The past couple of months have been a bit of a shakedown for many of us on Twitter. First, in April 2013, Twitter and Tweet Adder announced they had settled their 1-year lawsuit, which resulted in the retiring of popular Twitter software Tweet Adder 3.0 and the introduction of a considerably different Tweet Adder 4.0. The key difference in this new version was that it no longer allowed its users to follow or unfollow people automatically. This alteration made Tweet Adder compliant with Twitter’s new Terms of Service.
At that point, Twitter still allowed automated ‘follow backs’, i.e., following back others who had already followed you. But later, on July 4th, the producers of Social Oomph — another popular Twitter Application — sent an email to their customers saying:
‘on July 2nd, 2013, Twitter changed their terms of service and outlawed automated following back of people who followed you first.’
Social Oomph then explained that their software would no longer follow back new Twitter followers automatically, and all their users would now be required to follow back manually. They ended their email with the words:
We’re as dumb-founded by Twitter’s decision as you are.’
While their use of the word ‘outlawed’ is somewhat amusing, it’s clear that Social Oomph were pretty annoyed. And understandably so: their follow-back service has been around nearly as long as Twitter. So far, Tweet Adder has not yet addressed this most recent development, but I’m sure they will announce a similar change in their software over the next week.
Twitter’s reasoning for this revision in policy about auto follow-backs was clarified on their blog by one of their platform operators:
‘We removed the clause permitting automated follow-back, as we would prefer that users manually review their new followers and then choose whether or not they would like to follow back individual accounts… accounts which [auto] follow-back may quickly find their home-timeline useless due to too much noise if they didn’t carefully pick and choose who to follow… ‘
What is interesting to me is that since the new Tweet Adder was released in April, I was also coming to the conclusion that there was ‘too much noise’ on many of the Twitter accounts I managed. In fact, I was beginning to wonder whether follower automation had EVER been all that useful.
DID AUTOMATED FOLLOWING EVER REALLY WORK?
I used to think automated following and unfollowing was the living end. I loved discovering quality Twitter lists and queuing them up to follow. For follow-backs, I had an open-door policy of following everybody who followed me, removing unwanted people later. It seemed like a smooth, flawless system. But lately I’ve come to look at things from a different perspective.
I manage about 20 Twitter accounts in Tweet Adder, mostly for clients. Some of my recent clients ‘appeared’ to have good Twitter numbers in excess of 15,000 followers. They had all been using auto follow-back before they came to me, and had around a 1:1 ratio between followers and ‘friends’ (those they were following ).
But then, when the new Tweet Adder software was released, I started using their newly introduced filters to investigate exactly WHO my clients were following. And what I found out was not encouraging.
I discovered that nearly 50% of my clients’ ‘friends’ were of no value to them in the slightest. Around one-fourth Tweeted in languages they could not even understand. Another 15% or so had been inactive for more than 6 months. Many others were spammers or annoying people shouting ‘# TeamFollowBack’ continuously. It’s taken me weeks to clean up the mess and replace this random bumph with useful connections.
To my horror, I found that my own accounts were only mildly better, despite the care I had taken to clear out dead wood each week. Now I’m more prudent about who I add to my ‘to follow list’, so I don’t have to deal with the ‘noise’ later.
But here’s the surprise: Since I’ve been doing this, I’ve experienced a big increase in the number of ReTweets I receive, and the traffic visiting my blog from Twitter has gone up by more than fifty percent. Was it true that less is sometimes more?
Then, yesterday, I finally turned off my automated follow-back and went through my new followers. I quickly deleted about one-third of them. Had I automatically followed all of them as had been my practice in the past, these inappropriate accounts might have remained in my Twitter stream for a long time, making it hard to interact with people who might be more suitable connections.
I then asked myself: ‘Had automated follow-backs actually been beneficial to me and my clients?’ The resounding answer was: ‘Not nearly as much as I had previously thought ‘. Even when we are meticulous about choosing people to follow, if others follow us indiscriminately and we follow them back automatically, it only creates more work for us down the line.
So, while Social Oomph say they are ‘dumb-founded’, I’m not so sure I am.
THE DECEPTION OF NUMBERS
It’s easy to get carried away with Twitter when we see our following increase rapidly. But numbers are meaningless without understanding their context. If you have 100,000 Twitter followers who neither understand you nor care about what you have to say, connecting with them is not likely to be of much benefit to you or your business. But if you have a mere 100 followers who ‘get you’ and listen intently, you not only have an inspired audience, but one that will spread the word about you.
And THAT is how real online platforms grow.
I’m convinced that Twitter NEVER was a numbers game. Twitter is a new paradigm communication medium. The old strategies and statistical averages are no longer relevant in this environment. Evidently, the developers at Twitter get this. And while it might be an inconvenience to have to choose our followers manually from this point forward, I personally applaud Twitter for challenging us to create the time to get to know one another.