Timeline Hacking: Grow Your Twitter Following With Data

Over the past one month, I studied 120+ micro-influencers (>10k but < 100k followers) who multiplied their follower base by 10x in 6 months or so.

Being a data person I started analyzing these accounts and was fascinated by certain patterns that matched each of these influencers.

Here's an example of a single viral thread that took Amy's account from 6601 to 8745 in less than 5 days (that's 2,144 followers and counting, not bad for one thread)

post14_viral_TH.png

Even before this Amy has made such posts that helped her skyrocket her follower base. But what was Amy doing in between these posts? Is she an exception or all influencers share similar traits? Let's find out in this post.

I've detailed out many such influencer's data points in this post and it will help you see the pattern and apply it.

If you want to skip the analysis you can go directly to the end of this post where I've explained the Timeline Hacking Method.

At this point, I'd like to add a disclaimer that this blog is not a secret playbook that you can follow to become an influencer overnight. Had it been so, I'd have first used it to become an influencer myself and would have then sold it to others as a course 😁

It's just an analysis of certain patterns and my own conclusion about those patterns.

Little Backstory

The reason I started investing time on Twitter is that I was inspired by some Indie Hackers who found huge success with Twitter in the last year or so. So I started by analyzing their accounts as data was easily available for these accounts and they are fairly candid about their own journey and inspire others to build an audience.

I also bought 2 courses Everyone Can Build A Twitter Audience and The Twitter Thief which helped me get started. I've explained the takeaways from each of these courses in a different post.

Why Start With Twitter

Twitter is best for you if you're building a product brand. And by product, I mean any product. It can be your info-product brand, personal brand (where you are the product-think Obama, Trump, Elon Mask...), software, service business, or anything under the sun. All you need to get started is a story.

Okay, okay I hear you. How can I write a story in 280 characters?

Well, you don't. The thing is, in Twitter you're not limited by anything. You don't have restricted groups like Facebook, you don't have followers-only accounts like Instagram, you're not confined by mysterious algorithms that restrict your reach.

The only thing that bounds you is your ability to create a story and tell that story in your own unique way by breaking it into snippets (your messaging). Think of your entire timeline or wall, if you will, as a storybook. Like any good story, a Twitter timeline also has 6 components which I'll explain in this Timeline Hacking method: Characters, Setting, Plot, Conflict, Climax (not Resolution), and Perspective.

6 Components Of Twitter Stories 🎀

Characters: Your characters are the people you follow and with whom you're willing to have a public conversation (through comments). Like a good author, you have to choose your characters carefully.

Setting: think of your setting as your industry or the broad topic that interests you. For Indie hackers it can be startups/bootstrapped businesses. For others, it can be tech, fashion, news, business, marketing, or anything else. Just keep this in mind when you tweet. As you don't expect a Game Of Thrones character to drink coffee from Starbucks, on Twitter, you don't want to mess around with political discussions if your setting is hardcore tech.

Remember your audience is watching. If you're passionate about politics, go to Reddit or Facebook.

Plot: A plot is a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality. 'The king died and then the queen died,' is a story. 'The king died, and then the queen died of grief' is a plot. The fast-growing influencers focus on a plot when they are tweeting. They can always relate a tweet with their primary narrative which I'll discuss in a minute.

Conflict: Think of this as a challenge. In our Game Of Thrones example, John Snow fighting the Night King would be an example of a conflict. In Twitter, your conflicts are more realistic. It can be something like building a business, spreading the word about a newsletter, onboarding new users, writing a book, etc.

Climax: The only thing that is different in Twitter from a story is that in Twitter there is no resolution. Usually, in stories, resolution occurs after the CLIMAX. In Twitter, it's all about climax- no resolution. There are multiple climaxes. I won an award, I attended the podcast, I made my first 100 bucks, I got a job, I left a job- all are climaxes.

Remember, climaxes are the key to follower growth πŸ“ˆ. Climax tweets are the most shared and most admired posts🧑 . And so the idea of Timeline Hacking will be centered around climaxes.

Perspective: Like all other stories, Twitter stories are told from a certain perspective. Having a perspective helps when you're participating in an argument which happens quite often in comments.

