Editor's Note: This is the first post in a series of commentary on the concept of Twitter autofollow. After reading this post, I recommend you read the second one here. Thanks! — Michel Fortin
Twitter is a fantastic marketing tool. I love it and I encourage everyone to get on it. But I do have a warning, because the way some people use it today is not only wrong, but it can also become potentially dangerous to its survival.
Twitter is micro-blogging, i.e., blogging in a shorter format. It limits the posts to 140 characters. The reason for the limit is, when Twitter was first introduced it was intended to be used for text-messaging (SMS) between mobile phones.
The SMS protocol, along with most phones, limit their messages to 160 characters. (Twitter reserves the first 20 for usernames.)
I love Twitter because, as a copywriter, it's also a great tool to force you to be pithy, test headlines and subject lines, and create a persona around which you build your brand.
However, there's one thing that seriously irks me and my wife, Sylvie Fortin, to no end. That one thing is in the process of destroying one of the best tools to come on the Internet since the invention of email. And that's reciprocal following.
First, I don't use Twitter for telling my followers every bit of minutia of my day. I think that's ridiculous and absurd.
If I were a celebrity, sure. Fans love to hear about the daily activities of their favorite stars. We live in a voyeuristic society. That's why reality TV shows have exploded, and the whole concept of social media along with it.
Auto-following is where you automatically follow someone who follows you. There are many benefits to reciprocal following, such as giving your followers the ability to send you a private, direct message.
But to me, auto-following is, at its core, no different than posting your website URL willy-nilly to a bunch of free-for-all link farms, which was wildly popular at the early onset of the Internet. And we all know how that turned out to be as a marketing tactic. 😉
In fact, FFA links only really benefited the owner of the link farm, because no one came to their website with the intent to read or click on those bazillion links. They only came to post their own link. And the FFA owner would therefore be able to build a list they can easily email to.
I use Twitter for business — not for marketing or selling per se, but to share probably the most important aspect in marketing, social media, and the Internet in general (in fact, it's the reason the Internet exists in the first place).
And that is (hold on tight, here it comes)…
Yes, I love to “tweet” about websites I've visited, which may be of interest to my followers. I love to post quick tips and links to articles I've stumbled across that I find fascinating or interesting. And I love to blog about products, software, and programs I've used or discovered, which I believe my followers would certainly appreciate knowing about.
And yes, I do insert from time to time an affiliate link or two. But I wouldn't post it if I didn't think it would be of benefit to my followers. My goal is not to make money with micro-blogging, or even blogging in general. It's a byproduct.
But in terms of auto-following, I've always been against it. And yesterday, I felt vindicated, because I came across this remarkable short video from Seth Godin, who arguably is one of the leading experts on marketing.
In it, Seth addresses the entire “social media for business” in a simple statement. In fact, he did it in less than two minutes. Basically, he said that business is built on relationships, not on how many followers you have.
Seth calls it “fake networking” as opposed to real networking. What matters is real relationships, the relationships you create, cultivate, and care about. Not numbers on a Twitter account that only boast how popular you are — or try to appear to be.
I believe most people use auto-follow in an attempt to inflate their numbers, either for pure egotistical reasons, or at most, for spamming their followers.
Don't believe me? Here's a case in point.
Auto-follow is often enabled through various third-party software. But Twitter once had this feature — some users still have it to this day. Well, just yesterday Techcrunch reported a bit of news in which Twitter itself will abandon the whole auto-follow process. And personally, I think it's about freakin' time.
Twitter's CEO said it beautifully: “We’re going to discontinue autofollow because this behavior sends the wrong message. Namely, it is unlikely that anyone can actually read tweets from thousands of accounts which makes this activity disingenuous.”
When I sent this link to my friend Armand Morin via a discussion we were having within our mastermind coaching group, his reply was nothing short of brilliant. He said…
I totally agree.
I think that is my biggest problem with Social Media Marketing.
People are fooling themselves thinking their numbers of followers or friends is an indication of their potential income generation.
Why would this work?
Most people are following or becoming friends with strangers for two reasons.
