This post originally appeared on the Domesticating IT blog and is reproduced with permission from its author.
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous spam,
Or to take arms against a sea of multi-level marketers
And, by opposing, unfollow them.
How many people should you follow on Twitter? And should you automatically follow any one who follows you? If not, how do you decide? I’ve been asked these questions many times and so it is finally time to write a post about this topic.
How Many Is Enough?
This is not a simple question and there are several schools of thought. In one corner, we have the “less is more” camp who believe that a smaller group of higher quality connections works better. Seth Godin recently endorsed this approach in his blog post “Bullhorns are overrated.” And in the other corner, we have the “strength in numbers” camp who believe that if 100 followers is good, then 100,000 followers is, well, a thousand times better. Chris Brogan spoke about what he calls his “serendipity engine” in his post, “Depends How You Define Value.”
Personally, I come down more on the serendipity side of the fence. I will follow back just about anyone who is a real person and seems to be using Twitter in a genuine manner.
Is There Any Risk?
There is no overt risk in following someone. It’s not the equivalent of granting them access to your computer in any way. However, it does give them the ability to send you a Direct Message (DM), which could conceivably contain a link to a malicious web site. I never click on a link in a DM from someone I don’t know. And in most cases, I will immediately un-follow anyone who sends me an unsolicited DM with a link to a web site.
How Do I Decide?
I have a two-layer system for deciding whether or not I will follow someone back. In the first test is to analyze a few metrics directly from the email notification.
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- The name is obviously the first thing to look at. If it is something like “Porn Galore” then it’s a pretty quick decision. Conversely, it could be a company or brand you don’t necessarily have an issue with, but neither are you particularly interested in what they may have to say.
- I look at their follower ratio (number of followers versus number they are following). In this example, there are no particular warning signs, as people with new accounts will frequently start by following a bunch of people. If this ratio is more like 4 (followers) to 800 (following), this is a warning flag to me because it suggests this person is trying to quickly accumulate followers (and likely is using a computer program) and not looking to form connections.
- The second metric is the number of tweets compared to the number of followers. The idea here is that I am looking for people who have built a following over time, not over night. In this case, there’s no particular warning flag either.
If none of these three metrics presents any show-stoppers, then I will click on the person’s profile and take a look a little more deeply. Keep in mind that between the time when you received the follow message and then visit the profile, those metrics in the email could have changed dramatically so I will take a second look at those first.
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- Case in point – notice that now the follower ratio has changed to 12/625. This is now screaming, “Spammer!”
- The next thing I look for is real profile information, like a bio and web page. Taking the time to fill out this information is an indication that the person is genuine. If a web page is there, it can be another warning flag if it looks suspicious.
- Last, but not least, I will examine their Twitter updates to see what they are saying. In this example, we have an obvious spammer who is trying to con people into signing up for programs that may or may not be legitimate. Many of these scams will hijack your Twitter account and send out spam messages.
- Bonus Tip: One other red flag is when the line below the Tweet says, “from API.” This means that the Tweet was sent from an automated program and not a person. It’s not hard evidence that someone is a spammer, but it’s a strong warning sign.
If you have any other tips or tricks, please leave them in the comments for everyone’s benefit!