Targeted Following (Because Twitter Simply Doesn't Work If You Follow Everybody Back)

Back in August, I wrote an article that noted how Robert Scoble had unfollowed everybody on his Twitter network, and was basically starting over. This mass-unfollowing began to gain momentum around this time, and pretty soon several of the bigger names on Twitter, many of whom automatically followed back everybody who followed them, were seriously optimising their Twitter stream. Even Jesse Stay, whose SocialToo platform was the benchmark autofollower (but has other value), decided to start over.

Why? As I said at the time, Twitter simply doesn’t work when you follow thousands and thousands of people. And when you auto-follow, it’s even worse, as it won’t be long before the bulk of your stream is made up of spammers and bots, and even worse, internet marketers.

In the last week, both noted Silicon Valley blogger Louis Gray and Hubspot viral marketing scientist Dan Zarrella have also had what could be politely referred to as a ‘bit of a trim’. Louis’ follow-to-follower ratio has been 1:1 (or thereabouts) as long as I can remember.

Here’s what they’ve done over the past few days:

Scoble subsequently hand-followed over seventeen thousand users manually, and while he’s often the exception that proves the rule, the rest of these guys – Jesse, Louis and Dan – have taken Scoble’s lead and manually followed several thousand themselves, too.

And here’s the good news: because they’ve done this, it means you don’t have to.

What’s happened here is this group – and many others like them – have stripped away all the clutter and noise that comes from following everybody, which has then massively improved their signal and focus. Their network is now targeted and optimised. Everybody needs a follow policy, but this is particularly true for the thought leaders and influencers.

The best part is because these guys have adopted a targeted following system, you don’t have to follow everybody they do to get the access to all that good stuff. You just have to follow them. Collectively, Scoble, Louis, Jesse and Dan follow around thirty-seven thousand people.

To have access to all that rich information, you just have to follow four.

Sure, you won’t see everything they do, and you’ll naturally be exposed to their own bias and prejudices about what they decide to share, and what they decide to ignore. And this is where your own targeted following comes to the surface. Each of these guys are pretty sound, and I think come with a boatload of trust and clout. So I’m happy to follow all of them, and for what it’s worth, I give them my endorsement to you, too.

(It’s pretty much all tech, of course, but you knew that anyway.)

But you can’t just follow a handful of people on Twitter, as that’s worse, in my opinion, than following everybody. Where these guys have taken another look at their networks and essentially started from scratch, so can you. You don’t have to unfollow everybody to do this, either. Just take a day or two to carefully analyse your followers, making the cuts where necessary and appropriate. Don’t be scared – trust me, Twitter, your Twitter, will improve dramatically as a result.

For me, Twitter works best when I’m following three to five hundred people. For you, the magic number might be less than a hundred. Or no more than a thousand. Whatever that number is, only you can find it, and it’s absolutely worth putting in the work.

On that, I think when Chris Brogan finally caves, and gives up a sizeable chunk of that 108,529 on his following list – which really must be an absolutely nightmare, especially for a guy who’s all about engagement – then we’ll probably have the final piece of this cycle in place.

Brogan has written about how he likes to follow back everybody because it gives them a chance to contact him via direct message, which is admirable, but I know from personal experience of testing automatic follow-backs – even if they’re done on manual basis – that what you end up with in your direct message inbox is 90% spam, ‘thanks for following me’ auto-DMs and that TrueTwit validation nonsense that only mass marketers and spammers seem to use. And as a result, the direct message system just falls apart, as most of your day ends up being about clearing it out.

Brogan is one of few, bonafide shining lights in the world of social media, but if you take a moment to peruse his following list you’ll see how it’s made up of so many of the kinds of people the rest of us try to avoid (and usually block). It can’t be long until even he cracks. And the smart money will be on Darren Rowse next.

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