As a self-proclaimed Twitter addict, I've been mucking about with proper Twitter etiquette, including some basic Best Practices. To that list, let's add the following:
- As time allows, send a direct message to each new follower, welcoming him/her to your Twitter stream. If you have time, click on their Twitter page and make a personal comment on their content, for example:
As I've taken to extending these personalized welcome direct messages, I've noticed a few things. First, about 30% of the time, the new follower sends a return Tweet, and we have a nice get-to-know-you exchange. Once you amass over 1,000 followers, this exchange can be extremely helpful in distinguishing one follower from another.
That being said, a few days ago, after welcoming a new follower via direct message, this was returned to me:
Euuuw. This kind of response makes it sound as if he only follows people so that they will follow him back (and having lots of Twitter followers gets you... what, exactly?). And if they don't, so long! His behavior struck me as a rather self-centered and self-serving use of what is at heart a powerful tool for building community and engaging in conversation. Is that common? Do people really only follow someone in the hopes of being followed back and then drop them when that doesn't happen?
I was curious--am I living in Twitter la-la land where I imagine everyone is in it for the community, but truly, the rest of Twitter is engaged in some kind of middle-school playground popularity contest?
So I threw a few questions up on my own Twitter as a sort of informal poll:
- How many people can one person realistically follow on Twitter, anyway? At this point, I'm following 377 people, and I had previously capped my Follow Overload Rate at 200 (but then some of you were just so darn interesting that I had to add you, anyway... ) So I polled the brightest and best of the Twitterati (well, put out a Tweet as a poll), asking exactly that. Responses varied from Steve Furman's 35 to BCBeatty's 200, and IrafromSyosset made the distinction of those he follows "distinctly" versus "broadly" (10 versus 50). Several folks commented that their decision to follow might depend on how often the person Tweets--if it's fewer than five a day, the follow decision is easy. If it's someone who posts 10+ times a day, they might weigh the follow decision more carefully.
- Never minding the practicality of the followee's attention span, when you follow someone, what is your level of expectation for a return follow? Answers to this question were universally polite and humble, with nearly every response echoing that while a return follow is nice, it's never to be expected. JMCampbell offered: "none blankly. if I think it may be interesting, I'll follow for a week then decide keep or go." Cosine replied: "Getting a follow-back is just a little boost to the ego. It doesn't really mean anything and certainly should not be expected" And Encaf1 pointed out a distinction: "Mutual follow is highly dependent on target; celebrity/news: no expectation; fan/friend/mutual acquaintance: hi expectation." (with a "celebrity" being defined as people with a "large number of follows and I don't know them personally") And I think JasonKW hit it right on the head with "I only expect a return follow if the person is interested in what I tweet. I don't follow just to be followed back."
So it's not just me--expecting a follow back just because you chose to follow someone, whether she be a celebrity or just Ann from Pig Holler Creek, just isn't how Twitter works. Follow someone because you find him interesting, because you find her amusing, because his Tweets are informative or because you actually know her in person.
If you really want to build your Twitter following, look here. Otherwise, just follow people you find interesting and engaging. Truly, why would you want to waste your life following someone who isn't?