Last week, I was consulting with a client on Twitter best practices. We were discussing balancing their account’s Followers and Following counts and the prevalent practice of reciprocity on Twitter. That is, the tendency for many tweeple to reflexively follow those who follow them, and consequentially, be used by others to run up their follower counts. My advice is to steer clear of this little game. Here’s three quick reasons why:
1) Followers don’t equal influence. As new research indicates, the number of followers you have doesn’t directly translate to being retweeted or mentioned in any meaningful way (solid indicators of your influence.) To get the most bang for your Twitter buck (aka effort), I think it’s better to have your tweets resonate with fewer interested parties than to fall on a greater number of deaf ears.
2) You’re judged by the company you keep. There are plenty of tweeple out there who like to strut their tens of thousands of followers. And while some of them have earned those followers and do a respectable job of providing value to them, there are also many who have clearly been gaming the tacit rule of reciprocity. The result is a stable of followers that are all over the board interest-wise. That works for Ashton and Oprah, or Starbucks and Target, but if you’re a B2B technology marketer using Twitter to build substantive relationships, cull the riff-raff out of your own Follower list and be discriminating in who you follow. Then, when people look at your Followers list as a litmus test of your relevancy, they’ll clearly see that people just like them have deemed you worthy of following.
3) Affirm your authenticity. Gaming the system makes you look like, well, a player. Don’t be seduced by the sheer number of your followers. While you can certainly reach out to new people with the hope of attracting them as followers, combing the Twittersphere for every camgirl or “Get Rich At Home” Guru as cheap follows stands to diminish your reputation online.
What to do and what to avoid.
I advise clients to avoid using auto-follow features afforded by many Twitter tools like SocialOomph. If you haven’t tried one, these tools can be set to automatically follow back those who follow you. Don’t get me wrong, SocialOomph does some good things, but the auto-follow feature is one I don’t advocate. While you can vet Followers, I find that more junk comes in. During a three-week test of that feature, I found a distinct uptick in my Follower count, but also found that I was weeding through followers of questionable relevance. I got the sense that the word was on the street that I was good for a cheap follow. For some reason, I had five wig companies follow me within a week. Go figure.
When you make your decisions on who to follow back, there are indicators that can help you make that manual decision. Various Twitter tools/services calculate equations to determine the relevance or influence of a Twitter user. Simplified, users that have more followers than they follow are typically more desirable. HootSuite’s nifty Klout rating is a convenient 1-100 rating that lets you quickly identify quality tweeple. Mind you, it doesn’t say that they’re specifically relevant to your subject area, but it does provide a simple visual cue to those who are more or less likely to be spammy gamers.
If some of your Followers are overextended — following a thousand people and being followed by 100 — just avoid them. Likewise, if you choose to extend yourself and follow new people in your industry with the hopes of inviting them to follow you, be sure a) they’re relevant to your cause and b) you do so in reasonable stages. Don’t go out and follow 500 people hoping to return to equilibrium soon. You’ll quickly look like one of the spammers I just told you to avoid. Chunks of 20 or 30 people at a time max. Once you prime the pump and continue to post content, you’ll find that Followers will naturally, well, follow.
If you’re a casual Twitter user looking to get more value from the medium, and you haven’t started using a management tool, I propose that it’s time to make the move. TweetDeck and HootSuite happen to be my favorites. HootSuite affords a really nice single-console view into your traffic, click stats and user profiles that don’t open a crazy series of popup windows. Quality tools like these can help you refine the quality of your Twitter effort.