Twitter Tips Part 1: How to Get Followed Back

A lot of people auto follow-back on Twitter. Others follow everyone who doesn’t look like spam. And you know what? That’s cool. It’s a nice thing to do. But some people think it’s rude not to, and I disagree with that. That’s how people end up with 8,000 followers and are following 8,025 people. How can you possibly keep up with that many tweeps? At some point, automatically following back seems disingenuous to me. Which is why I don’t do it.

My take? Life’s too short to follow someone who doesn’t offer you something. (This is related to Roni Loren’s post about this same concept with blog comments.) Not trying to sound snobby. It’s just the truth. We’re all on Twitter to get something out of it, right? No one is 100% altruistic. What people offer can vary from entertainment to information to emotional support and beyond. When did “following back” become so important?

There are plenty of reasons that someone can be worth following. Unfortunately, sometimes those reasons can be disguised under a pile of mistakes. And our attention spans are at their shortest when we’re on Twitter, so it doesn’t take much to get nixed. Here are some of the things I personally consider when glancing at a new follower.

And hey would you look at that: if you reverse them, they become tips on how to avoid getting skipped. 😉

Things that Make me Hesitate to Follow (Back) on Twitter:
*Please note that the keyword is hesitate. There are exceptions to every rule.

No avatar (default egg). Makes you look like spam.

Avatar is not a person (book cover, animals, graphics, cartoons, etc.). I’m on Twitter to connect with people, not random objects. I understand that you’re super-duper-uber excited about your new book cover. I would be too. But the place to feature that awesome-sauce is a twitpic and/or on your blog’s sidebar. Or a whole blog post – or a whole page! And I also understand that some people are very self-conscious. But I promise I don’t care what you look like: I just want to see a human face.

Following over 5,000 people. I just feel like my tweets would be lost to you. I’d rather make meaningful connections.

Following no people. Again, this looks like spam.

Don’t have any tweets yet. Everyone has to start somewhere, but empty timelines look like spam accounts. Beginners should tweet at least a few times before they start following people.

All/most of your recent tweets are self-promotion. I don’t have a problem with self-promotion, if done in moderation. If half of your tweets are about your book, or if you tweet the same blog post five times a day, it begins to feel impersonal and annoying.

All/most of your recent tweets are @ mentions. @ mentions are great, but if you’re not following both parties, you never see those. I need some “free-standing” tweets too.

All/most of your recent tweets are RTing others. A lot of people do this once they hear the advice to share others, but that doesn’t mean at the expense of yourself. I want your tweets, too. Otherwise I could just follow everyone you’re following and call it a day.

All/most of your recent tweets are Pintrest, Tumblr, or Facebook links. I can just follow you on those sites.

Something in your profile description puts me off or insults me. Personal taste. Certain things just make me cringe, like really feel-good life philosophies or intense declarations of religious/political views.

I can see that you go overboard with #MM #WW or #FF. This just becomes clutter. If you fill up my timeline with half a dozen tweets listing names, I won’t check out any of them. And I’ll be grumpy because I have to scroll down three pages to see anyone’s tweets besides yours.

You are famous + I’m not already a fan (blue checkmark + I don’t know you). I don’t like to follow famous people that I don’t know because it implies I’m a fan. Maybe that’s weird, but I don’t want other people to think I’m a fan of an author/singer/actor that I might actually hate.

You seem overly cliquish. Don’t like it in real life, don’t like it on Twitter.

The Bottom Line

The number one way to up your chances of me following back is to @ mention me and introduce yourself. You don’t have to say, “Hi, I’m so-and-so,” but you could comment on something we have in common, how you found me, or a mutual friend. Not only does this get my attention and prove you’re a real person, it also tells me that you’re interested in really starting a relationship (as opposed to getting me to follow back so you can unfollow me to improve your following ratio). Surprisingly few people do this.

Everyone has different standards that they look for in new tweeps. And just like in real life, you can’t please everyone. Some people won’t like you. That’s the way of things. If you find yourself consistently upset by someone, regularly annoyed, or somehow offended… unfollow them. And on the flip side, try not to get too offended if someone drops you or fails to follow-back. If you’re a die-hard believer that automatically following back is the minimum courtesy, you have every right to drop me for not following you back. I’d prefer you try to strike up a conversation with me first, but that’s your prerogative. It’s all relative, you know? At the end of the day, it’s not personal.

