Auto-following on Twitter

I received an interview request from John Pollack of the Telegraph Journal last week asking my opinion of auto-follow services for Twitter and, specifically, Twollow – a Moncton-based offering. You can read the article by clicking here

What happened next is rather interesting.

First off, the owner of Twollow who was featured in the article tweeted:

“To what end would you need 25,000 followers…” I’m sure that didn’t come out right. @Pirie

I responded rather promptly – originally with this, followed by this.

And then a tweet came along directing people to this blog post from the folks at Twollow. While I find the magic-8-ball-esque attempt at understanding my commentary flattering, perhaps it’s best if I provide some assistance. Just before I do that, you should know that since the blog doesn’t appear to allow comments or trackbacks, I sent an email with some additional clarity to the contact on the site. Further, I followed up with an @reply to comforteagle. Now, 48 hours later, there’s been no acknowledgement of either.

Here we go.

First off, RE:

1) Twollow doesn’t send messages. That’s up to you.

2) “Unless a company is engaging in conversation with potential customers on Twitter and other social networking sites, the business is essentially broadcasting through twitter, Pirie says.
“What it amounts to is spamming,” he says.”
I’m sure Pirie didn’t know clarification Point 1 above, it just came out wrong, or he’s addressing people who just broadcast.

Actually, I did know that. That Twollow doesn’t send messages is irrelevant. My point is pretty simple. In my view, Twitter (and social media more broadly) is about people connecting with people. i.e. Social media is social. It’s human-to-human interaction. In my experience, automating this via auto-follows on Twitter just runs against the grain of the space – it just is fundamentally not human-to-human contact. So all sorts of issues surface, chief among them is the utter lack of context. Try as you might, automating this process will always feel clunky at best, and most likely just plain fake and a nuisance. Ergo, I describe it as spammy. That sounds about right to me.

And then, RE:

3) “To what end would you need 25,000 followers, and what do you think you’re getting from there..” I feel weird defending other people’s words, but I’m pretty sure we’d all love to have 25,000 followers hanging on our every word about our businesses. We do. Well, almost 25k, 22k-ish now.

No need to extend favours with a defense. It seems pretty obvious to me that having 25,000 followers on Twitter and having 25,000 followers hanging on your every word are two very different things. A follow target in and of itself is a false one – it’s meaningless, or masturbatory at the very least.

Let’s examine via the following four Twitter profiles and their respective followers – as I write this, @twollow has 22,555 followers; @gapingvoid has 18,557 followers; @NS_Archives has 1,520 followers, and; @ecologyaction has 1,015 followers. In terms of measuring the respective value of each Twitter profile, let’s make it simple by saying that the value of a Twitter profile is directly correlated to the number of people who would give a shit if it went away. Measured thusly, ranked in order of most valuable to least, I’d say @gapingvoid is #1 with a bullet, @NS_Archives and @ecologyaction are neck and neck, and @twollow is dead last. And why would I say that? Because in the case of @gapingvoid, @NS_Archives and @ecologyaction, they’ve all built followers the old-fashioned way, to quote Smith Barney. They’ve become part of a community that truly values what they bring to the table. In the case of @twollow, it decodes as perhaps a touch too concerned with a race to a big number. There seems to be some customer service there – but it sort of pales in comparison to the number of followers at first glance, no?

And this is almost always the case with auto-followers – they seem to make a social space less social and thus run counter to what the community really wants to do, connect to each other. Please note the “almost” above. This isn’t always the case, and there can certainly be legitimate business uses for auto-follow services, but so far they’re certainly the exception rather than the rule in my experience.

(Disclosure: The Nova Scotia Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage is a client of my firm. However, we are not actively involved in the @NS_Archives Twitter profile.)

Previously posted on

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