Why I Don't Auto-Follow Back

Photo credit: respres on Flickr
In a little change of pace, I'd like to take a moment to talk about some social media etiquette that often comes up for debate.

For any of you who use Twitter (and those of you writers who don't, I truly believe you should give it a try), you know exactly what I'm talking about just based off the title of this post: Auto-follow backs. 

Every new Twitter user will quickly come across the question that has many debating and scratching their heads over—to automatically follow someone back or not?

If you glance at my Twitter profile for even a second, you'll see pretty clearly based off my follower/following ratio that I very obviously don’t—but it’s probably not for the reason you might think. Truth is, I believe that automatically following everyone who follows you indicates that you’re completely missing the point of social media.

You see, when you ask for more followers or hound others to follow you simply because you followed them, you're focusing on the numbers rather than the people. Following people becomes a game—a race of let's see who can get the most followers the fastest. We become concerned no longer with the content of our streams or the relationships we're building—simply the number beneath the "Followers" count on our profiles. 

And from there, it's a slippery slope. Because the moment you lose sight of the people behind the numbers, you start to forget what this whole social media thing is all about: relationships.

I challenge you to look beyond the numbers. Sure, they're fun to look at every once in a while, particularly at a milestone, but I challenge you not to lose sight of the greatest gift social media has to give. 

How you decide to do that may differ—for me it meant only following people back who I've started to create a relationship with—people who I've carried a conversation with, who I have word sprints with, who are friendly and greet me in the morning and make a point of reaching out occasionally to say hello and answering when I welcome my new followers. 

Because when you encounter those kind of people you know that they get it—that you're not just a number, that they're willing to make the little extra effort to build a relationship with you. 

And that's when I click the little blue follow button to make sure I can connect with them again. 


What's your Twitter follow policy? Do you automatically follow people back? Why or why not? 

49 comments:

Matthew MacNish said...

I used to follow everyone who followed me, as long as their profile said something about being a writer, a blogger, or a publishing professional. But my stream got out of control. I made some lists, and that helped, but the bottom line was, you're right. I would love to connect with every writer in the world, but that's just not realistic, so I think it's better to focus on people who get me.

Ava Jae said...

When I first started out I followed a lot of people immediately for the same reason--their profiles said they were writers. It wasn't long before I realized that if I continued that trend I was going to end up with a crowded stream full of people I barely interacted with, so I changed my policy. 

Susan Sipal said...

You're so right, Ava. I too started out following almost anyone who was a real person. Lists definitely help. But finding the time to do everything is tough, so now I'm at what you're talking about here. Following those that I'm communicating with.

Amanda Makepeace said...

I don't auto-follow. How could I ever keep up with everyone?! Usually I check their stream and if a. they are not a spammer and b. their tweets are interesting, then I usually follow back. I got past the whole, who has the most followers, long ago. I just like to follow interesting people to learn new things and maybe have a little fun.

Max said...

I don't auto-follow. This is how I decide to follow them back:
-Are they a fellow writer or love books?
-Do they tweet more than once a month?
-Do they connect with followers?
-Do they speak English? (I am following one or two spanish tweeters but that's because I'm trying to brush up on my skills)
-Do they seem interesting? (If they're constantly updating with "'#amwriting" or "OMG I can't believe -insert shocking event-. I want to follow people who you can converse with and professional writers and authors who may have advice.

The lucky thing for me is, I'm always next to a computer so it's easy to keep track. I'm following 76 people and don't anticipate following any more than 1000 people. I just love talking though.

Krista Wayment said...

Ava, I agree. I am not focusing on the numbers. Its not about how many people hear what I have to say - but what they think and feel about it. I actually share something similar in a recent writers group meeting and was surprised at the response. But that's okay - I like being different.

I do follow most people who follow me. But - I don't necessarily listen. I have lists set up and people divided into those lists so that I can truly follow the people whose tweets I like - and ignore the ones I don't. I also do something similar with blogs and other social media.

Ava Jae said...

I feel like a lot of people start off following just about anyone who looks mildly interesting, until they start to realize that if they keep it up, their stream is going to explode. I've found that following those that I connect with is a great way to keep my stream full of relevant information (and fantastic links) but also a very helpful way to keep in touch with my Twitter friends. :)

Ava Jae said...

Automatically following everyone pretty much guarantees that your stream will become an incessant wave of noise rather than an interesting and useful tool. Good to see I'm not the only one!

Ava Jae said...

One of the best parts of Twitter (or any social media site, for that matter) is the connections that you can make over the web.  I like the points you made about how you decide--I've unfollowed people on more than one occasion after they stopped tweeting for over a month or so. Plus the first criteria is one I follow as well. :) 

Ava Jae said...

