Lessons from Pete Sampras’ Surprising Twitter Strategy

Pete Sampras has 17,000 followers on Twitter.

I know this because I read a charming, where-are-they-now Sports Illustrated piece on Sampras that mentioned this fact.

If you’ve ever wondered, “What happened to Pete Sampras?” the piece is worth a read; it’s an interesting look into the life of the man who was, for a few fleeting years in the early 2000s, considered the greatest tennis player ever.

But whether you have or haven’t wondered about Pete Sampras, here’s the summary: The guy won 14 Grand Slams, retired at age 31, and is now happily eschewing pretty much all forms of public life.

He doesn’t really give interviews. He doesn’t really attend matches. And he’s never posted on any social media platform – including Twitter.

But he has 17,000 Twitter followers.

And in this week’s email, I want to point out something obvious…

If you’re trying to build an audience on Twitter, Pete Sampras’ strategy will not work for you.

Again, the guy has never tweeted. He’s never engaged with anyone else’s tweets. His account is only following one other profile.

In short, he’s doing absolutely nothing that you should do to build a social media audience.

I like to imagine a social media marketer without context on Pete Sampras trying to figure out why in the world his account has 17,000 followers.

“Did someone pay for them? Are they bots? Did he post a bunch in the early 2010s and then delete all of his tweets? Does this somehow have something to do with Joe Rogan? What the heck is going on?” they scream in frustration as they slam their MacBook Air closed, knocking over their (admittedly delicious) foam-art cappuccino.

Here’s the thing: To understand why Pete Sampras has 17,000 Twitter followers, you can’t look at his “Twitter strategy”.

Actually, you can’t look at Twitter at all.

You have to look entirely beyond it.

The easy answer is…

Pete Sampras has 17,000 Twitter followers because he’s won 14 Grand Slams.

I think this is really interesting, and it undercuts one of my go-to pieces of advice for artists: Look at what other successful artists are doing, and then do that.

Sometimes, this advice is bad. Sometimes, it doesn’t help to look at other people’s success, because not every end result can be reverse engineered.

Not everyone can win 14 Grand Slams.*

The truth is this:

Every artist’s path toward results will be slightly different – because every artist is different.

When you evaluate end results, you have to account for the fact that every input is different and every situation is different.

I’ve realized this myself as I’ve been working on Two Story stuff. My business is unique. Nobody else (well, that I’ve found, at least) is running a music blog and a PR agency and an online education company.

That three-piece blend makes my business weird.

One example: I rank well in Google Search results for a lot of pretty valuable keywords, like “music blogs” and “music promotion.”

This is called SEO (search engine optimization). Without getting too far into the weeds, one of the biggest drivers for ranking well in search engine results is backlinks – links from other sites back to yours. Basically, the more good links you have, the more likely you’ll be to rank.

I discovered early on that it’s ridiculously easy for Two Story Melody to get backlinks, because artists really want to share their coverage.

Just about every week, an artist that we write about posts a link back to an article we’ve written about their music. I literally don’t need to do anything to make this happen except ensure we provide high-quality music blog coverage.

This strategy for getting backlinks would not work for any other type of website.

I used to do SEO for B2B companies; it was a completely different game.

If I was training someone on SEO, yeah, I’d tell them to try to create “shareable content” (which is actually a phrase that makes me want to vomit a little). But the truth is that, for most websites, nobody has any incentive to share the content. You’ve got to manufacture the shares.

So, if you wanted to copy my SEO strategy, you’d have to expand your scope beyond “SEO” and reevaluate the type of website you were creating and its purpose.

Basically, you’d have to try to create a music blog like Two Story Melody to copy the SEO strategy we’re using at Two Story Melody.

I know that I’m rambling a little, as per usual, which probably means it’s time to boil this down into takeaways.

I think I have two…

First, go easy on yourself.

It’s so easy to get caught up in comparison, and the metrics attached to our digital world make it easier than ever. Streams, likes, followers, views, whatever – it’s sadly natural to hold your numbers up against the people who have more, bemoan the gap, and feel bad about yourself.

Try not to.

Comparison is always apples and oranges. You don’t have the same inputs. You don’t know what’s outside the frame you’re using to compare yourself to other people.

Plus that stuff (the numbers) doesn’t matter most, anyway. So go easy on yourself.

Second, figure out what works for you.

You have unique advantages as you make and market your music. Identify what they are, and lean into them.

A kind of crude way of thinking about this is to ask yourself, “What are my assets and how can I use them to create more value?”

(I might be misremembering, but I think I got this idea from Rich Dad Poor Dad, which, again, makes me want to vomit a little bit and has turned this into an uncomfortably market-y newsletter.)

But this can actually be a lot of fun.

For example, when I realized Two Story Melody was in the unique position of acquiring backlinks easily, I leaned into SEO – and the relationships that I’ve developed with artists and with other bloggers have been really rewarding.

Or, another example: I’m in the unique position of having a brother who lives in Nashville, who is trying to make it as an artist, and who is an awesome writer.

In other words, Tom is an asset that most bloggers don’t have.

So I’ve roped him into writing for Two Story, and reading what he writes brings me a ton of joy.

This idea (capitalize on your assets) works in music, too – both in making it and in marketing it.

When you identify what you do well or find areas where you’re uniquely advantaged, you should lean into them. It’s likely that your path toward better results lies in the direction of your strengths.

At the end of the day, you’re unique.

This is good news and bad news. It means you have opportunities, but it also means you have limits.

You can (and should) learn from other people. But you can’t sing like Adele. You can’t rap like Kendrick. You can’t write like Tom.

You’re you. The best version of your music and your marketing will be molded to that reality.

And that’s okay.

Here’s wishing you good luck as you find your own path as an artist, and here’s your final word of warning:

Don’t try to copy Pete Sampras’ Twitter strategy.

Want to build a meaningful community around your music?

The Bundle

I’ve packaged years of experience running Two Story Melody (a top-ranked music blog) and Two Story Media (a music PR firm) into a book called How to Promote Indie Music.

It lays out a roadmap to better indie music promotion – promotion that doesn’t suck. You can check out the first chapter for free.