Following Up On The Auto-Follow Fiasco 1I rarely do this.

But after my last blog post on the idea that Twitter is populated by drones and fakes, Tiffany Dow posted a spirited rebuttal to my blog post.

A gauntlet has been thrown down.

I felt compelled to respond.

In fact, I posted several comments. But that's not what I meant when I said “I rarely do this.” (I always love a healthy debate.) What I rarely do is repost my comments on its own blog post, which is what I'm doing now.

Why? Because I believe they're relevant and important to this discussion.

So here are some of them, with a few additional editorial comments here and there. (Yes, I know this blog post is long, and I apologize in advance. But I think you'll find this discussion insightful, if not somewhat interesting.)

First off, I appreciate other points of view. I'm always open to new ideas and, yes, the possibility that I might be wrong.

If you're engaging me in a mature, reasonable debate, and bring me sensible and logical arguments to justify the other side of the issue, I will always consider it. Always.

I may be a person of conviction, but I'm never too stern to make me so inflexible that I won't consider the possibility that I might be wrong. And sometimes, I am.

I don't pretend to have all the answers. And it's also nice to see spirited discussions and healthy, productive debates based on facts and substance.

In this case, I commented on Tiffany's blog because I wanted to address some of the points she made, which I felt were misleading. She also misquoted me a few times, perhaps unintentionally, and I wanted to clarify.

By the same token, I wanted to voice some of my concerns openly and publicly. Because, and keep this in mind, it's not Tiffany who I'm trying to convince, here. It's those people on the fence who are reading my comments, thinking about applying some of these tactics I believe to be wrong.

At the very least, I want them to think.

OK, enough preamble. Here's the discussion.

Tiffany said: “I believe (auto-following is) extremely important — especially for social marketers who are creating a following themselves.” Exactly. I agree.

But would you rather create a fake following of people who follow you only because you are following them? Or would you rather have people follow you because they are genuinely interested in what you have to say?

I ride on the latter.

“In my opinion,” she added, “it's like having someone wave ‘hello' to you and you just standing there staring at them. Kind of rude.” This is a myth, and I'll come back to this.

I follow those who make an effort to say “hello” in the first place (by introducing themselves and engaging me with an @ reply), and/or whose tweets I find of value. Not just because they're looking at me or stalking me around the room.

That is kind of rude too, don't you think?

If you follow someone with the only expectation of a follow back, without any introduction or consideration, is just as rude in my opinion.

Actually, this point drives me bonkers.

The auto-follow proponents seem to imply that not following back is rude, but to me following someone expecting a follow back is just as rude. Why would this be good for the goose and not for the gander, as the adage goes?

To me, it's having a misguided sense of entitlement.

Do you deserve a follow back just because you're following me? Something's not right, here. I believe one should earn the follow, not extort it.

Tiffany then said, “I don't have time to scour through and see who's relevant and who's not at that moment.” But, isn't this exactly what choosing your follows does?

In fact, the counter-argument the auto-follow proponents have used is, “I will auto-follow everyone, and then afterwards choose to weed out and unfollow the undesirables.”

That's akin to saying, “I'll allow all the spam in my inbox, and I'll simply take the time to read them all and delete the undesirables.” (That's what spammers say in their defense. They say, “If you don't like my spam, you can just hit the ‘delete' button!” Ugh.)

Or better yet, a better analogy is, “I don't care about opt-in. I prefer an opt-out policy. I want everyone to spam me. And I'll simply opt-out of all the spam I don't want to receive.”

To me, that's a heckuvalot more time-consuming, no?

My time is valuable.

I don't have time to weed out the undesirables.

That's why I prefer to follow only those people who engage me, and have something worthwhile to say in which I find value. I mean, isn't that what true relationships are all about? Or better yet, isn't that what a true “follower” does?

The next tidbit irked me even more.

With regards to my contention with the idea that a benefit of auto-follow is that it allows direct messages (DMs) between Twitterers, Tiffany said, “(Fortin) says he has a support staff for that — and I say, ‘Then get the support staff to respond to those DMs'.”

Sorry to disappoint, but my Twitter account is me.

It's really, really me.

It's not some ghostwriter, staff member, or someone pretending to be me.

If someone gets a direct message from a staff member from my Twitter account, then that would make all my tweets suspect, which defeats the purpose of transparency and social media (and posting personal details on Twitter) in the first place, methinks.

She then said, “Do it so that you're not hurting anyone's feelings or blocking them from the direct communication they deserve as your customer and prospect.”

Admittedly, this shocks me.

