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How to win followers & thought-leader people in 10 weeks

written by  
  Andrea Passwater

I work at Serverless, Inc, where one of our main goals is to eliminate overhead so people have more time to do engaging and creative work. This has become part of our company ethos as well.

So much of our culture centers around empowering employees to do interesting things in and out of work. We have a distributed-first model where people can work remote, or work from home multiple days per week. We have a culture of “freedom with accountability”, which means—get your work done and make your meetings, but otherwise you run your own schedule.

And now, we get to add another thing to this ever-growing list of initiatives: the thought leaders program. (Please forgive my exorbitant buzzword usage.)

The program is designed to help anyone at the company build their own social media following, in any area they want. Maybe it isn’t serverless. Maybe it isn’t even developer tools. Maybe it’s art, eco fashion or gaming. That’s cool.

The program went so well, I decided to open source the entire thing. Think of this like your very own “how to social media like a pro” guide. And the best part: it can be done in 5-10 minutes a day.

Ready to start? Awesome. Read on.

What is the program?

There are 10 weeks of assignments, meant to be done in 5-10 minutes a day. Each assignment is a microstep towards building an audience and establishing yourself in whatever space you choose: growing your social media presence, hashing out speaking topics, compiling bios and abstracts, getting better at writing and speaking.

Tl;dr: thought leader-dom.

Why run it?

Because people at work wanted it. A lot of people were saying, “I wish I had a voice in this area,” or “I wish I were more active on social media, but I don’t know where to start.”

We decided to try this program as an experiment, and it really took off. It turns out, just having steps to follow eliminates the biggest barrier: people’s own uncertainty about what to do and when.

The step by step: how to build a social media presence

Here are the key things you need to do in order to run this program.

Step 1: create a Slack channel. You know how you’re way more likely to go to the gym when you have a buddy? You’re way more likely to do your weekly assignments that way too.

Step 2: Every Monday morning, paste a weekly assignment in that channel.

Step 3: Actually do the assignments.

Or, you can go rogue and do the weekly activities all by yourself. Up to you!

The assignments

Now, I’d like to offer one big word of caution here: I totally made these assignments up using my own best judgement and guesswork. You have been warned.

That said, in my opinion, 90% of the job is showing up. This program was primarily designed to get you to show up. You’d be surprised how far just 5-10 minutes a day goes.

Everybody, get ready to do some leading. Here are all the activity lists, straight from our Slack channel.

Week 1:

  1. Choose 1 social media platform. This is where you will be focusing. (The series will assume you’re using Twitter; if you’re not, tweak things until they fit your platform of choice.)

  2. Think about the type of thought leader you want to be (aka your goal with all this), and send it to the group.

  • E.g., “I want to be an operations guru”; or “I want to be an all-around serverless thought leader”; or or “I want to be influential in the art world”
  • Doesn’t matter what you pick, this is just to help you keep centered on that goal.
  1. Update your bio, photo, theme colors, handle, etc. Make it awesome. Feel free to send it to the group for feedback!

  2. Find influencers in your space. FOLLOW THEM. At least 5-10. If you already follow enough thought leaders, no you don’t. Follow more. (PS, everybody should be following each other, too.)

Week 2:

  1. Think of a daily convenient time for you to log in to your preferred social media platform for 5 minutes. Is it as soon as you wake up in the morning? Over your lunch break? Right after dinner? Whatever time that is, set a M-F repeating reminder on your phone (or work calendar!) right now.

  2. Remember those influencers you followed last week? When that reminder goes off, open Twitter. You’ll spend 5 minutes retweeting & liking your favorite tweets from those people. At least a few a day.

  3. What hashtags are they using? What other people/orgs are they @-mentioning? Make a mental note. Or heck, make a physical note.

  4. Find 1-2 newsletters you can subscribe to that are relevant to your thought leader space. Subscribe to them. Make sure you have your email set up so that when the newsletters come, they won’t go to spam or get filtered out of your inbox. (Subscribing to a set of updates on popular Medium blogs is also ok!)

Week 3:

  1. Be glad you signed up for those newsletters, because now you’re going to tweet your favorite articles 3x this week. Don’t just tweet the link, give people a reason to read it. “Loved the point here about ‘X’.” Or you can directly quote a key line.
  • Use those hashtags you noted last week.
  • Directly ‘@’ mention anyone it makes sense to. You might get a retweet.
  1. Comment on a couple tweets from influencers you’re following.

  2. Continue to retweet/like a couple times a day.

You should still have your 5-10m a day social media alarms set, and I bet you can do all this in that window!

