I love it when there’s a method to my madness, even if I don’t know it exists.
I recently received a DM from a new Twitter follower, asking me how I came to follow him. I told him that Twitter actually suggested the connection, and I follow all journalists I see in my feed or who are recommended through the platform’s automatic features. He agreed, saying he does the same thing.
It’s interesting that we both use this approach to following people on Twitter, even though I hadn’t realized I even had a method. The more I thought about it, I realized that my philosophy on who to follow on Twitter has changed as my use of the platform developed.
A ‘Follow’ Philosophy
Pros have continued an ongoing debate about the best approach to following people on Twitter. From what I can tell, there are three general philosophies about who to follow.
1. Follow everyone
The first philosophy is that you should follow back everyone who follows you. This approach was more popular when Twitter was younger, probably because there were fewer spam accounts on the site then. I used this method when I was new to Twitter and building my following.
Pros: The typical arguments for why you should follow everyone back are manners and engagement. It is good manners to follow and engage with those who follow you. This reciprocity is a hallmark of the social media community. Following everyone means you will receive an array of information, some of which you may not previously have realized interests you. It also likely will mean that you’ll get more followers. People follow people who follow them back.
Cons: If you choose this method, you are likely to end up following spam accounts. You also will fill your Twitter feed with content that has little use or interest to you and isn’t worth resharing with your followers. In general, I discourage this approach for these reasons.
2. Vet follows
The second approach is to vet who you follow back, striking a balance by keeping the number of follows slightly lower than the number of followers. I generally use this approach. I look at each account that follows mine, read the bio and the last few tweets by that person, and decide if their content is something that interests me and might benefit my audience . It helps me avoid following spam accounts or those with content that doesn’t interest me. I can manage relationships better and be exposed to a lot of information without filling my feed with spam.
Pros: You get more specific content that interests you and your audience. This means the content you choose to reshare will have more value to your audience. You also can begin developing real relationships with the people in your feed.
Cons: The number of people you follow can grow quickly, making it difficult to maintain individual, engaged connections. Dunbar’s number tells us that an individual can only actively maintain about 150 relationships. Even if you consider your social relationships separate from your relationships offline, it still is likely that you have more than 150 connections on Twitter alone.
3. Follow exclusively
The manageability of social networks resulted back in 2011 in some well-known social media figures unfollowing the majority of the people they had followed. Chris Brogan wrote about his “great Twitter unfollow.” Michael Hyatt also wrote about his decision to unfollow more than 100,000 accounts. At the time, it seemed hypocritical for those who built their companies, in part, by amassing followers to perform these mass unfollows. However, I now think that was a knee-jerk reaction by people who perhaps didn’t like being unfollowed or thought this approach was elitist.
Pros: You can engage in meaningful ways with your carefully selected followers, avoiding time waste and creating deeper connections. You also appear to have greater influence if you aren’t following a lot of people, but many people are following you.
Cons: This honestly won’t work for a lot of people. Most of us aren’t well-known enough to build a large following without following people back. Also, you may seem less approachable and be exposed to limited content this way. Personally, I unfollow people I don’t know who choose not to follow me back. Well, except for Oprah. I’ll still follow her.
I’m sure these aren’t the only three approaches to deciding who to follow back on Twitter. A lot of us probably use some hybrid approach or have varied our philosophies at different times during our Twitter lifecycle. But following everyone, vetting followers or following exclusively seem to be the three major philosophies people adopt.
What about you? What is your approach to deciding who to follow on Twitter? Have you always done it this way?
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