Folks who’ve been on Twitter since Twitter began have developed their own rules for who to follow. Sometimes, the strategy is straightforward and laser-focused; sometimes, it is convoluted and unfathomable. Those who are new to Twitter are bombarded with advice – much of it bad advice – on who to follow. Here’s mine:
#1 Rule of Who to Follow on Twitter? People whose tweets you enjoy. That is, follow people you’d follow whether they ever noticed you or not – simply because you enjoy reading their tweets and checking out the things they share. You share interests with them; they may not know you, but they “get” you.
After that, it’s all personal preference. Here are some of the things I consider in following or unfollowing people on Twitter:
- Family or Friends? If they’re family or close personal friends, I follow – unless they ask me not to. It would be nice if they followed me back, but it’s not a requirement.
- Colleagues? If they’re colleagues and they tweet interesting, re-shareable stuff, I follow. It would be nice if they followed me back, but it’s not a requirement.
- Authors, Publishers, Librarians? If they’re professionals in my field (or a related field, such as artists, illustrators, photographers, book designers, editors, publishers, or librarians) I follow. I’d like it if they’d follow back, of course. And at some point, if we fail to make any real connection, I may unfollow, but as long as they’re active, share shareable stuff, engage with their followers, aren’t obnoxiously self-centered, and don’t play the numbers game, I probably won’t.
- Potential Customers? Not just “readers” – though all authors would love to believe this! Here’s where I consider whether someone has expressed an interest in reading books like the ones I write. Do they have kids? Do they enjoy reading to or with their kids? Do they like short stories? I follow for a bit, see if we strike up a conversation. I don’t pounce on them with “BuymybookbuymybookNOW!!” but I may find ways to let them know my books exist, and hope that they welcome that information.
What, you ask, is the numbers game? If someone follows you just until you follow them back, then – within a few days – unfollows you again, odds are, they’re playing the numbers game: pumping up their Followers stats and manipulating their ratio of Followed to Following in order to look “popular.” That, or they got you to follow back just long enough to send you a private Direct Message (DM) promoting their latest thing for sale. This is a practice loved by narcissists, spammers, and Twitter-bots. Everybody else hates it, so try hard never to be mistaken for one of those.
When it comes to people who followed me first, I’ll check them out. I’ll probably follow, provided none of the following are true:
- Their 160-character Twitter bio contains or mentions any of the following: MLM, “social media guru,” “thought leader,” something religious and smarmy, hate towards any group, how to get a gazillion followers for any price that isn’t free, an affiliate link to anything, gratuitous references to sex, profanity.
- Their bio or last 20 tweets are boring or lacking in personality. (Nothing personal here – I don’t go onto Twitter to learn “best practices in accounting,” I don’t have pets, and my kids are decades out of diapers – but others may be intensely interested in and passionate about these things. What’s boring to me may be exactly what someone else is looking for, and that’s why diversity is a wonderful thing!)
- Their profile image is any of the following: an egg, a half-naked person in a sexually provocative pose, currency, drugs/drug paraphernalia, an obscene gesture; an unflattering caricature of a politician I like, a stiff and unnatural “glamour shot,” someone else’s face – just to name a few. I prefer real people.
- Their cover image is of: them enjoying drinks on a beach with their private plane standing by in the background, fistsful of currency, in-your-face ads for MLM programs or other online money-making ventures, children/animals being maimed or abused, scenes involving sex, gore, or violence.
- The bulk of their last 10 tweets are obscene, rude, excessively self-serving, demonstrate hate towards anyone.
- Their last 20 tweets read like they’re having a conversation with the imaginary people in their heads – and it’s not an interesting one when you can only read one side of it.
- Their last 10 tweets are nothing but stats on who followed, unfollowed, or got followed or unfollowed by them.
- Their last 10 tweets are “how to buy followers.”
- Their last 20 tweets are retweets.
- Their last 10 tweets are regurgitated quotations.
That’s my personal checklist – you go make up your own! I’m sure I’ve made an exception or two. Seriously, though, check people out before following back “just to be nice.” You don’t want to be accidentally following a pornbot or a “throw-away” account set up just to send you spam. There are many of those on Twitter and other sites!
When you follow someone on Twitter, you amplify their voice. You give them an opportunity to stand on your soapbox and use your megaphone to talk to all your other followers. This is a good thing – a kind thing – provided you’re good with what they’re saying and selling.
Remember that the best way to ensure that someone reads your tweets, though, is to call them out by name: Use the @ mention feature to ensure that they get notified of your tweet. This works whether they are following you or not. Don’t abuse the @ mention feature or you risk looking like a spammer.
The next best way to ensure that someone notices you is to retweet their messages – if you like them, share them with your other followers.
Use the Quote Retweet feature to add your own thoughts and @ mentions – the most powerful way to show you noticed others and to be noticed by them, and it will be clear that you’re interested in the topic and mean to have a conversation. Beware of Quote Retweet spam, and don’t abuse the feature lest you be confused with those who do.
Finding People to Follow or Unfollow
First, there’s Twitter search. You can enter a few keywords here and find accounts or tweets from people who share your interests.
Next, there are some sites that help you do this. Some of my favorites include:
These help by reading your followers and grouping them by those who don’t follow back, those who are no longer active on Twitter, those you’re not following back, etc. They let you make faster, but more informed decisions when cleaning up the lists of accounts you follow or don’t. Don’t do anything in “bulk” – review the accounts and make deliberate decisions. You don’t want to accidentally unfollow Dad, just because he forgets to log in to Twitter more than twice a year, or because his account got hijacked by a spambot.