Twitter changed their auto-follow policy in 2013. Those of you who’ve read my series on Using Twitter Effectively know that “auto follow” was a major tool in building a writer’s platform.
By way of reminder, “auto follow” was an option in many 3rd party tools that allowed you to automatically follow back anyone who followed you. This saved organizations and popular accounts countless hours of having to manually follow everyone.
I spent some time trying to wrap my head around the new landscape, and it was tough going at first. My numbers stalled out for quite a while. But I’ve learned some lessons along the way, and I’m now convinced that this was an excellent decision on Twitter’s part. My numbers are on the rise once more, and my following is becoming more and more engaged than ever before.
Let’s take a look at the two primary automated tools for growing your following, and how these policy changes impact their use.
This series was originally written back in 2013. I’ve included relevant updates throughout the series as Twitter changed policies and procedures. Please be aware that I may not have caught all of the changes. If you find such a change that isn’t captured in this series, please leave a comment with the new Twitter policy, and I’ll update the series accordingly. Cheers!
Copy Followers is a technique (and an automated option on some 3rd-party tools like JustUnfollow) that quickly displays a list of accounts that follow an account you specify. For example, those of you wishing to use me as a source account would enter my Twitter handle, @NatRusso, in the “Copy Followers” field on your favorite 3rd-party tool, and moments later you’d see a list of people who follow me. Some tools are better than others, making intelligent decisions on which accounts to push toward the top of that list (based on activity, subject matter, hashtags, etc).
Once the list is generated, you would simply click the “Follow” button on each person as you go down the list. This works well when you use a tool like JustUnfollow, which uses specialized algorithms to make sure the list you’re looking at is relevant to your interests.
But this strategy relied, primarily, on one very important piece of automation: Auto Follow. As you clicked “Follow” on each user in my followers list, a certain percentage of those folks would be using a 3rd party tool to “auto follow” you back. Your own follower base would increase immediately and significantly.
But not anymore.
If you employ the same social media strategies that I do, this may scare you. Let me attempt to quell your fear by saying it’s not the end of the world. This is actually a very good thing, for reasons I’ll explain. You merely have to adjust your approach to growing your following.
Copying followers is still a great way to approach building your following base organically, but it’s no longer good enough to simply target writers who have a large following of other writers. The new policy forces you to (finally) leverage your most valuable relationships. Who are these relationships?
Followers who retweet and share your content often and consistently.
This is key. If they retweet you often, their following base is already acquainted with you. So when they see you’ve followed them, they’ll be more likely to follow you back. In fact, I’ve discovered that many are enthusiastic about following you back, because they’re already familiar with your content!
This is fantastic, because it grows your following more organically than a simple auto-follow would. The people who follow you back are more likely to be engaged and interested in what you have to say. Many of these interactive new followers will begin retweeting you, which gives you additional sources for copying followers in the future.
It doesn’t take long to bump up against the infamous “ratio limit.” Let me refresh your memory. Every account has a different ratio (according to Twitter), but it’s roughly 10%. You cannot follow more than [your number of followers + 10%]. If you attempt to follow any more, Twitter will respond with a message that indicates you cannot follow any more people. The first time you hit this ratio is when you try to follow your 2001st person and you have less than 1801 followers.
However, following more people has always been the primary means of building your own following. So what’s a person to do once they hit their ratio limit? It’s simple.
Unfollow anyone who is not following you back. If someone isn’t following you, they are doing you absolutely no good. They probably won’t see your content, and you cannot message them. You don’t even need to follow someone to see their tweets, so what’s the point of keeping these people around?
It may not seem as if the new auto-follow policy is relevant to unfollowing, but it is. Now that people have to manually manage their followers, you need to allow more time for people to follow you back before you start unfollowing. The new policy is forcing everyone to follow you back manually, so that probably means they’re setting aside time to manage their social networks when they can. Some may do this daily, but that’s not probable unless they’re ultra-engaged in social media. It’s more likely that people are doing this every other day or perhaps even once per week.
