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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Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.