To Follow or Not to Follow: That is the Question

by rishil on January 18, 2010

Twitter Followers: Ask for Advice. There is nothing wrong with that.

Twitter Followers: Ask for Advice. There is nothing wrong with that.

Econsultancy recently mass unfollowed over 19K people. This is neither new nor a unique strategy. Maki (doshdosh) did the same a while back. So did Scoble and a host of others. Each have their own reasons, but Econsultancy states:

It is impractical to follow 19,000 people. Too much noise has rendered our @econsultancy Twitter account unusable.

I am not surprised to be honest. In fact I am more surprised that they have promised to selectively restart adding people to their stream. I am pretty much a small fish in a huge pond, but I am nearing over 3K people myself. It is pretty impractical to follow everyone, as the noise to information ratio goes commpletely out of whack for me. Dont get me wrong, there are people who can manage that ratio pretty well. I, unfortunately am not one of them.

That doesnt mean that I ignore people that follow me. I often used to troll through streams of followers conversations and chat to them. To me, twitter is all about conversation and adding value. Typically you will see a high ratio of retweets from me and of me because I have taken time to build relationships with people. I could probably go so far as saying that after SEOmoz, Twitter was my reason for rise to noteriety.  In my opinion, Econsultancy are doing the right thing. After all, in the words of @lakey:

Incidentally, our subscription business predated our activity on Twitter by six years, and hasn’t yet reached a critical mass. In that sense, Twitter isn’t make or break for our business.

Although I would argue that twitter did in some respect add to their exposure, I sincerely believe that it is the new friendly site architecure, the amazing quality of content that they have produced on the blog in the recent year that should take the lion’s share of the credit. I remember saying as much a while back to Chris (@lakey).

What would I suggest they do? Twittter has this fantastic facility that has made my life genuinely easier on twitter. And that facility is the capability of building lists without having to follow everyone one it. In fact I probably have the highest subscribed UK SEO list. It allows me to keep an eye on what UK SEO’s are saying, without having to add them on to my own stream or to create a secondary a/c to do so. My honest opinion is that Econsultancy should spend some time classifying their followers and segmenting them into these lists, and monitor their conversations from there, if they want to listen to what their followers are saying.

People Not Following Me

People Not Following Me

I dont take unfollows or the lack or recipricol follows personally. The Screenshot above is a real indication of a/cs that I follow that dont follow me.  Some a/c’s are obvious why they dont, however others I know, I speak to often, or are even friends with me on Facebook. Each have their own reasons, and I have never asked. Why should I? I simply assume that my tweets are of no use to them, or adds too much noise to their streams. That is the beauty of twitter. There aren’t hard and fast rules. You learn as you go, and you adjust to your own communities. I have my niche, and I find I fit well within it. Some of my friends however arent so forgiving

What would I advise those new (and some not so new!) to twittter? My bigggest piece of advice is to reach out. At least to me and other like minded people. I am not a rockstar, despite a large number of followers. I do it all the time. And it works!

Some other useful resources:

Share and Enjoy:
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • FriendFeed
  • Sphinn
  • LinkedIn
  • PDF
  • StumbleUpon
  • Suggest to Techmeme via Twitter
  • Yahoo! Buzz

Rishi Lakhani is an independent Online Marketing Consultant specialising in SEO, PPC, Affiliate Marketing and Social Media. Explicitly.Me is his Blog. Google Profile

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Peter Handley January 18, 2010 at 10:10 pm

Good post. I’m an even smaller fish in the large pond and still suffered the noise issue.

I’m using lists to help me manage the people I follow that I ave really engaged with and enjoy talking to.

I also try to engage the people I follow as well as my followers. I realise some of the bigger names aren’t going to follow me, but Twitter is designed in such a way that you can still engage in conversation and glean or impart some

It’s not practical to follow every follower – some people may want to know what you’re doing or saying, but that doesn’t mean that you always want the same.


Robert nicholson January 18, 2010 at 10:19 pm

Hey rishil, I’d agree with a lot of what you say above, indeed at following around 600ish people I’ve reached a saturation point where I’ll more likely remove than add. However those I do follow or talk to provide huge value!
Ps your site format is nice on the iPhone!


rishil January 18, 2010 at 10:25 pm

Hey Rob. Cheers :)
Re: iphone version, I need to tweek the css slightly, but it’s running on WPtouch which is pretty cool.

p.s I have edited and added your twitter profile (assuming you were too lazy to if you were one a phone :P let me know if you want to swop it for another link.)