Based on that logic, then everyone deserves direct contact with me because they're a potential prospect? Wow. That's some heck of a sense of entitlement.

First of all, not everyone is my prospect.

Thinking that everyone who follows me is a prospect is naive.

Sure, some of them may be. But chances are, those people who follow me because they are genuinely interested in what I have to say, without any expectation of return follow, are likely real prospects. Prospects for my products or services, not me, that is.

(Sorry, I'm not for sale.) 😉

As I've said on Twitter, if you don't have any interest in what I have to say, then it's highly likely that you won't have any interest in what I have to sell, either.

As for the false expectation of a direct contact, it's ludicrous. It's like saying, “Just because I may be interested in Microsoft Windows (even if I haven't bought it yet), I fully deserve to contact Bill Gates personally and privately.”

No, most people who want to DM me are not my clients, or even prospects for that matter, as implied. (Real clients have other ways to access me, anyway.)

No, people who want to directly contact me, without engaging me or cultivating a relationship with me, are freebie-seekers. Or they expect free advice.

Sorry, but I run a business, not a charity.

That argument is like saying, “If you're in business then you must publish your home street address, your mobile phone number, your personal email address, etc. Why? Because we're your prospects and, by gosh, we deserve it.”

That's absurd. It's an open invitation to stalking. Plus, you do typically get customer service from all the big corporations, no? Even if you can't DM all their CEOs? Of course, you do. So why would this be any different?

My Twitter inbox is just as precious as my time. And if you really wanted to ask me a question, then why not @ reply with, “I have a question, where can I ask?” or “could you follow me please? I have a question I wish to DM you about?”

In fact, if you engage me, you enter into a relationship with me, and we follow each other and are then able to DM each other, then because of that relationship I'm not only open to your DM but I also welcome it and look forward to it.

To me, you're at least making an effort to introduce yourself, and if that were to happen, in many cases I would follow back. Either that or do what I can to help you if I can't do it via DM. Because, yes, that would be the real courteous thing to do.

“What Fortin fails to realize,” said Tiffany, “is that to many new and even seasoned marketers, he is a celebrity in his own right.”

Read Randy Gage's article I've posted at the end of my earlier blog post.

When you are a celebrity, people are interested in some of the minutia.

Just not all of it.

Besides, I'm too busy serving my clients to waste time posting every single time I sneeze. It's nonsense. I don't think people would be interested in knowing what I had for lunch — and personally, I don't care about hearing it from those I follow, either.

Again, micro-blogging is micro-blogging, but it's still blogging.

You don't follow everyone who comments on your blog, do you? But you do reply, and you also choose who to reply to. Why should micro-blogging be any different?

She then added, “They just don't like doing it on Twitter, perhaps.”

Of course we do!

But there's a difference between minutia versus posting what interesting book I'm reading, what fascinating website I'm visiting, what newfangled software I'm testing.

I even post personal things, like songs I love, when my band (in which I am the drummer) writes a new song, when my daughter posts pictures of her new apartment, or when my mother and my wife are struggling with the aftereffects of their breast cancer.

But, there is such a thing as “too much information.”

(I would venture to say that those people who are keenly interested in the minutia of my life don't have a real business or value their time. But that's just my opinion.)

I said I'm against “minutia,” which doesn't mean I'm for the complete opposite, such as “Twitter should only be used to post professional, corporate information.”

No. In fact, I love giving people an inside look at my life. I love giving people a chance to see the real me. Me, a human being. Not just a blogger, copywriter, or CEO. It's about transparency, and it's the basis for creating relationships.

And trust.

But there's a difference between tweeting the occasional personal blather versus putting a spycam-in-print in my house like in “Big Brother” following my every move 24/7. Eek!

“Part of these minute details the Fortins are starving their Twitter followers from,” Tiffany added, “are the very motivators that many as yet unsuccessful marketers love to use for inspiration.” I not only disagree but also violently oppose this notion.

This sense of entitlement seems to imply as if we're the wretched ones who are mercilessly starving these poor folk from that which they so rightly deserve. Huh?

We're not starving anyone. People starving for minutia aren't really starving for details, as was implied. What they're really looking for is free advice. They want a free lunch.

Sorry, but I don't do free lunches.

Sure, I do post about my interests, my struggles, my failures as well as my successes. Just not every single, silly little detail. And that is what I meant.

Again, go back to my blog post. Watch the video from Perry Marshall I linked to. It's very good! In fact, it might make you realize why you're not successful yet, if that's the case.

She then said, Twitter is good because it's “forcing you to choose and use your words carefully thanks to character limitations.”

Here's a biggie. In the same vein, I say Twitter should also force you to choose your friends carefully thanks to character — that's personal character — limitations.

