In my early days on Twitter, one of the things I was advised to do was follow anyone who followed me. It’s something people will tell you to do if you want to keep those numbers up. Some users will have a line in their bio saying they “follow all who follow” or “I follow back,” or frequently encourage their followers to follow anyone who comments on a particular post of theirs.
This isn’t me.
Even though having a large number of followers can influence your presence on Twitter which can in turn affect your marketing as a creator, I take some consideration when pressing that follow button.
In a move that is likely going to cost me a number of followers, I’m diving into the reasons I might not always follow back or may even feel inclined to unfollow users (but don’t worry because next week I’ll be releasing the counterpart to this post and talking about what makes me want to follow users).
You know how creating an account on some websites will ask you to prove you’re not a robot? That’s also true when it comes to the users I follow. Even though I can’t necessarily go around to every account and ask them to select every image of a fire hydrant or type out a distorted sequence of letters, I can and sometimes do check out their profile and see what they’re posting. One of the dead giveaways is a fake celebrity profile. I’ve been followed by the likes of 98 Degrees’s Jeff Timmons on more than one occasion but, as luck would have it, that’s not actually the real Mr. Timmons or on the other side of the screen.
I know, I’m shocked.
If the account does not appear to be run by an actual human being, I’m just not going to follow it.
The same goes for trolls. These are the folks who set out to bully and harass a particular user or group by calling them out either directly or indirectly, posting some nasty stuff and spamming the comments on their target’s (as well as anyone who tries to put them in their place). These trolls can end up getting blocked and reported by other users, at which point Twitter itself might delete their account.
However, these trolls don’t mind creating a new profile to get back in and get back to their “hobby.”
And somehow everyone knows who they are. Oh great, Ricky’s back.
If I recognize the user and they seem up to their old antics again, then I in turn will not be afraid to hit the block or even the report button should I feel the need.
Another thing I’ll look at when I find someone I might want to follow is their posts—not only what they post but how often they do. A lack of activity makes me less inclined to follow. This can be forgiven in some instances, like if the user is clearly a new account (and does not appear to be a spam account), or with some indication of a hiatus, but if the account appears only to exist with no content whatsoever, that makes me less willing to follow it.
Along with being told to follow back anyone who follows you, you may have heard the suggestion of unfollowing and refollowing people who have not followed back to make sure they see you. Granted, as I’ll discuss a little later on in this post, your following someone may go unnoticed initially. But I do notice people who unfollow and then refollow. This comes across to me as looking for attention rather than having an interest in what I’m posting.
This isn’t to say people don’t accidentally unfollow other users. I’ve done it. Especially with the app and its tiny touchscreen icons, all it takes is being the smallest bit off when scrolling. I’ve gotten in the habit of sending a message to people I have accidentally unfollowed just to let them know, especially if they’re someone I frequently interact with.
Who Do You Follow?
This most often applies to accounts I suspect to be bots as well as accounts that are run by “an honest, kind-hearted man.” I’ve had a few instances of the latter following me. These guys follow just for the sake of following, it seems, looking for company so to speak. If you look at their profiles, all they will have posted will be a picture of themselves and maybe a truck or something. And the accounts they’re following will typically be women in a particular age range or possessing the same feature like brown hair (yes, really).
Or they just dive into my inbox with something creepy like “hello my pretty friend” (which is in fact a real message I have gotten and I swear I have never hit the block button faster).
However, if an account follows me and they are following other writers that I follow already, I might be willing to follow them as well depending on their own content. It’s kind of like Facebook, where I will only accept friend requests from people I know. With Twitter, I’m a little looser with that regard (but I also don’t share as much personal information or selfies unless it’s a particularly special occasion like the Murder Mystery Dinner). If it feels like you’re coming out of nowhere, I probably won’t hit that button.
I’ve referenced Twitter’s #WritingCommuntiy in various posts, and not without reason. It’s a great resource for getting advice and finding encouragement when you feel like you’re in a slump. It’s a support system right at your fingertips. But, as social media often is, Twitter is also a marketing platform, especially for writers. This isn’t to say a writer cannot or should not use it to their advantage, but there can be times where this feels really overdone. Among the things that can make me change my mind about following someone is when within moments of my hitting the follow button, I receive a clearly copy-pasted or auto-generated message from that user. Something like
Hello Avril Merry Aalund | Chapter 15/32(?)
Thank you for following me! I would LOVE it if you checked out my Amazon page where you can buy my latest book [Title]. Don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter! XOXO
I talked about it in this opinion piece, but the long and short of it is that this practice is one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to Twitter for a couple of reasons:
It demonstrates a level of carelessness, as though you are really only seeking followers for the sake of boosting their numbers rather than engaging with the community. It’s a turn-off for me. The fact that my user name is clearly copy-pasted into the message as evidenced by the festive substitution of “Merry” taking the place of Marie in this example.
It shows your interest is based more on making sales rather than making connections. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who are focused on achieving high follower counts. But that’s not for everyone.
