How to Get More Twitter Followers, According to Science

MIT researchers recently published a paper demonstrating how to get more Twitter followers for free.

They tested thousands of interactions and scenarios to find the right formula.

Key insights include how to increase conversion rates by up to 30 percent.

Penetrating Social Networks

The context of the research paper is devising a way for military counter-propaganda groups to connect with users and influence them. This technique applies to commercial marketing as well.

This research paper tests the strategies and unlocked ways to gain significant amounts of followers.

Here is how the research paper describes it:

In this work we present an operational capability for penetrating a social network. We refer to our modeling framework as the follow-back problem, where the goal is to find the most effective way for an agent to interact with users in a social network in order to maximize the number of social connections. The name is based on terminology from the social network Twitter, where when a user forms such a connection he is said to become a follower. If an agent is able to have a set of target users follow him, then it has effectively penetrated their social network and can then begin influencing these target users with its content.

Scientific Insights on Gaining Twitter Followers

The researchers discovered that three features affect the odds that someone will follow you.

  1. Number of friends and followers of the target.
  2. Overlap in friends and followers between the targeted user and your account.
  3. The probability of a follow increases when the targeted user has a large overlap and a large amount of friends.

The experiment focused on interaction type, features, and graph structure.


Three interaction types were applied alone and in combination. The goal was to find which interactions helped acquire more Twitter followers.

  1. Retweet
  2. Reply
  3. Follow

The researchers mixed and matched the interactions to discover which was the most effective for converting targets to followers.

The experiment began by searching with relevant keywords. Search and interactions were paced at random intervals that averaged about two hours each in order to appear more natural.

There was no question which approach converted the most targets. Following and retweeting generated a whopping 30 percent conversion rate.

Retweeting and following the targeted Twitter user generated 30% more followers than other approaches.

Does Follower Count Help Gain More Followers?

The next experiment followed the approach of following and retweeting. But they wanted to see if having many followers affected the conversion rates. So they used an online service to acquire up to 10,000 bot followers in order to pump up their follower counts.

The results of this experiment indicated that a high follower account does not significantly affect conversion rates.

Friend to Follower Ratios

Their next experiment examined targeting users with higher follow to follower ratios.  They use the term “friend” in reference to others users that a target followed.

Applying the successful follow and retweet strategy, researchers discovered that targets with a high friend to follower ratio converted well.

The research paper explained it this way:

Targets with lower follower counts and higher friend counts tended to follow the agents more frequently. This makes sense intuitively as we would assume that user’s with higher friend to follower ratios have a propensity to follow others on Twitter.

Does Follower Overlap Help Gain Followers?

The researchers chose their next set of targets by choosing followers of users who had already followed the researcher’s Twitter account. The results showed that the more overlap in followers between the target and the researcher account, the higher the conversion rate. Follower overlap plays a significant role in increasing followers.

Gaining Followers  Versus Advertising

The researchers suggest that this technique can be used to influence people to form positive opinions about a brand or product. Their intuition is that influencing Twitter followers could be more effective than paid advertising since there is an element of trust involved.

“Our work here could immediately be applied in advertising to improve targeted marketing campaigns. Instead of using online advertisements, one could use online social media accounts to spread information. This may be more effective than an advertisement if the target forms a bond of trust with the account.”

Some people believe Twitter is a waste of time. This research shows that a business can gain the opportunity to influence consumers by applying a proactive follower acquisition strategy.

Read the paper here: Penetrating a Social Network:The Follow-back Problem, as well as a companion article, Solving Twitter’s ‘Follow Back’ Problem

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