My twitter following has been growing at a steady, acceptable rate. And it has steadily grown for some powerful reasons I’m going to detail for you here.

Based on some analytics, most of you are going to find this article through Twitter. But, in case you get to it via another method and haven’t checked out my twitter, as of this moment, the moment when I’m writing this guide, I have 5,475 (update: as of 1/5/2017 10408) followers. This isn’t a huge number in the twitterverse, but this number is noteworthy for two reasons.

First,  I don’t pay for twitter advertising and I don’t ask people to follow me (but if you find this article useful, follow @EdLatimore). These are fine methods for building a following and I have nothing against them. If I used those methods to build and enhance my following, everything I say to you in this article would be, at best, suspect and at worst, outright dishonest. I have grown my account organically, without financial assistance. However, I learned a valuable lesson when I did try to entice people to follow my account using money which will be covered further down this post.

The second reason I have a growing twitter following correlates strongly with the first reason. I’m currently following 401 (update: as of 1/5/2017 495) people (though if you follow me @EdLatimore, I will you back if your account meets the guidelines soon to be addressed). My account is not a “follow back” account; I’m not going to “pay” for your twitter support by following you in return.

This “follow back” currency is another popular method for building a large following on the platform: following whomever, whatever with the hope they choose to follow you. You can spot these these accounts by noticing that they have the same magnitude of followers as they do people they’re following. Keep in mind, this is a general rule—if an account has 95k followers but is following 11k, it’s not really the same order or magnitude except by the strictest numerical definition. Once again, there is nothing wrong with this tactic. But, if I used that tactic to grow my following, then my advice is relatively useless.

This is a great article floating around about building your first 1000 twitter followers. As a person with 5x (10x) that number and still growing, I can confidently say that I co-sign everything the author says in that article. If you’re interested in growing your twitter following, it’s a decent article to pair with this one (after you follow @EdLatimore, @thisdaddoes is a great account to follow as well). Below are my June 2016 and (along with Dec 2016) twitter stats

Stats from the month of June

So, let’s get down to how you grow your twitter following. Here are some solid tips for making it happen.

Have a theme. If you want people to follow you on twitter, your account can’t just be posts about your day-to-day and your feelings. There are millions of active accounts online and billions of people in the world. People are already bombarded by other people who think the world revolves around their emotions and perspective. But, if your twitter account focuses on a theme or issue, you’re giving people something other than another self-centered human being navel-gazing.

It doesn’t matter what the theme of your twitter account is. There are huge accounts for every group and interest. The theme of my twitter account is self-improvement and self-sufficiency. I express this primarily via tweets about boxing, math, and people but I’ve been known to tweet about game, politics, and crime. But no matter what I tweet about any issue—even if it’s my self-centered perspective—I always bring it back to the theme of self-improvement and self-sufficiency. My tweets are aren’t idle complaints, observations or reflections on my feelings. My 140 characters or less stay on the theme.

Staying on theme is important because people will see something interesting you tweeted then decide to go through your twitter archive. If they see tweets that fit the theme, they see that you aren’t a typical, self-centered account that dropped one ball of fire. You then become a legit resource that entertains or helps them, so they follow you to keep up with your wisdom.

Regularly delete tweets. This is a tactical idea that supports the strategy of the first tip. You want your account to maintain the appearance of consistency. Certain tweets that don’t hit hard or are completely off topic should be deleted. After a day or two of no replies, retweets or likes on your response to a tweet, delete it. Any Instagram shares you’ll also want to eventually delete.

A sharp looking twitter account adds to the image you are creating; the image of a reliable resource worth following. When people see that you don’t have tens of thousands of tweets backed up, then you create the appearance of order and scarcity. You want to think of your twitter as a showcase. Only the best stuff should be left standing for the world to see (@EdLatimore is approaching 4000 (update: as I learn more about the platform, I’m being forced to keep more tweets. But as someone commented, I still have fewer tweets than followers. There’s a lesson in there.) tweets. That’s a bit much for my taste so I’ll clean up, but don’t let that stop you from following me.

Authenticity. If you’re going to build a twitter account around the concept of Trump support, you better be a huge Trump supporter. Same if you want to build an account around being a social justice warrior, a neo-nazi, a sales guy, or an artist. You don’t have to be public—two of the most authentic accounts I follow are anonymous. But you absolutely have to live the life you build your twitter theme around.

You can’t authentically have a handle about healthy eating while being overweight unless the focus is on transformation. You’d have more success owning an account about being fat and loving it. I’m not a fat acceptance guy but I’ve seen some huge (pun intended, slightly) accounts built around that theme. Whatever you decide your theme is, you have to live it. Even if you’re anonymous, it will come through in your tweets that you are ‘bout that life’. Authenticity is attractive and powerful because, by definition, it is impossible to fake.