As an example of “personal character,” I don't have the desire to pretend to be someone's fake friend. Being a true friend, or someone who is genuinely interested in what you have to say, is indicative of someone's true personal character.

Now let me be very clear, here.

I don't mean to say auto-following makes you a fake. Not at all.

It's that the proponents of auto-follow have perpetrated this blatant myth — i.e., that not auto-following makes you a snob or that you're being rude — precisely because they wanted to create peer pressure so they can build their giant lists.

This ties in with what she said in another comment, where she said, “The number (of followers you have) doesn't matter — but social networking courtesy does.”

Following that argument, I guess then you must follow-back a crazed, psychopathic stalker, just because they are following you, as to not appear “rude.”

Er, I don't think so.

Courtesy is a virtue, not some innate right or entitlement. Said in a different way, the lack of a follow-back doesn't mean one is being discourteous, either.

And that, ultimately, is the myth that's being wrongly propagated.

Some people look like they're heroes when they are fakes, while others who genuinely care about their prospects and clients are made to look like they're bad people.

And that, to me, is really sad.

Courtesy is what introducing yourself does. Courtesy is what following someone with no expectation does. Courtesy is what creating, building, and nurturing a relationship does.

Therefore, making the effort to introduce yourself to me is just as courteous, isn't it? Why should I be expected to be courteous and you not? In other words, why shouldn't you be just as courteous by introducing yourself first in order to earn my follow back?

Courtesy is a two-way street.

And following someone with the sole expectation of a return follow is not, in my opinion.

In fact, if you follow me with the expectation of a follow back is just as discourteous if not more so. And being “social” doesn't mean following or befriending, either. Being engaged in a conversation is being social, isn't it?

Tiffany mentioned that following allows you to see who a person really is and if they're worthy of a continued follow. This assumption of following someone to see what they're saying is B.S. (And it's part of the myth being perpetrated by the auto-follow zealots.)

You don't have to follow someone to see their history of tweets.

Also, Tiffany pointed out that, when I said I don't do free lunches but since I already offer tons of free advice, then why wouldn't I follow reciprocally?

I think this is terribly misleading.

Because I didn't say that, since I don't do “free lunches,” I wouldn't give out free advice. I simply prefer to do it on my own terms. There's a difference between giving free advice when I can, versus giving it on demand.

Tiffany, commenting on my earlier Bill Gates argument, said, “You can bet if I walk into a computer store and am about to contribute to Mr. Gate's bank account, he'll have someone there — a clerk or whomever — willing to answer my questions.”

Yup, I agree. That's why it's called a helpdesk.

She then said they deserve my follow-back because “they're considering investing time and money into you — into what you teach.”

Ahhhh, now there's the difference.

People interested in contacting me are buying my products or services, not me or my time. That's why we have a support team, a helpdesk, and a toll-free number.

In fact, I find this argument insulting.

The person who created a company or is the voice of the company is not expected to be 100% accessible to everyone, all the time, just because others are interested in their products or services, or are merely following them on some social site.

“Having to ask to be followed? I doubt most people would, but whatever floats your boat,” she added. Well, if you're sincerely interested in getting in touch with someone or their company, wouldn't you make the effort to do so?

If most people wouldn't, as Tiffany said, that's fine. Because they're not really interested in contacting me. But if you asked me to follow you specifically for the purpose of asking me a private question, I would consider it. And yes, some people have.

And I did.

But if most people wouldn't ask me to follow them to ask a private question, then that precisely underlines the fact that most people who would only follow me to access me would do so just for the free advice — not for legitimate support or sales questions.

After all, if they make an effort to contact me, then they are serious.

Tiffany then said, “I feel like you're making people jump through hoops to converse with you on a social site, which to me is not what web 2.0 is all about.”

Yup, it's not what it's all about. It's about encouraging interaction, not demanding it or expecting it, especially with a mere follow.

Then, she said, “Even celebrities stop and sign autographs, you know.”

Again, this is propagating the same myth.

In this case, it's that celebrities who don't sign autographs are made to look as if they're being mean. Some celebrities do sign autographs but it doesn't mean they are obligated to sign all of them, all the time, for all their fans — let alone to follow them home.

This is coming up alot, and I get a sense that people who continue to argue this point feel they are entitled to my follow simply by following me.

No. They are entitled to my respect. If they're a paying client or a prospect, they are also entitled to my continued support, my programs and services, and my customer service.

Big difference, here.

If they do have to “jump through hoops” to converse with me, as Tiffany said, then that means they are really interested in meeting with me and in what I have to say.

