I have to admit it: Though I write frequently about the benefits of using social media as a business tool, I’m a minimalist social media user for my own part. There are a lot of things I’ve never done, and one of them is that I’ve never sent out a Follow Friday list. Follow Friday, for anyone who doesn’t know, is a tradition in which Twitter users list other Twitter users whom they recommend be followed, marked with the hashtag #FF. It all began about three years ago with a single tweet by social entrepreneur and author Micah Baldwin: “I am starting Follow Fridays. Every Friday, suggest a person to follow, and everyone follow him/her.”

Today, #FF is a widespread phenomenon on Twitter and has spawned variants for every day of the week, from Shun Sundays (when you unfollow those you regret having followed on Friday) to #WW, which variously may mean Weird Wednesday, Wine Wednesday, or Writer Wednesday, depending on your point of view. Probably because I’m the vice president of a big writers’ organization, I get #FF and #WW recommendations every now and then. I’ve never been sure how to respond, so I figured writing this blog post would be a good excuse to do a little research into the pros and cons of Follow Friday.

I started out a skeptic, but after asking my Twitter contacts and writer buddies their opinion, I’m more than convinced I should take the time to do Follow Friday myself. Here’s why:

1. #FF may beget #FF. People you’ve given a #FF recommendation may do the same for you.

2. It may raise your Twitter ranking. I’m far from expert on how the various social media ranking systems make their calculations, but it can apparently help your ranking to have a high “gratitude” index, and also to tweet live links, which makes these algorithms believe your tweets have significant content. Sending out #FF lists helps on both counts.

3. You can help promote your favorite group. If you’re part of a tight-knit association, group, or club (as I am with ASJA) sending out #FF lists of group members should build followers for all of you as the group’s members follow each other. That should also make Twitter more relevant to you, presuming you care what your group members have to say. Sending out #FF lists of group members can facilitate and speed the process, and also promote the group to the outside world.

4. It’s a nice way to say “Thank you!” If someone has retweeted one of your posts or included you in a #FF list, putting that person in a #FF list is a nice way to say thank you and reciprocate.

5. It may increase your own following. I was doubtful about this, but one writer I know who’s an expert Twitter user and sends out #FF lists regularly reports that #FF is a “significant” source of new followers for her.

Ready to try it? There are a few dos and don’ts for effective Follow Friday-ing. For instance, even though you’re stuck with only 140 characters, DO NOT just send out a list of @ names with no indication of who the users are or why anyone should follow them. A word or two is great, and if you can, you should consider grouping people in some way, such as: “#FF-Great chefs w/links to recipes:” to make it super-easy for your followers to decide whether these accounts are worth following. It should go without saying that you should never #FF someone unless you’ve checked that person out and he or she really is sending out useful tweets. In almost all cases, it should be someone you yourself are following as well.

There are tools out there that can help you speed the #FF process. My writer friend recommends Follow Friday Helper, which is free, and looks like a good choice to me, though I plan to keep my #FF process manual for now. Keep in mind that, just as there are right and wrong ways for you yourself to do a Follow Friday, there are right and wrong ways for software to do it as well. So before you use any tool, make sure that it’s selecting legitimate accounts that you really would like to recommend.

Finally, despite their many benefits, make sure that #FF or other recommendation lists don’t constitute all or even most of your Twitter messages. That’s a sure way to annoy your followers, especially since there are many people on Twitter who consider #FF lists a waste of timeline space. Make sure to balance your #FF recommendations by tweeting a lot of other useful info as well.