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John Shahidi Rules Twitter -- And That's Good for Business

Shots CEO John Shahidi has crazy Twitter engagement -- and he's using it to grow his startup.

John Shahidi is the king of Twitter.

Teenagers beg him for retweets, and he appears in Vine videos where friends Justin Bieber and boxer Floyd Mayweather spar in the ring. Everything that Shahidi tweets — and we mean practically everything — is retweeted and favorited thousands of times. If Shahidi mentions you in a tweet, you’ll spend the next two weeks slogging through dozens of notifications every time you open the app.

It’s a phenomenon that Fortune’s Dan Primack has dubbed "Getting Shahidi’d," and it’s a very real and rather overwhelming experience. Shahidi says he has even turned down six-figure offers from brands asking him to tweet out their products.

What makes his Twitter dominance all the more significant is that Shahidi, 34, runs a small San Francisco startup called Shots, which he founded with his brother Sam late last year. His Twitter fame has helped his startup immensely.

His year-old photo-sharing app, which is primarily used for selfies, has more than three million downloads — 73 percent of which are active users, Shahidi says — but you probably haven’t heard of it unless you have a teenager in the house.

But first, how does a startup founder like Shahidi get so much engagement on Twitter?

Part of the reason is that Shahidi’s friends, Bieber and Mayweather, are Shots investors and very active users. Shahidi has grown part of his Twitter following simply by associating himself with Bieber, the second-most-followed Tweeter on the planet with an audience of nearly 56 million people. Beliebers want to be as close as they can to Justin, and that often means following his friends.

The other reason, though, is that Shahidi has a follower base that breaks the mold. More than 72 percent of his followers are on Shots, where the average user is 15 years old. According to Twitter analytics company StatSocial, Shahidi’s followers are abnormally active. They tweet, on average, almost eight times as often as the average Twitter user.

Shahidi also has great second-degree reach on the platform. What that means is, while he has a healthy follower base of his own with just over 325,000 people, his followers themselves are also very influential. They reach roughly 572 times the number of people of the average group of Twitter followers, according to StatSocial.

In other words, Shahidi’s followers tweet often and reach a massive audience — a combo that helps him spread content like wildfire across the service.

Why does all this matter? Because Shahidi says his Twitter success directly impacts his company. Shots doesn’t have a company blog and no longer pays for a PR agency. Instead, Shahidi simply tweets out company updates from both his own account and the @Shots handle (that also drives crazy engagement). When Shots released an Android version of its app on July 31, it simply tweeted the update. The company hashtag, #ShotsForAndroid, was actually trending on Twitter, and the app has already been downloaded just under one million times without a single marketing dollar spent, according to Shahidi.

In today’s tech environment, where social networks are valued on their user base well before they ever make money (just look at WhatsApp), this makes Shots an intriguing app. Shots users are almost all teenagers, the demographic that investors (and advertisers) clamor over, and while celebrity-powered apps often gain early traction before fading, Shots is still going strong 12 months in. The company isn’t making money yet, but it’s not the first social network to make user growth a priority.

Shahidi also relies on Twitter to keep Shots users checking the app. "Where a lot of social products fail is they have a great product but have a hard time reminding people to go back and make it part of their [everyday] life," he explained to Re/code. For this reason, the Shahidi brothers regularly tweet out images from celebrity users on Shots and respond to diehard users from time to time to let them know they’re listening. As a result, the company’s daily active users have climbed from 22 percent of its total active user base in April to 41 percent today, just under one million people.

"Everyone wants to be part of the community," Shahidi said. "Our community is inside [Shots] and outside it as well on Twitter."

For Shahidi, that’s a great place to be a king.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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