Following 214,000 people

There’s a feeling among many on Twitter that having a large number of followers is good, period. But Twitter is like any other form of communication: each person and company will have its own audience and objectives. For some, having a deep connection with 500 or 1,000 people will be more important and productive than a shallow, even meaningless, “connection” with 50,000 or 100,000. In fact, it’s almost trivially easy to get a huge number of Twitter followers, if that’s all you want. It’s much more difficult to have a meaningful connection with them.

Tweet saying that number of followers is unimportant

Let’s look at the profiles of three different professional-type accounts (leaving out the Oprahs, Lady Gagas and Justin Biebers of the world).

First, there’s the account with a huge number of followers and accounts followed.

Twitter profile with many followers and followed

You can find many accounts with 100K-plus Following and Followers. Now, obviously NO ONE is “following” 100,000+ accounts in a meaningful way. People who do follow this many would need to use lists or another tool to see the tweets of the very few people that they really care about. But that number of followers gives some a kind  of bragging rights. And by following that many, they’re likely to have far more followers. I’ll explain why shortly.

Secondly is the industry guru (or company) who is followed by many, but does not follow many in return. Here’s an extreme case, Seth Godin

Seth Godin Twitter profile w 345k followers

This is very impressive because all of those people are following him even though he doesn’t follow any of them back. People follow Seth Godin for his insights, for the same reason that they go to his blog. They feel like they’re getting a lot of value and don’t expect him to follow them back. On the other hand, he’s not getting his information or conversation through Twitter. Or at least not through this account.

Ann Handley uses multiple accounts. She tweets both as @MarketingProfs, with over 200,000 Followers, and as @AnnHandley with about 3,800 Following and Followers.

Finally, there’s something closer to what I have: a modest amount of followers and accounts that I follow.

Twitter profile with about 1,200 followers and followed

My “following” and “followers” is actually a bit smaller than this account. I have several hundred accounts that I follow and several hundred that follow me. I use Twitter for (1) updates from companies, thought leaders, and news organizations that I respect and enjoy, (2) a way to engage with someone that I want to talk with (aka social selling), (3) a way to stay connected and up to date on what people I know are up to. I use it for conversation. I don’t think I could do that if I was following 1,000+ accounts.

And if you looked more deeply at my account, there’s probably only a 50% overlap between followers and following because of the amount of news organizations (I’m a news junkie), humor accounts (@rickygervais, @paulapoundstone, @Charles_HRH, etc.), and industry leaders that I follow but who don’t follow back.

However, that can make my account look kind of pathetic. Less than 1,000 followers? Get real.

Industry leaders gain large followings based on their status. The way that the rest of us can build huge numbers of followers is by following back everyone, and mass following others who follow back everyone – and unfollowing anyone who doesn’t follow back within a day or two.

This practice is so common that some people even brag about it:

Tweet saying I followback everyone

Doesn’t everyone want to have a relationship with @weedwhore_thc and @gamma_monkey?

Gamma Monkey profile header encourage followbacks

So, to prove how easy it is to get tens of thousands of followers, I downloaded a trial version of some software for Twitter (I won’t help them by saying which, unfortunately there are many out there). I had it search for accounts that had the words “marketing” or “sales” in their description, and that had a high number of followers and following. And I quickly followed 250 of those accounts, the maximum number that I could with the trial version. If I had been willing to pay the $55 license fee I could have auto-followed thousands.

And sure enough, within just a few hours I was getting dozens of follows back. I got over 100 new followers in the next few days.

Hootsuite follower report

And as a result, my Twitter stream ended up looking like this:

Tweet stream with spam

I now had garbage and spam tightly interwoven with valuable tweets. Useless. If I were to keep all of the new accounts that I was following, I’d definitely need to use lists.

And, of course, they all send out auto DMs:

Twitter direct messages

So any direct message that I cared about would get lost in this.

Now it may be that over time with the increased blogging that I’m doing, if people like my insights and tweets the number of followers that I get will increase more quickly than it is now. But until then, if I really wanted tens of thousands of followers, all I would have to do is (1) use this software to follow as many remotely-relevant people as possible, (2) unfollow those who don’t follow me back,  and (3) followback almost everyone who initiates the relationship by following me. The software will do all of that for you.


But I don’t care about my number of followers. I care about the quality of information and engagement I’m getting. So I’m not going to do that.

Now please excuse me, I have a bunch of people to unfollow on Twitter. But I’ll do it manually. Who knows, some of those 100+ new followers may be keepers.

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