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)
- It’s common courtesy to follow those that follow you — not following them would be rude.
- Most people on Twitter want more followers, so following more people means more people will follow you.
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:
- I follow a limited number of people, since I can’t have a meaningful dialog with everyone.
- I only follow people that truly interest me — nothing personal!
- I have 1 million plus followers.
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 — search.twitter.com — 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.
- ContentShift.net Twitter page
- How to Use Twitter as a Twool [Guy Kawasaki]
- Ten Ways to Increase Your Twitter Followers [TechCrunch]