How We Increased Deadspin’s Twitter Audience By 2,500%

When I joined the staff of Deadspin, the site—which had just celebrated its sixth birthday—had only 40,000 followers on Twitter. By the time I left in 2018, it had over a million. Here’s what we did to make that happen.

Deadspin’s Twitter presence when I arrived was essentially limited to tweets sent out automatically by Gawker’s then-CMS, GED. The tweets were, simply, a headline and a link.

Realizing that engagement requires audiences needing to feel part of the conversation, the first step was to be… conversational. So we switched to having humans write our tweets, though they were still mostly versions of the post’s headline. That changed considerably once Twitter enabled inline images, GIFs, and Twitter Cards—which we started to leverage immediately. The greatest success came from the realization that potential audience can be expanded by orders of magnitude by publishing content natively on the platform, and without concern for driving traffic to the site.

“Be First & Be Best” grew out of our experiences delivering breaking news content before our competitors, and in the highest quality possible. The result was reaching audiences that had never considered following Deadspin before—or, more likely, were unaware of Deadspin’s existence at all—and quickly hit the follow button.

The next step was to leverage Periscope, which alongside Facebook Live became a home for our live broadcasts—the most successful of which were our simulations of upcoming major sporting events using retro video games. 

Social media success—especially on Twitter—returns some of the most valuable components of growing a media or campaign brand: loyalty, reputation, and traffic.

For media brands, developing a loyal audience is essential to your sales staff, as they can report to advertisers a very confident outlook on current and future demographics. We had one of the highest loyalty ratings in the segment at Deadspin, because we worked to cultivate an audience that shared our voice and our mission.

Reputation, as developed through social media, means reliably delivering relevant content quickly and with the highest quality. All breaking news content makes it to social eventually, but if you’re not reaching the audience with it first, they don’t have much reason to follow you.

As for traffic, I can’t tell you how many analysts have insisted to me that Twitter is entirely a branding exercise, as it doesn’t drive traffic. Our efforts at establishing a strong Twitter presence at Deadspin resulted in it being a legitimate traffic engine. Parse.ly reports their core media sites, which include places I’ve worked, average about 2% of web traffic originating from Twitter.

At Deadspin, during my tenure there, it was 15%—and we had months with 1 million uniques originating from Twitter alone. Doing Twitter well brings you new, loyal audiences who are influential and want to be affiliated with your content—and, yes, they click the links.