Scaling Up My Twitter Follow-Back Policy

Yesterday I revised my follow-back policy on Twitter. My old policy was to follow back everyone, if they looked like a real normal person. Which means not like a robot, or some company with a Ponzi scheme, or some big-breasted girl selling candy for grown-ups. (And more valid reason can be found here: Why People Don't Follow Back on Twitter)

Unfortunately, my approach was not scalable.

I had adopted this policy for three reasons:

  1. I would like to enable people to send me direct messages, just like they are able to send me emails.
  2. I think organizing and filtering Twitter streams is more powerful when done with client applications (like TweetDeck) and not on the server (by Twitter itself).
  3. I think it is a form of politeness to acknowledge new followers by following them back.

Unfortunately, this policy turned out not to be scalable, for two reasons:

  1. Whether or not to follow someone back is a conscious decision that takes time. I had to check every person’s statistics, bio, and their latest twenty tweets (like suggested in Twitter follow-backs: the 5 step lightning approach). At times when there are 50 new followers per day, this easily cost me half an hour. That’s a costly form of politeness. Of course, only the decision whether to follow someone back is the not-scalable-part. It would be easy to just auto-follow everyone (as Guy Kawasaki and others do). But I have no use for a Ponzi scheme, nor candy for grown-ups.
  2. Various client tools become slower and more cumbersome when you’re following 1000+ people. When it became an arduous task to simply browse through my list of followed people, I knew I was heading in the wrong direction.

So, I un-followed everyone, and re-followed about 200 people that I was really paying attention to. I regret that many people won’t be able to DM me anymore, and I will find myself a more scalable way to express my gratitude to followers. And sure, some more people will definitely be added back to my list.

But not all 1500. Sorry.

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    I also prefer this kind of policy for following people, it’s impossible to follow 100+ people properly. I don’t care if someone I’m following is not following me back, in my opinion the lack of politeness only takes place when I mention someone in a tweet and that person doesn’t care about joining the conversation when I’m clearly asking something or expecting a reply. — Tiago

  • Patrick Verheij

    Goeie zet! Althans, in mijn opinie. Waarom zou je immers iedereen volgen die jou volgt?
    Twitter is een sociaal netwerk, maar gestoeld op vrij vage beleefdheidsregels. Ik krijg regelmatig followers met elk 5000 volgelingen en precies evenveel mensen die zij weer volgen. Als ik ze vervolgens volg, krijg ik een DM waarin ik word bedankt dat ik ze volg. Aha, een Twitter-tool aan het werk! Vervolgens krijg ik per uur 20 standaard quotes te verwerken van zo’n figuur. Regelrecht uit het boekje. Dan unfollow ik hem of haar waarna ik direct te zijn krijg dat ik ook niet meer gevolgd wordt. Sociaal voor zolang je beleefd bent dus kennelijk. Niets voor mij.
    Ondanks dat je mij nu niet meer volgt, blijf ik jou wel volgen. Je tweet op een zinnige manier met interessante links en weetjes. Dank daarvoor. Ik zie je wel een keer tijdens een agile congres ofzo 😉

  • Jurgen Appelo

    Thanks for the feedback. It’s good to know people are not mass-unfollowing _me_ 🙂

  • Delfin

    I just wrote a brief note about this. Then noticed your new policy, going greatly with it so, I included a link towards here…
    Keep twitting!

  • Vered – MomGrind

    I’m reading this blog as part of my freelance work for a software company, Replay Solutions, but this post made me want to respond using my “real” identity, because I can relate!
    I do have my own Twitter account in addition to the work I do for software companies here in the Silicon Valley. The issue of follow-back policy is a complicated one. I basically use your “old” policy now, and just like you, I’m not sure it’s working very well. I’ll consider your new approach. It seems far more manageable than my current one.
    There was an article not too ling ago, I can’t remember where, that was titled “social media: have we created a monster?” I sometimes feel we have.

  • Paul Henman

    I’m thinking of doing the same thing; I currently “Follow” 1300+ people but in reality I only read a few dozen. Is there a quick/easy way to unfollow everyone, wiping the slate clean so I can selectively follow just a few people?

  • Jurgen Appelo

    Hi Paul, this tool did the job for me:

  • Paul Henman

    Looks good – I’ll give it a try tomorrow; thanks.

  • charles lim

    For now, my following count is fairly small but I know that it’s gonna be harder the larger it gets so I understand. I know that Robert Scoble recently unfollowed more than 100000 of the people her followed for the exact same reason you mentioned. It think this is going to be a fairly common trend after people realize that the following party can lead to a pretty bad hangover. Here’s how I currently decide how to follow someone if they follow me:

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