If you hang out on Twitter for a bit, you are inevitably faced with a decision. “How many of these people following me should I follow back?” If you do research on the topic, you’ll find that there are plenty of blog posts on the subject. You’re also likely to find that many of these blog posts implore you to do everything that particular way. Many of these posts sort of deride other ways of approaching the great following/unfollowing question.
In the end, it’s kind of silly to get so worked up about these things, and besides, in the end it really comes down to how you want your Twitter world to turn. So let’s talk about some pros and cons of some of the advice you’ll encounter out there.
Follow anyone back who follows you
A lot of people believe that in the world of Twitter, you should follow back everyone who follows you. This is why a lot of people feel okay turning to automated systems. These systems will auto-follow back, and then if that account goes inactive or seems spammy, the automated program will also unfollow for you.
The logic behind this concept is that you can offend people if you do not follow them back, so it is a sort of developing online etiquette.
Now, I have never really been a proponent of this particular approach. I have felt from my very earliest days on Twitter that a lot of the “noise” people complain about results from following everyone that follows them. There are a lot of people who use Twitter more like a broadcast channel and less like a communication tool. They will tweet out their posts over and over again and do little else. Even if you read their posts once or twice, the rest of the tweets become white noise in your stream. Many of these accounts are also just after the numbers. They want to follow you specifically because they want you to follow them, and it’s not a compliment – you’re another “follower” on their growing list.
People defend against that kind of argument by noting that you can sort people into lists and just review peoples’ tweets that you are interested in. I do that to some extent – I peep in on chats or study my reply page. Much like I suffer over in Google Plus land, my problem is that I do not have the time, patience, or inclination to sort people, so this approach does not work well for me. If you are a person who loves Twitter lists, you may find that this approach is extremely easy and sensible.
Only follow back a select few
In contrast to this perspective is the idea that you should be extraordinarily selective in who you follow back. As in, if you have thousands of followers, you’d only be following back about 200 people.
If you are worried about Twitter noise, or if you have a really specific purpose for your Twitter account, I can see how this approach would make sense. However, it can also be easy for this kind of approach to get you labeled as an “elitist” or a “snob.” If you do not define what motivates you to follow some people but not others, those “others” may be kind of ticked. Such is life, but if you are aiming not to ruffle any feathers, this approach can be kind of risky.
Follow back (or not) on an individual basis
The last way I’ve heard about dealing with the following/unfollowing issue is the way I approach the matter. From the very beginning, I happened to fall into the habit of looking at peoples’ profiles, looking at how they were tweeting, and deciding if I wanted to follow them. If you don’t have a bio or an avatar, that will lean me towards not following you. If all you do is broadcast your own stuff – I probably won’t follow you. If I have talked to you in a chat or just in the regular stream, I’ll likely follow you even if you haven’t followed me first.
Now the advantage to this for me is that I know that there is a reason for every person I see in my home stream. I don’t have to worry about super spammy accounts in there unless a person gets hacked. The disadvantages, of course, are a blend of the first two approaches. You can end up following a lot of people, which can get to be hard to manage, and you can end up hurting some peoples’ feelings because you don’t follow them back. It’s also time-consuming to go through and see who you want to follow and who you don’t – perhaps even more time-consuming than stuffing people into lists. But, that’s the way that works for me.
So now it’s your turn. What have you tried? What’s your philosophy? What works and what doesn’t? Let’s talk about it!
Image by Diego Sinning. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/dsigning