Want to give me a shot? See how I roll @AnnieNeugebauer. =)

*Now that you know how to get followers, don’t forget to check out Twitter Tips Part 2: How to Keep Your Followers.

So what about you? What are your criteria? Do you always follow back? And do you think it’s rude when someone else doesn’t? Why or why not?

Share this:
This entry was posted in Social Media and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.
  • I look at all these things too. Another thing I watch out for is someone who’s following 200 people yet they have 1,000 followers. If they aren’t famous or well known, it makes me think that they’re one of those people who just follows a bunch of people, then unfollows them in order to make their numbers really high.

    • Oh, that’s an interesting one! It’s a really good point, and I’ve never thought of it that way. A lot of people try to work toward a greater ratio of followers to following, so I usually attribute it to that, but you’re totally right, it could be a case of follow/unfollow. I bet, though, that a quick look at their timeline would reveal which is more likely.

  • -j-

    Ha! I always wondered why that happens – follows and then quick unfollows. Clearly my brain doesn’t work that way.

    I agree with your criteria, Annie, and I don’t auto-follow either. (Must mean you and I were meant to be together, twitterly-speaking.) 😉

  • I am new to twitter (partly because I am old) and do not know or understand the etiquette. I enjoyed reading your thoughts and they make a lot of sense. Thanks for the insight.

    • Hi Bill! I’m so glad my thoughts have helped sort things out for you. =) Twitter can be a wild and confusing place at first, but hang in there; you’ll catch on faster than you think! And people are predominantly friendly there, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. Thanks for stopping by here!

  • I’m a moody woman. Somedays I’ll feel like following everyone that follows me. Other days I’ll be super picky. More often than not, my mass auto follow will not heed the best results. Once a month I’ll usually clean out my twitter. Things that get you unfollowed: strange pictures (weird angles of your face, pictures of your book/cat/car/microwave/etc), only self promotion tweets, non stop WIP lines, and constant RT’s. I want to know there’s a person behind yr twitter name, not a robot. Although, robots are getting more and more human like..

    • Lol Febe. Yes, I do an occasional clean-out too. In fact, Part 2 of this blog (next Monday) is all about why I unfollow people. And a lot of those things are on my list, too, so I totally agree. I try not to do the whole “follow everyone to give them a try” thing, though, because like you said, it usually ends with me quickly unfollowing most of them. And I feel bad when that happens — worse than just not following them to begin with — because I know my follow got their attention, so it’s almost like saying, “Hey I gave you a try but you suck.” So yeah, I try to be more careful about who I follow to begin with partially for that reason. In the end, I think it’s more considerate.

  • I definitely don’t auto-follow, and for a lot of the same reasons you note here. In most cases, it’s easy to see whether people are on Twitter solely to be in your face or whether they’re on Twitter to make personal connections.

    That said, my Twitter follow-back requirements are ironic/hypocritical because I probably wouldn’t even follow myself. Two hundred tweets since last summer is obviously better than no tweets at all, but not by much. It’s weird, because I think Twitter is awesome, but you wouldn’t know it from my profile.

    • That’s interesting, Lura. I follow you, and I can’t say I remember when I started, but I enjoy your presence there. It’s true that you don’t tweet often, but if I had to choose between infrequent tweets and too many, I’d choose infrequent every time. And you have a filled-out bio and a picture of yourself, so you’re doing better than many. Just curious: if you like Twitter so much, what’s holding you back from working to make yourself more followable in your own eyes?

      • I’m far more of a listener than a talker, so inasmuch as Twitter reflects conversation this is how I am in “real” life too. (Yay, extreme introversion!) But also, there’s some social anxiety going on there too. Since I second guess every potential tweet, usually I end up not even bothering. So it’s a work in progress, I guess.

        • Ah, I see. I totally understand that. That’s how I am in real life, too, but for some reason most of my shyness disappears on Twitter. I don’t know why… maybe because I think of it as part of my job instead of part of my personal life, and I’ve always been more outgoing when I can call it something other than just me. (If that makes any sense at all.) So yeah, I feel your pain.