Week 4:

  1. What is your pinned tweet? Make sure it’s still current.

  2. Write your 1 paragraph bio as though you’re giving a meetup talk and they asked for one.

  • Bio should be something like: Name has 5 years experience working for open source projects, both as an engineer and product leader. They are currently doing this cool professional thing. In their free time, you can find them doing this other cool fun thing. ---> obviously your bio can be whatever you want & you don’t have to use this template.
  • Save it somewhere. Now you never have to write it again! Especially not when we use it later (mwahahah).
  1. What are some opinions you have in your thought leader space? Send a couple to the group.
  • E.g., Python is THE BEST CODING LANGUAGE ever, and here’s why; If you’re not using an event-driven architecture, you’re doing it wrong; Vendor choice is the most important thing IT leaders could be thinking about today; Diversity and inclusion are critical to the workplace; etcetcetc.
  1. JK, tweet one of those opinions. Use all the right ’#’s and ’@’s. I realize that brazenly tweeting an opinion can be kind of scary. But you can do it. The internet is ephemeral, and people only remember things for 5 minutes anyway. ;)

  2. Also, keep up what we had going last week. Tweet another 2-3 articles from your newsletter subs, links to cool github projects or other fun things.

Week 5:

  1. Are there meetups relevant to your thought leader space in your area? Don’t lie, yes there are. Find them and make a list.

  2. If, hypothetically, you were to give a talk at one of these things, what would the title be?

  3. Keep up the likes/tweets/retweets/comments/#s/@s when your daily reminder goes off.

Week 6:

  1. Make an outline for that talk title you came up with last week. You don’t have to get it perfect, just make a bulleted list of some key points you’d like to cover and go from there.

It helps to think about what the point of your talk is, and write that on the top of the page. E.g., “I want to convince people of X.” Then think about the things you could say that would convince people of X. Those are your key points.

Once you have your key points, take a few bullets to make notes about what you’ll say on those points. That’s it! Outline = achieved.

  1. Keep up the likes/tweets/retweets/comments/#s/@s.

  2. BONUS: Try making a meme! Everybody likes memes. Tweet it.

Week 7:

  1. Remember that list of meetups you made? Submit your talk to at least one of them. This will probably require writing a brief 1 paragraph synopsis of your talk. When they ask for your bio, hey! You already have that.

  2. Keep up the likes/tweets/retweets/comments/#s/@s.

Week 8:

  1. Make a copy of your talk outline. Convert all the main points into full-fledged headers, in bold and everything. Take all of your supporting points and turn them into 1-2 full sentences.

  2. Keep up the likes/tweets/retweets/comments/#s/@s.

  3. Is your pinned tweet still current?

Week 9:

  1. Go back to your longform outline. Add a 3-6 sentence introduction. Make sure the first sentence is a clear statement about what the post will teach/talk about. E.g., “In this post, we are going to learn how to draw cartoon kittens with the new Crayola glitter set.” See, super clear. I know exactly what I get if I keep reading.

  2. Go through and flesh out some of the ideas. Take the 1-2 sentences you wrote before and turn them into a full paragraph where relevant. Do this with at least half of the post.

  3. Keep up the likes/tweets/retweets/comments/#s/@s.

Week 10:

  1. Out of curiosity, go check your Twitter engagement metrics. Notice a bump? Yesss.

  2. By the way, did you realize that you basically wrote a blog post last week? Huzzah! Feel free to send it to Andrea for feedback/edits. (note: sorry everyone, that last "send it to Andrea" step is for Serverless employees only 😉)

  3. AND THEN—publish it somewhere!

  4. Keep up with the likes/tweets/retweets/comments/#s/@s. Forever. You really do have to just do this forever. Sorry.

Putting the program on maintenance mode

By the end of all the assignments, everybody has had 2.5 months to build their social media following. The reality is, keeping that up is an ongoing process.

I plan to ping the channel regularly with speaking opportunities I find, and or great blogs they should be reading about in their space. Anything to keep people excited.

The results?

Not everybody at the company chose to follow the program, which is cool. To each their own. Of the people who did, two have already booked speaking engagements at great conferences later this year, most are at least gotten halfway there to publishing their first blog post, and everyone has seen a huge bump in their twitter followers & metrics.

For instance, I would say that, for someone who's just getting started on social media for the first time, this is a great 2-month growth trajectory:

And some of our more established tweeters have grown their audience and engagement:

Reviews of the program include quotes like:

I’ve made awesome progress! I never knew I could have so much engagement if I just posted genuine, useful content.

I gotta say, as someone who created this program having no idea what the outcome would be, it seems like the results were great!

General tips for building an online presence

The number one thing I say to people is: have a personality. The internet and text-based interactions abstract away so much of who we are already. It’s easy to forget that there is a person behind the Twitter account.

I bet if you think about your favorite social media presences, they will have one thing in common: they either have a lot of personality, or they have such great content that you don’t care. The second one is, frankly, harder to do. People are too finicky; the content they think they want changes. But they will always be drawn to a person who they can relate to.

Do you mostly tweet about Node.js? Cool. Should you worry about distracting your audience by tweeting a few times about your favorite movie? Absolutely not. (IMHO.)

So be bold. Just tweet it.

In sum

We all really enjoyed this program, and hope you will too! See you on the social web.

If you want to follow any of us on Twitter to see what we’re up to, here’s a handy list!

And if you'd like to work with us, we're hiring for lots of positions in growth, engineering and design, either remote or in San Francisco.

About Andrea Passwater

Andrea leads growth marketing at Serverless.

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