My recommendation, given the new policy, is this: don’t start unfollowing until you hit your ratio limit or you know you’re getting uncomfortably close to it. After all, the folks who aren’t following you back are doing you no harm until that ratio limit is hit.
Once you hit your ratio limit, then it’s time to start dropping the dead weight.
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Nat Russo is the Amazon #1 Bestselling Fantasy author of Necromancer Awakening and Necromancer Falling.
Nat was born in New York, raised in Arizona, and has lived just about everywhere in-between. He’s gone from pizza maker, to radio DJ, to Catholic seminarian (in a Benedictine monastery, of all places), to police officer, to software engineer. His career has taken him from central Texas to central Germany, where he worked as a defense contractor for Northrop Grumman. He's spent most of his adult life developing software, playing video games, running a Cub Scout den, gaining/losing weight, and listening to every kind of music under the sun.
Along the way he managed to earn a degree in Philosophy and a black belt in Tang Soo Do.
He currently makes his home in central Texas with his wife, teenager, mischievous beagle, and goofy boxador.
I now start to feel like I am the only one following people because of being interested in them…
Take a look at the broader picture for a moment.
If you’re a writer attempting to build your platform, you can’t think of yourself as simply a “person”, strange as that may sound. You need to think of yourself as a small business. Because that’s exactly what you are when it comes to publishing books.
You have to ask yourself “why am I engaging in social media?” If the answer is “to make friends and get to know people,” that will drive your activity one way. If the answer is “to be a content provider that reaches as many people as possible,” this will drive your activity another way.
As a small business owner, your primary goal isn’t going to be making “real life friends”. That’s a noble goal, but that’s something you can do with a personal account rather than your “business” account. This is about growing your business, which is very different from making personal friends.
Don’t get me wrong. You will make personal friends along the way, as does any business owner. And it’s fantastic when that happens. I’ve met at least a dozen people on Twitter that I interact with daily, and I consider them personal friends even though we’ve never met. But I never lose site of what I’m trying to accomplish: build a small business.
Your explanation and reply to this is great. I have switched my own Twitter activity to a business model of late — sharing articles and making some introductions instead of trying to treat it like FB, which it isn’t. But some people are vendors while others are consumers, and that’s what this is about, too.
Good point, Phyl. Part of the challenge of a content provider is to find the consumers.
Same. And I get the perspective that you explained, Nat, but this is still really depressing to me.
I think about my writing the way I think about my day job. There are some things I do to further my day job experience that I wouldn’t necessarily spend time doing outside of work. For example, there may be a group of people I really (genuinely) enjoy going out to lunch with during the work day. But on the weekends, I’d much rather spend that lunch time with my family or pursuing personal goals. On occasion, work friends become out-of-work friends and I spend some non-work hours with them as well.
There’s no dichotomy there, at least from my perspective. For me, it’s just two different worlds that fulfill two different functions in my life.
The same holds true for Twitter. At the moment, I don’t even have what I would consider a “personal” account on Twitter (though that is how my Twitter account originally began). I treat my Twitter account like a professional account. For me, it’s the “community liaison” account for my small business…which is writing and publishing.
I think where I’m going with this is that if you compartmentalize activities and don’t let the personal/professional lines blur (which is pretty much ALWAYS a bad idea in any line of work), you’ll find it less depressing and more empowering.
There’s a LOT of freedom that comes with professional detachment. 🙂
I’m with Tony and Mann on this. I absolutely hate being followed by people who follow over 2000 people. I know that person is never going to see or care about my content. It’s extremely superficial. I see twitter as a networking tool, not an advertising tool. I usually unfollow the advertisers as soon as I realize they post nothing but links.
Just to be clear, in no way do I condone mindless self-promotion. People want to engage with other people, not spam bots. Tweeting an advertisement is like shouting from a moving vehicle. People only care enough to point and say “look at the crazy person!”
That being said, I’m ok with some self-promotion, particularly from the folks I know are also engaging. If someone takes the time to reach out to me personally and comment thoughtfully (or jokingly) on something I said, that puts them on my radar. If we manage to have a full-fledged conversation, they often make it to my “People to Watch” list of folks I check in on regularly. If they become friends, they quickly move up to my “short list”. These are the folks I have conversations with all the time.
