My Twitter Follow-Back Policy/Strategy

There are two type of Twitter users. I call them “generators” and “consumers”. Almost everyone on twitter both reads and generates tweets, but the purpose they are using twitter for usually falls distinctly into one of the two categories – and once you know the category you are in optimizing for your goal requires very different behaviors.

Twitter Consumers

Most people on Twitter are Twitter Consumers. This group primarily uses Twitter for content discovery. Their best interest is in following content generators that generate the content they are interested in. Those generators could be traditional media companies, individuals who create their own content (often celebrities of one kind or another) or individuals that act as curators of other content. No matter the specifics Twitter Consumers want to follow the right mix of people/companies to ensure their Twitter feed is full of interesting content that is worth reading: That’s the whole point. Twitter Consumers will still tweet themselves and share that content with others who choose to follow them – in effect they become curators as well – but that’s the not purpose of Twitter. In general Twitter Consumers will follow many more people then choose to follow them, but that’s fine and it doesn’t matter. Twitter limits on the maximum number of people they can follow are irrelevant. Whether someone follows them back is irrelevant. All that matters is if their Twitter feed is interesting (and they have no hesitation unfollowing someone who is sharing bad content)

Twitter Generators

Twitter Generators are a different animal. The goal of Generators is to create or share content and have that content shared as widely as possible. They may or may not have an economic interest in having their content shared, but the goal is the same. They want people to read what they are writing. So the goal of Generators is to

  1. Have a large number of followers
  2. Have followers who are engaged enough to read their tweets
  3. Have followers who are engaged enough to re-tweet their tweets

The best way to get a large following on Twitter is to be Lady Gaga (or Justin Bieber or Barack Obama or Tom Peters). Basically be famous in real life and you will almost automatically be famous on Twitter. But if you aren’t famous in real life and you want to build a large Twitter following you are left with doing the hard work yourself. One way is to pay for ads on Twitter. I tried that. I run a couple of simple ads and pay Twitter about 10-cents for every follower I earn. It works, but it is very very slow (it would be a lot faster at $1 a follower, but I’m not ready to go there just yet…)

The other “easy” way to increase your followers on Twitter is to follow others. Many people on Twitter follow a ‘follow-back’ etiquette. Even those that don’t may be prompted to at least read your profile when you follow them. If you are interesting enough, maybe they will choose to follow you (to improve the quality of their feed). In my experience I get about 20% of people following me back. The problem with the “easy” way is that Twitter put up limits. They don’t want robots out there spamming their user base, so you can only follow 2000 people total and only about an additional 400 people a week – with exceptions. The exceptions are, if you have more than 2000 followers yourself then you are allowed to follow more than 2000 people – about 10% more than you have following you. And as you get a higher follower base you are allowed to follow more than 400 people per week. Basically “the big can get bigger”. Although you are still left with the problem of how to find and follow hundreds of people a day.

Historically I was a Twitter Consumer. I followed my favorite media outlets, select authors of books I enjoyed and close friends. I used my feed the way a lot of people use Reddit. With the publication of this website I decided to move into the Twitter Generation community. Obviously I’m not famous, so I needed a strategy to build up my follower base. That strategy (and how it might effect you if you have recently followed me or been followed by me) follows.

My Twitter Strategy

The principle behind my strategy is to maximize the number of engaged followers I have while at the same time giving back to the people who follow me. Basically: Grow and be fair. I use a product called manageflitter.com. I use the tool to find people on Twitter who I think could be interesting or interested in the content I generate. This means people who have used terms like Marketing or Analytics or Data or Marathon in their description or recent tweets. Or maybe they are just following someone who creates content similar to what I do. I also filter for people who have tweeted in the last 30-days or so to make sure they have an active account. I keep following people until I hit my Twitter-imposed limit (This started low but is now at around 100-200 new follows per day). After about three days to give people a chance to follow me back, I go back and unfollow people who have not chosen to follow me – remember the goal of all this is to have a large, engaged following. So: If you have been followed by me you have something interesting in your profile or recent tweet. If you follow me I will continue to follow you. If you don’t follow me I will unfollow you after about three days. It sounds harsh, but remember, my strategy is primarily as a content generator, not a content consumer. What happens if you followed me before I follow you? Good question. Remembering that I am not just looking for followers, I’m looking for engaged followers, my original plan was as follows:

  1. Read through your recent tweets.
  2. If you have content that is interesting, choose a tweet you have written (i.e., not something you re-tweeted) and Re-tweet it to my followers (I use Buffer to post these up to four times a day – so it may not happen right away). It’s a signal to you that I am ready to promote your content.
  3. Wait to see if you do the same thing in return – i.e., do you re-tweet a piece of my content – ideally something about this website. If you do, I follow you. If not, I just wait. If you ever re-tweet something in the future I will click that follow button.
  4. If you just have spam content (or content that I don’t think is sharable with a wider follower base that is interested in marketing, analytics, running or travel) then I will just refrain from re-tweeting anything. If that means I am un-followed, so be it.

That was the entire initial strategy. Unfortunately as my unsolicited followers accelerated I wasn’t able to keep up. So now I do something far simpler: I read every new followers bio. If the bio looks like a real person (and not a company or a spammer) I follow-back. I may change this strategy in the future, but for now it gives most people the benefit of the doubt.

I have a blog post: My Experiment with Twitter where I gave some initial numbers on how my experiment was going in the first few weeks. After a few weeks when it became obvious it was working I stopped updating. As I write this (June 2014) this method allowed me to grow from 150 followers in February to over 4000. I’m currently on a net growth rate (after unfollows) of 200-400 followers a week.

Update (June 2014)

One of the challenges with ManageFlitter is the amount of menial work it entails. One has to find people to follow and then spend about 10 minutes a day clicking to follow people (and clicking to unfollow people). To maximize the impact you need to carve out ten minutes every day (and you can’t really make it up if you miss a day). While on vacation I sampled a new product that gets around these limitations. TribeBoost is $120/month instead of $10/month for ManageFilter. It basically does the same thing, but you outsource the selection of who to follow and all the clicking. So for $110/month I save about 5 hours over the month (a little over $20/hour).

The two week free test worked. The people they followed for me automatically were high quality (if I followed you recently it likely means they chose you for me based on the criteria I gave them). And the follow-back rate was actually higher than I was managing on my own. For the time being I am continuing with TribeBoost and will give them a shot at A Place For Mom as well shortly.

Thanks for taking the time to read a twitter follow-back policy and hopefully I still have you as a follower.

Edward Nevraumont

February 26th, 2014 (Updated June 26, 2014)

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.