Deciding who to follow on Twitter

TwitterI’ve been using Twitter more and more over the past year. Especially at conferences like those run by the Advanced Learning Institute, Canadian Institute, and OpenDialogue, as well as Third Tuesday Toronto and Third Tuesday Ottawa.

I’ve replaced live blogging with live tweeting. It’s very satisfying – connecting me directly with other attendees and people who care about the same subject.

The more I’ve put into Twitter, the more I’ve received back. At the same time, the number of people following me has increased. And the pace at which new followers are added has increased.

This presents a problem.

I set up my Twitter profile to notify me via Gmail of each new follower. When someone follows me, I visit their Twitter profile to see if they share my interests. I follow people who write about things that interest me or who have blogs in their profiles or stand out in some other way. As I’ve done this review, I’ve found myself following about 1 in 4 of the people who follow me.

Why don’t I follow more people?

Well I don’t use Twitter as a publishing platform.  Instead, I use it as a “town square” – a way to connect with my “community of interest.” And to really connect, I need to keep the number of people I follow in the hundreds, not the thousands. (That’s not a criticism. I admire anyone who can attract more than 60,000 twitter followers. But that’s an audience, not a community.)

Recently, the pace at which my new Twitter followers has been increasing has been greater than my ability to check out everyone’s profile. (I realized this when the number of my pending Gmail emails exceeded 900!) So, I’ve settled on a new way to decide who to follow.

Instead of visiting every follower’s profile (which at the rate of 20 -30 new followers a day takes over an hour), I’ve decided to watch for new people who either retweet one of my tweets or respond to me with an @thornley.

I’m doing this in the belief that these people who actively engage with my content are more interested in me. And these are the people who I should be checking out and probably following.

What do you think? Is this a reasonable strategy for identifying people to follow in Twitter? What approach do you use?

UPDATE: Jay Goldman offered some great advice on how he decides who to follow in Twitter. I missed this in my Google Search. Sorry Jay.

Kelly Rusk also had a post about what she looks for when deciding who to follow on Twitter.

  • I follow based on 2 criteria:

    -they are either in my group of interest ( local in toronto, involved in marketing/Technology)
    -they send me a DM or an @ response.

    Other than that if I had a conversation with the person and want to talk to them some more I’ll follow them.

    I also unfollow, when my feed is becoming dominated with content from a person with no particular value I opt to take them off.

    • Kevin, I hope I am not one of the people who jams up your twitter feed with too many posts. 😉

  • Great analogy to a town square. Twitter often feels like a café that’s full of interesting people into which I can stick my head, chat a bit, and pop right back out. I also gave up trying to read all the new profiles and do what you’re suggesting, but I do wish there was a better tool to show me info about the followers in a summary form. Maybe even with a follow recommendation based on my settings.

    In the meantime, I wrote a post all about how I choose who to follow: http://jaygoldman.com/2009/01/15/follow-back-how-i-choose-who-to-follow-on-twitter/

  • That’s reasonable.

    Although I think you could say that by basing a following decision on people initiating an interaction with you on Twitter, you might be placing the responsibility of creating that desired “town square” on others and having them gather around you instead of taking a more proactive role in bringing people into that community yourself. That’s given the idea that a follow by you on Twitter can count as a vote for that person in your community of interest.

    I’m talking only about on Twitter anyways. Of course you initiate more than enough by heading community gatherings like #TTT.

    Hope that made sense.

    • Good point Malcolm. Of course, I follow other people who I discover who may not be following me. I’m just talking here about the people who follow me – and who I do not know.

  • I only get about 5-10 new followers a day but even still there are days I don’t feel up to going through people’s profiles. I can’t imagine getting as many requests as you do!

    I follow people based on searches for keywords that I’m interested in, as well as by looking at follower lists or conversations with people I already follow who I respect or enjoy following. I also throw in a mixture of people from different geographic regions (i.e. international) to give me a different perspective.

    It’s almost easier for me to figure out who not to follow – I rarely follow people who claim social media is their “passion”, anyone who is overly promotional in their name or bio, people who claim to be inspiring or thought leaders or identify themselves first by their religious affiiliation, or people who don’t regularly engage in conversation when I send them an @ message.

  • I look at profiles and the contents of their recent tweets. If they look relevant to at least one my three main interests – education, parenting, effective use of social media – I will follow them. If they look like they are trolling for business or actively selling something, I won’t follow them.

    Most of your tweets are both interesting and relevant in the third category, Joe. Thanks for working to make social media an effective set of tools for professional purposes.

