Thursday, August 6, 2009

Twitter: To Follow Or Not To Follow, That Is the Question

New User Interface Coming to FriendFeedImage by Thomas Hawk via Flickr
By now, you may be aware of a movement within the Twitter community. Let us call it The Great Unfollow. I first learned about it from Robert Scoble who posted an announcement on Friendfeed. He wrote that he was in the process of unfollowing 100,000 people. I was confused. What do you mean you are going to unfollow 100,000 people? I thought. Why? I asked.

Scoble responded, "Damond: only on twitter. Twitter has become overrun with spam and noise. It's a huge change from a year ago. Autofollowing made it worse (I tried to do that for DM reasons, but DMs now are full of spam). Anyway, this gets Twitter manageable for me again. - Robert Scoble"

You must understand that Scoble's original theory on following everyone made perfect sense to me. In fact, after months of maintaining a small number of follows, I decided to follow his lead. Days into my campaign, he tells the world that he was wrong and Loic was right. Following 100,000 was not the gem he once thought it was, but what does that mean for the rest of us? Should we take his experiences and embark on the Great Unfollow, too?

In this article, I would like to look at the pros and cons of this decision, maybe it will help both you and I decide what is best.

To Follow: Pros


  • Larger number of followers: Through first hand experience, I notice that when I follow those that follow me, I earn more followers.

  • Meet Interesting People: When you follow other people, you increase the chances of meeting new people with great stories and valuable information.

  • Extend Your Reach: With follows, which leads to more followers, you get an opportunity to expand the distance your message travels. Good content that serves others will be passed around.

  • Build a Loyal Fan Base: Long-term relationships with people is a two-way street. Asking people to follow without reciprocation says that you are not interested in them or the possibility of getting to know them. Have you seen the excitement some have when a celebrity follows them back? It means something to people that you care enough to return the favor. I believe when you follow someone back, you build connections that may lead to loyalty.
To Follow: Cons

  • Increased Spam: When two people create a dual connection using follow/follower, the door to Direct Messaging (DM) is wide open. Those Twitter users that spam can easily fill your DM and e-mail inbox with unwanted solicitations. With only 1,800 follows, I get a fair share of "junk mail" and can only imagine what it must be like for someone following 100,000 people.

  • Fewer Interactions: Looking at a Twitter stream when you follow thousands of people is difficult. By the time you finish reading one page, you are already 10 pages behind. How can you engage when you can hardly keep up?

  • Not Using System As Intended: The value of Twitter, according to the company, is in the interactions between people. The magic number is 2,000 people. Anything more than that leads to pure noise. In order to keep up, users resort to third-party (Seesmic, TweetDeck, and PeopleBrowsr) applications which goes beyond the vision of the original application.
To Not Follow: Pros

  • Deeper Engagement: When the number of follows is low, Twitter users can pay close attention to tweets shared by others.

  • More Responsive: Because users follow a more intimate number of people, you can be more responsive to the needs of others.

  • Less Spam: With fewer people comes fewer spammers, which means a nice and orderly inbox reserved for more meaningful messages.
To Not Follow: Cons

  • Group Think: When you avoid new people and only talk with a small number of associates, there is little chance for new ideas outside the group.

  • Slow Growth: In a time where people turn to blogging as a form of communication, growing a subscription is important. Without a following, due to reciprocated follows, companies and individuals seeking to develop their brand may grow slower than those who actively engage with others.

  • Diminished Reach: Without followers, your awesome message is heard by few. In order to expand your reach, people must first know the message exists.

  • Poor Reputation: Social networking is about remaining open to receive new people from all walks of life. When individuals are perceived to be distant or anti-social, they may lose "cool points." While celebrities are just people, they are known for how they treat the "little people." If you treat people right, they will do the same for you.
Conclusion
Based on my experiences and goals, I see an advantage in following back when someone follows me. While I may not be able to engage as much as I would like with everyone, I can use third-party applications to manage conversations around topics, not just people (Louis Gray). For those individuals and topics that I want to see, I can quickly add them to groups or search results. These options are available in Friendfeed, Facebook, and applications like Tweetdeck.

For companies and individuals with established brands, it may not matter how many people you follow. Take Oprah for example, as of today she follows only 15 people but maintains 1,990,538 followers. It may not matter to her, but can aspiring brands say the same?

I am very interested in hearing your views on the follow/not follow debate. Where do you stand?

Until next time...


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Damond L. Nollan, M.B.A.

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