Almost every day, I go through my new followers on Twitter, and follow back folks I’d like to engage with. I don’t follow back everyone, however. As I’ve joked with my partner, I have some pretty “strict” rules about following people back on Twitter:
- You need to use Twitter more than once per year
- You need to do more than just RT or share links
- Your conversations need to be more than you complaining at a brand about a customer service issue or just saying “thanks” to people for sharing something
- You aren’t a ninja expert influencer
- Your profile wasn’t written by a bot (I can spot several bot profile formulas now)
- You aren’t trying to sell me followers or teach me how to make money fast
But yesterday, I was reminded of one of my other rules of following on Twitter: If you use an auto follow/unfollow app I’m not following you back.
Some of you may wonder how I know someone is using this sort of spammy tactic to cheese the follower numbers. It’s actually quite simple:
- The person goes from a typical follow/follower ratio to not following anyone at all, without explanation*
- Sprout Social outs you to me because you use auto DMs and I see them from the last two times I’ve followed you.
- You’ve met this person IRL, and collaborated with them on content, and so you are very much aware they are playing the follow/unfollow game…because they’ve done that to you six times over the past year.
I notice when you use those follow/unfollow apps + don’t engage. So there’s no need to keep re-following me after we’ve done that dance. 😉
— Erika Heald (@SFerika) July 15, 2017
Bad Sign #1: The Mass Extinction of Followers
When you see someone with thousands of followers on Twitter who is not following anyone at all it’s suspicious. Yes, there are some celebrities whose accounts are like this. And some brands who are missing the point that social media is where they should, you know, be social with their fans.
But when someone was following a healthy amount of accounts and then all of a sudden isn’t following anyone, that’s a sign they’ve purged their followers with an app. Or they’ve been hacked by someone who hates them.
I try to give them the benefit of the doubt, but if there is never an explanation from them, Twitter takes notice and I do too.
…But There’s Always an Exception to the Rule
* That said, there can be a good reason for a mass unfollow. I asked my friend Josh McCormack to share why he recently purged a bunch of accounts from his follow list:
I am a proponent of replies and discussions on Twitter,” says Josh. “This is where relationships are born that turn into friends, clients and customers. I was following 11k+ people—not all of the 22k people that were following me.
I tried to filter out people by many of the same methods you’ve outlined. More recently I tried to look individually at accounts I had no engagement with at all, see if they were someone I had things to talk with them about, and either reply to them if there were, or unfollow.
To say this is time consuming when you have thousands of people to go through is an understatement. Meanwhile, people I wanted to keep track of were getting buried. I didn’t always manage to get people onto lists so I could keep track of them.
My decision was to unfollow everyone, follow everyone I had on a couple of lists, and then follow anyone that saw I had missed. It is likely to make my follower count to drop like a rock—it has dropped by 1,230 people in just a couple of days. I’m guessing I’ll lose 10k followers in a week. But I’m not really concerned with that, I’m after engagement, not follower count.
Bad Sign #2: This is the Third Auto DM You’ve Sent Me
Several people I know have gotten to the point where they immediately unfollow people who send them an auto-DM in response to their follow.
This may seem hasty, but here’s the thing. Many of the people using that automation tactic also do the automated follow/unfollow dance.
This becomes apparent to me when I’m looking at new followers and see I’ve received the same canned auto-DM from them multiple times after following them. They eventually earn a place on my “never follow” list.
Why? Because I’m on Twitter to engage with other people and learn new things. If I’m just a follower cog in your social media follower strategy, what’s in it for me to follow you?
Bad Sign #3: I Know You Personally And Notice Your Follows/Unfollows
You’d think that someone you’ve worked with or collaborated with wouldn’t brazenly follow and unfollow you regularly to try to game their follower count, right?
Apparently not. I’ve had several people I know IRL do a mass unfollow then repeatedly follow and unfollow me. I’ve had folks I’ve collaborated with on Twitter chats, blog content, and more do the same.
These are perhaps the most vexing cases.
If you are making a living by writing, consulting, and speaking about social media, and you are using spammy tactics to try to inflate your follower counts, well, that’s icky.
And it influences my opinion of you. That’s why you won’t be getting any referrals from me.
I understand it can be hard to focus your time on Twitter if you have thousands of followers. But that’s what Twitter lists are for! You can categorize and slim down public and private lists to make it easier to find the folks you want to engage with on Twitter.
Also, if the fabulous Ann Handley, content marketer extraordinaire, can follow back thousands of people, AND engage on social channels, why can’t you?
Just Say No to Auto Follow/Unfollow Apps
This sort of Twitter automation may help you quickly gain thousands of followers. But what value are those followers without actual engagement? They certainly aren’t the base of an engaged Twitter community.
Automation usually sounds good in theory, but in practice, it sends the opposite message to people you’re looking to connect with — especially because, often, people who follow and unfollow repeatedly don’t even realize they’re doing it,” says content and social media marketer Martin Lieberman.
Instead of using social automation tools to build a presence, be more present. Pay attention, engage in meaningful conversations when you can, and be deliberate about who you follow. Do it manually. The growth may be slower, but if you seek high quality connections, not a high quantity of them, that will make it worthwhile.
While brands may have previously shelled out influencer marketing payments that varied based on follower count, times are changing. Now, brands are realizing that a self-proclaimed influencer with a high follower count and no engagement isn’t worth that much to them. Hence the shift to microinfluencers—people with smaller follower numbers but who build meaningful relationships and actually influence their community to take action.
Instead of shelling out some cash for a quick follower boost, try spending more time engaging on social. That way you not only grow your following, you add value to it through the relationships you build.
Jeremy Jones says
One more criterion:
You aren’t adding SPAM on one of my hashtags.
Carol Fowler says
Amen, Erika. Couldn’t have said it better myself.
saffi yusef says
Love this post! The same rings true for instagram too. I completely share your view on this.
I see so much gaming the system on Instagram. It’s a real bummer.
Anne Janzer says
This is terrific, Erika. Thanks for putting it into words.
The only thing that bugs me more than those automated unfollowers and automated repeat DMers are the people who inexplicably attempt to use Twitter to pick up women. In what world would that ever work?
Thanks, Anne! And I’ve seen guys try to use LinkedIn to get dates. Worst. Idea. Ever!