I probably haven't utilized lists as well as I should have at this point. I've made a couple, but I don't check on them nearly as often as I should--which will have to change! 

J. A. Bennett said...

I follow back writers becasue generally they are supportive, but if they just spam my timeline I unfollow. No one likes that.

random9q said...

This has always comfused the hell out of me.

As I understand it, the whole concept of automatically following someone back started as a work around utilized by corporate public relations accounts in order to make certain they could have a direct message channel available immediately for anyone who cared to. Those accounts sometimes have whole teams of people to manage what goes on around their accounts and rarely look at their main incoming stream (except maybe for data mining), rather they look for mentions and messages and hashtags.

The fact that the feature _became_ available then seemed to encourage some non corporate public relations people to try it. Including some folks who are their own defacto public relations people because they're independent creators and entrepreneurs. Ground floor indies don't have staff, and as such time, focus, and attention are currencies more valuable than gold or gems. Autofollowback for a personal account that doubles as among an indie's get-out-there-and-show-people-who-I-am conduits strikes me as akin to taking a potato masher to the attention pie and trying to portion out the bits.

My test is dead simple, I don't even look at "new followers" because I got rotating follow-spam, I look mentions and recommended accounts from friends. If you look interesting to read, are posting at a rate that won't overwhelm my deficient attention span, or look like someone I might like to have a conversation with, I'll gladly follow back (or follow first for that matter if a friend mentioned you). If you just follow me, pipe up and say something my way if you want a conversation, just like in real life. How many people I let myself follow is a direct result of how much attention I can invest in finding new friends online.

I may be crazy, but I think that that test scales up from my obscure gadfly of a twitter account to someone as popular as they get who still handles their own account rather than delegate that (there seem to be a handful). I could simply be crazy, though... Twitter could one day chew me up and spit me out, or I could narrowly avoid that fate and run away screaming "Twoylent Blue is PEOPLE!" and go off and find somewhere else to gibber...

That said, I love how you put it above, because for some it clearly became a strange metrics game. Anyone way people can work their head out of that space and back to merely relating to people will probably have better metrics (that the number chasers can't catch and can't figure) and, frankly, have forgotten to notice them long ago. People who get it, get it.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

My twitter policy is constantly evolving, but generally I follow people that I have an interesting interaction with at some point - whether #yalitchat or #mglitchat or someone who RT's my stuff and seems cool...you get the idea. I wish I found LESS interesting people to follow, because it's hard to keep everyone straight (thank heavens for lists)!

Paula said...

When I first started out on Twitter, I followed everyone back! But after following several spammers, I learned my lesson. Now I am more selective. When someone follows me, I check out their twitter feed, and blog, if they have one, before I decide to follow them back. I only follow people that have entertaining/informative tweets, blogs that I enjoy reading, and those that make an effort to connect.

Susi said...

I agree with your points. I check when I have a new follower and have blocked/ignored people that spam or that I have absolutely no interaction with.

Laurapauling said...

Same with blog followers. I don't try to bloat my numbers through contests b/c most likely a lot of those new followers won't come back. And that only looks good but doesn't help in the future.

rapture22 said...

Good points, Avalon. I tend to look at the bio and see whether I feel any connection first. I wish I could spend more time building those relationships, but my 11-12 hr day job tends to get in the way. I think it is my favorite site since we can very quickly and easily check in with one another. That's certainly what I'm doing, every chance I get. *waves*

-Jimmy

Ava Jae said...

Fair enough. I've had to unfollow a couple spammers--it's an unfortunate reality of Twitter. 

Lori Lopez said...

Well said. 

Ava Jae said...

You know, I'm realizing more and more that I really have to take advantage of lists. I've made a couple, but I know I haven't used them nearly as much as I probably should. 

Nonetheless, that's a perfectly fair policy. I can't think of a better way to further your online connections than following those you interact with.

Ava Jae said...

You know, I'm realizing more and more that I really have to take advantage of lists. I've made a couple, but I know I haven't used them nearly as much as I probably should. 

Nonetheless, that's a perfectly fair policy. I can't think of a better way to further your online connections than following those you interact with.

Ava Jae said...

I think many of us started off following most (if not everyone) back--until of course, we get burned...or the stream starts exploding...or one of the many other inevitable conclusions. When we start following more selectively, that's when we really take advantage of the great things Twitter has to offer. 

Ava Jae said...

I clear out my stream every once in a while and unfollow people I don't interact with. Without the connection, what's the point?

Ava Jae said...

That's an interesting connection--I didn't really think about comparing my Twitter follow policy to my blogger follow policy. I haven't tried any contests myself, but I think it might be worth experimenting with in the future, if only because I know I'm now following more than one blog that I started following due to a contest. You're right though--the point isn't just to get a lot of blog followers, it's to get blog followers that return regularly and interact with you. 

