The debate has raged since Twitter hit a tipping point in 2008. “Should you follow everyone who follows your Twitter account?”
Many of the “gurus” say otherwise. We won’t name them here, as most have extremely valid points on other issues and to tarnish them over this one point would be a disservice. It’s easy to fall into the alwaysfollowback trap, after all, and on the surface the reasons seem valid. Dig deeper and the truth becomes clear – Twitter can add more value to your business (and you can add more value to Twitter) if you are selective with the accounts you follow.
Twitter-etiquette be damned. Here’s why:
Spammers and Bots and Teeth Whiteners, Oh My!
This is the easy one and no guru will debate it. Don’t follow spammers. Keep in mind, they’re getting smarter. Spotting them isn’t as easy as it once was, so look at their feed and if it smells like spam, fry it.
Don’t confuse feeds with spam. There are times when you will want to follow particular accounts that are not actively controlled by humans but that offer value. They could be industry-feeds within your niche, news feeds of sites that you trust, or even competitor’s auto-feeds. Twitter has become the fastest venue for breaking news (and faux-news) and can be used as such.
Just because they aren’t human doesn’t mean they’re spammers. Follow the feeds that you like.
Twitter is for Conversations
Those companies who are good at Twitter develop a following and broadcast their messages to their audience. Those companies who are great at Twitter develop conversations, actively interact with their customers and potential customers, and keep track of what is happening in and out of their industry.
Sometimes, the conversation is directed towards you. These are the no-brainers – reply! Being able to initiate conversations is not below a business account. In fact, talking to customers and starting conversations is a distinct separator between those who are great at Twitter and those who are Twitter-Masters.
What does this have to do with following people? The noise-factor is one that is often brought up by those who are against following everyone, and to some extent it is real. The challenge with the argument is that once you reach a certain size, there’s no way to avoid the noise. Let’s assume that you are building an account that is following thousands. Guess what – you have noise in your stream.
Following those who are actively conversing with others rather than simply broadcasting (other than the feed-exceptions listed above) will dramatically help to filter the low-quality accounts. Looking for users with which to initiate conversation is always easiest when the choices are limited. The “noise” that people talk about often refers to the casual mentions of grilled-cheese sandwiches and pickles. Do you care about grilled-cheese sandwiches?
It doesn’t matter. The quality of the user is more important than the noise level. If someone tweets about pickles five times then responds to someone who asks about their favorite color, they are probably a good person to follow. Why? Because they respond. Conversations only happen when two users are both willing to talk to each other. If only one is talking and the other isn’t responding, it’s a personalized monologue.
Noise is unavoidable. Quality is everything. Conversation is the key.
Perceptions and the Rise of Klout
There are certain unavoidable truths that grow more unavoidable and more true as Twitter matures. One of those truths is that if you follow as many people or more than are following you, the perception that people have towards you when they visit your account will be lower than if you are following fewer. It’s that simple.
More importantly for the future, Klout is gaining traction every day. Over 1000 services are using their API and there is speculation that big players such as Google are looking to them for help with the social factor in their search algorithm. Some are calling it SocialRank, a reference to the PageRank system that Google uses to rate a website’s link authority. In other words, the better your Klout Score, the more likely it is that your Tweets and the links within them will rank higher in search as a result.
The solution to this and all of the concerns above is to not follow everyone. It sounds easy enough, but there are challenges. Here is how some of those challenges can be met:
Conversation vs Broadcasting
Twitter can be a tremendous marketing and customer relationship tool, but it can also be a time-drain if not done right. The general rule is this: use the right automation tools to broadcast your messages, blog posts, videos, etc., and spend your “live time” on Twitter replying to people and sparking conversations. What you don’t want to happen is that you get caught posting everything manually.
Scheduling tweets properly allows you to engage when appropriate and not get bogged down broadcasting. For example, let’s say you have 15 minutes set aside a day to engage on Twitter. Scheduled tweets would run at a separate time. The “live time” will not be broken up by your broadcast messages and you’ll be free to “keep it real” during these times.
Keeping Up with Following
There are two methods, here. If you are gaining a manageable number of followers per day, simply go through each account that follows you and pick out the ones to follow (described below). Again, there are tools that allow you to vet your followers and keep track of the ones you’ve already seen so you aren’t looking at the same accounts over and over again.
If your following gets too hard to manually add, work it from the other direction. Follow everyone, then unfollow those who are lower-quality. Twitter is constantly changing what they allow and don’t allow in the way of how tools interact with your followers, but as quickly as they change, the various services find ways to continue to make it easy for users. Tools that minimize the time spent vetting are necessary, particularly for fast-growing accounts.
Identifying Accounts To Follow
When you go through accounts, there are certain signs you can see at a glance:
- @replies – If they aren’t talking to anyone else, they won’t talk to you either.
- Repetitive Tweets – They say it. Then they say it again. And again. Run.
- Trolling – Sometimes, Trolls aren’t a bad thing. Most of the time, they are. If they spend their day insulting people and companies, there’s not need to get involved.
- Retweets – You can see a retweeter from a mile away. Look for @replies that follow “RT” or “Via”. Retweeters, particularly those who like to retweet quality content, are gold. Follow then and engage often.
It takes practice, but you’ll get to the point that you can identify the quality of a Twitter user based upon these signs in 2 or 3 seconds. Literally. Once you’re there, you’ll be able to build a powerful account that will be following the right people and that can gain followers faster as a result.