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.
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.
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/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.