Apart from these, you may also have theme, moral, point of view, and symbolism in stories. Those are optional on Twitter.

Plot and Narrative

Now, coming to our Timeline Hacking method, setting the narrative of a plot is one of the pillars of this method. The plot can be found in the bio and the pinned tweet and it connects with most of the tweets coming from that account. By looking at the bio + pinned tweet if you can answer the question "what this account is about?" - you have a plot.

A convincing plot will make you ask the question "How?"- that's where the narrative begins. Look at some of the accounts and their plots here:

post1_kahl_bio.png

Arvid's account is clearly about building sustainable bootstrapped businesses. If you're interested in bootstrapped businesses you'll ask "how?" and you'll scroll through his posts and follow him.

The next one is Daniel

post2_dvassallio_bio.PNG

Quite evidently, this account is about small bets and living on the internet.

Once you read this plot, many questions pop up in your mind-

  • What are small bets?
  • How do you make a living on the internet?
  • What does he do for a living?

And that's exactly how a good storyteller hooks you up in the first page of a book or first episode of a Netflix thriller. They plant those questions in your mind and you find it compelling to follow their narrative.

So now you get an idea about narrative building. If you visit the posts from these accounts, you'll find how their posts are building on the central plots we just discussed.

Next Comes the Conflict πŸ‘Š

Conflict doesn't mean confrontation. Remember, Twitter is an open stage and you don't want to appear as someone's enemy (unless you deal with conspiracy theories as your product 😁).

Almost all posts from an influencer talk about a conflict that builds on their core plot and narrative. Look at Gagan's post on branding. How tech CEO's perspective on branding has changed. It connects with his plot of "honest stories about entrepreneurship".

And kudos to him for honestly admitting that his Twitter account is about "stories" πŸ™

post3_gagan_conflict.PNG

The conflict is introduced in the first sentence with "caught dead". The next part closes it with a contrasting statement.

Here's another post from Janel

post5_Sahil_Janl.png

She explains how she solves complex marketing problems (customer support, landing pages) with simple solutions. Now imagine what someone who's not tech-savvy and trying to solve similar marketing problems will do when they come across this tweet? πŸ’ƒ

But the thing is if you go through all their tweets they are all interconnected in a way. They all talk about the central plot using a narrative. You'll find the following elements in almost all these accounts:

  • They continuously improvise the narrative by listening to their audience
  • They show up consistently. This is important as you don't want people to forget about you in the noise
  • Look for opportunities to plug in the narrative where it's appropriate. That's where you need to include more characters and follow them+ put the notifications on for the key characters.
  • Do something different (don't just reiterate the same message and style as other big influencers- established influencers often get away with it)
  • Most loved influencers are kind. They respond to comments and DMs.
  • Share insights in an honest and transparent way that helps peers. Your information should look like it's complete and unbiased.
  • Do not engage in confrontation (again it's different from conflict)
  • Last but not the least - have fun 😹

Climaxes and Timeline Hacking πŸ±β€πŸ’»

Building a narrative is the day-to-day business of an influencer. It's a build-up. At some point, it must get boring for the audience. That's when influencers introduce a climax. You have to learn from influencers what the possible climaxes can be and try a lot of different ideas. Sometimes the most unexpected climax tweet will become a hit like this (notice that it got more likes than the milestone tweet).

post15_viral_TH.png

The climax is the real deal that gives meaning to all this. It's what I call timeline hacking. It's a simple method of looking through the timeline of a person who has traveled a similar path that we want to travel and to understand what created spikes in their following. Pick those pieces/those climaxes and think about how you can replicate them or similar climaxes.

Don't rush with your climax posts/tweets. Refine them. Look for the right timing. Start build-up well before you reach the climax.

Study many influencers and see how they posted their climaxes- what was their build-up? how they timed it (was it a weekend? was it after a festival? was it during the office hours or late night?) Every piece of data is important. Because you don't get to do the climaxes everyday. And when you gain traction for your climax, make sure you retweet it in a week or two.

I see climax posts from strangers on my twitter page all the time. Because they are adorable. They are shared by a lot of people. Here's an example:

post10_climax_TH.png

Twitter follower growth is not a continuous process. It comes with spikes and steady lines like the one shown below. At every rise, there is a crucial milestone or viral tweet.

