To Follow or Not To Follow, That is the Question

Posted by Mark Thompson - November 10, 2010 - Social Media - 13 Comments

Whenever I am trying to educate a social media client, I find that they all seem to ask the same question in regards to Twitter.  How do I know who to follow and who not to follow?  That is a great question and frankly there is no exact answer to that question.  However their are a set of guidelines you can follow to help you engage with people who are worth engaging with on a regular basis.

Profile

Hands down, your profile is one of the most important and basic aspects to your Twitter presence.  It is your 140 character summary of who you are and what your interests are. Usually if I notice that someone didn’t even take the time to fill out a brief bio about themselves, I don’t even bother following them.  If they don’t even take the 2 minutes to fill out their profile, what makes you think they will go the extra mile to build meaningful relationships?

Depending on the goals you have for your Twitter strategy, try to build relationships with people who have similar interests and passions as you do.  Usually I only follow people who have similar interests in the Internet Marketing space.  You should also take the time to check out the URL they provide to their website or blog.  You can get a much better feel for the person and their credibility by looking at their personal site.


Followers/Following Ratio

Your Twitter authority has a large bearing on how many people are following you vs you following others.  If all you are doing is following as many people as you can, to try and get others to follow you back, that is a red flag for someone you don’t want to follow.  A good rule of thumb is to follow people who have at least a 2/1 (or close to it) followers/following ratio.  This is a good ratio that can gauge if the user is somewhat credible and serious about social media.  Of course these rules are not set in stone….there are many times that I follow people with a 1/1 followers/following ratio.  If they meet the other criteria I look look at, I will still follow them.

Tweets/ Followers Ratio

This is probably the easiest way to tell if someone is a spammer or an actual user looking to make relationships.  If you notice that someone has 2,000, 5,000, or 10,000 fans and 0 tweets, 10 tweets, or even 100 tweets…then obviously they are mass following people.  Nobody can build meaningful relationships with thousands of people by only a handful of tweets.

I’d like to think that a good ratio for Tweets/Followers would be 2/1 or 3/1.  Again this is not something set in stone, but as long as you see that the user has a certain number of tweets that is around equal or more than the number of followers; this means they are fairly active.  Just be careful for the mass follower who is in it, just to get as many followers as possible.

Quality of Tweets

I also do what I call the “Eye Test”, which just means that you view the latest 10-15 tweets of theirs.  You can get a quick idea of the type of Tweeter their are by looking at their most recent tweets.  Are they ReTweeting a lot?  Are they @ messaging people?  Are they sharing only their content or others content as well?

If you notice that they are just a self promoter, not really engaging with others or sharing others content, then it is probably someone you want to stay away from.  Odds are if you start following them, they probably won’t share your content or want to truly connect.

Look out for the Tweeters who just syndicate RSS feeds as their posts.  Many spammers do this to try and make it look like they are being active on Twitter, but all they are doing is auto-posting RSS feeds from relevant blogs.  Usually their tweets will all follow the same format and show no uniqueness or @mentions in their tweets.

Now that I shared how I evaluate whether or not I am going to follow someone on Twitter, it’s your turn to share what factors you look at when deciding on whether to follow someone.

About the Author

Mark Thompson

Mark is the creator of StayOnSearch and president of Search Creatively, a full-service Internet Marketing Company located in Raleigh, North Carolina. He also contributes to many industry related blogs including Search Engine Journal and is active on Facebook and Twitter. Follow Mark on Twitter
13 comments
Pippa
Pippa

I've had a rash of people following me with loads of likers and never even tweeted, this is guaranteed to make me not follow you. I don't see the point in these kinds of accounts. After receiving notifcation of someone following me I will always check out their profile, just as you suggest. Thanks for sharing

Roko Nastic
Roko Nastic

Those are exactly the same factors I take into account when deciding whom to follow. Currently, Tweets/ Followers Ratio is the one I skip as tweet counter is broken for the last few days on a lot of profiles. On my profile it shows 23 tweets instead of 2000.

Tracey Drain
Tracey Drain

Some solid, sensible advice here Mark. The main one I use a lot is the follower/tweet ratio and checking out the last few tweets to make sure they are not a bot. Although I have to confess to having more simply because I follow a few news / information sites and tweeters along with some humorous parody accounts that are simply not going to follow back - I follow because I'm naturally nosy and if my feed is just SEM and SEO tweets I would become dull and boring - all work and no play n all that. To stop tweets getting "lost in the noise", twitter lists are good to split them out. I also use "Qwitter" to monitor who unfollows - that way I can see accounts that follow just to get a follow back to build follower numbers. And it also gives me a good indication of which of my tweets upset people!

Kristi Hines
Kristi Hines

As noted by my stats, I follow most people back. And I do this on auto follow so that people can DM me. Yes, I get a LOT of spam, but lately, I have also had lots of quality interaction as well. I typically purge my account of people who never update or people who are straight up spammers, hence why I have a slight larger amount of followers than following, but overall, that's the strategy I stick with. It comes in handy to give people the ability to DM me by following them, as some people send me messages that really do need to be private, and not publicly tweeted.

Ken Kowal
Ken Kowal

Nice post - my advice is to stop following too many people. You will get more out of twitter since the good stuff will not be lost in the noise.

Extreme John
Extreme John

I really don't spend much time looking for people to follow. At this point I follow people that follow me that either interact with me or have a solid history of interacting with others. Especially if it specifically applies to me, but in all I keep who I follow pretty clean and tight.

John Soares
John Soares

Mark, I think this is sound advice. I've only been active on Twitter for the last few months, but I have one rule in addition to yours: I don't follow people who are in dubious businesses (in my opinion). This means I usually look at the website and actually see what they're doing and how they're doing it. I do look at the Followers/Following ratio, but, as you say, it's not a clear indicator of quality.

Mark Thompson
Mark Thompson

Thanks Ryan for the suggestion. I will def check it out.

Mark Thompson
Mark Thompson

Thats a really good point. I think if people use the strategy you follow, it is important to do a little house cleaning on your account and unfollow users who are not active or you don't engage with often. Personally I don't follow everyone that follows me, but as long as you seem like an actual human (not automated tweets) and have similar interests I will follow them back.

Mark Thompson
Mark Thompson

I agree Ken! Its amazing how certain people are following 103,000....i mean are you seriously engaging with over 100,000 people?? I find it hard to keep up with 2,500 people!

Mark Thompson
Mark Thompson

Yeah I think once you get to a certain point, people will start to find you...not the other way around. I think it is still important to follow people back who may still be starting out (we were all there once). For me it could be a great way to introduce new readers to my blog and engage with them :-)

Mark Thompson
Mark Thompson

I agree with what you were saying about dubious businesses. If their website looks suspect or if it rubs me the wrong way, I usually will not follow them. I guess another side of this is just to follow your initial gut impression.