Sarah January 19, 2010 at 7:55 am

my threshold is seriously low, at about 200, and every time I get close I feel the need to start clearing out. I can’t even begin to imagine maintaining more than that, but then I like to talk to the people I follow a lot.


rishil January 19, 2010 at 1:14 pm

As do I (talk to people I follow) :)


Brett Pringle January 19, 2010 at 8:46 am

Reading through the post the first thing that came to mind was @pageoneresults and his Twitter TOS :)

Suppose i’m just a bit old school in some ways, and if people follow you genuinely expect them to make contact and say hi. Avoid the follow unfollow game. As you say, no rules, just reach out and make contact and find your own place in the twitterverse


Nikki Rae January 19, 2010 at 9:02 am

Hi Rishi

I am also nearing that point as there are ‘experts’ I wish to follow in varying fields, the general industry chit chat which is fun and great learning and then the fact that I want to leave open channels for people to reach out if they want to.
I have to admit, I do get a little ego-glow if someone I respect follows me back but I agree, we should be using ‘customer segmentation’ to manage our twitter channels.

Nice Post!

Nikki Rae


Chris Lake January 19, 2010 at 11:41 am

Hey Rishi,

Great analysis of our own situation and I think you’ve summed up why it is impossible to sensibly follow thousands of people. I personally follow around 650 and that’s pretty much the maximum, as far as I can tell. Your idea of building lists, rather than following people, is a good one. I’ll give it some thought, though I’d hate to backtrack again as far as @econsultancy goes!

My idea was simply to reset the @econsultancy account to zero and then follow people we know and trust. You can’t ‘know’ 19,000 people in any meaningful sense. But you can know people who write for us, who help us with our training, who speak at our events, and who we’ve worked with in the past decade or so, and who we work with today.

In any case, ‘not following’ doesn’t mean ‘definitely not interacting’, in the same way that ‘following’ doesn’t mean ‘definitely interacting’! We continue to monitor what’s being said about us and wade in from time to time, especially when questions are asked.

To be clear, while Twitter hasn’t made a massive impression on our revenue, it has definitely helped us grow awareness and finesse the kind of content we produce. It’s not about linkbait per se, but I know that certain types of post / headline will work better than others, and it has been interesting to learn from that. Moreover, we’ve enjoyed the feedback we receive on Twitter, whether good or bad. I think all of these things help us improve what we do, but it’s important to remember that we’re still learning and observing as we go along…!




rishil January 19, 2010 at 1:16 pm

Hi Chris – thanks for stoping by. I am with you guys on this one – it’s still a major learning curve.


Richard Shove January 19, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Like Sarah, my threshold is pretty low. I find 300 about right for me, though I guess it depends on the 300, some tweet more than others. People use Twitter in different ways, I tend to plain ignore anyone that uses it as a broadcast medium. I’m more interested in people that will converse with me, so unless I think they offer value then I wont’ follow. If someone follows thousands of people then I’m likely to plain ignore their follow.

Anyone I follow I’ve followed because I want to, or they’ve followed me and I thought they sounded interesting but I do tend to have a weekly clear out and I use Twitblock to weed out any crap that follows me. I don’t care if people don’t follow me back but I do still use Twitdiff to monitor those that follow/unfollow and if someone unfollows that didn’t provide any value, then I’ll likely unfollow them on principle.


Bas van den Beld January 19, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Hi Rishil,
good post. I do believe its time to look at ‘following’ in a different way.

The way you write about this and the way e-consultancy apparently looks at it also is that you have to look at your timeline to follow those you ‘follow’. I don’t do that anymore, I hardly ever look at my timeline to be honest. And I follow the content of many more people than the ones I actually follow. Sounds a bit weird, I know, but its actually pretty simple. Applications like Tweetdeck make it possible for me to follow a topic or follow a specific group of people (lists). That way it hardly matters if I ‘follow’ anyone on Twitter or not, they show up in my apps anyway if they have anything interesting to say.

Those who I really want to keep track of, regardless of what they are saying I make lists or groups in Tweetdeck so I can easily find back what they have been saying.

In my opinion followers will become more ‘friends’ and people will follow the content rather than the persons. That way you don’t have a timeline which is ‘noisy’.

Hope it makes sense what I’m trying to say :)


Ciarán January 20, 2010 at 10:44 pm

This is a weird one – there really is no right answer. For me, I don’t follow everyone automatically, and to be honest very rarely follow people when they follow me, because I turned off the notifications, after it started to overwhelm my email. I do however follow anyone I find, through Tweetdeck, retweets or whatever, who seems interesting.

As I said in the comments of the original econsultancy post, determining whether or not they’ve done the best thing depends on what they want to get out of the service: I’ve not used lists at all, so hadn’t realised it might be a way round the issue – maybe I’ll give it a try. Because even without automatic following, and regular attempts at spring-cleaning, I still can’t seem to get my list down.


Leave a Comment

Previous post: Content? WTF is that Anyway?

Next post: Do I need to know Blackhat SEO?