Perhaps I’m an atypical Twitter user, but I tend to follow only those people I’m interested in hearing from. Right now, I’m following 55 users, and with a network that small, things can get pretty dull sometimes.

Perhaps I’m an atypical Twitter user, but I tend to follow only those people I’m interested in hearing from. Right now, I’m following 55 users, and with a network that small, things can get pretty dull sometimes.

Moreover, things can get clique-y. Recently, the in-joke level reached an all-time high, prompting me to go out and search for new, interesting people to follow.

In finding these people, I had two requirements. I like to follow a mix of people, and I prefer to follow what you might term average-Joe-nobodies (like myself) rather than “Twitter superstars.”

Secondly, I wanted to follow people who weren’t already part of my social network, and who I didn’t already know. This meant that, in some ways, I had to ignore one of the concepts of social networks — recommendations between friends — and somehow use Twitter to find cool people I didn’t know, and my friends didn’t know.

Initially, it felt like I was trying to find a needle in a haystack, but in the end, all it meant was that I had to use instinct and expend a little time. Before I get into that, though, let’s take a look at the common strategies we use to find people worth following on Twitter.

  • Follow retweets and replies from friends. Following retweets to their sources can work, especially if your contact has retweeted the tweets of a given individual a number of times, and you’ve enjoyed them. If you have time to look through the replies a contact has made to others, and follow the most intriguing replies to your contact’s contact, this can be another good way to find new contacts.
  • Review the people followed by contacts you respect. Although this option, like the one above, may not help you avoid the clique-y aspect of social networks, it can help you find interesting people, and people who have similar interests to yours. It can help you hook up with old friends and colleagues and connect with new ones. Once I find someone new I want to follow, I enjoy taking a look at their follow lists — it’s a good way to track down new, inspiring contacts.
  • Use Twitter follow sites. Of varying quality, Twitter follow sites can turn up good contacts (Meryl reviewed some of the options here). Wefollow.com was recommended to me, and its categories make it easy to find people — not all of whom are Twitter celebs with thousands of followers. If you’re after that, though, you won’t be disappointed.
  • Take Follow Friday recommendations. Some loathe Follow Friday (or #ff) recommendations; others like them. Again, it comes down to the source of the recommendation, and whether you think you can trust their judgment.
  • Search and follow. Search and follow really only works if you have a topic that you’re interested in — so it can be good for building professional or interest-based connections. Simply perform a search on “Bach” or “Industrial Design” or whatever your interest happens to be, and work through the results to find interesting individuals.

OK, they’re the common methods we use to find people on Twitter. There’s another approach, though: the random approach.

The Random Approach

I have to admit that when I last suffered Twitter exhaustion and required fresh blood in my following list, I took a more random approach than those we’ve already discussed. That said, it was a huge success, so I can recommend it.

As I mentioned, I only follow 55 people right now. I’m pretty selective about who I follow, because I hate being bombarded with information and would rather find contacts who value quality over quantity.

So, to begin, I selected an individual who’s tweets are among my favorites. He’s a journalist. I clicked almost at random on his “Following” list, then, checking that the person I’d selected was talking sense, and that I’d never heard of her (through retweets etc.), I randomly selected one of the people she was following.

This person was also talking sense. I looked at his Following list and selected a few people from it. Among others, I chose a profile picture of a whippet wearing a cap, because I thought the owner of the pic would have a sense of humor. I also chose a profile pic that was a cartoon, because I hoped the person might be creative.

I think gut instinct was important in these choices. These pictures stood out among the sea of headshots — and I was looking for uncommon, left-of-centre thinkers to follow. Admittedly a profile pic can be misleading, it doesn’t tell us very much, and more vetting was required following this initial selection. But when you’re operating quickly, with limited information, your instincts can be reliable guides.

At least, they were in my case. The first contact focuses on politics, media and culture. He regularly links to sites I don’t follow, has a great sense of humour, and retweets more intriguing content from his contacts. At first I accessed his political Twitter account, but his profile pointed to a more general account he has, and that’s the one I followed.

The second contact was indeed a designer who regularly posts images of the beautiful work he’s doing — a complete diversion from the common themes in my Twitterfeed, and an inspiring one.

I’m still following these guys, since I’m so entertained, informed and inspired by their content. One’s Australian like me, but the other is based in the U.S., and they’re completely outside the social networks I’ve established. Because of that, they expose me to a world beyond that inhabited by my usual contacts and present work, and add fresh, inspiring and informative voices to my Twitter mix. And I now use this approach, sometimes combined with some of the more common methods I mentioned earlier, whenever I want to find new people to follow.

How do you find cool and interesting people to follow on Twitter?

Photo by stock.xchng user beverlytaz.

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  3. This is what I like about twitter we can follow new/different people, the problem with doing that on something like Facebook is that it becomes too personal and too much for eg: photos of trips or which group they joined etc.

  4. Ironically I was following someone who seemed very artistic yet down to earth at the same time.

    You know where it led me?? To Yoko Ono – not one of my favorite people in any respect but definitely a celebrity. Thats the beauty of twitter, It can be so silly yet also so random. If it every really becomes serious it will be its downfall in my opinion

  5. Victoria Tomlinson Saturday, October 23, 2010

    What a refreshing and practial article – just came across it!

    We are very business-focused and while I think everyone likes a little bit of light relief, I don’t want to know that someone is frustrated in a traffic jam to Essex or that someone’s father is being a prat. I do want to follow people who are at the cutting edge of new business, research or at the heart of something new being developed.

    The trouble in the UK is that social media for businesses, B2B, is still very early and the people I would really like to follow mostly wouldn’t be seen dead on Twitter! It’s changing pace quickly though.
    I shall follow some of your tips to spot the quality newcomers, Georgina, thanks

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