Why Autofollow on Twitter?

Ever wondered why do people use automated services to follow people back on Twitter?

I have. 

I’ve heard lots of different reasons given, almost none of which make sense to me:

  • They feel some kind of obligation to reciprocate when someone follows (do you subscribe to all of your blog subscribers’ blogs?)
  • They want others to be able to DM them (if you’re a business then fine; otherwise can’t they just say they want to DM you, and ask for the follow?)
  • They want to get to know more people (this has some validity, although once you’re past a certain number it’s hard to really get to know everyone)

One of the underlying ones, though, which I suspect few people admit, is that they think that by following everyone back they will maintain more followers.

Until recently, the people who auto-followed were easy to spot – they were the ones complaining about receiving large volumes of auto-DMs (messages automatically sent when people follow some accounts). 

I’ve written before about my approach to “following people back” on Twitter. To summarize – rather than automatically following back, I look at a variety of factors:

  • Occurrence @ replies to me;
  • Use of a real name in the user name or bio;
  • Relevance of bio to my interests;
  • Relevance of website to my interests;
  • Relevance of recent posts.

Note: To be clear, as I’ve said before, I absolutely appreciate every single person who chooses to follow me on Twitter and I’d be delighted to have conversations with each of them – just send me an @ message to say hi and let’s chat!

Two weeks ago I decided to start an experiment – I decided to find out whether auto-following people did have an effect on follower numbers. So, I signed-up for Tweetlater and set up my account to automatically follow-back people who followed me.

The result:

Auto-following back had no effect on the number of people following me.

The math: Over the last three months, according to Tweetcounter my average number of new followers per day was 26. Over the last two weeks, the average number was 27.7 – a marginal difference, even despite a big jump of over 100 on one day. 

I’m not going to start telling other people how to go about choosing who they follow. As far as I’m concerned that’s a personal thing and, while I’ll frown on people trying to game the system to generate a big following, as long as you don’t hurt other people I think it’s largely up to you. 

With that said, if you’re auto-following people back in the hope of driving-up your numbers then think again.

It doesn’t work.

I’m curious – do you use an auto-following service on Twitter? If so, why?

(For the record, I’ve now turned auto-following off on my account. While I try to check-out my new followers as much as I can, if you would like to connect, send me an @ message to say hi!)

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  • Nancy Pricer

    Great post, Dave. I have recently been contemplating this. I take the time to use your same approach. I have had some interesting ones follow me recently. Some have been kind of creepy and I have actually blocked a few (I know, I sound paranoid!). Thanks for taking the time to do the experiment and share with others!

  • Thanks you for taking the time to do and put this study together. I do not use an auto-follow service as I simply feel it doesn’t support building an organic relationship. I like taking the time to greet each of my new followers. I wouldn’t leave a sticky note with a message saying “Hi, it nice to meet you” with every new person I’ve met outside of Twitter so I don’t see the point of Auto Follow services. Why do you think there is such a big push for numbers?

  • This is useful info for a newbie such as myself. I’ve been on Twitter only two weeks and already have about 200 followers and 200 followees and don’t want to feel obligated to follow someone just because they followed me.

    I’m having enough problems keeping up with 200 people as it is and determining what my “identity” on Twitter is going to be.

  • I appreciate your insight, and that you took the time to do an experiment.I’ve thought about auto-following, and decided it was not for me. I read all the bio’s of the people I follow, and visit website and blogs. I want to make sure that there is value for both of us, and common ground.Even if it is simply a shared affinity for running or I see something that makes me smile. If I auto follow, I’m looking for numbers,and missing the connection.

  • Thanks for taking the time to do this experiment – I had a feeling that follow-backs wouldn’t make a difference in followers, but it’s nice to see some empirical evidence.

    When I see someone following thousands of people, my immediate reaction is that they’re not listening to any of them. I mean, how could you? Tweetdeck-grouping can only do so much. I think these people are missing the point of Twitter

  • Interesting post.

    I am very suspicious of auto anything on social networks, it just smells like spam to me. For now I tend to follow almost everyone who follows me if they have a pic and a bio but my numbers are fairly small. I’m happy with this, I want to build followers, but I don’t mind if it takes a few months – there is no race, we should all be in this for the long haul.

  • Dave,

    I auto-follow. I believe Twitter should be a two-way conversation. I can’t “talk” to people if I don’t see what they have to say. By auto-following these people get into my feed. I can then see what they have to say.

    Over time, I learn whether I want to continue the conversation. If they are spammy or talking about subjects of which I have no interest I can un-follow later. And if what they have to say is of interest I can continue the conversation by engaging them with @replies and DMs.

    Andrea

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  • Dave – figured I would lob in a comment here as Twitter only allows a finite number of characters. Speaking from my own experience, I was much more likely to automatically follow someone back when I first started on Twitter. I thought, probably incorrectly, that it was the “polite” thing to do. However, at some point I realized that I was following so many folks (admittedly not as many as some, but still) that I was having a difficult time keeping track of the conversation. At that moment, I discontinued auto-following and become more selective about who I followed, or followed back.

    This is the sort of post that every new Twitter user should read. It reiterates that quality is more important than quantity, particularly with a social network like Twitter.

    Anyway, just my $0.02. Thanks for the post!

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  • There seems to be an interesting debate going on about this. Personally, I have realized that NOT following people does not mean you can’t converse with them. I never automatically followed people, but I did use to spend a decent chunk of time sifting through everyone to figure out if I should follow back or not (I use SocialToo so at least I only get one email with a list, instead of 25 emails a day). These things do change over time though, as your Twitter account grows. I think when you start out it’s a good idea to reciprocate, at least until you understand your own needs with regards to whom you want to follow.

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  • Annette

    I’m a newbie on this, and having a good time getting updates on people I have chosen to follow..in my profession..at one time or another, I will run across them…but…take you for example..where did YOU come from? How did you end up on my follow list? EVERY single day I wipe so many people I don’t want on there off. I hate this… It reminds me of all the folks on Facebook with thousands and thousands of ‘friends’.. what a PAIN! Great article… I think you are a keeper! Annette

  • Thanks Dave, I’ve been trying to decide what is the best recommendation for clients. My personal belief in organic SEO is against these tactics. Yet some clients really just want followers to “look successful”. It’s nice to see an experiment that shows autofollow isn’t going to make much of a difference.

  • I don’t use autofollow for several reasons. First of all, there has been an increase in pornographic posts along the lines of “Check out my X-rated pix” –and several of those people have followed me and I had to block them. Second, I don’t think it is useful to follow tons of people because there is no way to keep up with all of them. Third, the items that people post have to be useful to me in some way. So I follow people who are in the health and wellness field like myself, as well as those who are in marketing or who tweet about marketing and business topics. If someone is in a field that is not related to those topics, or is tweeting about things that are not related to those topics, I generally don’t follow them. (I do follow some people who live in my city, Santa Fe, even though they don’t fall into these categories because I know them from other places.) It’s nothing personal, and I don’t think people should take it personally when someone doesn’t follow them. It’s just the most efficient way for me to use Twitter.

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