Ava Jae said...

I understand what you mean about not having enough time to build those relationships. I've had to cut down on the amount of time I spend on Twitter, but thankfully the little bits I do manage to fit in have been enough to pop in with my Twitter friends and see what new connections I can make. It's just a matter of paying attention to the right things. :)

Ava Jae said...

Thank you! 

2012dawningblog said...

I want to follow everone

Ava Jae said...

Interesting. I hadn't heard of that. 

Selina said...

I completely agree! One of the main reasons I don't auto-follow back is because of those who appear to follow me only to try to get me to follow back, only to (and am I the only one who finds this irritating?) unfollow me shortly thereafter irregardless. I myself only have so many hours in a week, leaving not much time for Social Media, therefore when I do find the time I prefer to use it scanning for useful, positive, uplifting  information & interaction rather than (and no offence intended to anyone here or there) having a bunch of noise and useless drivel plugging up the works.

In my Twitterverse following is a choice. I only follow those who interest or interact with me, and being that I could care less about numbers it makes no difference to me whether they choose to follow me back or not, that choice is completely up to them.

Meg Spooner said...

Oof, YES. The auto-follow thing drives me nuts. Not to mention the fact that I've noticed a pretty direct correlation between auto-followers and over-self-promotion--which is not to say EVERY auto-follower does it, but a lot of people who are out there to pad their follower numbers are doing it for that reason.

I tend to follow people when people I follow and find interesting tweet about or at them. The friend of my friend is probably someone I'll like.

Ava Jae said...

I too have been victim of the follow-unfollow game. Not only is it irritating, but it's rather rude if you ask me...although I like to give people the benefit of the doubt and assume that maybe Twitter unfollowed automatically, which does occasionally happen. Nevertheless, a lot of people looking for followers and just interested in boosting their numbers sometimes follow people to get the follow back, then promptly unfollow said people. It happens.
Regardless, following or not is always a choice as is deciding how to organize your Twitter stream. Some prefer to focus it on certain topics while others prefer a wide variety. In the end it's a matter of preference.

Ava Jae said...

Do you follow a lot of people based off #FF recommendations? I'm just curious since you said you like following people others that you're following mention (which, in my opinion, is a pretty good policy).

Alackerm said...

good point. I know when I started twitter, I didn't get it either. Now I don't worry about followers. I follow the people I want to connect with, and hopefully the people following me are doing it for my content, too. :)

Ava Jae said...

It's something I think many of us have to learn through experience. When we first start out, most of us want to have a lot of followers and we don't think much about the consequences of following EVERYONE automatically back. It isn't until we've started learning about the ways of Twitter that the benefits of selective following become more apparent.  

Stephanie Poscente said...

Great post, and I totally agree. 
In the beginning, it's hard to see past the numbers, but there are so many more important things. Thanks for the reminder! :)

Ava Jae said...

You're welcome! I think we all need a subtle reminder every once in a while--the numbers game can be quite addicting if you're not careful. 

Patrick Samphire said...

I agree. I don't auto-follow people back, and I don't expect them to follow me back. If I follow someone on blogspot, twitter, whatever, it's because I want to read what they're posting, not because I'm looking for followers. If they follow me, I assume they're doing it for the same reason. If they're the type of person who unfollows me when I don't follow them back, well, I figure they weren't actually going to be reading what I posted anyway, and there's no loss on either side.

Ava Jae said...

I tend to agree--when I come across followers who tell me they're on team followback and unfollow me when I don't respond with a follow, I'm not really that broken up about it. If they were only interested in following me so that I would follow them back, then they weren't really all that interested in what I had to say, anyway. 

andiekins said...

Great post :) I follow people who look like they are active in posts and have interesting posts, or family who want to see what I'm up to I make an exception for :) I am a bit selective and have recently started using the list function, but I'm still discovering what things are all about too. It's a fun journey so far! Thanks for sharing your post!

Ruth Fletcher said...

I totally agree. It annoys me very much when people expect you to follow them because they have followed you.

I have had some followers who after several days deleted me, and I can only guess it is because I didn't follow them back. But that defeats the point of following, you follow to see what they post, not to be followed.

The only people I do follow back (unless I genuinely like their page) are people I already know in person.

Ava Jae said...

I've probably had over 100 unfollows because I don't follow back, but as you said, if the only reason they followed was to get me to follow them back, then there really wasn't much point anyway. 

Maria Behar said...

Although you do have a valid point, I'd like to mention the other side of the coin.  

I see the act of following back as a courteous thing to do.  In fact, I always follow back, because I don't want the other blogger to feel hurt, or think they're being ignored. 

