The art of following on Twitter

May 6th, 2010 by Laura Leave a reply »

Once again, I had a minor cranky fest with some one who followed me on Twitter, who didn’t like being labeled a spammer.  This person had over 10,000 followers and was continuing to follow others with more follows to followees.  I have around 300 to 250 people I follow and around 600 people who follow me.  My balance is the other way.

My follow philosophy is I follow people I plan to engage with or I follow corporate accounts, brand accounts, non-profit or local accounts (and theoretically celebrities but I don’t follow many of those) that are not strictly personal.  For me, the first group are people I don’t want to offend and I try to make sure that I’m tweeting content related to their interests when I follow them and try to engage them at some point early in my follow.  For example, I’ve been following some Australians who are local to Canberra or interested in sports.  We have specific content in mind.  I’m not keyword following those but generally checking out specific people and their accounts or recommendations.  That’s personal.  The second type of account I’m less worried about as corporate and brand accounts are not expected to behave the same way as personal accounts: There is no onus to interact with those accounts, no reciprocation in follow backs that is implied.  Those accounts tend to have the purpose of promoting a product at me.  I’m obviously not going to provide any content of value back for the Australian National Library.  (Where as for a librarian from Canberra on their personal account?  I should provide the individual some reason to social follow me back.)

I can get really cranky about this sort of thing.  I blog about it a fair amount.  I have in my profile that if you want a follow back, you need to @ reply with why you followed me.  I’m less truthful than I should be with that statement.  What I really mean is: What value do you provide to me if you want a follow back?  You can follow me because you love Fan History and that’s awesome but if you’re always tweeting about Slovenian politics in Slovenian, you’re not much value to me in terms of me following you.   And if you’re a personal follow, I want that and if you can’t provide that, you’re nothing more than a Twitter spammer. Corporate accounts have pretty much the same issues only with a slight twist.  If I’m tweeting about how much I love the University of Canberra, it would make sense for them to follow me.  I might not be aware of them and they can do reputation management easily by keeping track of their public voices.  If you’re a Christian bookstore in Denver (which is far away from where I live) and I’ve never tweeted about Christianity and your business has over 3,000 followers and an imbalance where you’re following more than you’re getting followed back?  You have no business following me as I’m not going to help your business and, again, you’re offering me no value as a follower.

A lot of social media experts early in Twitter’s history promoted the concept of more followers leading to increased credibility and how it gives you increased market awareness.  It’s dumb, stupid and anyone doing that and espousing it should be fired rather quickly.  Those aren’t the social rules that have developed and a lot of people on the fringes of Twitter are getting tired of these random follows from brands they don’t know, from individuals with 10,000 follows.  At some point, you’re also likely to run across an individual like myself who is tired of this crap who going to label you a spammer for keyword following anyone who has history in their profile.  You’re going to get some one giving you crap and you’ll get some bad PR.   (And no, not all bad publicity is good publicity.  Many small businesses can’t afford that sort of thing.  Would you want to be getting publicity because you’re a pizzeria who made news for failing to pass a health inspection?)    Making it worse, your own bad business practices bring it on yourself.  And if you engage people like me who don’t like your follow practices, you’re just making yourself look worse.  (Or not because really, how many people in that 10,000 person net you have are actually reading your tweets?)

Oh and let’s not forget that idiocy involving keyword following or mass following people can wind up making you look bad when people discover that you’ve followed white supremacists, racists,  people who do not share your values, competitors you’re not friendly with or people who reflect badly on you that your follow practices made you voluntarily chose to follow but that’s a different story.

Following on Twitter is an art.  When following, you should ask: What does this person offer me and what value do I offer them in return?  If you can’t think of a good answer, then consider adding the person to a list.  That way, everyone wins and there is less crappy art (bad following) going on.

Edited to add: And with in a minute of posting this, John Kewley (@brainrider) followed me.  He has more people he follows than follow him.  He has 5,000+ people he follows.  He offers services for companies.  He’s never going to read me and I’m unlikely to ever use his services described as: “BrainRider Knowledge Marketing Group. We help companies create more customers by sharing what they know. Visit us to download our free e-books.”  If he has some value to potentially offer me, it isn’t clear based on his recent tweets.  This is another classic exaple of failing at the art of following.

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