A few days ago I received my fifth or sixth follow notification from a local social media practitioner. In fact, I’ve received over 35 follow notifications from him since last year across the 5 or so Twitter accounts I manage. They’d followed, unfollowed, then re-followed me several times, with it becoming a weekly occurrence over the last month. I called them out on it, saying I thought it was bad practice, and really annoying. They emailed me, defending themselves, saying they were experimenting with a strategy to get more followers. Which is fair enough. We’ve all got to try new things. I just happen to think it’s wrong.

Here’s my response to him. He seems like a nice guy trying to make a name for himself, so this is not a case of criticism or embarrassment. This just seems like a succinct way to publish my “dinner party” theory on the use of social media, and Twitter thing in particular.

“Hi,

My golden rule is that social media is “social”, so you should act as you would in polite society. Imagine yourself at a dinner party, and think “would I do this here”?

For example, I think “vanity retweets”, where you RT a compliment from someone about you, is akin to standing up at a dinner party and loudly proclaiming “Hey everyone! This person just said I have nice hair”. Everyone would think you are a dick, wouldn’t they?

Likewise, in reference to your follow/unfollow/follow strategy, would you go up to someone and say “come and talk to me” every 30 seconds until they told you to get lost, or would you take their non-response as a polite “no thanks”? Would you then keep pestering them? Or wait for them to make their mind up whether they wanted to talk to you?

By all means auto-follow people, but constantly unfollowing them and refollowing them is just hassling them when they’re clearly not interested. I tweeted about this a few weeks ago, directly in reference to you, and several people replied (all of whom are very sophisticated social media users), and we all agreed it was a very strong indicator of a snakeoil salesman, someone who’s shouting loud, but achieving nothing. I’m not saying that you are, but I am saying it doesn’t portray you in a good light.

Also, having a low percentage of @’s in your timeline and apparently mainly tweeting articles and RTs just smacks of using Twitter as an old-fashioned broadcast medium, not a social one. Something that instantly switches me off following someone unless they are actually a broadcaster (i.e. thought-leader, news outlets etc). Even a genuine thought leader in the world of startups and venture capitalism, such as @Bfeld, or @mikebutcher, engages in lots more “social” activity than the primarily broadcast activity that you’re demonstrating.

I’m not an expert, and I don’t think there’s any hard and fast rules, but I’ve seen a lot of social media “experts” come and go. 99% of them are self-proclaimed, and don’t last long because they just don’t get it. Real social influence is hard earned, and there are no shortcuts. Of course things change if you’re tweeting as @Microsoft or @BMWautomotive, but I personally just don’t agree with your tactics for gaining more followers as a personal/small business account. It may well get you more followers, but would you prefer to have 10,000 followers who don’t give a shit about what you say (which is what happens when you get junk follow-backs), or 500 people who genuinely hang on your every word?

Of course, you may disagree, and you have every right to. But I just don’t want to have to delete five follow notification emails from Twitter that relate to you every few weeks.

Nothing personal, I hope you understand.

Neil”

Finally, a paragraph from a follow up email after a bit of discussion. It’s mainly repetition from me, so I’ve clipped out this one bit that makes a fresh point.

“No, 5 emails isn’t a big deal (although I have approx 35 Twitter follow notifications relating to you, dating back to May last year), but that’s not really the point. When I’ve implicitly shown that I don’t want to follow you after your first follow, constantly trying to get my attention again and again is just pestering. Plus, it says to me that you were following ONLY to get me to follow back. If you cared in the slightest about anything I had to say, you wouldn’t have unfollowed me in the first place. So it’s either pestering because you’re continually trying to get me to follow you, or it’s potentially insulting because you considered me someone worth unfollowing.”

I’ll repeat: I’m not a social media expert. I will never proclaim to be. I’ve been lucky enough to teach people in workshops all over Europe about social media, but would never say I’m an expert. And I’m always instantly suspicious of people who say they are. Because social media is in some ways just a reflection of life it’s kind of like saying you’re an “expert in life”. That’s not to say there aren’t experts out there who totally understand it and are talented SM strategisers. I know a few. But they are few and far between. And to be considered an expert in my eyes you really have to demonstrate that you are an expert by openly using it in the best possible way, and not just saying you’re an expert.

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