Always Add Value. Many fresh accounts make this mistake. They read a tweet or an article that they really like. I know they really like it because they retweet it. The end. This level of effort is unacceptable.

Anyone can retweet what they see. To inspire engagement in your followers or potential followers, you need to add something to things you retweet more often than not. I like to quote an important line or give a glowing recommendation when I retweet.

Some tweets stand alone and simply require a retweet, but many can be modified with great effect by adding your particular perspective or seal of approval on it (@EdLatimore is well known for quoting the best line from the article before he shares it. It works wonders for the article exposure. I’m always trying to help).

Great Bio. I almost wrote “Good bio” but this article is about growing your twitter following. A “good bio” just states your vital stats. Maybe you say something witty but there is nothing about your bio to inspire those reading it to look through your archive or think you might be a good follow. A “good bio” is the twitter equivalent of a “nice guy.”

A “great bio” mentions something extraordinary about yourself. Even if it’s not your profession, it needs to have something related to you that makes you stand out. Get creative, keep it within the theme, be exceptional, and stand out. And of course, be honest and authentic. You know your bio is great when you think it would be a great tagline for resume or a dating profile.

Write. Twitter is a platform that rewards writing skill. The only way to improve a skill is practice. There is a reason why so many big accounts have blogs. It’s not because blogging gives you great content to share. That helps, but the real benefit is that it forces you to exercise your writing muscle.

As long as you are getting better, your ability to put a message in 140 characters will improve. Higher quality tweets increase the likeliness of being followed (you found this article on probably because you decided to follow @EdLatimore).

Choose your battles wisely.Trolls can be an excellent source of followers. You don’t have much of a chance of picking off their followers, but there is a good chance that your followers will see an ongoing twitter battle where you stand firm on an issue they resonate with. Your responses (if they center around your theme and are well written) will be retweeted to other like-minded people that follow them. This is the benefit of trolls.

The bad part of trolls is that, by engaging them, they (and potentially you) force polarization. A polarized account isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it has the potential to niche you down more specifically that you originally planned. My theme of self-improvement and self-sufficiency is great, but when I get into political spats I know there are some people that will agree with almost everything I say but my views on #blacklivesmatter or Donald Trump will make some unfollow me. I personally don’t care about being polarizing (and I see it as an advantage), but I’m just highlighting the potential for trolls to affect your follower count.

Here is the formula I use for engaging trolls. Less than 500 followers, I don’t even bother to respond. Less than 1000, I respond to the troll but won’t retweet. Anything more than that, and I am actively hoping that you retweet my responses so that people on the fringes of your network get involved, spread my words even further. (update: I stopped dealing with trolls completely around the 7-8k mark. Not only did it not vibe with my personal theme, I more or less no longer needed them. I’m constantly reinventing strategies for Twitter so this may change, but generally speaking, once you crack 5k it isn’t REALLY worth it.)

Well-chosen battles can net you quite a bit of followers. Poorly chosen battles will lose you quite a few. This is how you use social media instead of letting social media use you (this formula also keeps you from annoying people. @EdLatimore rarely battles with someone if he can’t learn from them and thus teach the fans something new as well)..

Be patient. Do Work.When I first started building my twitter following, I thought I could pay someone to handle it for me. So, I asked a guy that had a lot of followers if he’d build the followers for me. This was before I understood that it doesn’t quite work that way. It wasn’t a crazy sum he asked for—I paid him like 100 bucks. I ended up with a little over 1000 followers but I also ended up following 1200 people, many of which were “follow back” accounts.  That’s because he put my account on one of those automatic follower programs where it just randomly follows people and hopes they follow back.

After 2 weeks of my phone buzzing and going crazy with notifications, I unfollowed all of those nonsense accounts and set out to do the hard work of building a following myself.

Realize this: unless you are a celebrity, building a following takes time. It takes effort. It’s like growing a garden. Each tweet is a seed that has the potential to bear the delicious fruit known as a “follower.” You can’t rush the process.

Have something to say. I saved the most obvious for last. I’ve been hinting at it with each tip until now. You must have something worth saying. It doesn’t have to focus on how to be a better person. It could be about traveling. It could be about racism. It could be focused on cooking. It could be about the life you lead when you were in prison. No matter what it is, you need to have something worthwhile to add to the discussion.

Everyone has an opinion on something. Remember, we don’t want to be the typical self-centered account. To do that, we need to offer a unique perspective—whether through substance or style—on the theme we select. This means having something to say. You can have a big account just by being a hater, but you need to be a unique brand of hater. Otherwise, you’re just a rip off. No one likes a copycat because copycats lack authenticity and they haven’t done the work.

If you follow these 9 rules, you will build a great following.  If you thought this article was worthwhile, follow me @Edlatimore or donate below.