Follow me, follow you … A-ha?

Follow Me, Follow You?

Through a combination of @catherinegee and @fieldproducer (both of whom I follow), I stumbled upon this today by Max Atkinson

Which utilises Friend or Follow, through which you can discover who you follow who doesn’t follow you back. Atkinson applied this tool to the Twitter habits of journalists:

Although I ‘follow’ quite a number of journalists, it had never occurred to me to check on which of them might be following me. Quite a while ago, however, I’d noticed a couple of things about the way they use Twitter:

  1. They do quite a lot of ‘chatting’ between themselves.
  2. They don’t seem to make as much use of the RT function on Twitter (even between themselves) as many of the other people I follow.

Inspired by FRIENDorFOLLOW, I’ve just done a bit of research into how journalists are using Twitter. Although they’re very keen on tweeting news of their latest articles, broadcasts and blogs, they’re not very keen at all on ‘following’ others.

To which I’d answer:

  1. Nepotism is rife in journalism; pointing this out is akin to advising a dog owner their pet might be quite keen on steak.
  2. I think that depends on which type of journalist you’re following, and how famous or prominent that journalist is.

Certainly, some journalists he’s chosen are almost celebrities themselves (albeit with shallower appeal). It’s not surprising that the reciprocal follow ratios of household names like Andrew Rawnsley (Observer), Jonathan Freedland (Guardian), Laura Kuenssberg (BBC) and Nick Robinson (BBC) are low. They’ve got to the level they have done by being quite busy (understatement), and a combination of this and their prominence means that they simply don’t have time to follow back most of the people who add them on a daily basis. Indeed, Nick Robinson’s account isn’t even manned by him.

In addition, I’m sure some famous journalists (naming no names, and no association with the aforementioned is intended) behave in a manner similar to some celebs – in believing that they’re at the bleeding edge of newsgathering, they have no perceived need to, and see no benefit in, following the Little People.

There are two other factors in why their reciprocal follow ratios are low, and these are both procedural:

  1. Many people still don’t know how to use Twitter properly. Even journalists. BBC journalists, particularly of the old school, were reluctant to adopt the technology, and some departments resented having it foisted on them from above.
  2. Until recently, Twitter’s way of informing you was spectacularly unhelpful. It literally sent out an automated email telling you that “@meaninglessusername” was now following you. And that was it. Oh, and the email told you how many people they were following, and how many were following them. You had to check out their Twitter profile and recent messages to see whether they were worth following. People just weren’t doing that. Only recently has this email included a Twitter bio.

Obvious lessons here are if you’re not filling in your bio, don’t expect people to even check you out. And no matter how important you think you are, don’t act like a diva.

On the other hand, My RFR (reciprocal follow ratio) isn’t that high. If you go by the numbers, I’m following about half the number of people that follow me. But I’m also following a great deal of people (500+ according to Friend or Follow) that don’t follow me back. Most of these are information services that don’t follow back anyway, others are celebrities or high-power journalists that again, don’t follow me back. So factor that in, and my RFR is even worse.

Even that’s not the whole story.

Your RFR depends on how you want to use Twitter. Above I’m guilty of saying that people don’t know how to use Twitter properly. This is in many ways a fallacy, because the truth – and one of the most phenomenally powerful things about Twitter – is you can use it in any number of ways depending on what you want to achieve, and what you wish to gain. Are you a company entity looking to build PR and increase sales? Are you a budding journalist looking to be first on a big story? Are you an Apple or film geek, or a celeb-obssessed gossip hound?

I’m not going to spell out the best ways you or your company can use Twitter here – I’ve worked as a consultant in the past, and if you want me to do that for you, hire me and we’ll discuss a contract. I am hinting that many high powered journalists are not using Twitter to it’s full potential, but if you’re as successful as some of the people mentioned here, you may decide you don’t need to. (That doesn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, mean you shouldn’t.)

Here’s an incomplete list of why I probably won’t follow you back. @jimboeth is the personal account of a freelance journalist. If you’re not me, this list is not meant to be prescriptive, and could do your whuffie more harm than good. While not exhaustive, it should give newbies something to think about, while not giving away any trade secrets that you can’t find somewhere else on the intertubes.

  • You Tweet in another language. I have a smattering of Welsh and German, but a timeline completely in Portuguese is going to be of absolutely no use to me. If you are lucky enough to be a polyglot, you have my utmost respect and envy, but you should probably have multiple accounts for those languages.
  • Your bio tells me nothing. I’ll look at your bio in the new Twitter emails. If it’s interesting, I will click on the link to your profile. Where I go from there is dependent on many things, but you want me getting at least this far.
  • You have no tweets in your timeline. Or worse, you have zero tweets and you’re following 2,000+ people. You are of no use to me, and I may even block you just for leeching my timeline and not giving anything back.
  • Your timeline is full of RTs. Same thing applies.
  • There are no visible links in your timeline. If you’re making big claims or statements, link to a source – and not just your own blog. Similarly…
  • Your timeline is just an RSS feed from your blogzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
  • You’re just plain boring. A good timeline will have a mixture of original thought and referenced fact, or at least useful and clearly posted links. Add humour and you’ve got me hooked.
  • OMG! u uz txt spk! If u tlk lk this ull get no <3 – js gt tld 2 fk off! lololololol

No matter how funny or informative or relevant you are, people will fall through the gaps. If there’s someone you’re following, who you think would benefit from following you… Well, think about why you want them to. I can think of at least three people on Twitter who I follow that I’d dearly love to follow me, but only from an egotistical point of view (I think they’re funny and cool and I want them to think I’m funny and cool).

There are others who I’m genuinely interested in building a mutually productive relationship with, and these people are almost always mutual follows. I doesn’t take a rocket powered brain surgeon to work out how to do this – it’s one of the Web 2.0’s business fundamentals. If you do need detailed help with this, maybe over a long period of time, then let’s work together.

A final note on Friend or Follow – How useful is this tool?

I’m not convinced. Twitter follows were playing up a bit when I explored it, and the links to many profiles came out as incomplete profile pages, with no follow/unfollow buttons. You couldn’t even cross-check on Twitter’s API whether they were following you back or not. Also when the avatars were hovered over, there was a follow button listed there, even though these were supposed to be I was already following who weren’t following me.

The bottom line with FoF, is while it gives information on your RFR, there’s not much you can actually do with it. It won’t offer any solutions. What are you going to do with this knowledge? Like using Qwitter (in a word – don’t!), I was mildly miffed that a few people who used to follow me aren’t doing so any more, despite me continuing to follow them. And there’s no sure-fire way you can directly persuade someone to follow you. In fact, sending a toadying @ to try and ingratiate yourself is going to do more harm than good.

Thanks go to @maxatkinson, @catherinegee and @fieldproducer
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About the author
James Anthony is a writer, editor, and social media consultant.


  1. Megan Wyseborn says:

    lol, i love cyndi lauper. She is very talented singer.

  2. jimboeth says:

    God DAMMIT. There is no Cyndi Lauper here. None, zip, zilch, nada, dim, zero.

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