1.) They want to build their own “LIST”
2.) They are following these people with the false illusion that they are going to be their “friend” and get FREE marketing information. Which they don't realize is the person they are following is only interested in OPTION #1 I listed above.
So are they really on your list wanting to be marketed to?
The answer is obviously no.
Now, I've disagreed with my friend Ed Dale in the past. But recently, Ed posted a video on the Twitter auto-follow nonsense, and this time I must wholeheartedly agree with him.
In fact, just a couple of months ago my wife and I were engaged in a fierce, controversial debate online about the nonsensical nature of the whole auto-follow process. I want to share with you some of the highlights from that debate here.
I cannot paste what others have said for copyright reasons. But let me paste some of my tweets below. Most are from Twitter, but some are from Facebook since my tweets are simultaneously posted to my Facebook “wall,” which often generate independent conversations and additional comments.
Understandably, some tweets are parts of conversations. So to help you understand the context, each group of tweets are preceded by a sidenote to explain the history behind it and give you some background information.
SIDENOTE: The tweet that started it all…
- Auto-follow? Not me. My philosophy is, I follow those who reply to @michelfortin as to engage me. It's like saying “Hi!”
- What's your follosophy?* Auto-follow? Follow those who reply to you? Follow only follow-worthy? Follow “x” followers?
*By the way, “follosophy” was coined by Harris Fellman, not me.
SIDENOTE: Some people said that NOT auto-following defeats the purpose of “social media.” Because a bad ratio of “following” vs. “followers” means your conversations are one-sided. One even said that non-followers who tweet “one way” (i.e., they don't follow as many followers) are usually tweeting unhelpful, “spammy,” or “soapbox” tweets.
- “Helpful” could also be defined as appreciating other points of view to support or challenge your own. Even soapbox tweets.
- I said this many times, would you auto-follow everyone who propositions you in a bar? (Rhetorical question. Don't answer, LOL!)
- Twitter is the Internet's water cooler. At least you know the people you work with to talk with them at the cooler.
- Lately there's an onslaught of people who clearly use auto-follow so they can claim “I have a huge list”. It's B.S.
- Ultimately, it seems to me that auto-follow is one person pretending to listen, and it seems fake and insincere.
- It's like “I'll show you mine *IF* you show me yours.” Paul Myers said it best, “Internet marketers are a bunch of incestuous cannibals.”
- With social media, people have a distorted sense of what “friend” means. An acquaintance, a contact, or a fan, doesn't make them a “friend.”
- Same with Facebook. I add friends who add a message to their friend requests. They make an effort to introduce themselves.
- I ignore simple friend requests, especially if they're people I don't know. Which is the point!
- Most people on Facebook, who add you as a friend without any introduction, are usually networkers who want to pitch you their “opportunity”.
- Facebook caps their friends lists to 5,000 because it's virtually impossible to have 5,000 “friends.” Think about it.
- Once you've reached Facebook's limit, they tell you to start a fan page instead so people can become fans, not friends.
- Facebook's policy is clear: you cannot use a personal profile for professional or promotional purposes. I know, they've told me.
- If you want to enter a conversation, use hashtags or @ replies, not auto-follow.
- Twitter is a big cocktail party*. You don't follow everyone in the room who merely looks at you.
*By the way, “cocktail party” was something my wife coined several months ago, way before Seth Godin mentioned it on that video I posted earlier. Back to the tweets…
- We need to distinguish conversational vs. social media. Being in a crowded bar doesn't mean you're being social.
- Conversely, being in a crowded bar and talking to no one doesn't mean you're being anti-social, either.
- Watching everyone in the bar interacting with one and other doesn't mean you're listening in on every conversation, too.
SIDENOTE: Some have tweeted that “auto-follow” is a way to introduce yourself, like a “handshake.” They say you should auto-follow to be approachable. I disagree.
- Auto-follow is NOT an introduction. A discussion or conversation IS. It's all about RELATIONSHIPS.
- Which is why I prefer to follow those who reply me, because they're making an effort to introduce themselves.
- I *am* approachable. That's why I'll respond to tweets with @ reply to me. I might even follow them.
