To Follow or Not To Follow, That is the Question

14May10

A lot of people are very passionate about their opinion on following others on Twitter. I have my opinion on this but I listen to others and the majority of the time, I understand where they’re coming from. I hope my take on this topic will maybe give some of you an alternative view of the situation.

About 6 months ago, I tried to follow a number of folks and kept receiving an error message from Twitter stating I was over the limit. At the time, I had no idea there was a limit to the number of people you could follow. I read the Twitter terms and it was still unclear to me as to when I could follow more people. It kind of sounded like I had to get to 2000 followers before following more people but in the mean time, I was going to clean house and make room for people I really wanted to follow. I started watching my feed and unfollowing people who brought no value to the table. Some people I had simply started following because they were from Chicago and was scrolling past their updates every time so there really was no reason for me to follow them anymore.  Because of the follow limit, I’m now more careful as to who I follow so I don’t reach the limit again. Yes, this means I often don’t follow EVERYONE who follows me. I never took follower status into account while deciding who to follow (or unfollow). Whether or not someone follows me is not going to influence my decision to follow them or RT them.

I read a blog post not to long ago about how the author blocks followers daily because he wants an actual audience for what he has to say- not just spammers. I’ve been doing the same thing since I joined Twitter and believe me, my follower count would be  a lot higher than what it is today if I hadn’t been blocking (and often reporting) the spammers. I want real people following me who care about what I have to say, not just a bunch of spammers. When was the last time you watched Oprah and saw a few dozen robots in the audience? I don’t aspire to be Oprah (I actually don’t really like her anymore, but perhaps that’s a topic for another post) but if you turned on the tv and saw empty audience seats being filled by robots, I guarantee she’d lose credibility and people would no longer be tuning in. I don’t want someone to look at my followers and see spammers- it’s going to make me lose credibility and some people will probably say “she can’t be that interesting if she has that many ‘unreal’ followers”.

The follow limit and lack of value are usually my main influences on who I follow and don’t follow. I check for new followers a few times a week and put a lot of thought into who I follow & follow back. Here’s what I look at when deciding if I’m going to follow or follow someone back:

1. Name/Twitter Handle- If your name reflects something I’m interested in or a brand I like, then I will most likely follow you. If your name contains numbers and/or an underscore, it’s a red flag to me (read about the numbers and underscore theory on the Hubspot Blog).

2. Your Real Name- If it’s your personal account, there’s really no reason why your real name shouldn’t appear. I’m not even asking for a first and last name, just a first name will do but you’ll get more credibility if you’re first and last name appear. If your a business or a brand, then the company/brand name is good but a real person’s name is even better. If this doesn’t make sense to you, just think about how annoyed you would be if you called AT&T and were greeted with “Thank you for calling AT&T, this is AT&T, how can I help you today?”. If you can’t put the name of the person who’s behind your tweets in the name field, then at least put it in the bio. People want to know who they’re tweeting with.

3. Profile Picture- A real picture of you is the only way to go if your Twitter account is your own personal account. Super bonus points if the pic actually looks like you IRL! A logo or relevant picture is great if you are a company or brand. Never, ever, ever, ever is the Twitter bird an okay profile picture. I NEVER follow people who have the Twitter bird as their profile pic.

Twitter Bird

4. Location- I’m more likely to follow people who live in Chicago. I’m from Chicago and I currently live in Chicago so I relate to other Chicagoans. When I returned from Denver two weeks ago, I had a few new followers from Denver. I tweeted about Denver and made some new friends at the Zine Tour so I followed them. I’m weary of followers from other countries and often have to dig deeper to figure out if I want to follow them or not.

5. Most Recent Tweet- I don’t put too much weight on this one because I’m just as guilty as the next guy of tweeting about something random. But if your last tweet is relevant to what I’m interested in (personally some topics I gravitate towards include sustainability, marketing, food, & event planning), than I’m most likely going to follow you.

6. Most Recent TweetS– Plural, as in the tweets that appear when I click on your profile or “recent tweets” when I’m on Hootsuite or TweetDeck for my iPhone. Sometimes the person has a good handle/name, an okay profile pic, and a so-so most recent tweet so I give them the benefit of the doubt and begin exploring their most recent tweets to see if they hold any value to me. Sometimes they do and I follow. Sometimes they don’t and I don’t follow or click to see even more of their tweets.

7. Website- Personally, I like to see a link to a website. Even if it’s a Facebook profile, the user gets a little more credibility because it shows me they’re a real person and it gives me a little more info about them.

8. Bio- A bio that reflects what I’m interested in is, of course, going to win me over. A bio not in line with what I believe in is going to push me away. You can’t make everyone happy so just be real in your bio. I may not follow you if your bio contains the phrase “avid hunter” and I don’t think you want to be tweeting with a vegetarian anyways. But other hunters will follow you and you’ll build up a following and make friends with people on the same path as you.

9. Followers to Following & Following to Followers Ratio- If someone is following a lot of people but they don’t have a lot of followers, it sets off a warning siren in my head. What are they tweeting about if they don’t have a lot of followers? How come the people they’re following aren’t following them? Something is off in this situation and it usually ends up the person is a spammer. On the other hand, if a person is only following a few people and they have a lot of followers, it usually tells me they’re not into interacting on Twitter, which is a big no-no in my book. Twitter is about interaction and 2 way communication (see #10) and if you’re not following people, than you’re just self promoting and you might as well purchase an expensive radio spot or send me a direct mail piece while you’re at it.

10. Check for Replies & RTs- I always check a person’s recent tweets for replies and retweets. If the person is not interacting with others, than why should I bother with them? They obviously don’t care what anyone else has to say so I’m going to skip over following them for now and hope they figure out how to use Twitter properly. I’m also very weary of people who only interact with the same few people over and over again. It tells me that if I interact with them, the odds are against me that they’ll reply to what I say so why even bother?

11. Frequency of Tweets- If you tweet every 3 months, I may not follow you. When I reached the following limit, one of the ways I cleaned out the people I was following was by deleting people who hadn’t tweeted in 3 months or more. I had to decide if it was worth it to follow them or to follow someone who tweets valuable info (valuable to me) on a daily basis. More othen than not, it was for the best that I got rid of the “dead weight”.

I don’t think you have to follow everyone who follows you. I just recently unfollowed someone who I’ve met in person because their tweets were no longer relevant to me. Will it piss this person off when they see I unfollowed them? Probably. Should they take a look at their tweets and reevaluate what their tweeting about? Eh, maybe, but I’m just one person. If you’re losing followers left and right, then maybe it’s time to take a closer look at what’s changed. Maybe you used to tweet about the Bulls and now you’re tweeting about the Cubs. A Bulls/Sox fan may no longer see relevance in your tweets. If you used to put a lot of care and thought into your tweets but now you’re tweeting dead links, you may lose followers and it’s probably a good idea to reevaluate your purpose on Twitter before you lose more.

One of the major benefits of following someone and having them follow you back is the capability to direct message. A direct message can save a business from some bad publicity. A person can DM a company instead of publicly calling them out on their wrongdoings. I highly encourage businesses to follow back the majority of their followers but because of my experience with the follow limits, I definitely understand why a business or a brand (we are all “brands” these days) would not follow back everyone.

There are lots of things that influence our decisions on who to follow and not to follow on Twitter. The longer I sat here writing, the more reasons popped into me head. The ones listed in this post are just a few of the most important ones to me but I’d love to hear your reasons and opinions on this post so please leave comments (and/or questions). If you’re new to Twitter, I hope this post gave you something to think about and please feel free to contact me if you have any questions. I’m not a Twitter expert but will do my best to answer any questions you may have.

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