Digital Marketing

When to Follow-Back

Recently my friend John Morgan, author of Brand Against the Machine, received a direct message calling him a diva on Twitter for not following someone back. When John talked about this on Google+, I noted that I have a similar strategy and would, by that rationale, also be considered a diva on some social networks. 

Outside of Facebook and LinkedIn, most social networks aren’t built on reciprocal following. On channels such as Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and Instagram you may follow someone but they may not follow you back and vice versa. As you can imagine this creates some tricky scenarios for individuals and brands in the social space. Depending on your social media objectives, you may want to consider having a following strategy for each network.

John’s story of diva accusations reminded me of my own following/follow-back strategy. I thought it might be helpful if I shared it here.

My Follow/Follow-Back Rules

In general, I’ll follow you back if you are …

  • Related to Work — If you have to do with branding, marketing, social media, technology, or the agency/consulting world, chances are you’ll make the cut.
  • Related to My Passions — If you have something to do with the world of craft beer, Star Trek, Star Wars, superheroes, politics (big leap between those last two), US presdients, and/or sophomoric funny stuff, I may want to hear more from you as I like to spend time on this stuff when not working on the tasks above.
  • A Friend IRL — If we’ve met “in real life” (IRL) chances are pretty good for a follow back. People build stronger relationships when there is a real-world tie to their online connection (the converse is also true).

I’ll absolutely NOT follow you back if you have …

  • Egg Avatar — I have a strict no-egg policy. If you start following me and you’re still rocking the pre-fab Twitter egg avatar or the silhouette head on Google+ or Instagram, you’re making it hard for me to learn more about you. Moreover, you’ve got the cart in front of the horse and aren’t really ready to be reaching out until you’ve got your own profile done.
  • No Bio — RIght up there with the egg is a bio or description on a profile that’s null and void. If you’re not going to give me any info that might at least nudge you close to the categories above, I have no way of knowing if I should follow you. Are you starting to see the importance of completing your bios and profiles here? On Twitter you have to be a bit creative on your description as you have a limited number of characters but on Google+ the sky is the limit. Plus their bio editor has rich text with hyperlinks baked in, allowing you to paint a very compete picture of who you are.
  • A Foreign Bio — I’m not profiling. Rather, I’m calling out my own inadequacies as a mono-lingual, dumb-American. It’s not you, it’s me. If I don’t speak your language, your tweets won’t mean much to me. If you speak English, thanks for the follow and I hope I can add value to your world.

Variations on Following Stratgies

Having said that, it may be wise to create different rules for different networks. For example, lately my most personal social network is Instagram. Most of the content I share there is very personal and often family related. My connections there are mostly people I’ve met in real life. It’s also been a great way to stay close to people I don’t see that much. In any case, I don’t really follow anyone there that I don’t kind of know already.

A signature feature of Google+ is a robust set of tools such as circles, for managing and organizing your connections. In discussing my own follow-back strategy with John, I noted that on Google+ I’ve created a ‘Watching’ circle for users I don’t know that well yet but might want to get to know. It’s an effective way for triaging new information in your social stream.

These strategies may evolve over time as well. I used to keep Facebook walled off personally but as the platform has evolved so too has my strategy of friend requests that I accept. Ultimately the biggest opportunity in managing your brand’s presence across many social channels is the fact that you can use those various channels for different purposes.

The Only Rule Is That There Is No Rule

Many who find themselves hurt by not being followed by a prominent figure or voice often cite an “ancient tribal law” of social media that dictates you follow back anyone and everyone who follows you. This is bogus. For starters, what governing body (the Internet police? Social Standards and Practice?) would create and enforce such rules?

Second, of course there is no such obligation. Tom Peters said it best when he tweeted, “Showing my age + being a smart ass: New school: ‘SHOULD follow.’ Old school: ‘EARN followers.’ Sorry, my vote goes to ‘old school.’” Whether it’s new or old school, quit expecting the follow back. Instead focus your energy on creating killer content and conversations that will earn more of those follows. Stop setting your watch on which famous avatars are listening to you and build a community that helps people solve problems and furthers your brand’s goals.

Who do you follow back? Do you have a set strategy or is it more organic? Please share in the comments below.