This is part of a new series titled “How I Work,” in which I’ll reveal the tools and practices I use on a regular basis. If you’re just getting started with inbound marketing, this will help you figure out “what” and “how.” If you’re an experienced inbound marketer, you might find a new tip or two or (even better) be able to contribute some of your own ideas. 

This series about social media will cover a lot of ground. Over the next few weeks, I’ll talk about:

  • Where I play: Which social networks do I use and how do I use each one?
  • Who I play with: How do I build and prune my audience?
  • What I play: What do I share with my audiences?
  • How I play: What are the tools that I use?
  • When I play: When and how frequently do I post?
Social Media: Garbage In, Garbage Out

Social Media: Garbage In, Garbage Out

This week’s article covers Who to Play With. But before we jump into my tactics, I need to repeat my standard disclaimer: Tactics are only effective when they’re part of an overall inbound marketing strategy.

In my opinion, this is the most important and least understood question for social media newbies, because your audience determines your experience. Here are some common complaints I hear about social media:

  • Complaint: All I see are pictures of people’s food and status updates like “Good morning” and “Good night.”
    Reason: You’re following the wrong people.
  • Complaint: I joined LinkedIn a year ago and it doesn’t do anything for me.
    Reason: You’re waiting for something to happen instead of making it happen.
  • Complaint: My customers aren’t there.
    Reason: They most certainly are there, you’re just not giving them a reason to listen.

Put another way, when it comes to getting results from social media, it’s a case of “Garbage In, Garbage Out.”

Who to Play With

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So how do you build and maintain a quality audience? It’s quite similar to gardening. You need to plant seeds, water and weed the garden in order for it to grow healthy and provide sustenance. Here’s how I do it.


Social media curation with Feedly and Buffer

Social media curation with Feedly and Buffer

The first step in building a quality social media audience is to give them a reason to follow you. It must be a “give first” philosophy. In order to attract quality, you must exude quality. This means sharing content that your audience will find valuable. It can be original content (like blog posts, videos, presentations, etc.) or it can be others’ content. This latter approach is called curation and it can be very effective when done well.

For curation to work, you need a good source of quality content and an efficient delivery system. The two tools of choice for me are Feedly and Buffer. Feedly is the RSS reader I used to scan thousands of posts and articles every week. When I see a headline that grabs my attention, I’ll expand it and quickly scan the article. If it still looks interesting and seems like something my audience would appreciate, I’ll click the integrated Buffer icon to share it with the appropriate social media channels. Buffer is a great tool that allows you to preconfigure time slots during which you want to share your social media updates.

This is a great capability because the time at which I’m usually scanning my RSS feeds isn’t necessarily the time when my audience is most active. And different audiences are active at different times (e.g. Twitter is mostly early afternoon and Facebook is evening). Buffer allows me to dump a pile of social media updates into a queue and they will go out later in the day at the best times.

Pro Tip: When using any social media scheduling be particularly careful during high profile news events. In most cases, when tragedies like the Boston Marathon Bombing occur, it’s best to shut down your social media automation in order to prevent unforeseen and/or inadvertent mistakes. It could be something as otherwise innocent as Tweeting the title to your latest blog post, “How Not to Bomb Your Next Public Speaking Gig,” at an unfortunate time.

Also take care in selecting your content sources and put some thought into what you share. The more effort you put into shaping your input stream, the more valuable your curation efforts will be seen and the higher quality your audience will be.


Once you’ve given people a reason to follow you, it’s appropriate to take deliberate steps to build your audience. This is accomplished in different ways on different social media channels.


Jon DiPietro's Inbound Marketers list on Twitter

My Inbound Marketers list on Twitter

One of the quickest ways to build followers on Twitter is follow people yourself. Many will follow you back (but many won’t – more on this later). There are a few ways to find worthwhile Tweeps. One is to follow followers. This means identifying an established, influential person that already has the audience you want and check out who’s following them. Another way is to find Twitter lists that people have created for different topics and follow the people on those lists. Finally, you can use the Twitter search function to find conversations on specific topics in your wheelhouse.

