Carla Lynne Hall’s strategy to increase my Twitter following, as laid out in their book Musician’s Roadmap to Facebook and Twitter. The basic idea is to follow potential fans in the hope that they will follow back. I discovered that the more selective I am in choosing who to follow, the more likely I am to connect with people who may become genuine fans. I’ll share my process and results below.


Optimize your profile. Every potential follower will first scan your profile to figure out who you are and why you followed them, and decide whether or not to follow back based on what they see. Be sure to include a short “elevator pitch” that accurately describes your sound, a link to your site, and a reference to a related band or two. I describe my music as “electronic indie piano pop for fans of The Postal Service, Depeche Mode, and Owl City.”

Follow related bands’ followers. In my case, that means finding the official profile of The Postal Service, Depeche Mode, or Owl City and following their followers. With any luck, they’ll click through to my profile, spot my reference to the related band, follow back, and maybe even take a listen.

But I don’t just follow anyone! I prescreen each potential fan to ensure they meet the following criteria:

1. At least 20 followers. I learned this the hard way! After my first indiscriminate following session, I received several direct messages asking “do I know you?” People with low follower counts are likely tweeting only to close friends. The idea here is to get noticed without invading anyone’s privacy.

2. No approval required. Along the same lines, I don’t send follow requests to users who keep their tweets private. It strikes me as rude. If I click on the follow button and see “pending (cancel),” I immediately cancel. Perhaps someone more bold than me will experiment with a request-only strategy and share their results.

3. Last tweet less than one week old. There’s no point in following inactive accounts. While our main goal is to attract potential fans, we might as well narrow our focus on people who can help spread our message. That means active Twitter users with public tweets that reach a respectable number of people.  

4. No egg icon. While we’re on the topic of respect, no self-respecting Twitter user keeps the default egg icon as their avatar. If they can’t even bother to upload a profile photo, they’re not worth following.  

5. Following 30-300. If a user follows less than 30 people, they won’t follow me. If they follow more than 300, they won’t notice me.

6. English speaking. I realize that users who Tweet in other languages could very well speak English, and even spread my message in their native language. Still, it’s disingenuous to follow someone when you don’t understand what they’re saying.

7. No businesses. Businesses are on Twitter to promote their brand and services. Even if they happen to follow related bands, they’re not likely to evangelize. Stick with personal accounts.

8. No back-scratchers. Many profiles state something along the lines of “follow and I will follow back.” My mission is to find new fans, not to artificially inflate my numbers with people who don’t care about my music.

9. No Beliebers. Justin Bieber takes up 3% of all Twitter traffic. If I see him mentioned in a user’s profile or tweet stream, I immediately unfollow. Beliebers have a nasty habit of retweeting anything even casually Bieber-related, including desperate pleas for the little man to follow them back.

These are guidelines, not rules. If I come across a person that interests me, I’ll follow them regardless. If someone meets the criteria but rubs me the wrong way, I won’t. Go with your gut.

I keep at this until I follow 50 new users, which takes about 20 minutes. To check my progress, I use the find function in Chrome to search for the word “following” on the current page until I see 53 hits (three instances of the word appear naturally on the page before you start following anyone).

Unfollow non-followers. After two days, I use JustUnfollow to unfollow the users who aren’t following me back, usually about 40. This step is crucial because 1) Twitter only lets you follow 2000 users unless a higher number follow you, and 2) high following counts coupled with low follower counts look amateur. After unfollowing, it’s right back to following related bands’ followers, ad infinitum.

Beliebers or no, your Twitter stream will quickly become cluttered. To counter this, create a list of users you actually want to keep track of, and bookmark that page. While it’s important to interact with your new followers, it’s tough to stay on top of more than 150. I have Twilert send me email updates that mention me, my band, or my latest album at 4 pm daily, so I don’t miss out on anything of direct concern.

Hey look, it works! On March 18, I had 700 “organic” followers, the natural result of using Twitter since December of 2008. Eight weeks later, I’m approaching 1000.

On the flipside, I’m following almost 400 users, four times more than when I started. And I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a chore. 20 minutes every two days may not seem like much, but it sure ain’t passive promotion.

If you’ve got any ideas to further refine the process, please share them in the comments! And if one day you discover I’m following you on Twitter, I hope you’ll recognize the high honor it confers and follow back. 😉

Image by mkhmarketing


  1. Hey Brian! EXCELLENT post here – I've been using twitter for almost 3 years now and have always tried to use it as organically as possible. Recently, I just passed the 3000 follower mark without ever truly 'promoting' this account. I simply use it on a regular basis, engage with others and share what I think is worth the time of my followers… so far so good!

    One thing I would add to your list of criteria here is to look at the lists as well. The whole numbers game of following and followers can be deceiving, as you never know if someone 'bought' their 15k followers or what not. BUT, I you can use the lists as a gauge of how many people are TRULY watching that person's tweets. If someone has 15k followers but only 10 lists, you can be sure no one cares… but if that person has 2000 lists, meaning 2000 of their 15k followers are ACTIVELY watching their tweets on a regular basis, you can be sure that this is someone you should be watching as well.

