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Letter from the editor: How to get 10 million followers on Twitter

By Meredith Artley, CNN
updated 10:29 PM EST, Tue January 15, 2013
CNN's @cnnbrk Twitter account hit 10 million followers on Monday.
CNN's @cnnbrk Twitter account hit 10 million followers on Monday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • @cnnbrk surpassed the 10-million-follower mark Monday
  • Managing Editor Meredith Artley says the CNN Twitter account started small
  • Ashton Kutcher challenged CNN to a competition to reach 1 million; he won
  • Artley: CNN thanks its many followers and @cnnbrk founder James Cox

Editor's note: Meredith Artley (@MeredithA) is the managing editor for CNN Digital.

(CNN) -- CNN marked a milestone Monday. Just before noon, the @cnnbrk account topped 10 million followers on Twitter. That puts our Twitter account in the company of Lady Gaga, President Barack Obama and Cristiano Ronaldo.

To mark the occasion, it's worth reflecting how we got here.

The first tweet on @cnnbrk wasn't news, and it wasn't written by an employee of CNN.

"Testing" is what James Cox tweeted in January 2007.

Cox said he started the account as a way to receive CNN's breaking news alerts on his phone. The account started to grow and gain attention. Journalist and fellow developer Brian Boyer posted this to his blog back in 2008: "@cnnbrk ain't CNN but with >30K followers, he owns the brand."

Cox wrote a response to that post: "I've been in contact with CNN -- they won't sue, i'm fairly sure, however i'm constantly dealing with the problem of confusion -- users still think that @cnnbrk is an official feed, therefore making me a defacto CNN employee, which is a problem."

We didn't sue, but we did work out a deal to get the handle.

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As we celebrate reaching the 10-million-follower mark, Cox is the first person we should thank.

The second person to thank, naturally, is Ashton Kutcher. In 2009, he challenged CNN to a competition to see who could first reach 1 million followers. Kutcher won. At more than 13 million followers, @aplusk is still in the lead. And we're still coming after him.

We have a simple approach to @cnnbrk, and we believe that's one of the keys to its success. Breaking news, from an organization that built its brand on breaking news. Straight up.

Some of our most retweeted items include colorful observations from events such as last year's conventions, slightly offbeat news and old-fashioned big breaking news.

This isn't to say we aren't still "testing."

We haven't always been first. It's rare that we get it wrong, but when we do, we've tried to be transparent about it. We believe that's another key to our success.

And we have a dash of fun on occasion.

The CNN homepage team has managed @cnnbrk for the past three years, hand-crafting every tweet, 24-7, mostly from our home base in Atlanta. They deserve the bulk of the cake and Champagne for this latest accomplishment. That team is headed by Carl Lavin (@FromCarl), our lead homepage editor. Lila King (@lilacina), our senior director for social news, is a spirit guide over all of CNN's social media efforts.

"B-R-K," in newsroom shorthand, isn't the only Twitter account at CNN. We have more than 100. Our second most popular account is @cnn, and it's no small fry with more than 7 million followers. What's the difference between @cnnbrk and @cnn? On @cnn, you'll find breaking news -- and lots more.

Some of our biggest and brightest names and shows have active, highly followed accounts. Many of our sections and beats, such as @cnnopinion, have their own accounts.

The news team at Twitter called @cnnbrk the "Lady Gaga" of news. Some of the staff is now suggesting that we wear meat dresses to work. Instead, we'll thank those who got us started, tweet a thank you to all 10 million of our followers, and press on to 11, 12, 13 million and beyond.

Lila King and Carl Lavin contributed to this piece and deserve an extra slice of cake for their efforts.

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