I always try to leave meaningful comments on other blogs, especially when they pertain to book reviews.  I don't simply write "Thanks for the great review!"  Instead I comment on WHY I enjoyed the review.  I also enjoy praising other bloggers on their beautiful blogs.  Usuallly, when I leave a comment, I follow at the same time.  I do feel hurt if, after praising a blog, following, and leaving a well-thought out comment, I am not thanked. 

Maybe I'm too sensitive, but there it is.  When I'm not followed back, I can't help but feel rejected. 

My two cents...

Ava Jae said...

You make some perfectly valid points, Maria, and I'm sure you're not the only one with that point of view. 

In this post I was mostly talking about my Twitter following policy, but I suppose the same applies to blog following as well. I think that you make a point to leave thoughtful comments (like this one) on blogs that you enjoy is fantastic--in fact, it's something I strive to do myself, because it creates some great relationships and, of course, it's a subtle thank you to the blogger. 

However, I don't expect anyone to follow me because I followed them, or follow me because I commented on their blog or anything of the like, which is probably a large part of the reason I don't automatically follow people back, either. I hope you don't take it too personally when someone doesn't follow you back, because I can assure you that many people don't really think of it in personal terms. If you work to develop a relationship with someone online, chances are they'll eventually reciprocate with a follow at some time or another, but before then I hope it doesn't feel like a rejection, because I'm sure the other person certainly doesn't consider it a rejection. 

Thank you for sharing your point of view! I appreciate it! :)

Maria Behar said...

Hi, again, Ava!  I'd like to thank you for your very nice, thoughtful reply!  I guess the thing with me is that I have issues with rejection, so I tend to get depressed when someone doesn't follow or comment back.  I work very hard


 on my blog, so I tend to think, when I either don't receive a comment or a follow, that, for some reason, the other person didn't like my blog, or my post.  Then I start obsessing about it!   Thoughts keep spinning through my brain, like what could I do so that people would want to read my blog?  Is it perhaps too cluttered, visually?  But I like the way I've designed my blog...and on and on... I've even had some dark thoughts about deleting the whole thing!   But I've controlled myself, so it's still there!   

Bottom line, I think I should just take a deep breath, and keep on going, trying not to get discouraged...  After all, I LOVE blogging, and my subject matter is my passion -- books!! 

Well, I gotta work on this, I suppose.  i recently read "The Four Agreements", by Don Miguel Ruiz, by the way.  One of these agreements is to not take things personally.  That's very hard to do, I think, in some situations.  But maybe in this particular one, I should really take his advice.  Then I won't be going through my little cycle of depression followed by obsession, ad infinitum!



 

Ava Jae said...

I entirely understand what you mean about being worried about the follows--it's something I think a lot of us have to overcome, especially at the beginning. 

Personally, I found I really started enjoying social media a lot more when I stopped worrying about people followed me or what my Klout score was or any of those measuring things. Sure, I still look at the page views and followers and smile, but it's no longer the number one priority--and after I made that shift and started really focusing on what I was enjoying, I found that taking the pressure off was really beneficial. 

Don't worry about other people--not the follows or comments or lack thereof. You say you enjoy blogging and that's what matters. :)

Leaping Lemur said...

I don't understand auto follow-backs. My twitter feed is fast enough as is, why would I follow people who tweet things I don't care about just because they like what I tweet? If we become friends/get into conversations, yeah. But otherwise I follow people because I like what they have to say.


Looking at my following list it seems like I've been followed by a lot of other writers who never tweeted me/said anything, who then unfollowed-- I'd assume it's because they don't like my feed but now I wonder if it's because I didn't follow them back. I get the following email but not one for unfollow, I wonder how many I've had who did that because I definitely don't see the more, er... memorable profiles.

Leaping Lemur said...

Just wanted to address this comment, because I've also felt rejected when I don't get comments or so on (a lot of people do! It's a very common thing for bloggers to get bummed about!) Days/weeks/months later someone will reference a post I made and I'm like "what? No one commented on it!" "Well I had nothing to say, it was just a complete idea without any room for me to butt in, but it made me think." I've gotten this from a bunch of people. Everyone has different attitudes toward commenting--that they don't need to validate the blogger, that they liked it but had nothing to say, they're shy, etc.



Even knowing this, I've also wondered why I bother sometimes because it feels so much like shouting into a void when you get no feedback, even knowing other people read your stuff. That might be part of the reason for the shift to short format blogs, because the investment is lower in writing a tweet versus, say, a a dreamwidth post.

Ava Jae said...

I agree with you. For me it's content and relationships. I know I've been unfollowed probably several hundred times simply because I didn't follow them back, and truthfully, it doesn't bother me because I know their main goal in following me for for a return follow. That's not why I'm on Twitter.

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