“To follow” or “not to follow”, that is the question. A vital part of Twitter’s service is the ability to follow other users accounts. Some people and brands follow accounts because they actually read the tweets from those they follow. While others follow out of courtesy for being followed to begin with. We recently held an internal debate to try and answer the question: Should a brand follow its followers?
It started with this tweet from American Express saying that you should follow customers that follow you:
— OPEN Forum (@OPENForum) March 21, 2012
This Sparked a Quick Twitter Discussion
GC: True, but that’s very one way. We should actively reach out too. However, time is of essence, and doing it properly takes time.
CD: Question: do you feel warm and tingly if say Mashable or Amex follows you? I don’t, nor do I think it has any value if they do
JH: I did after @karl_straus just started following me
GC: AMEX, I would. Plus, if they engaged and talked with me, and even more plus.
CD: the only difference between that and what MoG does is the follow. You are saying that it increases your brand strength then?
CD: I am tempted to pose this question to our fans to get their feedback. Crowd-sourcing from our fan-base would answer it for sure
AM: I’d love to join this convo. I think it’s a good one to have. We should over station tavern one night.
GC: Yes! Or write up a debate article and post it!
CD: not a bad idea. We have been talking about doing something like this for a while
Which Lead to a Debate using GroupMe
We decided to have a debate on GroupMe regarding this topic to figure out what made the most sense. Should brands/companies follow their followers on Twitter or any social network for that matter? I pulled the important points from the debate:
CD: I also believed that doing it out of courtesy serves no purpose and cheapens our brand by saying we follow almost everyone
GS: I don’t think following those that follow you cheapens your brand at all. I think it is the quite opposite in that it shows that you value your supporters. Let’s not forget the point of social media for businesses is to create a more human side.
AM: when i look at a twitter account that has 1231 followers and follows 1200 people, i view their credibility as off. that they probably just follow everyone, and their follow strategy is to follow so they can be followed. but on the contrary, if i see an account like ours, that has nearly 5k followers, yet follows only 30. i feel that it is an account that is sticking to “old school” marketing of 1 way communication
AM: any time the follow numbers are so disproportionate like i pointed out earlier, it makes me question the account
GS: My vote on who to follow is A) is the account locked? If so, then I would not follow unless they interact with me frequently. B) Is the account spam? C) Are they active on Twitter
GC: I disagree with the don’t follow 1×1. I think everyone is important and you never know who someone knows. It’s the principal that has gotten me to where I am with Tip Network. I never know who knows someone who is in the restaurant space. I try and view any relationship as a potential to open a door for me and my company at some point now or in the future. I would also point out that it’s not just a benefit for me, but for also the people
GC: I am a firm believer in helping out and paying it forward. Specifically relating to following followers on Twitter. It isn’t as easy as just a follow back, there are automated tools that can follow people back who follow you. It’s what happens after. Maybe the brand DMs you a thank you. It has to be more personal and thought of more in the long-term sense than just the quick follow back.
GC: It works in both ways. Brands have humanistic characters, which back to geoffs point, these social media tools enable brands to have voices and tones and personalities … like humans.
AM: but as a company/brand that may just be starting out, new to twitter, with limited followers, in the beginning a 1×1 stage might be a value.
AM: On my personal account, i hate it when i start getting followers from companies for no good reason. its obviously a “spam” type approach, that they are hoping ill return the favor and follow them
JH: I feel cool if i actually have a convo with the brand and they follow me
AM: I loved it when Venmo followed me, and messaged me a few times, like Joey said
CD: I think following a fan that only tweets about their cat or what they had for dinner or that they can’t find their keys, shows a loss in credibility with us. Fans may look at who we follow to see if the are follow worthy and see that those we follow have no value and are just pitty-follows
JH: shows that they appreciated me
AM: there is strategy to who a brand should follow. and who a brand should even privately follow via private lists
GC: I would agree, there then needs to be some sort of filter or test for whether a person is a good person to follow and engage with. However, what if that cat person knows a big time blogger and one night they are hanging out and she mentions MoG because we talked to her a couple times, which could lead to more attention.
AM: at this point, id say between 150-250. but def more than 31.
GS: Again I think it has to go with evaluating your followers using those guidelines I listed earlier. Social media is supposed to be about listening and engaging in conversations. Not about just broadcasting your message
GC: I agree with @AM, one of the strategies, which should align with the overall MoG social media strategy, could be to determine who the biggest influencers and MoG advocates are that are currently follow us and reach out directly thanking them for all their support.
AM: id suggest analyzing who follows, who communicates, who tweets, who interacts, and who of these followers is active in soc med (could use the klout plugin in chrome to see)
GC: Another strategy could be to find the biggest influencers in the industry we want to penetrate and start and sustain a relationship with those people.
