As founder of SocialToo, a startup that has a Twitter auto-follow feature, I've heard my share of comments on why automatically following those that follow you on Twitter or elsewhere is or isn't a bad thing. Some people feel it is less genuine if you use a script to follow those that follow you, while others think that as your network grows it is hard to manually pick and choose those that should or shouldn't be followed.
A script makes this easier, and while it has the potential to introduce more spammers into those you follow, services like my own SocialToo.com provide tools to prevent that through manual and intelligent blacklisting of individuals you don't want it to follow. The "genuine" relationship issue is a concern that makes sense though, and it begs the question on whether following absolutely everyone can actually reduce the strength of relationships you have with those you follow. I think with that issue people are missing the point.
It's About Relationships
Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook, and other networks similar are all about relationships. Building and fortifying those relationships are important on each of the networks you belong to. Relationships are what define an individual. I remember working at a small Genealogy startup, OneGreatFamily.com, where we were able to identify exactly who an individual was by their relationship to those around them. If we could identify their grandparents, parents, children, spouse, and other aspects of those around the individual, we could then match those in the network with similar relationships and guarantee with near certainty that 2 individuals in the database were indeed the same individual.
Therefore it's important to be able to identify yourself by those you connect with to further establish your identity on the internet. In this case we're doing it by those you associate with in different ways. For the most part, when people "follow" you on one of these networks, they are showing interest in you. For one reason or another, they came across your profile and have established some perception of who you are. They are interested in you.
Therefore, when they put forth that effort to follow you, the polite thing would be to pay back the courtesy and show interest back to them. I think the issue we're all running into here is that as our networks grow, it becomes more and more difficult to pay attention to each and every individual. Therefore, does it really help solidify that relationship if you can't pay attention to everything they post?
You can have the best of both worlds!
I find the more new followers I get, and the harder it gets to manage each and every potential relationship. I only have 2,000 followers - imagine if you are Robert Scoble or Guy Kawasaki with 20,000+ followers! Therefore, for me, automation has become necessary where possible. The secret which I have come to realize is that it's okay to miss things your friends say! I'd venture to say that every person has at least 1,000 real-life friends, so it's a very real possibility this will become necessary for you as well.
Here's the thing though - most of my friends don't even realize that I can't pay attention to everything they say because I've developed a way to ensure the important posts come to my attention. Therefore, if I can be sure I can catch the things they want me to hear, and I get the opportunity to talk back to them when that happens, I now have the best of both worlds. I am following them, and I'm able to pay attention to what they want me to hear as well. That doesn't necessarily mean I pay attention to every word they say. It's okay to skim, or even miss posts!
Here's how you can do it:
It's taken me a couple years to master this technique, and I'm constantly discovering new ways to manage it better. It's important you find a way that works best for you, but here are some sure tools to allow you to follow those that follow you, and get the information that both they, and you need to obtain to ensure the best relationship between all those you follow:
- TweetDeck - TweetDeck is an essential for any Twitterer. I only recently started embracing this 100%, but boy am I glad I did! TweetDeck has enabled me to create a "favorites" group that ensures the most important people I follow I can track every single one of their Tweets from. This now becomes the equivalent to only following those people who are most important to you. Through TweetDeck you not only are enabled to follow everyone that follows you (through services like SocialToo.com), but also track those people that are most important to you at the same time.
- Twitter Search - Also available in TweetDeck (You can create custom windows that only return Tweets that match terms you specify. Not only that, but you can filter by keyword amongst your friends and even exclude terms!), Twitter Search is essential for finding the information, especially amongst your friends, that you need to hear about. You can search for a particular user's name, your own brand, your competitors, particular interests you have, and more, and all results get returned with a link to add to your RSS Reader. This means that every new Tweet with that term in it gets sent as a new item in your RSS Reader.
- TwitScoop - TweetDeck also integrates Twitter Search with TwitScoop, which will give you the top trending topics at a given time, letting you know the hot topics before even the news hears about them. TwitScoop's website will then show you all the people talking about that subject at a given time. Today I was reminded of Charlie Brown Thanksgiving on TV because people on the East Coast were talking about it before it came on in my area.
- RSS - Use RSS religiously. With TweetDeck this becomes much less necessary, but through both Twitter Search and FriendFeed, all your results come back with an RSS link. Be sure to add the searches you must not miss out on to your RSS Reader and you won't miss anything.
- FriendFeed IM - I use this to have replies to my posts on FriendFeed delivered straight to me, as they happen. This keeps me from having to keep checking back on FriendFeed for new replies. I can even reply back right in my IM window! See our previous article on this.
- FriendFeed Lists - FriendFeed has provided a "group" functionality, which they call Lists, similar to what TweetDeck provides for Twitter enabling you to track and organize the individuals you follow on FriendFeed. Each list is available real-time, so you can have a window open, and refer back to that list regularly. Again, skimming is okay - if you have your search and alerts set up you won't miss anything through this method.
- Treat @replies and DMs religiously! - This is important. If someone really wants to get in touch with you they will send you a message, either publicly or privately. It's important to note that in Twitter, you can't privately send a message to anyone if they aren't following you back. This is why it is so important to try and follow those that follow you - it gives your followers just one more way to get in touch with you, and gives you one more way you can talk with your followers. Pay attention regularly to those that reply to you or direct message you. I try to make it a habit to reply to each one, whether it be a short, "can you e-mail me?" statement, or a more personal message. This is your closest opportunity to one-on-one communication on these networks, so take advantage of it.
(Jesse Stay is CEO and Chief Architect ofSocialToo.com, a startup that enables relationship management for those you follow on the Social Web)
Read more by Jesse Stay at Stay N' Alive.