Twitter is a fickle platform. People come and go, followers fade away, and it’s easy to irritate the userbase. Post the wrong thing at the wrong time and you can lose everything, but fail to post and you’re even more certain to fall.
The worst part is that your follower count can start dropping at any time for almost any reason, and it’s hard to know why. There are any number of possible reasons, and all of them simply shed doubt on your success. Are you doing something wrong? Are you being punished? Did you put your foot in your mouth and not realize it?
It’s disheartening, and it makes you less invested in the platform. As you get less invested, you feel like your efforts are giving you fewer and fewer returns, and so you invest less and less. It’s a downward spiral akin to depression, and it leaves you at rock bottom with no recourse.
My goal with this post is to come up with the most common reasons you may be losing followers, so you can check them against your situation. Once you know why your followers are dropping away, you can work to fix the issue and start to bring them back. Then, in a reversal of the downward spiral, you can grow and compound that growth over time.
So, without further ado, let’s dig right in.
You Didn’t Follow Back
Twitter is a platform fueled by greed and narcissism. People believe they are interesting and have something to say that other people want to hear. It doesn’t matter if they’re right or not; that’s the assumption under which they operate.
Many of these people – I’ve noticed particularly in the high hundreds or low thousands of followers – get arrogant about it. If they deign to follow someone – you or your business included – they feel entitled to your follow in return. If you don’t follow back within a day or two, they’re liable to remove their follow, deciding you’re not worthy because you don’t recognize their brilliance.
Of course, some people abuse this idea to follow people, get follows in return, then remove their follows anyways. This is why I tend to ignore these people; if they follow you and unfollow shortly after, they weren’t’ interested in you in the first place.
They Were Banned
Sometimes losing followers isn’t your fault, it’s theirs. Some people take actions or post content that is against the Twitter terms of service, and they end up on the wrong side of the law. Twitter only has one viable punishment, and that’s an account suspension. Suspensions and removals both end up leaving you with one less follower, because that follower is no longer active.
If this is the case, there’s nothing wrong with what you’re doing, you just somehow ended up with some followers that were getting banned. It’s only when a huge number of them start getting banned that you have to worry that…
Their Accounts Were Bots
Bot accounts on Twitter are something Twitter takes pretty seriously. I don’t mean fake accounts in the “I made this account for my cat” sense that Facebook uses as an excuse to periodically purge accounts. I mean fakes that exist only as retweet bots, follow/unfollow bots, or robots that are directed by one user to sell their follows.
Usually you’ll rack up these fake followers when you buy from a cheap seller on a site like Fiverr or use software to generate your followers. Twitter then identifies and removes them, and you lose both the follower and the investment.
Sometimes fakes will show up when you tweet. Using specific hashtags and keywords can attract bots that try to fish for follows among people using those terms. Marketing is one, though I’ve seen all manner of automated processes monitoring search results.
They Don’t Like Your Posts
Sometimes users follow you and realize, after a while, that you’re not actually posting anything they want to see. Even I’ve done this on occasion. I follow a brand out of loyalty because I like the brand, but I find that I don’t really care about their product developments, their events, their ebooks, or their blog. I’m then left with a choice; do I keep following them even though I don’t care about their posts, or do I prefer a filtered feed over a feed full of content I don’t like? Generally, the unfollow wins.
Sometimes this isn’t actually a problem. Sure, your social following drops a little, but those users are still loyal to your brand. They still care about your products, they’re still on a mailing list, and they still consider you when they have a product need you can fulfill. They just don’t want you in their Twitter feed, that’s all.
You Don’t Respond to Comments
Remember how I said Twitter users are in general narcissistic? One of the best things you can do to gain more followers and a better reputation is stroke those egos a little bit. If they retweet you and add a comment or if they reply to a comment, go ahead and reply back. Remember, social media is a two way street, and you’re there to do more than just broadcast links. Respond when a user engages with you and start a conversation.
Of course, this leads to the temptation to automate responses. I highly recommend avoiding automation in this case, because no automated system will be able to identify and create the proper response to every reply and post. You’ll end up with a thousand simple “thanks” posts and nothing of actual value. Trust me; people notice.
You Respond, Engage, and Retweet Too Often
This is the opposite problem. Regular engagement, such as responding to comments, is fine even if you respond to everything as long as it’s not automated. Other forms of engagement can be detrimental in excess, however. Imagine if you found an account that liked every single tweet that used a specific hashtag without exception. Abusable and automated, right? How about retweeting 1,000 posts a day?
These are the kinds of engagement that flood the feeds of your followers with content from people they didn’t follow, and it makes them want to unfollow you. It’s too much and it’s probably not relevant. At that point, just make a list.
