You know the routine, you open your email in the morning and there is a message that “BillyJean is now following you on Twitter!“. You open up the message and click on the link and a Twitter profile page pops up in your browser followed by that inevitable questions “Should I follow them back?”
I know I ask myself that question several times a day as seemingly random people want to now stalk me and do I really want to stalk them back.
It seems that people who want to follow you fall into several categories:
1. Your real friends (or at least people who think they are your friend)
2. People who find you based on things you’ve posted.
3. Businesses or News sources that your interested in.
4. People who are trying to inflate their follow count.
5. People who are trying to spam you
Obviously you should be excited when your real friends find you and in most cases you will probably follow them back. More on that later. You should be able to recognize your friends and this is really the core of what Twitter is about.
The next group of people are those who watch the public feed or use search.twitter.com or hashtags.org to find tweets that are important to them. For instance during the Daytona 500 a couple of weeks ago, I posted several NASCAR tweets and used the #NASCAR hashtag and within a few hours, I had several new followers. I chose to follow them back.
There are some very good businesses who are taking advantage of Twitter to reach their customers. I once complained about a problem I was having with FireFox and shortly, I got a reply from someone at Mozilla.org with a suggestion on how to solve my problem. Generally, these people may reach out to follow you first in hopes your interested in their information. For example, the pro photo lab that I use is on Twitter, mpix.com. They are good about responding to customer issues and announcing new products, upgraded software, or in a recent case, their 50% off 8×10 prints promotion.
In addition to those hawking a product, there are other useful information sources. I follow several news organizations who post breaking news and others that just want to share information. During the NFL football season I followed @nflscore which posts scores to Twitter as they happen so you can stay up on your favorite team. You can expect that these people probably won’t follow you back or at least they are not reading your tweets.
Then there are people I just don’t get. Its all about getting more followers. Its a popularity game and they will follow just about anyone and hope you follow them back so when they reach 2,000 followers they have reached some level of importance. I personally don’t get these people. Following 3,000 or 4,000 people means you get so many tweets there is no way you can possibly be reading them all, unless that’s all you do, so these people are producing content and not absorbing it, much like the businesses, but their content is generally of low value, other than to say, “I need 10 more follower’s to break a thousand”.
The final class are spammers. These people are clearly there to sell you something and have very little to offer you as far as information or value other than their product.
Now for me, I’m at around 260 followers and I’m following around 260 people and there is a difference of about 40 each way. So I’m following around 40 people who are not following me. Sadly, I found that a bulk of them are co-workers and friends who I thought would reciprocate. A few were not a surprise. I was initially bummed, but given my interests its only logical that they may not be interested in the same thing. Then the other direction, there are about 40 people following me that I don’t follow back and those are mostly people trying to inflate their follow counts or businesses that I may not be interested in, but it doesn’t bother me that they follow me.
So how do you decide who to follow?
Well real friends, you probably should follow. People of shared interest can be worth following and you probably should give them a chance. Of course, the business clients that interest you should follow.
Next, I look to see how frequent someone posts. If I see someone with 3,000 posts, they are probably generating way too much noise.
Next, I look for a huge difference in the number of followers to friends. If someone is following a lot of people and very few are following them, its a good indicator of a spammer. If they don’t have an avatar or if their avatar is bikini-clad and their screen name doesn’t match their URL, you can bet that its a spam account. Not only do I not follow these back, but I block them from seeing my posts as well. Generally Twitter’s spam detectors will pick up on these accounts and cancel them.
If I see a large number of followers and friends, I will look at their posts and see if they are of interest before I decide to follow back. Post frequency is really the determining factor if I’m going to follow back.
Finally, I recently went through my followers and friends to determine who was not reciprocating. I made a decision to unfollow any one who I didn’t know personally who I was following. This helped cut down the noise in my twitter stream.
Thoughts? What decisions to you make when deciding who to follow?