Choosing a Twitter Follow Strategy

Perhaps no other aspect of Twitter usage is as hotly debated as the strategy you employ when following other users. The debate really breaks into two camps: people who follow everyone that follows them (with possible exceptions), and those that only follow people that interest them. Let’s take a closer look at both approaches, and the rationale behind each.

A) Rationale behind following everyone* that follows you: (*with exceptions)

  1. It’s common courtesy to follow those that follow you — not following them would be rude.
  2. Most people on Twitter want more followers, so following more people means more people will follow you.

Examples: @GuyKawasaki, @Thurrott

Who this works best for: Anyone who is trying to build brand awareness, widely promote tweeted content, or increase their number of followers.

B) Rationale behind following only people that interest you:

  1. I follow a limited number of people, since I can’t have a meaningful dialog with everyone.
  2. I only follow people that truly interest me — nothing personal!
  3. I have 1 million plus followers.

Examples: @Oprah, @KatyPerry

Who this works best for: Celebrities, truly personal accounts, very specific (often very technical) groups of people, private clubs and groups, faceless corporate accounts, and snobs.

I fall mostly in the first camp: I follow most of the people that follow me (though there are exceptions), but I can see why some people may choose not to do so. It really boils down to what your goals are, and what the goals are of the brand/publication you’re representing. I use my @jeffjames3 Twitter account for both personal and business use, and I think that’s the most effective way to use Twitter. I’m simultaneously looking for reach (by getting as many followers as possible) and relevance (by following people that are relevant to topics I cover and having relevant followers.)

That said, I personally disagree with most of the rationale in the second approach, especially if you’re trying to use your Twitter account to promote content or build brand awareness. A good Twitter client like Tweetdeck can let you group, sort, and search through your followers , so you can easily select who you want to pay the most attention to.

As a journalist and blogger who is evaluated partially on how much traffic my individual articles receive, my goal is to drive as many eyeballs to my content as possible. I don’t follow everyone that follows me (although I follow back most people), and I don’t randomly select Twitter users to follow. My goal is to add as many followers as possible, but only ones that are largely relevant to the topics and beats I cover or to my personal interests.

Finding Relevant People to Follow
I mainly write about the enterprise IT market, so I try to follow as many people as possible that I believe may be interested in my content. I firmly believe that Twitter search — — is one of the most important features of Twitter, since it provides a snapshot of what thousands of people are saying about a given brand, product, or topic in realtime. What other social media platform can do that so well?

Twitter search is also a fantastic way to find specific groups of people. Many IT professionals and system administrators user the #sysadmin hashtag when posting to Twitter, so doing a Twitter search for that text string pulls up every Tweet with that hashtag. I can then follow users who have something interesting to say, contribute to any discussions where I can add value, or provide a link back to content of my own (or content from my colleagues or friendly competitors).

I also pay attention to what Twitter accounts my #sysadmin readers are following, since it could lead to additional potential readers, prompt article ideas, or lead to Twitter accounts that may be of interest to friends and colleagues.

Who I Follow
There are four types of Twitter users that I follow, listed in descending order of importance to me, and why I follow them:

1. Readers: Anyone who is a system administrator, IT manager, CIO, CISO, or is involved in IT purchasing decisions is a potential reader of my content. Interacting with readers, asking them questions, getting to know their interests, and getting their input on the types of content they want to see me write about is invaluable. This is the main reason I use Twitter — no other social media platform allows me to interact so quickly (and easily) with such a wide range of people.

2. Industry Experts and Thought Leaders: This category includes senior IT company executives, IT consultants and analysts, as well as bloggers and journalists from competing publications. I fully subscribe to the idea that bloggers serve their readers best by pointing them in the direction of the most useful information, and that sometimes includes re-tweeting Tweets from my competitors.

3. Vendors and PR pros: This category includes companies (and individuals) that provide products and services in the markets that I cover. I follow both faceless corporate accounts and individuals, as well as public relations professionals that represent those companies. One bit of advice: If you’re a journalist or blogger and you’ve tweeted something about a specific company, it’s a good idea to let the PR staff for that company know about it. They may retweet your story to their followers, and they’ll appreciate the courtesy of giving them a head’s up when it goes live.

4. Fun, Friends and Personal Development: This category includes my friends, colleagues, and interesting/entertaining Twitter feeds that don’t follow into any of the aforementioned categories.