- But I won't automatically follow people who simply follow me without saying a word.
- Handshake? If a serial killer shakes your hand, would you befriend them? Not unless you get to know them first.
- Yes, auto-follow is creepy. To me, anyway. I'm not against it, it's just not my philosophy. I don't like it.
- Honestly when following thousands, the only way to have a conversation is via the @ reply!
- But not auto-following doesn't mean it's one-sided! Want to enter a conversation with me? Just @ reply to me. Simple.
- TV or radio are one-sided. Twitter is mutifaceted by its very nature — follow or not. Hashtags is a great example of this.
- People who follow you (without an expectation of a return follow) are genuinely interested in what you have to say.
- I'd rather have hundreds of real, serious fans who care, than thousands of curious onlookers who don't.
SIDENOTE: One said that auto-follow's single benefit is the ability to direct message (DM) each other. I agree, which is precisely why I don't auto-follow. Here's what I mean…
- Bottom line, I follow those who make an effort to introduce themselves to me and whose tweets are valuable.
- Return follows grant you access via DM. I don't like that. I pay a support staff to handle stuff like that.
- If I followed thousands of people, I'll get bombarded with DM's and support requests.
- It's not that I don't care, it's that I don't have time answering DMs, which takes my attention away from serving my paying clients.
- If I don't respond to DMs by saying “please contact support,” which is time-consuming, I'll be accused of not listening anyway.
- People who auto-follow and want to DM are looking for free advice. A free lunch. I don't do free lunches.
- Here's a great article/video by @perrymarshall to explain why I, too, don't do free lunches: http://is.gd/go5P
- Would you subscribe to everyone's blog who comments on yours? Of course not. Micro-blogging is no different.
- I don't subscribe to everyone's blog who comments on mine. But I do reply to their comments. Twitter is micro-blogging. But it's still blogging.
- Again, I follow people because I want to FOLLOW them. Not because of an expectation of a return follow.
- Social media is about interaction. Discussion. Conversation. Hence “social.” Not reciprocal STALKING.
- Final note, if I followed a gazillion people, I still won't know you exist… unless you introduced yourself to me with @ reply.
- Besides, I know you exist when you @ reply me (that's what I mean by following after you approach me). That's what I do.
SIDENOTE: Some people said that if the “gurus” don't auto-follow, you can't access them. You bought their product, and therefore you have every right to access them. They say that, if they don't follow back their customers, their delivering bad customer service. I'm not only disagreeing with this, I'm also disgusted.
- Just because you bought someone's stuff doesn't give you access. Do you expect Bill Gates to follow you if you bought Microsoft Windows?
- Precisely. It's about relationships. I mean, would you auto-follow everyone who propositions you in a bar?
- It's like being in a crowded stadium, when everybody's talking at once, and pretending that you're listening to what everyone is saying.
- Yes, friends have discussions. It's like being on stage at a seminar vs. being at the back having a 1-on-1.
- Exactly. Look at it this way, would you respond to every piece of junk mail with a letter saying “thank you for mailing me!”?
- Followers can either be a “fan” or a “friend.” That's the point about “following” in the first place.
- I FOLLOW because I'm interested in WHAT that person has to say. I don't follow simply because I want that person to follow back!
- I'm THEIR fan. I follow with no expectation. That's the point. There's a difference between “fan” and “friend.”
- Right. You follow? You're a fan. I follow back? You're a friend. I don't want followers. I want fans.
SIDENOTE: Chris Brogan, who follows as many people who follow him (and that's in the several tens of thousands), said to me that if you don't autofollow, you appear as a snobby bastard, so there's no winning. My answer…
- It's all in the intent. There's unconditional reciprocation. And then there's extortion.
- I guess I'd rather be perceived as a snobby bastard who doesn't care than a lying one who fakes that he does.;)
What do you think?
Finally, I'll leave you with one of the best posts on the subject of Twitter. Copywriter Randy Gage, who I've been following for many years, posted one of the best manifestos on the use, purpose, and benefits (and downsides) of Twitter I've ever read.