    As I said, I recently passed the 3000 follower mark… but I'm also included on over 240 lists as well 🙂

  2. Great point Jon! You've got some pretty impressive numbers there to boot! Let's see… I'm on 78 lists. Interesting that our ratio is the same: 80 lists per thousand followers.

    Still, for the purposes of this post, I'm not sure lists should be a factor. If someone has more than 300 followers, are they going to notice that you started following them, regardless of how many lists they are on? My guess is probably not. Which means they're not going to visit our profile or follow back, which is the whole point.

  3. and now I know why it took you a while to write this…. you are so thorough! And you explain it so well that even a blond like myself can understand. I think I will go away and try it now 🙂

  4. #1rule to keeping twitter followers: have something interesting to say. If your only tweets are just repeated "my new album is out" you'll just be unfollowed or worse – just ignored. I know one twitter-friendly musician who has amassed a comparatively huge following and managed to land a decent record deal based on what he posts, and he certainly didn't go in with any strategy to get followers. He just wins by being entertaining to read.

  5. Agreed 100%. I'd like to think that's how I got the first 700 followers. Well, maybe not so much by being entertaining, but by sharing items of interest and/or value.

  6. Just had another idea. You could post an exclusive link in your Twitter profile for your followers to download a free song or EP. That might get a higher clickthrough %.

  7. This is really informative and logical. I'm in the middle of promoting my first project, and I find your transparency and insight to be immensely helpful! Thank you.

  8. Really great article, spot in information… you know knowledge is really a gem when you read it, it seems so obvious (common sense). Inversely, you have to remember you only know these things because you just read them.

  9. Thanks Travis! I totally know what you mean about things seeming so obvious. I had the same feeling this morning reading a Bob Lefsetz article this morning that struck me as so clearly true. The problem is, it doesn't sink in enough to actually change my behavior. Maybe the solution is more post-it notes. 😉

  10. Yesterday I dumped over 200 Twitter users I was following, to get it down to a manageable 81. So far only a half dozen unfollowed me in retaliation. Totally worth it to not have to manage a separate list.

  11. I've just retaliated Brian! (:-) Reading your article is on my To Do list. Hope all is well with you.

  12. Brian, how do you manage that many?? it is only just readable with following about 50 or so peeps, your a fast reader!!

  13. Just recently dove into twitter with a band I joined recently ( and doing some cleanup work. This is great advice. I'm unfollowing a bunch of people right that weren't following back – but I also know this account wasn't very active before I joined, so I'm giving certain people the benefit of the doubt and "re-following" them now that we are active again. If they don't reciprocate after a week, then they'll be unfollowed for good.

    This is time consuming, but worth it. I've already unfollowed about 60 people.

  14. interesting side note – twitter is telling me we've hit our "hourly usage limit" – all I've been doing is unfollowing people and adding people to lists. This makes no sense to me.

  15. yeah, i guess so. I've resumed my activities today 🙂

    Also noticed you can add people to lists without following them, so that could be away to keep up with a national act or celeb that you know is unlikely to follow back.

  16. v helpful – many thanks. Looks like JustUnFollow has finally bitten the dust – any suggestions as alternatives?

  17. Brian Hazard many thanks. On a musical aside, twitter is currently sidelined as I'm uploading BFD2 to use with pro tools. Ouch. It's outrageously good!

  18. Brian Hazard old fans are slowly following us on twitter, how many followers do you suggest before we start doing this model? Thanks

  19. Turns out our old twitter account was still active and surprised to see a bunch of followers. I've tried your model, out of 40 I followed 5 followed back within 20 mins. I was like… "Woah it worked!" haha

  20. I know the same sort of thing takes place, with far less precision, on other accounts with automated tools. That's one way to get huge numbers, but to gather a crowd of folks you genuinely want to interact with, this is the way to go.

  21. I just started doing this about a week ago. I can't really tell yet if the followers I'm getting are potential fans or just people who follow anyone who follows them. I'll keep at it anyway and see what happens.

    Question, though. I know you say no businesses above. How about other bands and musicians? music blogs?

  22. Those groups certainly consist of die-hard music fans, so I'm inclined to say go for it. On the other hand, we musician types tend to be competitive, and not always eager to promote others.

  23. “Eight weeks later, I’m approaching 1000.” well, now tell me how do you have over 2 millions. I can’t belive is the same strategy: screening one by one

      1. Mánager: Person or software?
        Honestly I didnt develop Twitter until Now, possibly a mistake (time isnt infinite) . I am testing your principales And see what happens. I tend to trust your advice.

        Ah, justunfollow is Now crowdfire. Nice app!

        1. Person. I haven’t used Crowdfire, but there are so many useful apps! Take a look at the Buffer blog for lots of solid social media advice.

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