There are millions of people on Twitter. And that number includes some truly awesome people you’ll probably never get the chance to meet or interact with. Following large blocks of people is a way of casting a wide net. Not everything you “catch” is going to be worth keeping. That’s where curating comes in. But it’s impossible to curate a list of millions. The scope needs to be narrowed. By establishing a mutual Twitter relationship (by mutually following), you at least give one another the chance to be engaging.
I understand the technology to the point that I know no one is going to see my content unless I get their attention personally. It’s not about tweeting ads. It’s about establishing relationships. The relationships that count will know when you have a new release or some other noteworthy event. Those people will become your cheerleaders, and you’ll become theirs.
But if you wait for them to come to you, you risk never finding one another.
I happen to agree with you, Tony. I prefer in-bound marketing to followback marketing–although my twitter numbers hardly show that–and I’ve got a new policy of only following people who are interesting to me. People who tweet sexist or erotic things are getting dropped. Like naked chauvinist flies. = P
Joking aside, your content should be worthwhile. You should be writing good stuff. And that should be why people follow you. Participate in hashtags, pitch contests, online events, and you’ll get followers. I get most of my follower jumps during pitmad when people see and like my pitches. Write stuff; write a lot of stuff, quality stuff, and google will find you. Tweet funny things and people will laugh. Also, if you tweet funny things in reply to other people, they may follow you! I’ve definitely followed people because of things they’ve replied to me or someone I followed.
Do you need to follow back sometimes? Yes! Because people are interesting. And I think taking interest in people makes social media way more fun. I follow Nat because he’s got neat things to say, and even when he does advertise himself it’s funny (“Who has a facebook? This guy!”). But you shouldn’t follow anyone you don’t genuinely take an interest in, because then you get no cool new content you can take from that person to share with your followers. It’s all about providing your followers with something of value. Is this person valuable to your followers? Yes? Learn from them.
Now–all people are interesting and precious. So in an ideal world, you’ll be interested in everyone, and they’ll all be interested in you, and we’ll all be following each other because we are open-minded happy children. But with limited cerebral space that can be difficult.
Just my two cents on follow-back.
I agree on many levels, Petre.
My purpose behind using “JustUnfollow” as a method for copying followers is really sort of like a “ping”. It’s me saying “Hey, in case you haven’t had a reason to cross paths with me yet, I’m out here. Just so you know.” That gives them the time to check me out and see if I’m worth following. My ratio, right now, is something on the order of 175 new followers per day and 35 unfollowers. To me, this is acceptable, because I know I can’t be everyone’s cup of tea, so to speak.
Also, by only targeting folks who follow people I’m interested in, there’s a strong likelihood that we’ll have mutual interests, and therefore should be interesting to one another. It doesn’t always work, but I’ve found it to be a useful tool.
Twitter is a vast ocean of people. The automation tools allow me to “direct sonar” around the ocean to see what’s out there. Sometimes I find a valuable submarine. Other times it’s just “whales humping”. 🙂
Good advice. Thankfully, this hasn’t depressed me at all. I can see why it’s positive. The auto-followers are not very useful at all. Much of the time, they’re just there. They don’t do anything. I use JustUnfollow, but I don’t automate it. I go through each suggested person and follow who I feel will most likely follow back and be interested in what I have to offer.
I think your approach is, and shall remain, the smartest, most guaranteed route to an engaged following, Jay Dee!
Why is this all not fun?
I’m not sure I understand your question, Sherry.
Just began a Twitter account, and came across yours. I’m catching up on some of your blogs and just wanted to stop by and say thank you. It’s a jungle out there, and it’s nice to find such helpful information. I’m just launching my “retirement” years, and beginning serious work on my first novel; learning a lot through flash fiction; and want to develop some skills in social networking BEFORE I really “need” it. Looking forward to visiting often.
Welcome aboard! If I can ever answer any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. And best of luck with the novel!