Story_VS_Twitter.png

Here's a real timeline from Socialblade

This is from Arvid's timeline. Notice the follower spikes. Most recent one is in the weeks starting Nov 16th and 23rd when he gained 1088 followers (around 10% of his total followers). My gut says there was a climax tweet in the first week and the effect of that virality continued through the next one.

post6_arvid_TH.png

I went to twitter advanced search and searched using the date range. And as I'd have imagined, this climax tweet pops up.

post7_arvid_TH.png

This is a classic CLIMAX tweet. He is sharing 10,000 followers milestone and hinting at a resolution about how he grew his account from just 404 to 10k in a year.

Naturally he'd receive lots of love for this tweet. More people will see this as the words spread around and they'll now find his account and follow him. Remember, he has already set the stage by creating a plot (using profile bio + pinned tweets)

Let's look at slightly older climaxes from his timeline. The one before happened in the week of June 29th. What happened back then?

He released his book. And then he posted a series of tweets mentioning the the performance of the book in Amazon (again classic climax tweets). And who wouldn't like a tweet with stats like this:

post13_climax_TH.png

But wait- he didn't stop there. He kept engaging with others and made lots of tweets like this:

post11_climax_TH.png

You'd have noticed that this tweet wasn't about him. It was about someone else. But it is related to his narrative and he quote-retweeted it.

Did you notice the open loop?

Open loops are when you hint at a resolution without elaborating it.

"A few years, I was at -$100 a month ;)"

... where is he now? isn't he writing a book? how did he came from -$100 to this point?

Sometimes you have to read climax tweets with the context. Gaining followers is a process. I follow many people whom I observed for a while. And now I'm not their follower but fan (with notifications on!). I observed their tweets for days. They appeared again and again on my timeline. Building a story is not a one step process.

Arvid must have tweeted hundreds of times during his book launch. And this tweet went viral. And then people learnt about him and his book. All that was part of his story.

Every time we take these spikes in a timeline and start connecting the dots a story emerges. Let's look at Arvid's story:

post8_arvid_TH.png

He twitted anywhere between 700 to 2100 times every month. Now, that's a huge number. But then he is a writer.

My analysis with 100+ accounts shows that the number of tweets every month is highly correlated with follower count. You have to show up consistently, remember.

The Characters

There's another thing to be learnt here. The characters in the story which in this case are the people he follows. I'll only briefly touch upon this topic here as it deserves an entire post in itself.

It's not that you can just follow people and forget it. You constantly have to follow and unfollow to make sure the people you are conversing with can help you with building your own story.

See how many people Arvid unfollowed and followed (see the sharp drops and peaks):

post9_arvid_TH.png

By replicating a similar storytelling technique with facts from our own life, a narrative can be built for our own personal journey and combining it with proper climaxes will get us genuine followers.

This is the Timeline Hack. It's unlike follow-for-follow or other such tactics where you gain followers who are not permanent and who only bring down your engagement rate.

The Timeline Hacking Method

Based on the above analysis you can hack the timeline of any influencer whose success you want to replicate. You can chose multiple influencers for a wide range of ideas. Here are the steps you need to follow:

1. Find out the number of tweets the influencer publishes every week. You can find it here by searching for the influencer. Then go to the detailed statistics and find the number of tweets every week.

2. Find out the weeks when the influencer gained maximum followers (you can notice the spikes in their "followers gained" graph). Go to Twitter advanced search and find out what they tweeted in those weeks. Most likely you'll find some achievement (or climax). Think how you can emulate that tweet.

3. Post regularly. There is no exception to this. Based on data from point 1 you already have the number of tweets you need per week. Divide it by 7 and that's roghly how many tweets you need everyday. Chalk out a plan (fire up your google sheet) and keep listing down the tweets.

4. Use a scheduler to post tweets on regular intervals if you don't want to frequently come back to twitter and post.

5. Analyze, improvise and keep tweeting. You need to analyze how each tweet is performing using Twitter's analytics and the one with maximum engagement should be reposted. Also try to understand what's working with your audience and double down on those things.

If you have any questions, my Twitter is open for DMs here.