Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Trap of Reciprocal Following on Twitter: How following your followers can hurt your message

Let me begin by saying that my choice to not have our brand follow all our followers has assuredly cost me numbers. It's been a long struggle and something I've questioned about our social media strategy from the very start as well as something I've had to defend from peers, casual critics, and social media pros alike.

The first of the two main arguments for reciprocal following is that it makes your followers feel like you are interested in them as well, and willing to be part of their conversation.

We all know the fallacy of that argument. We do not, in fact, give a rat's ass about what our followers had for dinner, nor do they EXPECT us to give a rat's ass. They care that we interact and opine on things they choose to interact with us about, but it would be weird and almost intrusive for The Comedy Store to comment on all our follower's tweets. Even if a random interaction is healthy and fun (Which they are.) they can be achieved without reciprocal following.

The second argument is a bit more undeniable. Choosing not to follow back affects the numbers of people who remain your followers. To that, I say "good riddance". Social media needs to cure itself of the "Thanks for the add" and number collecting mentality that helped drive Myspace into the ground. Reciprocal following only encourages number collecting in others and spammers who depend on that mentality to inflict their awfulness on the general population. Your content should be reason enough for your numbers. Your retweets and your interaction should be driving your numbers, not some sort of false feeling of inclusion and certainly not something sketchy like an algorithm.

Keeping the accounts you follow low and relevant allow you to further expand on what your brand stands for and what is important to you and your followers. The Comedy Store follows Scientists, Art Museums, Writers, Politicians, Local Businesses, as well as The Comedians who perform here and Comedians we WISH would perform here. Retweeting those people, and interacting with them is just as important for your brand management especially if you plan on expanding your sphere of influence to include content curation, a lifestyle blog and eventually the Holy Grail of online marketing, which is quality original content.

At the end of the day, the question for your brand must be whether its a simple numbers game or if you are preparing your followers for the expansion of your brand and cultivating a sense of ownership in something greater than just a company or a twitter account.

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