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For the last four years there has been passionate debate over quantity versus quality on Twitter. Should we follow everyone who follows us? Do we play the "churn" game of following people, then unfollowing those who do not follow us back in an effort to inflate our following? Should we buy followers? For individuals, it's an ego thing and is totally up to them, but for businesses and organizations there's a clear cut answer.
Don't go bulk. It's no longer becoming and people see right through it. If anything, it's a turnoff. Here's why:
Twitter is absolutely loaded with spammers and bots. Despite every attempt by the company to eliminate as much as possible, they can only do so much when there's such a high price being paid for social media spamming. Whatever Twitter does, there is no way to eliminate even half of the spammers without major casualties amongst non-spammers who post the wrong thing or follow the wrong people.
Thankfully, it takes under 10 seconds to look at an account and determine if they are real, valuable Twitter users or if they're just here to annoy others for a quick buck. Are they talking @people, replying to conversations? Are they simply a feed with nobody manning the ship? Are they talking about Forex or teeth whitening?
If your business is following everybody, you're really following nobody and users can tell by looking at your numbers. With all of the spammers, bots, and abandoned accounts out there, no company with over 5000 followers should be following more than 2000. Once you get over 10,000 followers, it shouldn't be much higher; 30% is a good ceiling.
(Author's Note: These numbers are from earlier this year when we first conducted the study)
Looking at some of the major car manufacturers, for example, shows that they are really starting to get it:
There's an odd side-effect that goes against initial common sense before one really thinks about it. The fewer people you follow, the more likely it is that they'll talk to and about you with one another.
The reason that it doesn't make sense is because one would think that more is better, that you're increasing your odds of community interaction with a larger community. That's not how Twitter works.
The reality is that by limiting the number of accounts that your business listens to, those who are part of the community will be more likely to see what you're saying and what other people are saying to you. They feel as if they are a part of something rather than just being one of the sheep that you're really not hearing because you're following so many.
The biggest reason that Facebook was so successful in the early days was because they didn't let anyone in. They kept it locked down. You had to have the right email address to get in. It was exclusive, and anything exclusive makes getting in feel like a reward.
While there's no way to generate that sort of buzz around a Twitter account, it still makes people feel good and be more likely to interact with you if they are not part of a huge crowd.
This tip comes from personal experience. When I was following 50K, there were days when I would follow hundreds of accounts and not hear a peep out of any of them. The reason is that when they went to see who just followed them, there was no "reward" being given to them. They weren't being followed for being interesting, engaging, smart, funny, or anything else. They were being followed because following was what I did. They could tell by the number of people I was following.
Now that I follow less than 1000 people against 100K+ followers, half the time I follow someone they thank me. By following 5-10 people per week, I'm getting more interaction from them than when I followed hundreds a day. Much more.
Twitter is a good tool for keeping up with the latest news in an industry, around the local area, and across the globe. There is no chance of being able to use it for such purposes without exhaustive lists or tools, and even then the picture is very limited.
Businesses who follow their clients, partners, and industry leaders can actually get benefit from checking their Twitter feed. The service becomes useful not just from a marketing perspective but also as a way of keeping in touch with what's happening on the outside of the company's direct focus.
Following the masses makes it useless from this perspective.
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Twitter will continue to be a major player in social media. The ways that it is used and manage will always evolve. Knowing how to use it properly can dramatically increase its effectiveness.