Build a following on Twitter – talk I gave at the Christian New Media Conference 2011 #cnmac11

I was privileged to attend the Christian New Media Conference 2011 on Saturday and even more privileged to lead one of the break out sessions entitled ‘Build a following on Twitter’. Below is a link to the ‘prezi’ presentation I used along with the main points I made. If you would like to know how to join Twitter please see my short guide here or sign up for the course ’12 days of Twitter’ with Reach Further.

I have a confession to make. I hate the title of this session: ‘Build a following on Twitter’. It really misses the point! I was trying to decide whether to change it and in the end decided to keep it as I thought you might remember the point I want to make more! Twitter is not about how many followers you have, it’s about conversation and that’s what we’re going to look at in a bit more detail.

As a true Tweeter, I tweeted that I was planning this session last week, and seeing the title, a lot of my twitter friends pounced on it to share their views so I thought I would share them here:


So Twitter is all about conversation, it’s not a numbers game. Twitter doesn’t help us in that when you create a tweet it says on Twitter ‘What’s happening?’ – this can encourage those infamous tweets about what you just ate for breakfast. It’s better to imagine that it says ‘What do you know that I should know?’

Although Twitter isn’t a numbers game, it is still good to try and get your message out to a wide variety of people and after all, you’ve come along here hoping to learn how to gain a following on Twitter so I really need to try and show you how!

I’m going to give you 5 tips on how to build a following on Twitter but just before I do that I can’t emphasise enough the importance of having a good profile. If someone starts following me, I will only follow back if they have the following things: a photograph – preferably of their face, a good clear biography (this is the bit where the person says a bit about themselves) and a link to a website where I can find out more about them – this is often a blog.

If someone doesn’t have many of these things and I don’t know them, it’s unlikely that I’ll follow back. Having the Twitter egg avatar for your picture has been described as the social media equivalent of wearing socks with sandals! We Christians get a bad enough rep as it is – so make sure you upload a picture! Your biography can say whatever you like but it should help me to understand a bit about where you’re coming from. If you are tweeting as an organisation or church it’s important that you use key words in your bio to help with your search engine optimisation – that’s basically how high up you come when someone googles you. So put the words in your bio that you think people might put into Google to find you. Finally, it’s a good idea to have a link to where else people might find you online. You might not have a website or blog but you could put a link to a linkedIn profile if you have one or simply a link to your church. I quite often like clicking on people’s links in their twitter profiles as it helps me to find out more about them. I get a lot of traffic to my own blog by this route as well!

So, they are some of the basics and now I want to share with you some tips and tools for using Twitter and gaining more followers:

Be interesting

Tweeting about something that’s only relevant to you and your context is simply not interesting and people will quickly stop following you. Classic example is the ‘wow, that was a big breakfast, I’m stuffed’. What you don’t want is for people to respond to your tweets with ‘so what?’ If you can’t think of anything interesting to say yourself, follow someone who is interesting and retweet what they’re saying! Or share a link to something interesting you’ve watched or read with a quick comment ‘I like what Rowan Williams says about education here…’

Some tools for finding interesting stuff:

Use a twitter aggregation tool – these are sites that create a personalised website based on all the interesting links being shared by the people you follow. Some that I use are, Tweeted Times and Summify. Lots of my friends say ‘Bryony, where do you find all this cool stuff?’ A lot of the time it’s through one of these papers. Because I follow 2000 people on Twitter I can’t sit and read everything on my timeline – it would kill me! So I visit my Twitter paper to see what’s happening. I can tweet and share stories that I find interesting directly from here. Don’t forget, that when you’re out and about on the web you can share articles by clicking on the twitter button usually to be found somewhere near the article – you don’t have to be on the Twitter website to send a tweet.

Be encouraging

This is an important virtue for a Christian and it’s something that I experienced very early on in my use of Twitter. It’s a largely very friendly, warm place. About 18 months ago I was going to a meeting in Coventry and I was catching the train from Leeds. I got to the platform 20 minutes early and I sat and read my book while I waited. I got absorbed in what I was reading and when I looked up I thought, my train should be here by now. I suddenly realised that it had arrived but was at the other end of the platform – I was sitting at the wrong end of a very long platform! I ran down to get on the train and watched as it pulled out of the station. The next one wasn’t due for another hour! I was so embarrassed. I had to ring ahead to say that I would be an hour late for the meeting. Despondent I tweeted about how embarrassed I was that I’d missed the train. Immediately I got a flood of messages telling me not to worry and that it happens to all of us – these were from people I had never met! I couldn’t believe it! Now that’s a bit of a silly example but I’m sure you have experienced encouragement in some form online? We should think when we Tweet, ‘How can I bless people?’ We should always be thinking ‘will this tweet build someone up or tear someone down?’ We need to literally think What would Jesus Tweet? So, if you see someone Tweet ‘I’ve got a job interview today’ – reply, in a way that’s natural for you with an encouraging comment.

