Recent studies have indicated two intriguing things about social media. First, you’ll attract more followers the less you talk about yourself. Second, having more followers or friends doesn’t necessarily mean your messages are being spread more effectively.
There are no surprises in that first piece of research: we all know we’ll probably attract more people if we have something interesting and intelligent to say, but — let’s face it — few of us regularly have anything that’s particularly interesting and intelligent to say about ourselves.
People want to listen when you’re saying something they could learn from — something that exposes them to new possibilities or expands their perceptions. Thinking of this every time you send a message out may be one way to attract more followers.
Of course, the second piece of research would suggest that more followers isn’t the aim of the game after all. The quality of followers is key, whether you’re angling for a new job, a new project, or looking to build your profile within a given industry. How can we make better-quality, better-connected followers and contacts through social networks?
This question really has two parts. One is about getting people we want to follow us on board — convincing them to add us to their list of contacts. The answers to that question lie in interaction and participation — responding intelligently to their updates, answering questions they ask, making valuable comment on their articles or blog posts, following their activities on other sites and in other media, and so on.
But before you can do any of this, you need to identify opinion leaders. You might have some good ideas about who’s an opinion leader in your field … but then again, you might not. After all, the web is a big place and few of us restrict ourselves to our local area, or people who we have already heard of or interacted with.
Using search to find and follow trends is an essential first step. Find out who’s talking about the topics associated with your field, and what they’re saying. Identify those who provide new information or are pushing the envelope somehow. Obviously you’ll follow those people who have something interesting to offer, but after that?
From the Bottom Up
What we’re looking for is the best-connected people, with the best connections. If you’re working to build your reputation among high-end Apple (s aapl) users, you might have trouble getting Steve Jobs’s attention, let alone convincing him to follow you. A more useful approach may be to target the people Steve Jobs follows or listens to, or the people they follow or listen to. They might not have as many contacts, but they may more “strategically” placed for spreading news to the right people.
To identify these individuals, you might want to start by looking at the people who say what you believe are the most interesting things in your field. Find out who they are, what they do, and who they follow and are followed by. On Twitter, see how many retweets and referential or direct tweets they receive, and look at who’s retweeting and referencing them.
Looking more closely at the people who are following or talking about the individuals you’ve identified, or who work with them or at the same level in the industry, might provide further clues about who the influencers are. You’ll might also be able to identify media outlets or other information sources that the influencers use, and depending on what you offer, these sources may provide another means by which you can get in front of your target contacts.
A Top-down Approach
Another approach could be to work backwards, finding your industry’s biggest names and thought leaders, looking at their interactions on social networks, and identifying the people they respect. If you can target those individuals and engage with them, or target the people they follow, you might have a better chance of getting the attention of your industry’s biggest opinion leaders.
From here, you start to follow those contacts you feel will be most useful, work out what information is most interesting to them, and engage with them intelligently through the media they use. Straight-up compliments on the work of someone you respect are less likely to be as effective in convincing them that you’re worth following than are comments that indicate they’d have something to gain — to learn or enjoy — by following you.
Simply following the biggest names, or the people with the greatest number of followers, is unlikely to be your social media salvation. If you’re the type to think strategically about the way you use social media, and the roles it can play in boosting your professional profile or garnering the right sort of attention, these may be some useful starting points.
What tactics do you use to try to build an influential network of followers on social networks?
Related GigaOM Pro Research: Social Media in the Enterprise