New York Marathon 2005, by Martineric via Flickr
Hot rod at Wintersun Festival, Coolangatta 2009Yesterday, as part of this Social Media Tune Up series, I wrote about Twitter and shared some general thoughts about how Twitter fits into my business strategy.

In this second post on the topic I focus on my approach to the whole business of following and being followed on Twitter. I emphasize that it’s my approach. There are a lot of different opinions about how best to use Twitter, with a variety of approaches.

The Twitter Following Game

By way of background, I’ve been on Twitter since February 2007.

Out of the more than 160 million Twitter users, I have 5,172 followers. I follow 4,040.

I don’t follow everyone back who follows me: and by the same token not everyone I follow returns the favor.

  • Of the 5,172 who follow me, I follow about 4,031, so about three quarters.
  • Of  the 4,040 I follow, most – some 4,106 – follow me back.

I have not aimed so far at following a huge number of people and in fact I am reasonably selective about who I follow.

The people – and some brands – I follow are in four broad categories:

  1. people – and some brands – I know or know about or find and have a strategic business interest in following
  2. colleagues and friends
  3. people whose blogs or tweets I read and find interesting
  4. people – and some brands – who follow me and seem to meet my criteria for following

Of the four categories of people to follow, as listed above, my activity for categories 2-4 is fairly serendipitous.

The one I find I need to work on strategically is Number 1: people – and some brands – I know, or know about, or find and have a strategic business interest in following.

Are there some models?

I have not so far observed a consistent pattern of followers/following numbers among various thought leaders on Twitter.

Twitterville by Shel IsraelShel Israel – @ShelIsrael – author of the excellent TwittervilleHow Businesses Can Thrive in the New Global Neighborhoods– has 21,575 followers and follows 1,790. Deborah Micek @coachdeb, co-author of Twitter RevolutionHow Social Media and Mobile Marketing is Changing the Way We Do Business and Market Online (the book that alerted so many to the opportunities – and the challenges – offered by Twitter) – has 22,106 followers and is following 10,080. Deb’s co-author, Warren Whitlock @WarrenWhitlock has 67,057 followers and he follows 64,155.

Among other social media thought leaders, Chris Pirillo @ChrisPirillo has 87,704 followers and follows only 1,014. David Meerman Scott @dmscott has 44,743 followers and follows 33,461.

There are some curiosities in all this follower/following field. Tony Hsieh @Zappos with 1,745,429 followers follows me – and 383,480 others: I have seen and listened to Tony live at an event and am a big fan but have never been introduced, whereas a friend who is another thought leader and mover and shaker in social media, someone I have chatted with at a barbecue and exchanged emails with does not include me in the 384 he follows (he has over 5,000 followers).

I don’t believe there is a “right” answer to questions of numbers of people to seek to have follow you or for you to follow.

I believe we each have to figure out what is right for us and our business objectives.

How I identify people to follow

Twitter RevolutionAs I mentioned above, some of my choices about which people or brands to follow seem to fall in place fairly serendipitously.

The one I focus on is, as mentioned, the category of people/brands I have a strategic business interest in following.

Some examples of groups of such Twitter users:

Coaches – I follow the advice of one of my mentors, the late Thomas Leonard, whom I heard say that if you want to be a coach, one of the things you should do is to hang out with coaches

Social media thought leaders – there is always something to learn about social media so lately I have been taking concerted action to follow some of the leaders in this field

PR and advertising people in Australia and New Zealand – part of my business is representing in Australia and NZ the social media release platform provider PitchEngine, so it makes sense to learn more about people in the PR and advertising industries in these countries and on Twitter

In fields like those, it is not difficult to find people on Twitter. I’m finding that most of the people in those groups who have blogs and/or LinkedIn profiles have their Twitter link displayed.

At times I will focus on finding Twitter users in a particular group with which I want to improve my connectedness. For example, the other day I took some serious time out to check out all the blogs – and their authors – listed in a blog post on one person’s list of 50 top social media blogs. With each of them, where I could find a Twitter account and was not already following them, I followed them. I also linked their blogs to my RSS reader.

Several followed me back fairly promptly, or we were already following one another. Some have followed me back after a few days. With one of those people I have now had an extended Skype chat and talked about some possible business collaboration. (A note: when you have this sort of experience, accept the fact that your friends who think Twitter is just about sharing information about breakfast menus will quite probably not get it!)

It takes time, rather than effort, to build a good list of people to follow

My basic reason for sharing the example of connecting with social media thought leaders is that there are ways to sift and filter the vast tribe of Twitter users and identify the tribes you want to connect with and the people in those tribes you want to follow and those you would like to follow you.

And with that particular group I also added each to a list I have on Twitter – one of the benefits of which is that is I can now watch a whole stream of discussion by the smarter people in this field, without the distraction of other topics and voices in the more general Twitter stream or even the broad stream of those I’m following beyond that particular list.

I’ll go into the topic of Twitter lists in a subsequent post in this series.

Coming soon

I’ll be posting further in this series on Twitter early next week, and will share how I approach the issue of how to handle being followed on Twitter by people I don’t know.

My approach, which is quite personal and hands-on, and does not use the automation processes used by many people, could well be regarded by some as quaint, old-fashioned and seriously inefficient.  I know because I’ve been told so! That’s ok – I recognize that different people and different businesses have different needs.

But at the very least I believe that anyone getting into Twitter for business would do well to resist the pressure to get an army of followers and instead spend some time getting to know how things work, following a few at a time at first and spending some time listening to the conversation before jumping in too eagerly.

If you would like to share how you approach Twitter and perhaps how you view the whole “following/follower” exercise, I hope you will give us the benefit of your experience and wisdom.

(Update: picking up on the good advice of David Meerman Scott – @dmscott – in the comments, my Twitter ID is @deswalsh)

(New Update: see also Part 1 and Part 3 of this series about Twitter.)

Image credit: Marathon de New York, by Martineric via Flickr – CC by-sa

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Des Walsh is an executive coach. He helps business owners and entrepreneurs worldwide deal effectively with the feeling of being left behind or overwhelmed, or both, about social media – especially LinkedIn - and how to engage safely and effectively with social media to help grow their business. Connect with Des on LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter. And to stay in the loop, get Des’s weekly Social Business Bites (select snippets of his "best of the week" online finds).