Tools for being encouraging?

Well, there are lots of people who tweet prayers or bible verses. A brilliant app I would recommend for your phone is YouVersion which is a free bible app. YouVersion can connect to Twitter so you can tweet a bible verse from inside the app! It’s not a good idea to spam people with bible verses – remember what I said about twitter being about conversation – you mustn’t treat it as a one way street. However, sometimes I will tweet a verse that has particularly spoken to me, perhaps with a short comment.

Be active

Twitter has become a brilliant space for activism. Earlier this year, Facebook, Youtube and Twitter were instrumental in bringing down the regime in Libya. There are lots of campaigns that you can join and support by tweeting. You can tweet about charity activities – a recent good use of this was a friend who did a 70 mile walk to raise money for Friends International in Leeds, he tweeted his progress on his walk along with photos of him – a great way to raise awareness about the charity.

If you have built up a following then you can use your influence to raise awareness about issues. A lot of petition websites and charity giving sites enable you to tweet or share on Facebook about the action you have just taken – this can then spread the word.

Tools for activism:

One way of raising awareness for a cause is to add a ‘twibbon’ to your Twitter picture. Also make sure that if you do get involved in any campaigns or fundraising to tweet about it! Again, don’t spam people or overload them – be interesting when you tweet. So for example, ‘check out my mate’s tweets, he’s walking 70 miles for an excellent charity’.

Be helpful

Twitter is a brilliant place to get help! I use it all the time to ask questions of my followers. A simple example was a while ago my husband and I went to Manchester for the day. We don’t know the city so I tweeted ‘can anyone recommend a good place to eat for lunch?’ Within 10 minutes I had 5 local recommendations! If you can answer someone’s question on Twitter, go for it! You may become known for a particular topic and be recommended as someone to follow because of it. One simple way you could get started with this would be to search for your area of interest in the search bar on Twitter. So I could put in Leeds because I live in Leeds and then find someone’s tweeted ‘can anyone recommend a good church to visit in Leeds?’ and I can respond!

Another way of being helpful is also to be generous – generosity is another important virtue on Twitter. I asked someone about how you count the numbers of retweets this week and he responded with a really comprehensive blog post – this is really generous – this guy, @philbradley has more than 5000 – this isn’t a coincidence!

Tools for being helpful:

Tweetdeck and Hootsuite are two tools that enable you to manage your twitter feed – really helpful if you follow a wide variety of people. You can create columns on topics of interest to you so I have a humour column, a Leeds column, a Christian column etc.

You can also create lists of people on Twitter or follow other people’s twitter lists. An example would be the lists created by the ‘Twurch of England’ Twitter account of all the people in the Church of England on Twitter. You can automatically follow an entire list by clicking the button at the top.

Be authentic

This is really important, especially for Christians as we often get charged with hypocrisy. You must be yourself. Having an identity online it’s tempting to be someone you’re not. Actually, in social media, it is usually pretty easy to spot a fake. Be authentically ‘you’. Don’t try and be this super holy person who only ever tweets about the Bible, it’ll only put other people off! Neither be someone who hides on Twitter just to stalk celebrities and make snide comments!

There aren’t any ‘tools’ to help you be authentic on Twitter! This one’s up to you!

So these are my 5 tips for using Twitter:

  • Be interesting
  • Be encouraging
  • Be active
  • Be helpful
  • Be authentic

Do you think I’ve missed anything out?

Feel free to make some comments below or ask me anything about Twitter.


  1. […] Bryony Taylor gives a lot of really good tips about how to make your Twitter account more engaging in the first place, but she also makes the important point that it’s the conversations that Twitter enables us to have that are the important thing. Dan Leahul reports on a study of Twitter which suggests that it’s the value of the content of our tweets that gets them retweeted and brings us more influence, rather than just force of numbers. […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s