Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Twitter follow limit prompts new social media strategy

Retreating Serbs, 1915. Photo is in the public domain.

For all the right reasons, Twitter places a number of restrictions on adding new followers.

Twitter outlines these rules at their support site here and here.

They include:

  • following or unfollowing hundreds of users in a single day.

  • using tools to automatically follow or unfollow users.

  • following more than 2,000 users unless your ratio of following to followers is at least 9 to 10.

The latter point became a source of contention for me over the past few days as I neared the limit without clear awareness of the restriction. It turned out to present a significant problem.

Casual versus power users

Twitter caters to a variety of user categories, from corporate marketers to social and casual users, corporate marketers, social media elitists, and celebrities.

The latter three share a common privilege in their ability to bring a preexisting set of followers or fans to a new account very quickly. The rest of us have to build to maximize the benefit of involvement, interaction, and reputation development.

Until now, I've applied a simple set of twenty-seven rules (ahem) to manage my followers, generally adding folks indiscriminately in the hopes of catching their attention and inspiring a reciprocal follow-back. Turns out that a full 40% of them weren't bothering, something I confirmed by using the FriendOrFollow tool. (You can also try ManageFlitter.) What this meant is that I could only grow my follow list consistently until I hit 2,001 follows. Since I only had about 1,450 people following me, I wasn't even close to the 9 to 10 ratio required to continue adding new follows at will.

As soon as I was unable to reciprocate new adds, my list of people following me started dropping like someone had pulled the plug. This forced an unfortunate catch-22: with 2,001 follows and a dropping follow-to-follower ratio, the situation was becoming ever worse with no chance of improving.

Two steps back, three steps forward

"America, if she attains to greatness, must creep to it," wrote Alexander Hamilton to his friend Theodore Sedgwick. "Will it be so? Slow and sure is no bad maxim. Snails are a wise generation."

The solution to my problem was to begin dropping the 40% of unreciprocated follows. Within hours of removing 10% of my follows, I had regained 1% of my followers (through new, and now reciprocated, followers).

Follows vs. followings graph generated at Twitter Grader

So am I changing my rules? Not really. I'm just adding two:

  1. Monitor existing follows for asymmetry.

  2. Unfollow unreciprocated folks (after giving them a week or so to respond), and move them to a list if I want to keep watching their Tweets.

I won't miss out, and I'll be able to keep growing. This strategy might work for you, too.

Question: What modifications have you made in your social media strategy as your situation has changed?