There used to be a whole myriad of automation tools to help you scale this effort. However, Twitter has shut them all down in an effort to get users to build their audiences more organically because they believe it leads to less spam and higher quality conversations. It takes time and effort to build your following!


Acquiring like for Facebook pages is quite different from building a Twitter audience. In some ways, it’s much more organic and in other ways it isn’t organic at all. The highest quality Facebook audience will be built organically. This means people will find your content on the web and/or see their Facebook friends sharing your content and they will like your page. Obviously, this requires remarkable content; stuff that’s worth sharing.

But you can also buy Facebook likes. This is somewhat controversial because it’s easy to spend money and accumulate a bunch of worthless likes. But if you carefully craft your ad campaign so that it targets the right audience and communicates the right message, it can work very well. Another way to boost likes is through promoted posts. Using this approach has several benefits, in that it increases brand exposure and awareness, drives traffic to your site and grows your audience all at the same time. This has become a pretty effective tactic for me and I’m using it regularly.


Most other social media audiences right now are best built organically by sharing remarkable content. But one tactic that can be effective is cross-promotion. I frequently use my Twitter audience to gain Facebook likes and vice-versa. When doing so, it’s important to differentiate your channels so that you aren’t simply spewing the same content in the same places. Otherwise, what’s the reason for subscribing to multiple social media channels. I’ll cover that topic in more detail next week when I talk about “What I Play.”

But in every single social media network, the single most important tool for watering your garden is engagement. Talk to your audience. Answer their questions. Thank them for sharing your content. Re-share their content. Have real, human interaction and build relationships. It’s not easy and it doesn’t scale well, but that’s kind of the whole point.


Twitter spammerEven if you’re careful while building your audience, eventually weeds will creep in and it’s important to go in and clean them out from time to time. Sometimes you get tricked by people and other times, people change but the result is still the same: Constant vigilance will help ensure that your audience is the best it can be.

Of course, Twitter has the greatest and most obvious need for this activity. You can’t really control who likes your Facebook page or favorites your YouTube channel. But it pays to pay attention to who you’re following on Twitter. One aspect to watch on Twitter is your follower ratio. This is defined as the number of people you follow divided by the number of people who follow you. It’s important that this number be greater than one. However, keep in mind that this is very difficult to do for new accounts with a relatively small number of followers. When you begin using Twitter, you’re going to follow more people than follow you back. It’s a little tricky, but here’s how it works.

Twitter allows you to follow as many people as you want up to a limit of 2,000. After that, you’re limited to a follower ratio of 0.9. In other words, you won’t be allowed to follow your 2,001st person until you have at least 1,800 followers. However, my recommendation is to try to keep your ratio to no lower than 0.5 while you’re building your audience. This is because people who race quickly to that 2,000 mark look like spammers.

Another metric I always check when deciding whether or not to follow someone is their Tweets-to-following ratio. If someone has 11 Tweets and is following 1,904 people, it’s pretty obvious that the account is not real and there’s no way I’m going to follow them back. It’s a good quick and dirty way to tell if an account is genuine.

But once you have a larger audience, it gets harder to keep track of everything. This is when tools like Followerwonk and JustUnfollow come in handy. They provide great tools for sorting your audience by a number of different metrics and identifying influencers (so that you can interact with them) and losers (so you can unfollow them).

Followerwonk analysis

Followerwonk analysis of my follows and unfollows



Keep in mind that this is just a glimpse into how I’ve built my audience. I shared what I think are some of the key tactics that worked for me and mistakes to avoid. There are hundreds of other tips and tricks to employ. I’ll continue to blog about some of them but sometimes the best way to learn something is to get out there and stub your toe a few times. Hopefully, this series will save you from tripping and falling!

Next Week: How I Play

Next week I will continue this series by discussing how I use my social networks and decide what to share on which channels. If you’re not already, be sure to sign up for my weekly newsletter – The Inbound Marketing Inquirer – to get the entire series delivered to your inbox.

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