Who I Don’t Follow
While I do follow most of the people that follow me, I don’t return follows from people who are spammers, pushing smut, promising to enlarge something (for men), or to reduce something (for women), or are clearly off-topic from what I usually follow. I also diligently monitor people who follow me for any offensive content, and block any Twitter accounts that wouldn’t pass the grandma test (i.e., Would I be comfortable showing this Twitter feed to my grandma?)

I’m open to feedback and/or a spirited discussion of all this, so fire off some comments.

Follow Jeff James on Twitter at @jeffjames3.

Follow ContentShift on Twitter at @contentshift.

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Chrysler’s Twitter Account Drops the F-Bomb, Agency Employee Sacked

Last week, Chrysler’s Twitter account (@ChryslerAutos) Tweeted out the following message (censored by me):

I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f%$king drive

Car blog Jalopnik has had the most comprehensive coverage of the slip-up, and revealed that an employee at Chrysler’s social media agency — New Media Strategies — authored the Tweet. Chrysler tweeted an apology, ordered the employee responsible terminated, and post the following mea culpa on the Chrysler blog (excerpt below):

This morning an inappropriate comment was issued from the Chrysler brand Twitter handle, @ChryslerAutos, via our social media agency of record, New Media Strategies (NMS). After further investigation, it was discovered that the statement was issued by an NMS employee, who has since been terminated.

Mistakes can happen to everyone, but the event underscores the need for PR and social media types to be careful about who is posting what on their Twitter accounts, especially if they’re managing the account on behalf of a client. What’s your take?

Follow Jeff James on Twitter at @jeffjames3.

Follow ContentShift on Twitter at @contentshift.

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Google Tweaks Search Algorithm to Minimize Impact of Content Farms

A recent blog post in the official Google blog by Matt Cutts — a Google search engineer — indicates that Google may finally be addressing the impact that content farms have been having on Google search results.

What are content farms? Content farms are networks of sites that churn out vast amounts of poor quality content, but are heavily optimized for SEO. The practice is so pervasive that it has spawned several (and hilarious) content farm parodies. The poster child for the practice is Demand Media, a company that has built a tuned-for-SEO content empire by employing legions of freelancers to crank out millions of web pages of information.

The quality of Google search results has come under fire recently from a growing number of critics. Jeff Atwood (co-founder StackExchange, an excellent community Q&A network) has complained about “Trouble in the House of Google“, while Salon’s Farhad Manjoo posted about how the Huffington Post cared more about SEO results than content quality. And a recent article by the New York Times showed how Google’s search results can often be gamed by nefarious means.

So Google’s move to change their search algorithm to minimize the impact of content farms — announced in a blog post by Cutts on February 24th, 2011 — was welcome news to many. Here’s an excerpt from Matt’s post (highlights are mine):

“But in the last day or so we launched a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking—a change that noticeably impacts 11.8% of our queries—and we wanted to let people know what’s going on. This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.”

What this should mean is that Google will now be much better at penalizing low quality sites that heavily abuse SEO practices to game Google search results and that copy content from other websites.

Time will tell if this works, but it should be good news for all publications that product high-quality original content.

Follow Jeff James on Twitter at @jeffjames3.

Follow ContentShift on Twitter at @contentshift.

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The Importance of Related Content Links

Looking to increase the amount of time a user spends on your website? One of the easiest ways to do that involves adding a related content section at the end of all of your articles and blog posts. This section doesn’t have to be very elaborate: Just a bulleted list of related articles (and hyperlinks) will suffice. You can see an example in one of my own posts over at Windows IT Pro, and another example I added to the end of an author article for TechNet Magazine.

Here’s a screengrab of the related reading section from the Windows IT Pro article I referenced earlier:

As you know from your own web surfing habits, finding an article that fits your needs exactly isn’t always easy. Adding a section called “Related Reading” or “Related Content” or even just “Related” and filling it with useful links relevant to your article topic can give site visitors the incentive they need to continue looking through the content on your site to find the specific article they’re looking for. It’s always a good idea to always use the most relevant keywords possible for your hyperlinks, so keep that in mind when generating your related content sections.

In keeping with that spirit, here are some related links about the importance of providing links to related content. 😉

Follow Jeff James on Twitter at @jeffjames3.

Follow ContentShift on Twitter at @contentshift.

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