Even though I have yet to do it, I often have the urge to reply with a link to that aforementioned opinion piece whenever I receive a message of this nature. Instead, I might just unfollow or mute the account. This also goes for your tweets in general. If the majority of your posts are links to buy your book and nothing else, that’s going to make me feel like you are not as inclined to interact with your followers unless they are making a purchase. Again, this is not to say I will not follow you for sharing those links. I want to know what you’re working on and read your blog posts. But there is a point where this can feel obtrusive.
EDIT | July 2020
I’m popping in to add another point to this post, and this feels as good a place as any.
One thing that will guarantee me not following back is sending me a private message demanding that I do so. It’s a more blatant way of saying you care more about boosting your follower count than the followers comprising it, and this will result in my blocking you. Don’t be that person.
The Follow Flood
I’m going to preface this segment by saying that not all Follow Trains are bad. However, some are better than others. If you’re unfamiliar, there is a trend that occurs fairly often on Twitter where users will tag others in their tweets and encourage their followers to follow them. There are a few iterations of this trend including Follow Friday, #WriterLift, and Follow Trains. There are also a few different variations of these. I’ve seen versions in which authors tag others within their genre or people who are celebrating book releases that week. Some might use these hashtags with a question for others to answer about their WIP/Others take a prompt and run with it. Using one of my own WIPs as an example, it may read something like
My MC’s Name Is
Users are then told to follow everyone who likes/comments/retweets etc. Follow Trains can be beneficial in helping writers connect with each other and boost your presence. I’ve posted some and have been tagged in plenty.
However, these can stir a complete flood of notifications that is impossible to sort through if you’re swept up in the tide (see the next point for more on this). The issue with these is you get notifications not only about being tagged in the post itself, but notifications about any likes/comments/retweets/likes and comments on the retweets etc. from anyone participating. It’s worth mentioning that some Follow Trains feature a writer’s beta readers or have a more personal touch like a few words about why those tagged should be followed. I’ve been tagged in these on occasion and try to return the favor as best I can.
It’s always more meaningful when the post includes something like, “@User does a fantastic job of writing dynamic characters with compelling story arcs. Be sure to check out their work and follow them!” than something that is essentially “Here are the first three users that came up when I hit the @ button.”
Tell me why I should be following these people, not just that they have Twitter profiles.
Quid Pro Quo Is A No-Go
I also need to address users who tag people they’re newly following in Tweets or may even send them a message telling them to follow them back. It’s happened to me a couple of times and it honestly makes me a little uncomfortable. I’ve also had a new follower comment on a Tweet of mine with a similar note, and I’ve never blocked anyone faster in the time I’ve been on the site. I think I was asking the #WritingCommunity about if an American author writing fiction set in 1800s England should use British or American English spellings in their manuscript when this comment popped up, and I got so unnerved by it I ended up deleting the whole thread (losing all of the actual answers I had gotten). I had never interacted with this person before, so it really caught me off guard.
These may be auto-generated, but not always, the latter especially indicating that this individual went out of their way to call out another user for not following them back immediately.
Or at all.
There may not even be a “Thank you for following me” associated with it, just a general “I’m following you, now it’s time for you to follow me.”
To me, this suggests you don’t care much about who is following you, just that they follow you, and that’s not someone I’m likely to engage with much.
Unfortunately, at the time of writing this post, Twitter does not give you the option of removing tags from others’ tweets, so all you can really do is either mute the post or user, or block them.
Each of the examples up until now have been reasons why I will not follow someone on Twitter. However, my not following is not always deliberate. Even though it’s something I’ll often talk about with my coworkers, writing isn’t my full-time gig. I have a retail job. I can’t be at my computer or on my phone scrolling through my newsfeed apart from when I’m on break. When I get home, I might glance at my notifications but only briefly before trying to squeeze in a little work on one of my books or an article for my blog between getting the essentials done like having dinner and chilling out before having to get ready for bed to do it all over again the next day. This is especially true for days I have a “clopening” shift, meaning I’m there when the store closes and then I have to be there the following morning when we open up again. In these instances, I have maybe about eight hours between getting home and having to leave again, and a chunk of that includes essential activities like cramming in a meal of sorts and sleeping. On my days off, I might have some more time to scroll through my feed, but I also spend much of that time editing ongoing projects or working on new ones. When I do check in, if I’ve been tagged in a Follow Friday post, I might not see notifications about new followers because they get buried amid the aforementioned likes/comments/retweets etc. So if I don’t follow back right away, it’s not something to be taken personally. It’s just as simple as me getting tied up with other things in my life.
Social media can be tricky to navigate, and Twitter is no exception. I know there are plenty of people out there who might unfollow an account who does not follow back after twenty-four hours or people, which is one of the origins of the follow-back “rule.” I’ve put that last bit in quotation marks because, in my opinion, it’s not always the best practice. Check back next week for Part Two of this post, in which I’ll be talking about the reasons I will follow people on Twitter. And if you want to check out my Twitter profile, you can find that here!