You’re Promoting Yourself Too Much
One of the worst kinds of Twitter accounts to find is the self promotional spam account. These are the accounts that thing they’re using the site appropriately but really, really aren’t. All they do is use it as an announcement board for when they have something they’re doing. Generally it will be a solid string of nothing but blog post links, occasionally interrupted by a link to an ebook, with the occasional self-promotional string of livetweets of an event they host.
One thing you’ll notice about these accounts is that not only do they not gain followers, they often go fallow and dormant after a few months. They get little or no engagement, and any large follower count is probably inflated with fake followers. In general, you need to spice up your feed with more interesting and casual content. Specifically, content that isn’t just a link to a blog post you wrote.
Hashtags are good in moderation. It doesn’t really matter what they are. I’ve gone into detail about them before, and this isn’t the place for another discussion about them, so I’ll just say this.
- Tweets that use hashtags get double the engagement of tweets that do not.
- Tweets with two hashtags get 21% more engagement than tweets with 3+.
- Tweets that use more than three hashtags see a 17% drop in engagement.
Hashtags are categorizations used for topic monitoring and conversational sorting. Sometimes they’re used as jokes. They should never be used as spam, humorous or otherwise. Use them in moderation and keep them relevant.
Your Posts are Too Long
Yes, believe it or not, you can write too much on a platform that limits you to 140 characters per post. Twitter’s character limit is famous for its restrictiveness, but the ideal tweet is actually somewhat shorter. Usually, tweets around 80 characters perform the best.
Anything shorter than 80 characters tends to be too short to have anything relevant to say on its own. Sure, they can be valuable in the context of other tweets, but on their own they don’t hold up. Anything longer and you’re sacrificing the ability for people to manually retweet and add their own commentary to your post. Even if this is a somewhat deprecated practice, it’s still a habit that will die hard.
You Aren’t Posting Enough
Twitter is a very transient platform. Posts have lifespans measured in very short amounts of time. If someone hasn’t logged in today, they won’t see anything you posted, probably ever. Even with the new filtered feed, time is a heavily weighted factor. If you’re not a preferred user and you aren’t checking regularly, you won’t see most of what a user posts.
In general, you’re going to need to post fairly frequently. The ideal number of posts changes depending on your audience size, but it’s probably in the realm of once or twice an hour throughout the day.
You’re Posting Too Much
At the same time, just as it’s easy to write too much, it’s easy to post too often. If you’re posting 5 times an hour all day every day, your followers are going to get tired of seeing you in their feeds. It’s a bit of a quality over quantity issue. Even if you’re saying something interesting, these people want to see the content posted by their friends, and you’re drowning it out.
Now, you can break this rule occasionally. The most common instance I see is when a reporter or someone in an industry is visiting a trade show. A lot of attendees of CES each year tend to attend conferences and then live tweet throughout them. It’s part of the rush to be the first to share a relevant and important piece of information. Anything to get a bit more fame and attention, right?
You can post as often as once every few minutes for a rant or for a liveblogged event, but you can’t do it every day.
Your Posts are Obviously Automated
I can’t tell you how little I care when someone I follow repeatedly shares their Instagram posts on Twitter. You may be my friend, but this it not the place. If I want to see all of your Instagram content, you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to follow you on Instagram. You’re not doing yourself any favors by sharing obviously automated posts, and you’re not making me like your content any better.
The same goes for any social network cross-posting. It’s rare that you see people posting their Facebook content on Twitter, but Twitter to Facebook is more common and equally off-putting. Keep each area separate and given personal attention, so you don’t alienate an audience.
You’re Shifting Topic or Niche
This is one of the more subtle issues that can affect a profile and cause a loss of followers. If you’ve been posting more and more about one topic and less and less about another, your audience is going to shift. If you’re primarily a tech blogger but you got big into a diet, so you’re posting a lot about that diet, your audience is changing. The people who followed you when you posted about tech are going to start leaving, because they don’t care about your diet. There will be some people following you for the diet information, but they aren’t going to fully replace your tech losses until you fully transition to a diet feed. A topic shift can be subtle and dangerous.
You Took Sides
This final issue is one of social repercussions, and a lesson that everything you say can have consequences.
People have opinions on issues. Sometimes those opinions turn out to be wrong. A lot of people endorsed slavery, even though as a human rights issue it has been mechanically dead for a long time. That’s not to say equality is present, but it’s an illustration that taking sides in any issue today might be taking the “wrong” side.
In general, if an issue is any more divisive than who you expect to win a football game, it’s divisive enough to cost you some followers. Some particularly hot button issues can cause dramatic shifts, usually for the worse. When in doubt, keep your opinions on such issues to yourself.