Here's the most important point in all this.

The thing to understand about this argument is that people like Tiffany who are genuine about their intent with auto-follow are giving spammers the opportunity to have their way.

These spammers have zero intent to listen to the people they fake-follow, and give the false, misleading impression that they care. They are abusing the whole thing.

In fact, they want people like Tiffany, spreading the myth that auto-follow equals courtesy or “true social networking.” Because it serves their purpose.

(And wonderfully too, I might add.)

Some proponents of auto-follow might have good intent, and I respect that. But most people don't. They only pretend they care — and that, to me, is misleading. They are misleading not me but their fans, their real friends, and their true prospects and clients.

It's an outright disservice, in my book.

Heck, I would even venture to say that software and services that auto-follow and seek out the Twittersphere for followers to automatically add to their roster is no different than a spambot scouring the Internet looking to scrape email addresses to spam to.

The fact is, if I follow someone, it means something. (At least, it should.)

And if I don't, it doesn't mean anything.

And I resent the idea that it does.

Because this is exactly what's making many of the good guys/gals look bad.

To me, that's very sad.

By the way, during the conversation Robert Puddy posted this tidbit: “By being selective you may be missing out on someone you could genuinely become friends with.”

Again, that's a misleading statement. If I find someone I'm interested in knowing more about, I'll either follow or engage them in a conversation. I wouldn't be missing out.

After all, their tweets are public, and I can easily go back and check their history, their followers, who's following them, topics they're interested in or have tweeted about, etc. I don't have to follow them to learn if they are worth following — let alone not following.

Will I miss out? Maybe. But if I do miss out, that's a small risk compared to the bigger one of having to follow, then dealing, with everyone who you will never be real friends with.

It's like saying, “By being selective with my spam I may be opting-out of a spam list which might have a good offer for me down the road a year from now.”

A final word.

One of the problems in this debate is that people feel they have a sense of entitlement. I think that's the real issue, here. (And I personally find it appalling.)

People feel entitled to a follow back, to access some marketer or celebrity, to get free help or advice, etc.

I'm sorry, but those things are earned, not automatic. They shouldn't be taken for granted nor be expected.

What I'm about to say is probably the single most important concept I want to impart onto you in this whole debate.

And it is this…

If you feel entitled to anything, then you are blocking your own growth and success, because you will never feel able to truly earn it. Your delusions come out from a scarcity mindset rather than a prosperity mindset.

Personally, I find it insulting that someone would feel entitled to my follow back, let alone to my time or attention, simply because they are following me.

And guess what?

If you really, really, really want to make money in this biz, so should you. (I'm speaking to everyone reading this blog post.) Yes, so should you feel insulted, stop auto-following, and start valuing your time, your efforts, yourself, and above all, your real prospects and customers.

If I follow you it's because, and get this…

… I want to follow you.

(What a neat concept, huh?)

I'm following you because I'm genuinely interested in what you have to say.

In fact, auto-follow is the exact opposite. It's disingenuous.

Remember, Twitter itself said it. Not me.

I believe auto-follow is killing Twitter. Will it die? Probably not. (It would be naive of me to think that it would.) But it might become another free-for-all wasteland like MySpace where everyone wants to be your friend, “just because,” and spammers roam freely.

No one, as of yet, has presented me with any logical, tangible, reasonable justification to support the whole auto-follow argument, let alone persuaded me.

I'm still all ears. But so far, those who continue to fight this argument are using extraneous concepts, senseless filler, and irrational myths to prove their delusions. Such as the misguided idea that it's discourteous or it hurts other people's feelings.

Actually, this last point is important.

I'm shocked that I'm made to feel responsible for everyone's little insecurities.

And shame on you if you try to make me feel so.

And folks, that's the myth that's being propagated. Especially by spammers.

It's not my responsibility.

I'm a marketer, not a psychologist.

And using this as an excuse?

Oh, please. Grow up.

I guess that's the same as someone who loves to receive spam, because getting a lot of email makes them feel special. C'mon on.

Continuing to debate this topic is difficult when it's with people with a vested interest in winning such a specious argument — especially if they have, for example, a product for sale in which they recommended auto-follow, or have preached about its benefits, and rather than accepting the fallacy in their argument or the plausibility in the other, they keep fighting in order to save face — then it's a losing battle.

So I give up.

I'll end this here.

But please, think twice before you follow (no pun intended) 😉 anyone's advice. Use your heads. Use logic. Use common sense. And go enjoy Twitter in whatever way you like to.

As @chrisgarrett said so eloquently, “Tweet people as you would want to be tweeted.”