So you want to be popular? Thought so. Well listen up, Elfie—I’ll make you my new project.

The first thing you need to know about follower growth is that it doesn’t happen over night. (I know, bummer.) The good news is that it will happen if you listen to this advice. (Yes, really. We know because we’ve tested it.)

First, write this down. Make yourself a checklist, stick it on your computer or nearest intern’s forehead, and be sure to follow it every day. (Yes, even weekends.) Any good social media manager will tell you that becoming popular is a commitment, but it is one that can reap great rewards if done correctly. You in? Great. Here we go.


1. A picture is worth 1,000 retweets.

Don’t believe me? Ask the experts. Last March, Twitter conducted a study of more than 2 million Tweets and found that including a photo increases the likelihood of retweets by 35 percent. Similar findings garnered by the social media whizzes at Buffer found that Tweets with images were 150x more likely to be retweeted and 18x more likely to be clicked than Tweets without images.

While these stats are exciting, proceed with caution. Twitter’s expanded images feature only works when you post photos directly in the app or website. Sorry Hootsuiters, HubSpotters, TweetDeckers and social media managers. This may require more work than you’re used to, but the results are well worth it.

Accept the challenge? Good. There’s more. Get creative with your visuals. Twitter now supports gifs and 30-second videos. Grool.


2. Engage with followers.

“But Jess,” you’re saying, “I’ve heard this before. What does it mean?!” In short, it means provide value and build relationships with your followers. Find out who they are, what they like, how they spend their time, and what could be most helpful to them. Then, give them what they want. (Yes, it’s that easy. No, do not push the button.)

Note: This does not give you the green light to contact your Twitter followers to promote your product. It means listen to what they’re talking about and find a way to contribute. Create a balance of promotion and contribution. Once you’ve built your credibility and reputation, people will come to you. Then—and only then—can you push the button.

Check out social media expert Gary Vaynerchuk’s Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook for tips and insights on social media strategy and the best ways to win competition in a cluttered market space.


3. Use hashtags to your benefit.

Hashtags are words or phrases preceded by a pound or number sign that collect similarly tagged messages into groups for electronic searching. Hashtags are important because they allow your posts to be seen by a greater number of users, even if those users don’t follow you.

Not only can hashtags increase your potential reach, but they can also increase your Tweet’s chance of being retweeted by 16 percent. So, why start a conversation when you can join one that’s already popular? Why introduce a topic when can contribute as an expert? As long as your Tweets are relevant to your brand, using hashtags are a great way to see and be seen by people with similar interests.


4. Aim for self-improvement, try A/B Testing.

At the end of the day, nobody knows your followers better than your followers themselves. There are only so many tips and tricks that can gain you business or popularity, but when it comes down to it, it’s the little things that followers will respond to, and the little things that can teach you the greatest lessons about how to act on social media.

“But Jess,” you ask. “What type of things are you talking about?” Good question, young Jedi. Things like time of day, tone of voice, and type of Tweet (i.e. question, exclamation, request, joke, promotion, etc.) all come into play, and it’s important to experiment with links, titles, images and inflection to see what your audience responds to.

If you want to gain followers, increase clickthrough, attract traffic to your website, and build a tighter network of influencers, you’ve got to optimize your public face through testing. In summary: try new things, track your trials, analyze progress, see results.


5. Show your voice and personality will follow.

The most beautiful thing about social media is that it allows you to create a voice for your brand and share it with the masses. There’s nothing more boring than a Twitter account that looks and sounds like a newspaper or corporate website.

Social media is communal, so it should be treated as such. Write for social media like you’re writing to a friend, and don’t be afraid to be witty or clever if your brand allows! Not only is humor a sign of emotion, but it’s also a sign that there really is a person behind the computer screen. That said, don’t be afraid to show some character every now and then. Our favorite is the youth-centric and culture-driven nonprofit @DoSomething. Take notes.