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Summary:

Twitter followers have become the status symbol of 2009, but how valuable are they, really? I think we’re placing too much importance on the numbers and paying far too little attention to the actual reasons why followers can be valuable to us.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t want to have a lot of followers. I’m saying that you don’t want to have a lot of the wrong followers. There is nothing to be gained by accumulating “empty” followers. Why? Because they are not listening to you! Your core followers — those you who actually listen to you and interact with you — are the real value of Twitter, and that’s why you should never, ever automate your Twitter account to increase follower count.

Twitter followers have become the status symbol of 2009, but how valuable are they, really? I think we’re placing too much importance on the numbers and paying far too little attention to the actual reasons why followers can be valuable to us.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t want to have a lot of followers. I’m saying that you don’t want to have a lot of the wrong followers. There is nothing to be gained by accumulating “empty” followers. Why? Because they are not listening to you! Your core followers — those you who actually listen to you and interact with you — are the real value of Twitter, and that’s why you should never, ever automate your Twitter account to increase follower count.

How Auto-Gathered Followers Hurt You

There are services available that claim to increase your follower account automatically. These are a bad idea, however, because auto-gathering followers creates:

  • Chaos and noise on your Twitter stream if part of the automated follower-building process you’ve adopted entails “auto-following back.” That reduces the value of your Twitter stream as a listening tool and information source.
  • Followers who aren’t listening to what you have to say. That diminishes the value of marketing anything on Twitter and reduces the chance of being heard at all.
  • Overinflated follower numbers, which are a turn-off for those looking to make meaningful connections. Many people use the “follow-to-follower ratio” as part of assessing someone’s “worth” on Twitter, as opposed to sheer number of followers. For example, if someone is following 48,895 people and has 46,975 followers, that looks suspiciously like they are fishing for followers rather than genuinely interested in interaction.
  • Automated activity in your Twitter account that you don’t control.
  • The possibility that your Twitter password gets into the hands of an untrusted third party.

Twitter Doesn’t Measure Your Worth

A common mistake many people make about Twitter (or any other social media tool) is that quantity matters more than quality and, as a result, an ever-increasing number of services out there that offer to get you thousands of additional followers. But thousands of additional followers who aren’t listening to what you have to say aren’t worth much at all. Your value isn’t based on your follower count, it’s based on the value of our interactions, the strength of our relationships, the nature of our reputation, and the integrity with which we use our communications tools.

Let’s get this straight: Twitter is a communications tool. Yes, communications tools can be used for a variety of activities. That includes marketing, as the basis of good marketing is good communications. But the idea that you can just jump onto Twitter and instantly get in front of thousands of new customers is a sham.

Using Twitter Sensibly

Some sensible reasons to get onto Twitter include:

  • To learn about a new communications tool and how to use it well.
  • To communicate your point of view or people with whom you want to interact.
  • To have more mobile or flexible methods of communications.

If Twitter doesn’t seem to be helping you to achieve your goals, then what? For most people, the first 30 days of Twitter is full of chaos, confusion and question marks. If you have the time, patience and determination, push through those early days, and you will most likely find some real benefits from using Twitter properly. But if you don’t, don’t sweat it, and don’t get lured in by schemes promising lots of followers easily. Focus on the tools that work best for you, and use them well.

Why People Follow Each Other

Unless you’re stuck in a “popularity contest” mentality, you probably follow someone else for one of the following reasons:

  • You know them.
  • You want to know them.
  • You know someone who knows them.
  • You like what the person tweets or what they stand for.
  • You have discovered them elsewhere and want to follow them in a more real-time manner.

Let’s cut through the hype, the barrage of “get followers quick” schemes, and an unrealistic need to accumulate a lot of followers in order to be “more effective,” and realize that the tools we use are only effective when we use them well, and don’t abuse them or try to game the system for greed and indiscriminate gain.

Slow down; be thoughtful; use courtesy. There are real people on the other side of a tweet. Handle with care.

How do you feel about the followers on Twitter, and how do you discern who you’ll follow and who you won’t?

  1. I really appreciated this posting. I am trying to figure out why so many people have close to an equal number of followers as people they follow- can you really keep up with 13,497 people’s conversation? Twitter should be a place to engage and communicate; read as well as write; listen as well as speak. Thoughts and comments back are appreciated!

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  2. I am so with you on this one! I actually read tweets, actually try to get value from the people I follow, actually think there needs to be a reason to follow someone. Where do the followers come from who are following hundreds of people and have never tweeted once themselves? Why would anyone follow them?

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  3. You said what i think, i have no idea why people just simple follow someone even you don’t know who he/she is. For me, i will very careful to choose people to follow. Quality is more important than the quantity. Don’t make your twitter looks like a spam account.

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  4. Have been on Twitter a few weeks – not many people I actually “know” use Twitter; it takes a while to understand it. You have to follow enough people with similar interests to make it interesting, but not so many that you can’t begin to read them all or get to know anything about them. Definitely quality trumps quantity.

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  5. When I get a message that someone is following me on Twitter, I check to see who it is. Many times, it’s marketing-related, and I end up blocking the person from following me. I want the people who see my updates to actually care about what I have to say.

    As for the people I choose to follow, there are occasions when I follow someone, then later unfollow them because they’re just cluttering up my stream. I just unfollowed two people and cut my updates list in half — no kidding. Those two people were just generating noise, and the people who mattered were getting lost in the clutter.

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  6. I AVOID all the so called “celebrities” who have hundreds of thousands, but follow in turn 12 people. They’re a waste of time & useless.

    Interaction is the key & quality matters…

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  7. I absolutely agree – Twitter is great to stay in touch with friends who can’t be here, to get to know new, friendly and interesting people who share similar ideas and to get a better impression about what customers and business partners do and think about all day.

    It’s not a competition and I absolutely don’t know how people who follow 10000+ people generated by a dubious online service can really interact with just a few of them, but I have to admit that the follow / follower ratio as well as the profile description help me to make a decision if I follow back or not.

    This works very well and probably is the reason why I still love Twitter and made it a part of my daily lifestyle now – because it adds a certain kind of value to my business life.

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  8. Maybe I’m a bit old-skool, but the whole followers/following ratio thing doesn’t even come into question for me.

    Unless they have recommended by a trusted source, before I follow someone I will actaully read some of their posts. If their updates are things I am interested in, then I’ll follow them, if not, then I won’t – whoever they are.

    I don’t have many followers and I don’t really follow many people either; aside from the handful of people who I am actually interested in, I generally use the trending topics anyway just to see what’s *really* going on the world.

    Sorry, that was a bit long – maybe we should have a 140 character limit on comments as well!

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  9. It really depends on why you are using a service like Twitter. If you are looking for more 1-on-1 communication with a finite group of people, then following a lot of people (or having them follow you) makes no sense whatsoever.

    If you are functioning more as a professional entity and part of your reason for being on Twitter is to raise awareness about your business or service, it makes sense to follow people who, for example:

    1. might be interested in your product/services,
    2. are members of your peer group and can share wisdom/information/leads/etc.
    3. are opinion/market leaders in your industry whom you want to stay in tune with

    I check my direct messages and @replies daily, and try to read through my feeds and searches every few days. I comment on things of interest to me, so people know they aren’t just tweeting into a black hole (reciprocation appreciated!).

    Usually when I touch bases with people several times, a more personal interaction begins. That can lead on to other things: http://tinyurl.com/lq7ra3.

    Having said that, I am still challenged each time I vet my followers: Who does it make sense to follow and who will just clutter my feed? I admit it’s still touch-and-go or trial-and-error for me at the moment.

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