The importance of following on Twitter

In its early years, Twitter etiquette expected you to follow everyone who followed you. Those days are long gone (by at least a few years!). You are free to follow whichever accounts you want. You can follow as many or as few as you want.

But you should place an importance on following other Twitter accounts–especially those by real people (not conventional celebrities, the famous for being famous or the online famous) and organizations that interact with followers.

Following is an integral part of what makes Twitter tick and how it made its mark by setting itself apart from other social media. Following on Twitter is important.

When I made a fuss recently about an organization’s low count of followers, I was most surprised by the number of people–some quite strongly–who didn’t agree with the importance I placed on the city’s number of followers.

I’ll now respond to some of the arguments about why follower numbers are irrelevant in greater detail than is possible in a tweet.

Following is a meaningless gesture

For some it may be but for myself and others who have experienced the power of Twitter, following is meaningful. I think about who I follow and why I follow. They are people or organizations that share interesting information of value. I look at their follower count and recent tweets to determine how likely they are to be engaged with others on Twitter.

Number of followers is a poor metric 

I’m a strong believer in quality over quantity in social media. I’m not easily impressed by huge number of followers. I’m more likely to follow someone with less than 100 followers than I am to follow someone with 65,000 followers. I might follow them both but I know that I’m more likely to interact with someone who follows a smaller number. I advise people getting started to follow real people and not celebrities because regular folks are much more likely to respond, to follow them and to interact with the content they share. I also recommend regularly looking at your followers to weed out spam accounts and decide if there is any other reason why you might block an account–including if there is no logic to the follow and you want to be sure your follower count isn’t inflated by accounts that don’t add value to Twitter or whom you’re not likely to ever interact.

Following nobody is unacceptable

But I since I believe that respecting Twitter and its culture is important, following nobody is unacceptable. So how many is enough? I don’t think that there is a set number or even a set percentage. But if you are an organization that is trying to get people to actively support it or to be engaged in their community, you need to be following real people and more than just a handful. If you have a list of almost 3,000 followers, you should be able to find a “good” number of accounts to follow. You can probably find more that aren’t following you already but who you would like to make a connection.

There is not one single way to use Twitter

Agreed but I believe there are best practices. Individuals should use them to get the greatest benefit possible out of Twitter. Organizations should  use them to ensure that they are making the most out of Twitter and to show they are interested in being present and value what others have to say. Do you have to follow what I consider to be best practices? Even though my opinion is formed by following many leading social media thinkers, no you do not. But if you don’t, I’m also convinced you miss out on the real power of Twitter.

You can listen and engage people without following

Yes, you can but you shouldn’t. Sure you can use hashtags, Twitter search terms and other techniques for listening and hopefully you are responding to people when they mention you. In fact, these are things your organization should be doing. But is that really enough to be considered being social? I raise the bar higher and suggest it’s necessary to be proactive, to listen to the voices talking about you or your issues on Twitter and to interact with them without waiting for them to engage first. On that last point, I think it’s better to respond to a post if the person knows you are following them–instead of through other forms of “listening.”

And if an organization is using @twitterhandle only as a way for people to contact them, they get some benefit from Twitter but they also miss out on how Twitter can build relationships and community. You already can contact organizations in many ways. You can do so much more with Twitter by communicating proactively and talking to so many more people at once. Why would you restrict it to mainly being just another point of contact?

There are many examples of people (usually celebrities) or companies that don’t follow many, if any, people

True. But they are not role models for using Twitter as a social tool. They are simply applying old school broadcasting techniques to a new medium. Sure it might feel like Ashton Kutcher is sharing his life directly with you, but the beauty of Twitter is connecting with people who want to know about your life, who you are and what you think. We all have some broadcast accounts we follow but active folks on Twitter place a high value on the exchange of ideas and the connections made with others.

Organizations want to demonstrate their expertise and build support. They want to reach out to more people as cost-effectively as possible. But why should any of their followers care if the organization doesn’t show that it is interested enough to follow more than a handful of people.

Embrace Twitter as a broadcast medium

Yes, Twitter can be an effective broadcast medium. Sometimes, it might even be acceptable for certain accounts or specific purposes.

Conclusion

Value following to get the most out of Twitter

As a confessed Twitter addict, what I love about it are the people. I have connected with so many people who share my professional and personal interests. I am confident that the vast majority of these people–including many I now consider to be friends–would not be in my life if I was not on Twitter. My life is now richer because of the people I have chosen to follow or who I learned about when they chose to follow me.

Organizations are also built upon their relationships. They always have been. Now your organization has a chance to make relationships with people it would not have reached before. Now your organization has a chance to know what people are thinking. Years ago, you would have paid huge sums for these opportunities. Take advantage of what Twitter offers your organization. By injecting new people into your organization and strengthening ties with existing supporters, your organization can be rich by growing your network.

I’m convinced the organizations that get the most out of Twitter are those that value following. I’ll continue to prefer following organizations that demonstrate they understand Twitter by the value they place on following.

Learn more about social media & Twitter

Want to learn more about how to get the most out of Twitter, check out my best posts on how to use it. For an understanding of how to get the most out of any form of social media, check out my fundamentals of social media series

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