twitter-animalfarmThis post is motivated by two recent experiences. The first was being asked at an event a couple of weeks ago for some ideas to develop a Twitter strategy for a recruitment consultancy, an area of work about which I know nothing. The second was my experience looking at the Twitter profiles of the speakers at Personal Democracy Forum Europe that I attended over the last few days.

My response to the consultancy firm was that there are 2 aspects of any good Twitter strategy: to generally follow all the people that follow you, and to use a software tool for Twitter (like Tweetdeck, Nambu, Tweetie) rather than the web interface.

I was therefore rather surprised to see some very prominent speakers at PdF Europe (such as Andrew Rasiej, Ellen Miller and Joe Rospars but they are not the only ones) who don’t even get close to the idea of following even a significant proportion of the people that follow them. I tweeted this observation and this post is the longer follow-up.

As far as I’m concerned the bottom line is this: if someone is interested enough in you to follow you, then at least follow them back. You can even automate this with You can always then chose to unfollow the person, and you have to remember that all followers are equal, but some are more equal than others.

Essentially I can never read all the tweets of the currently 1231 people I follow, but I do look through that list regularly and have discovered interesting new people. However thanks to Nambu I can organise my followers into groups and make sure I keep an eye on the tweets of a core group of people who are especially relevant to my working environment. On the Twitter web interface lists can be used for the same purpose. So @Nosemonkey I’m afraid your critique doesn’t hold. Equally it’s possible to use a tool like Seesmic as a web-based alternative to

There are of course plenty of valid reasons to not follow people (or in my case un-follow them) – they are spammers, they just tweet too much, or they persistently tweet in languages I do not understand or about topics it turns out I have no interest in. So @JulienFrisch I agree with you.

But none of those reasons are – in my mind – adequate justification for not following the people that follow you and giving them the benefit of the doubt, at least at the start.

[UPDATE] Please note I don’t have any experience with as I always have my laptop or iPhone with me (for Nambu / Tweetdeck for iPhone). There are other web based Twitter clients such as TwitHive, TwitIQ and gtwit. Also note that has an anti-spam feature to make sure you’re not auto-following spam-bots.


  1. I agree with Jeremy – I read almost all the tweets of everyone I follow, otherwise I wouldn’t follow them! For me the beauty of Twitter, unlike social networks, is its asymmetric nature, but auto-follow kind of kills that. Lists are a one-sided solution and probably the way Twitter will go, but I think it loses value when you know that only a tiny fraction of your followers actually read your tweets and vice versa…

    I actually follow, unfollow and re-follow people according to my changing interests and attention. @jonworth, I’ve followed and unfollowed you a couple of times already, hope you don’t mind!

  2. Jeremy Hargreaves

    Sorry, I’m afraid I’m interested in following the people I want to follow, but that may not be everyone who follows me. If they’re someone I know or look interesting then I’ll follow them, but I don’t accept any implied reciprocity obligation at all. I follow almost as many people as follow me, and there’s probably quite a lot of overlap, but I don’t accept any implied obligation to follow them.

  3. Still! I remarked on that in a tweet to them, and they still did nothing about it…

  4. Have you seen that the ECRG (new EP group) are following NO-ONE!

  5. I must say I agree with – and practice – Euonym’s strategy towards Twitter. I take the time to review the feeds of those of choose to follow me. If they write in a language I understand, even occasionnally, and if the topics dealt with are of interest to me, then I will follow them back.

    That being said, I may also weed out someone not because they don’t fit the above “profile”, but because their feed only carries information that I already receive through other Twitter users whom I already follow. In other words, in the echo chamber that Twitter is, some echo is just enough…

    Danah Boyd had published an interesting post about Twitter vs. Facebook ( ).
    According to her (and I would agree), the former is akin to a social media feed which does not entail reciprocity, whereas the second one is akin to a social friend feed which entails reciprocity. With Twitter, it’s in mostly about who you are as a social persona, even a public persona. With Facebook, it is rather about the intimate you, the private persona and their close social surroundings. This explains differences in reciprocity…

  6. All in all I have to agree with you, Jon.

    Following back your followers is not only part of an common etiquette but it is a sign of respect. Communication can only work if you’re ready to listen and engage in it. Actually I even take the time to manually follow people back (for all accounts, private and corporate). Only this way I can make sure that I don’t miss anyone or accidently follow yet another seo expert or who ever. But I don’t condemn those you don’t whish to follow back. To be broadcaster is choice everyone can have imho.

  7. @Martin – I’ve heard of the multi-lingual functions of Tweetdeck, but I just can’t bring myself to use Tweetdeck as it’s an Adobe Air app and the interface it, well, not really elegant… Maybe I’m just being too much of a design conscious Mac user!

  8. Many of you raised the point of language.

    Although I understand the critique I don’t share it, as there are good tools to receive tweets translated or that at least offer you the option to easily translate them into a language you can follow. My tool of choice would be Tweetdeck which let’s you do the same. For me it is even more interested to follow discussion in languages I don’t actually speak. I understand it’s not an easy thing to do and because of limited characters it doesn’t alwasy work out. But at least I try.

  9. Yes, that’s why (the site I use for auto-follow) has automatic systems to weed out the bots that you can tailor yourself… So among the 1200 or so there are very few spambots.

  10. Too true…

    Perhaps I should reconsider my strategy…

  11. That, I did not know. Will check it out.

  12. Being somewhat luddite about this stuff, I’m using the Twitter Lists function.
    I tend to follow most people that follow me – and a whole lot more besides.
    The problem is the more you follow, the more difficult it is to join in the conversations going on and so your own followers are lower (less broadcaster than listener)….
    Again I don’t follow those tweeting inlanguages I don’t understand, nor those in bikinis and legs akimbo and apparently a lot to say about cats… Just suspect they’re not actually that interested in what I’ve got to say.

  13. One further point. If you follow lots of spambots, you attract more spambots (because automatic follow systems look for individuals with high reciprocity).

    It turns you into a spam magnet!

  14. You make good points, Jon

    I think a ratio of 50 follows to 500 followers is rubbish. It’s just broadcasting.

    On the other hand, I also agree with Euonym and Julien, though. When someone follows me I check the profile and most recent tweets to make sure the language is one I understand (or am trying to learn) and the topics of interest are the same.

    The problem is that with 1200 followers, how many are just spambots and internet marketers? You’d probably find the core group of genuinely interested followers is actually much lower.

    People are also following hashtags and topics more and more nowadays, so there is not always an obvious advantage to having thousands of followers (in terms of reach).

  15. I think that’s largely fair… although it might be slower than following and seeing what happens.

    If you can’t install software then try – it’s supposed to be much better than and it’s all web based so should run anywhere.

  16. A middle way? When I have a new follower, I always look at their latest tweets. If they are all in a language I don’t read, or lots of one word tweets to specific people, or are predominantly about something that isn’t one of the issues I’m following, then I won’t follow them. If none of those apply I will, until I am given a reason to unfollow (like the daily Telegraph which sends so many automatic tweets you can’t see anything else…) I agree about Tweetdeck etc, unfortunately quite a few people might be in the situation I am, where you can’t install software at work and so are reliant on the web version.

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