For a long time, whenever I’d give a talk or introduce myself on a panel, I’d mention running for Congress in 2009 and getting more Twitter followers than votes. It’s a good laugh line, and blunts the pains of that loss. Today, more new people follow my Twitter account in a month than the 347 who voted for me in that special election.

Still, those were heady times. National Journal wrote about fundraising through Twitter (you don’t), DC was calling to learn how I’d come out of nowhere to score breathless political coverage from coast to coast. “Here’s another milestone for Twitter,” Politico reported. “The first congressional candidate has announced his campaign through the trendy social networking site.”

Thanks to the bombast of our current President, Twitter is hot, again. “See what’s happening in the world right now,” it promises.

And any candidate or media figure who wants to be taken seriously, who wants to win in our frantic media environment, has to have Twitter game.

I’ve recently been experimenting with taking Twitter more seriously again as a branding tool – working with a coach and writing about my assumptions and experiences, first for data appending vendor Accurate Append (client), “How Influencers Use Twitter Replies to Build An Audience,” then in more depth for Campaigns & Elections‘ Campaign Insider, “Five Ways to Explode Your Twitter Game.” Like most of my strategic and tactical work, I am sharing this to help those who aren’t able to work with big agencies level up with those who are – these are the simple lessons that helped me take a decade of tweeting from middling success to millions of impressions and tens of thousands of dollars in earned media exposure with just weeks of practice.

Here’s a graph of my Twitter stats from March – at the tail end, I’d started to practice lessons from my coach, Nathan Mackenzie Brown, founder of the viral Really American Facebook page:

One thing that immediately jumps out is that I had to tweet more often in order to get more content views. Twitter visibility does usually grow with activity. However, a big lesson I took from Nathan is that if I wanted to be more successful using Twitter as a business tool, I needed to be much more thoughtful about my use. No more scrolling Twitter restlessly at night. No more tripping on uneven sidewalks while lost in Twitter addiction. Instead of letting the Twitter algorithm work me on my phone, I deleted the app and began constraining my Twitter use to my most productive times of day – and desktop use only. I would work the algorithm instead of letting it work me.

The results were dramatic. This is my stats graph for April:

The critical success factor for blowing up your Twitter visibility is targeted replies. They get your tweets in front of hundreds of thousands of people, and they get your tweets into news coverage, like the George Takei pub Guacamoley! Saucy replies to a single Trump tweet account for the big mid-month spike above. And, if you click through to Trump’s original message here, you’ll see how Twitter features viral reply threads. The winning “reply guy” strategy isn’t trying to get attention from the original target, it is about drafting on the target’s viral attention and audience.

If you’re looking to grow on Twitter, I hope you’ll look at the articles linked above – and don’t forget that once you catch a top reply, keep replying. All of my recent big weeks on Twitter have come from a series of replies that Twitter helpfully turned into a feature.

One caveat for follower growth is that tangling with ideological foes usually won’t win you new fans. It is also important to update both your notifications for users and for your own replies – you want to be first in with a strong, stand-alone comment in viral Twitter users’ replies, and to tamp down the trolly responses you’ll get when your own tweets go big.