AM: i think staff, moderators, trend setters,
AM: following doesnt always mean engaging…
CD: following does not equal engaging though @gs. We engage many people through replies and retweets
AM: but following opens the opportunity to engage others on their playing field
AM: ultimately twitter is a social tool, and not a business tool. all the engagment type buzzwords are really just there to try and put a word to “being real.” reasons to follow some would be to spot trends, hot topics, new releases, fresh ideas, and the opportunity to interact with those that are engaged
GS: ultimately the more you engage your audience and include them in your community, the stronger it will get
AM: always @replying to a new follow i think is a good idea for a brand that is new, that has less than 100 followers
AM: but as a mid size brand, it becomes more complicated
AM: i disagree with messaging everyone when they follow, but the root of what you are saying greg (i think), is being personal, being social, being interactive
GC: disagree with you Andy about @replying after a certain amount … Starbucks did it to me and I LOVED it … I go there sometimes more than a smaller local more hip coffee shop, not merely cause they @replied me, but they also RTd some of my stuff to their audience
AM: im a big fan of AMEX mainly for how they treated me in a social media avenue as well.
GS: see I think that’s the key difference here, you shouldn’t just follow someone
GS: you should engage them too
GC: Sbux may have done it to everyone … I don’t know. All I know is that I saw a thank you from Starbucks and a RT of some of my stuff and I loved it.
GC: and yes, @CD, is most definitely makes me more loyal if a brand follows me back and like geoff said, talks to me
GS: Nimble a social CRM was all over me when I was tweeting about CRM systems. invited me to try it out, wanted my feedback. it really gave me the impression they would value me as a customer
GS: they followed me, their CEO follwed me
AM: there is also a fine line with that. you have to be able to do it well. (the blind interaction that is). you cant come across as sell-y.
GS: I’m with Andy too on AMEX, they have great customer support that goes beyond the social arena, but the fact that they are harnessing social media to extend their brand is brilliant and makes me feel like i’m not just another schmuck carrying any credit card. I’m part of a company that actually values me and my interests
CD: It is likely that I would have felt that they were spamming me based on some keyword I used in a tweet. But with the continued interaction, I could see myself warming up to them
AM: im 100% against a company DM’ing me without asking first
GS: how would you feel if 808 followed you back and retweeted your explanation of that easter egg?
that would be validation that they listend and care
GC: you most definitely would … it sets them apart from the other brands who didn’t invest in talking to you.
AM: my amex story, i tweeted that i was bummed my gift card had expired. not to them, didnt even use an @. i got a response from them saying, we can fix that, and get you a new card.
AM: now, if they say @ty_frank, can you DM us to communicate more with you…im fine with that
GC: ok … then there you go … that’s even cooler.
GS: DMs should only be used for private convos that really need to be private. the whole point of Twitter is to be open
AM: and following people is a way to create opportunity, to create connection with the fans that are active, and to tie into hot topics and trends
GC: and whether its providing great original content, using it as a lead gen tool, using it as a customer service tool, using it as an awareness tool
AM: i think it should all align with your brand. i think you should follow your biggest fans. I think you should follow your fans that are the most active in soc med, irregardless of the topic (well, to a degree) and i think its good to follow either publically or via private lists depending on their place, industry news sources. im against 1×1 following. im against following zero.
GS: Yes, I think you should follow your followers. I don’t think it should necessarily be a 1×1 ratio but you should screen for spam, activity, locked accounts and for appropriateness (vulgarity, racism, etc.). Beyond that though you should engage your followers to help build your brand and your community will continue to grow. Just following does nothing. Engaging does.
AM: also, dont be afraid to unfollow accounts that are inactive, tweet only 1 a month etc too
GC: Yes. Follow your followers. It should be engrained in your overall Twitter strategy, which should also align with your overall social media strategy. Having a purpose and reason why you are on socmed helps align everyone working for the brand. I believe in 1×1 or close to it (must meet certain criteria) because I firmly believe you don’t know what doors someone could open. At the end of the day, have a mission, be real, and be humble.
Reciprocating follows really should be done by plan. If you are new to Twitter following everyone that follows you may have value to you and potential followers as it shows a sense of realness.
As your account/brand matures, it is best to not follow everyone as it diminishes the value of who you follow. Your account/brand begins to look like you only follow for numbers and don’t follow any accounts of value. When you reach a couple hundred followers, it is probably time to begin analyzing who follows you.
Ask yourself these questions, if you answer yes to some or all of them, they would be a good account to follow.
- Are they regularly active on Twitter?
- Do they retweet your tweets?
- Do they tweet you with questions or comments
- Do they have followers (are they a spam account)?
- Are they part of your industry?
- Do they have valuable content?