Hot rod at Wintersun Festival, Coolangatta 2009In my Social Media Tune Up series, this third one on Twitter goes into a bit more detail on my approach to the “follow/unfollow” challenge and may need to be read in conjunction with the Part 2 post in this series.

For the benefit of people new to Twitter, it’s probably worth mentioning the “No Rules” point made by Twitter expert Warren Whitlock  in commenting on the previous post in this series. What I’m laying out here is a picture of how I currently handle the follow/unfollow exercise – your mileage may vary.

I’ve listed a number of things I take into account in the process. I don’t have a checklist to check off for everyone I follow back or don’t. That way would lie serious derangement, as far as I’m concerned.

The items listed below are more by way of things that affect my decisions in particular instances.

I don’t like the auto follow-back robots but I *really* don’t like the phony automatic direct messages

I’ve been on Twitter since February 2007 and I get a lot of unsolicited “follows” but do not automatically reciprocate.  I know that some people think that is anti-social, but I as I say I am somewhat selective about who I follow and if that means I lose some potentially interesting contacts, so be it.

Twitter Goodbye cartoon by Geek & PokeSome people automatically follow anyone who follows them. And you can get robots to do this for you. I don’t subscribe to this practice, largely because I want to have some idea of whom I’m following. The robots can also send an automatic direct message (auto DM) to anyone who follows them. I really detest this as I believe it undermines the whole concept of building relationships. It’s just a numbers game and I don’t like being part of anyone’s numbers game.

Just to clarify, I don’t have an objection to people reciprocating a follow automatically, especially when they believe that is just good manners. It’s the phony messages that get me – “Hi, thanks for following: check out my stuff at (link)”.

This practice actually leads to one’s receiving messages that in the circumstances are bizarre. For example, someone follows me, I check out their profile and they look real so I follow them back – then instantly get an auto DM from them which has a message that shows clearly that they do not realize they followed me first!

Some people immediately unfollow the people who send these auto DMS. I haven’t got to that yet, but sometimes I’m tempted.

A notable figure in social media, Loic le Meur @loic found the whole auto DM thing so bad he unfollowed every one of the 23,000 he was following and is now much more selective.

I generally check before I follow back

I try very hard to check everyone who follows me, to see if I want to follow them back. Occasionally one slips through because I get caught up in something else. To find those, I set myself an occasional marathon session with Twellow, a free service, which in one of its layouts shows me all the people following me and whom I am not yet following.

With people whose Twitter identity I do not recognize, the basic things I look for are these:

  • a photo of a real person (not a logo or cartoon avatar, or a family pet, or the now standard Twitter “no-avatar” egg shape)
  • a bio that looks like it belongs to a real person
  • a real geographic location
  • English language (I am followed by people with various other languages but as I can’t read them I don’t see the point in following back)
  • a web site or blog or LinkedIn profile which includes an About page that shows me they are real

Disincentives are:

  • no real name (just a meaningless online handle)
  • no bio
  • brands/companies I have no particular interest in following
  • bio that includes promo for Twitter scamming software
  • no picture of a person
  • no link to anything, such as an About page or LinkedIn profile, that tells me about the person
  • link goes to a “flycatcher” sales page, with no info about the person
  • weirdness (this is business for me and I’m not interested in weirdness)
  • obvious pattern of crudeness, vulgarity or worse in their tweets
  • page or more of “megaphone”/”look at me” tweets, no conversation
  • bigotry, fanaticism
  • “make money online” deals, especially when no sign of any other human activity going on
  • protected tweets – if you followed me I do not want to ask your permission to read your tweets
  • authentication check for my user id – again, if you followed me I should not have to do this

Exceptions to my “rules”

I exercise some flexibility and follow some in the following situations even though they do not meet most of my criteria above

  • people in my locality/region/country – I believe I can figure these out more readily
  • some causes I find personally interesting
  • fellow coaches
  • people who seem genuinely interested in social media (and potentially interesting to connect with)
  • people who have been at one of my seminars
  • people I’ve worked with or have been at companies I’ve been associated with
  • people who seem real enough and turn out to be so when I cross-check with a LinkedIn search

In the next and probably last post of this series on Twitter I will be reporting mainly on how I use Twitter lists and # hashtags.

Care to share your views on the follow/unfollow game on Twitter?

(Update:  See also Part 1 and Part 2 of this series about Twitter.)

Image credit: “Twitter Goodbye” by Geek and Poke – Creative Commons licence

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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).