  • Heather Whiting

    I envy those people who still have fewer than 100 people on their follow lists. Having crawled up to following just 167, I’m constantly frustrated when I don’t have time to pursue all of the tweeted link recommendations that I know I would like to read.

    So in an effort to keep my follow list small, still go to every profile and look for some common ground. I am so irritated by follower builders if I see they are following over 2000, I bounce – what a waste of time.

    I have experimented this week with following some celebrities though just for a hoot – I’m enjoying following the live tweets of @aplusk as he goes to concerts and jets to Aspen. Is that sad?

    • Heather, I too follow a couple “celebrities.” @stephenfry fascinates me.

  • Good article ad lots of good comment to answer a difficult question. I use Mr tweet and filters on Tweetdeck or PeopleBrowsr to find people interested in my topics of interests. regarding how to decide to follow a person or not, it seems it depends a lot on the number of followers you already have, your ambition/goals with Twitter and the time you are willing to spend on it.

  • Well I don’t have the problem of trying to sort out a horde of followers but I do agree with the theme that seems to be common here. Relevant and engaging.
    Pretty much the same way we choose books or news to read, conferences to attend, or people to hsve coffee with. Just too many darned tools now to make it a manageable tool sometimes but I stick to the same principles.

  • Agreed re: @stephenfry. Very, very clever.

  • Hey Joe,

    I too am getting overwhelmed with followers. In fact, I posted a very similar post yesterday too:
    http://web2dotwhat.com/2009/02/18/the-new-rules-of-twitter-follows/

    I think your strategy is reasonably, but I’m still fueled by curiosity, so I haven’t been able to adopt the @ replies only strategy but I’m getting close.

    • Kelly, I’ve updated the main post to include a linkback to your post. Thanks for pointing it out to me. I had a choice last night of writing or reading my feeds. I chose the former and missed the latter. 🙂

  • hehe I would chalk it up to “great minds think alike!”

  • Pingback: Web 2.What? » Blog Archive » The new rules of twitter follows()

  • As an entry-level communicator, my choice to follow certain people comes mostly from an educational standpoint. I choose to follow people like you and @DoctorJones and @MartinWaxman because you share valuable content. It is a great place to see what senior-level PR people are doing, seeing, learning and thinking. You’re all mentoring me without the requisite time commitment! 🙂

    I then follow things that are of interest to me at a more personal level – certain people/companies that post about things like fashion and fitness.

    I’m not inundated with followers yet but I do unfollow people who flood my feed with things that are of little to no interest!

    Great post – thank you for keeping us thinking!

  • Heather Whiting

    Kyla – I am also following many for educational purposes – hence the frustration at not having the time to read read read.

    To continue with this theme of who I follow – I’m busy mining all the follow referrals I’m finding on this thread now. 🙂

    Stephen Fry is following over 54,000 – I won’t bounce this time though. Anyone else have a must follow to suggest?

  • Heather – I think we need to follow each other! You can find me @kkryski

    And add @JohnCleese to your celeb follows! He’s brilliant! (And has over 70,000 followers)

    It certainly is hard to keep up, though! I feel your frustration!

  • Hi Joe,

    I’m wondering if you or any of your readers periodically revise your Twitter communities, unfollowing some who’ve waned in their (quality of) contributions, while adding other Twitterers you’ve come across.

    If so, how do you determine who gets cut? Does systematic unfollowing make it easier to add new connections–and make Twitter more relevant for you overall?

    Being a mere blip on Twitter myself, I haven’t had to start thinking about unfollowing in this way. It’s one of those items for consideration on the horizon though.

    • Hi Francis, I usually only Unfollow someone in Twitter if he or she is being profane, nasty or saying things that might be an embarrassment. Other than that, I pretty much continue to follow everyone I started following.

  • Joe,

    I’ve had a similar problem as of late. For me, it’s a two fold one:

    1. I’ve seen a drastic rise in the number of followers
    2. I’m in corporate, so Twitter is a banned website on our server. This means that I have the weekend and a few hours in the evening to visit their profiles.

    What I’ve done is just make it a habit to go through my followers list once a week and scroll over the names of my most recent ones. If the description bubble is blank or doesn’t look like it matches my interests, I don’t follow. If their description intrigues me, I’ll take a further peek at their recent tweets and decide, based on the quality of conversation, whether this is the right person for me to follow.

  • Many ppl, when joining twitter, face the problem of “who to follow”.

    Try http://www.TweetTop.com for whom to follow on various topics on twitter.

    Give it a try and let me know what you think.

    J