Twitter Insights From A Guru With 113,000 Rabidly Active Followers

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A version of this article previously appeared on Forbes.

It should be no surprise that this social media guru has earned over 113,000 authentic Twitter followers. His bonafides are impressive: named by Forbes as a Top 50 Social Media Influencer, cited by LinkedIn as a Top 25 Social Media Market Expert and proclaimed by AdWeek to be a Top 50 Person Re-Tweeted By Marketing Leaders.

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FarnsworthYou can watch my 14-minute conversation with Steve below.

A Humble Guru

In addition to Forbes naming Steve a top Social Media Influencer, the publication also noted that he has the highest percentage of "good" (95% non-fake) Twitter followers among public relations professionals. This is a remarkable percentage, given that Steve has nearly 115,000 followers. To put this into perspective, I have less than 8,000 Twitter followers, yet even so, 3% of them are classified as "fake" by StatusPeople's online forensic tool.

One of the parameters by which authenticity is measured is the activity level of one's followers. Unfortunately, authenticity matters online, due to the nefarious activities of certain status seeking individuals who manipulate their social media standing by purchasing fake followers. These non-human followers are auto generated en masse by "bots.” These "followers" make the status seekers appear influential, even though there are no humans behind their fictitious Twitter minions. Such spurious accounts are inactive, never issuing tweets or re-tweeting others' messages and thus relatively easy to identify as fake.

As noted in Social Media Faking It - Cheaper Than You Think, you can purchase 1 million Twitter followers for about $1,750. Given the relatively low cost of social media fakery, I was especially impressed that Steve has created his online persona the old fashion way. Steve shared a number of his straight-forward, practical social media tactics during our recent discussion. You can also learn from Steve first-hand, by following him on Twitter (@steveology).

John Greathouse: Let me start with an obvious question. How the heck did you attract such a large, and most importantly, such an active Twitter following?

Steve Farnsworth: "Well, part of the reason... (is) just not buying followers, not using bots <laughs>. If you have that kind of strategy, you're not going to have a very active group. The other thing I do is go through and (remove) people who become inactive. I'll take them off. It lowers my number (of followers) but I don't care. I'd rather have a more active group."

Greathouse: Do you use a specific tool or do you cull your followers manually?

Farnsworth: "A couple times a year I launch a thing called TweetAdder. I can actually point out all the people who aren't... active in a period of time. If they're dead weight, then I unfollow them. I do that once, maybe twice a year. It just takes me a few days to go through and drop all the dead weight and then start clean."

Greathouse: What was the journey that led you to become a leading social media marketer? Was this an objective you explicitly pursued or did it happen organically?

Farnsworth: "My background is in direct marketing, lead generation, PR and corp com. I was using social personally, because I really loved the tools. Between YouTube and bookmarking sites (which) were the big thing at the time, (such as) Reddit, which is still going strong.

So I was using these tools and Twitter was one of those things where I tried a couple times, and I couldn't really quite see the point of it. At the same time... about '07... in this period, you started seeing a lot more ability to have active communities,  more robust than the old bulletin board type communities

As a marketer, I was always into creating content as a way to communicate because if you can provide good information, you have a chance to be in front of people. You have a chance to... (define) your company or product views.

So I got very excited to have more direct conversations with an audience.

So I started sharing... stories on Twitter... and... it was something I felt passionate about. I would just share this content... and the Twitter thing hit a nerve, the articles that I was sharing. So... I didn't set out to have a big following or anything like that. I set out to pursue things I found really interesting... that I read and I really liked and (my followers) thought, "This is pretty cool."

Greathouse: I work with a lot of young people and they often ask me for advice regarding managing their professional, online profiles. Do you any tips and tricks you can to pass along to someone who is at the outset of defining their online persona?

"Put things out that create conversation, and then, at the same time, also go to real events and talk to people who are talking at these events. Whatever you're into like... share that kinda stuff. Be passionate about that. Connect with others who are like-minded.

It really is that simple and that hard. There's not one thing you can do.

You can't sit down and turn something on ten minutes a day and be a rock star. So you sit down and you spend a half hour a day connecting with people that you really like, reading the bloggers in your area that you really like."

Steve went on to encourage young people to seek mentors, expressing sentiments similar to those described in Don’t Do Tequila Shots With Your Mentor, commenting that, "I think we should all have mentors. I don't think we should go and say, 'Hey, will you be my mentor?' (Instead), what we do is we go find people we think are interesting. They don't have to be well connected, they don't have to be anything... (other than) interesting and (they should) challenge you. Start surrounding yourself with smart people, you're gonna start meeting other people who will gravitate towards you, if you happen to keep (up) those conversations. So if you want to be an influencer, find people who share your passion on that topic."

Steve also cautioned against overly relying on online relationships. Instead, he challenged entrepreneurs to use social media to open the door to new relationships and then foster them offline. In Steve's words, "Connect with people in the real world who are passionate about... (the same things that excite you.) I spend easily an hour or so a day just doing non-cash-producing activities around social. That is not everybody's cup of tea, but that's what it took me to get where I am. It was an outgrowth of what I was already excited by. It's really (about) being passionate and connecting with people that you enjoy talking with and keep doing it regularly."

Greathouse: Yes, consistency is key and it is something that I do not do well. You are consistent in two ways, quality and focus. Your social media shares do not discuss sunsets or cute kittens. You're on point. Your content is about online marketing, it's about PR, it's all stuff that's relevant.

Farnsworth: "You're so right. You know, it's really funny. Between all the blogging and the Twitter stuff that I do, none of my business comes from that. Literally none of it. My business comes from meeting people in real life. When they go (online and) look at me... they see a blogger, and a guy who seems to know what he's talking about. He seems to kind of walk in his talk. That helps me, social proof.

But none of my business... it all comes from meeting people, having conversations with them.         I don't go to trade shows because I'm looking for business. I go to trade shows that I find interesting and I go to the workshops that I find interesting. That sounds so cliché, but that's really where it comes from. I go and I talk to people and I use my blog as an opportunity to meet really interesting folk and share ideas."

Follow my startup-oriented Twitter feed here: @johngreathouse. I won't tweet a photo of a killer burrito I am about to devour - just startup stuff.

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John Greathouse is a Partner at Rincon Venture Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage, web-based businesses. Previously, John co-founded RevUpNet, a performance-based online marketing agency sold to Coull. During the prior twenty years, he held senior executive positions with several successful startups, spearheading transactions that generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.

John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara's Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.


Note: All of my advice in this blog is that of a layman. I am not a lawyer and I never played one on TV. You should always assess the veracity of any third-party advice that might have far-reaching implications (be it legal, accounting, personnel, tax or otherwise) with your trusted professional of choice.





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