          The good thing, though, is that the collective memory of Twitter is about one day. So if you do make a mistake or Tweet something that doesn’t go over well, chances are good that no one will ever remember the next day, and you can start over. That’s always reassuring to me. =)

  • Dahnya Och

    I’m brand new to Twitter and so I’m just getting my feet wet. I’ve been checking the #writing, #amwriting, and #mywana hastags for people who are actually writing… and then I’ve been sending them a helpful (or inspirational) message before following them. (I’ve also been following all my favorite bloggers, but that’s so I can get to cool new blogs like this!)

    I only un-follow people if I get nothing but self-promotion spam, or if I get the (much confusing to new people) obligatory DM. I should want to find out more about you and your books from your tweets, not because you flooded my inbox with stock-greeting fluff. If I wanted a form response, I’d submit bad fiction to an agent, yah? :3

    At any rate, great post Annie, thanks. This has reinforced my original feelings towards Twitter and makes me feel like I’m (sort of) on the right track. (I haven’t been tweeting much of my own information… I don’t have a blog or a self-published book yet… no Facebook, no G+… I’m taking social media sloooow. So, yes. I’m a constant RTer.)

    • Hi Dahnya! It’s so nice to see new names around here. =) And yes, if we wanted form responses we’d submit bad fiction to an agent. Hahaha, well said.

      RTing is wonderful; don’t get me wrong. If you’re new and don’t have blogs to promote yet, you might consider RTing manually, by copy pasting and adding your own comment about the tweet, instead of simply hitting the retweet button. That way, you explain why you thought it was worth sharing as well as start building recognition of your picture/handle among your followers. Mix that in with the occasional “personal” tweet, and it sounds like you’re on the right track!

      Thank you for the lovely comment. I hope to see you around the Twit-o-sphere.

      • Dahnya Och

        Thanks for the warm welcome, Annie!

        I’ve been doing a mix of the two, to be honest. If I see a blog post that I enjoyed reading, I like to manually RT… but if I see something clever or just want to promote someone else’s cleverness, I just push the button and move on. Good to know I’m headed the right way.

        And again, thank you for the tips and the encouragement. It’s wonderful to talk to such awesome bloggers 🙂

  • Great post, Annie. Your tips are spot on (and pretty much, they are, verbatim, the reasons I will and will not follow people). But it wasn’t always so… Early in my Twitter-learning curve, I would follow any writer who followed me (any genre). Then I started to really look at the very things you mention: the person’s timelines, bios, numbers of RTs, etc. It’s probably time for me to do some serious “unfollow” housecleaning, to be honest. But it’s such a daunting task at this point, I’m procrastinating! Like you said: I, too, am looking for genuine relationships. Thanks for the reminder!

    Oh- and I despise the game playing regarding, “I will follow you till you follow me, then I will quickly unfollow you so that I can jack my number of followers up!” Ugh!

    • I think most of us are lot more indiscriminate when we first join Twitter. And interestingly, some of the people who I followed back then (and likely wouldn’t have followed now) have become my favorite tweeps. So the “system” isn’t perfect; sometimes I imagine that I must still be missing out on some good, follow-worthy people.

      And yes, game playing = sucky. Those people have their priorities all kinds of backwards!

      Also, Part 2 will be about the unfollow, so maybe that will help you in your daunting task? It certainly can be overwhelming.

      Thanks for the comment, Melissa!

  • Well, as you know, I agree with everything here because my list is similar (though yours is more organized!) Have to warn you that I started a lash back of angry tweets when I tweeted about using your face as your avatar. (that was a few weeks ago)

    I completely agree on the disingenuous issue. People who follow 5K+ are not reading our tweets in most cases. I don’t it does anyone any favors to follow them back if you’re not actually going to interact with them.

    • Yes! I love your Twitter list(s). I link to one of them in my Part 2. =)

      And yeah, I definitely feel some general resistance to the human avatar tip, and I’m not really sure why. I guess some people want anonymity, and others are maybe afraid of being judged by their appearance? Either way, it’s just a tip; people can take it or leave it as they like. My intention with these tips wasn’t to force everyone on Twitter to do things my way. It was just to make people aware of the “risks” (in followers) they’re taking by choosing certain practices. If that makes any sense.

