There is no playbook for Twitter.  I’m learning as I go, just like you, and I’ve tried to share my ups and downs along the way.

I’ve written about the spirituality of the social webthe social media time crunch, and my anxiety about the velocity of change and my own social media overload.

One year ago, I wrote a post called 8,000 Followers. Now What? Since that time, I have gained 12,000 new followers … so a lot has changed!  I don’t often write about myself but it seems to connect with people when I share my experiences, so here’s what it’s like to have 20,000 followers on Twitter.

Where did all these people come from?
As {grow} continues to … well, grow, I’ve been blessed with many new readers from every corner of the world. This has directly translated into Twitter followers — about 1,000 per month and accelerating. I haven’t had any specific plan to gain followers, it has come in an organic way. If you follow me, or I see that you tweet about {grow}, I will generally follow you back.

Not only do I have a lot of followers, I have a lot of ENGAGED followers because I have aggressively culled spammers from the beginning.  So my tribe is legitimate and my tribe is awesome!

One question I’m often asked is, why do I follow so many people back … what good can possibly come from it?  Actually, a lot!  I discuss this at length in my book The Tao of Twitter, but the short answer is this: Think of Twitter followers as atoms bumping around in a test tube. The more atoms there are (as long as they are relevant to your business) the better the chance for a reaction — a business benefit!  The catalyst for that reaction is engagement through meaningful content, and the relationship is sustained through authentic helpfulness.

Business benefits of Twitter

I’m a blogger but I also teach and run a business. Why do I spend so much time with Twitter? Because it flat-out delivers the goods!  Here are a few real business benefits I realized DIRECTLY from Twitter connections in the past 12 months:

  • Invited to teach at Rutgers University.
  • Awarded an engagement to be the social media consultant for the UK consulate in New York.
  • Enabled the dozens of connections that created Social Slam, one of the premier social media events of the year (you’re coming, right?).
  • Acquired my three largest customers.

I could easily write 100 more business benefit bullets.  I have been very fortunate, but I see this same kind of success happening repeatedly for many friends and students.  Here’s the best part of all – I’ve developed deep, meaningful relationships that will last a lifetime. Not just Facebook-style “friends.” Friends you would have over to dinner!

It is poetic and sublime that my 20,000th follower has the last name of Gandhi.  You can’t make this stuff up.

What about the wall of noise?

When I wrote my last Twitter update a year ago, I was creeped out by this growing number of people following me. How would I cut through the noise?

To be honest, it hasn’t been that bad.  Yes, Twitter is mostly noise even if you do a good job culling the spam.  But I realized I had neither the obligation nor the patience to engage with a crowd that large. However, I DO engage with anybody who makes an effort to engage with me. I manage this primarily through lists, which I view on Hootsuite or Seesmic.  I’m at peace knowing that I can’t be on top of everything and respond to everybody as I would like. I know that sometimes messages are going to slip through the cracks.  I just have to do my best and hope people are gracious.

Another trend I’ve noticed is that some connections last forever but others come and go in waves. People will connect for awhile and then I won’t hear from them for a few months. So it’s more like waves of people lapping at my beach, not a tsunami knocking me over!

The economy of favors

One advantage of a large number of highly-engaged followers is that I can tweet stuff out for people and topics I believe in and sometimes it makes a difference. It’s nice to be in a position to help wonderful people.

I receive requests for favors about every hour of the day. I’m glad to help, with one exception — When I have no idea who you are!  That makes it kind of awkward. I think sometimes people feel they know me through the blog but if you have never showed up through comments or tweets, I probably don’t know you’re out there.  I “tithe” at least 10 percent of my time each week to help people in the {grow} community through phone calls, emails and other forms of free consulting.  I enjoy this … but let me know you exist first : )  If you make an effort to connect, I seldom refuse a request for help!

How many followers is enough?

The answer is different for every person.  If you run a beauty salon in New York, having followers from Australia probably won’t help you.  Nurturing targeted followers from your area is probably all you need to concentrate on.  But if your potential market is the world, then why not nurture contacts from all over?  So it all depends.

According to statistics in an interesting post in Tom Webster’s wonderful Brand Savant blog, I would be in the top one-half percent of Twitter users with this follower base of 20,000.  That doesn’t mean squat.  I know my place in the world, and here it is — Twitter doesn’t affect my marriage, my kids, or my friends. To the extent that it helps my business and my students, that is a plus.

What about Klout?

Since last year this little topic called social influence has started to make waves.  It’s easy to get knocked off center when somebody is making a report card about you. I like to compete in business and in sports but I think paying too much attention to Klout will be destructive. My Klout score was 76 at one point and the other day somebody said it was a 71. I had to admit that just for a moment, I felt competitive about that!  But that is going to drive the WRONG behaviors in me and others.  So I am blocking that stuff out and focusing on what I love — creating insanely great content, connecting with amazing people no matter what their “score” is, and being helpful.

What’s next?

Obviously you can’t plan for something like 20,000 people showing up on your virtual doorstep.  I think that I liked Twitter best when I had about 400 followers.  But when somebody follows me, I consider it an honor and I’m not going to disrespect that, especially with all the proven benefits that have occurred.  So, come on in.  We’ll be in this together and I’ll figure out a way to handle it.

Well, that’s my 2011 Twitter progress report.  What successes and frustrations are you experiencing with Twitter, and how can I help?

Illustration: National Geographic
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