      Yes, exactly. It doesn’t help to follow someone back if you’re never going to interact. Glad we’re on the same page. Thanks Nina!

  • MortuaryReport

    Twitter still scares the hell out of me sometimes, just for the record. I always feel like I’m missing just a tiny bit of etiquette, or I’ve said something not quite right. It’s like just barely being on the fringes of the cool kids’ group!

    • Yes yes and triple yes. Me too. I’ve mostly managed to shake that feeling (I’ve been on Twitter for probably about a year now), but I still sometimes revert. And I definitely feel like I’m still on the fringes of some of the cool kids’ groups. It can be kind of nerve-wracking, for sure. You’re not alone!

  • You make great points about Twitter. I think it’s very probable that those of us following a couple thousand or more on twitter are usually interacting with a much smaller subset. I do try to make a point to reach out and say “hi” to someone new or someone I haven’t talked to in a while every day. I’m not ready to restrict my follower numbers yet because I was feel like the person I don’t follow maybe somebody who’s really inspiring. I don’t want to miss that chance. But that’s probably just the inner pantser talking. LOL

    • Hi Sonia! Thanks for stopping by. Yeah, I totally know what you mean. Sometimes I worry that I might be missing out on someone, but it’s a trade-off I’ve decided is worth it for me to be able to more easily find the “good stuff.” (Because with a too-full timeline, I know I miss some of that, too.) That’s one of the things I love about bloggers who do a “best links of the week” post; it shows you things by people you might have missed. I know that Roni Loren, Melinda S. Collins, and Elizabeth S. Craig all have fantastic ones, so I trust them for a lot of my potentially missed info. And of course, there are always retweets. =)

  • Todd Moody

    This is an interesting topic Annie. I am at the point where it keeps telling me I can’t follow anyone anymore until I get more followers so I have to weed all the unfollowers off my list. I am in agreement on almost everything you said for reason not to follow someone, but I do feel like its almost snobbish not to follow back if a real person is behind the follow and not someone just trying to pimp their wares so to speak. I follow a few people that I know won’t follow me back, because they are either interesting or a news source of some sort.

    I’ve been so busy of late that twitter falls by the wayside a lot now. I still enjoy popping in on occasion and see whats going on on particular feeds. The one way I deal with a huge follower list is that I make my own list of people that I actually want to hear from whenever they post. The list is about 150 people or so, that way I can follow back and not feel bad about it.

    I’m going over to the next post now =)

    • Thanks Todd!

      Yeah, your lists solution works for a lot of people. Personally, I hate lists. I just can’t make them convenient enough to be worth it for me. And you’re not alone in thinking that not following back seems snobby. (Obviously, I disagree, but I can see why people think that.) In the end, everyone has to do what works for them. That’s why I don’t get upset when someone I unfollow unfollows me back; they have a right to their Twitter practices, just like I do. I think that’s fine.

      • ToddMoody

        No argument on everyone having to do what works for them. I didn’t mean to disparage anyone, but I know I felt that some “well-known” twitterers were being elitist in their follow-backs. Maybe I’m just projecting. =)

        • Oh no, I knew what you meant, no worries. I think some people are intentionally elitist, for sure. Writers who are building platforms for specific purposes are aiming for tons of followers with a low ratio of following, as it is more impressive. Savvy pros know that 3,000 followers with only 200 following is much harder to accomplish than 23,000 followers with 23,450 following. So is that the right thing to do? Eh, I’m honestly not sure. Everyone has their own motivation for doing things, I guess. Personally, I try to surf somewhere in the middle: building my platform while not being overly exclusive.

  • Niki F.

    I cannot believe how many “stars” I followed for fun when I first joined Twitter. They’re gone as of now! All great advice. Thanks:)

    • Oh, me too, Niki! Live and learn. =) Glad you liked it; thanks for the comment!

  • Great twitter tips you have here. I really like your good post. Please sharing more such type of posts. Thanks

  • ravensmomma1

    Thank you, great tips, I’m new to all this. I’ll know what to look for once I get a follower lol.