Is Reciprocal Following on Twitter the New Blogroll?

I’m currently working on the ‘other social media channels’ chapter of our book. There will be a sizable section on Twitter. One small question I’m struggling with is “should organizations follow everybody who follows them?” The safe answer, of course, is ‘yes’. That seems to be the prevailing etiquette (Twittequette?). But it’s not one to which I subscribe.

I’ve mused on this subject before, and I’d rather not muse on it again. It’s the kind of echo-chambery silliness that gets much too much play online. But, in the interests of writing a useful book, here I go again.

Is Mutual Following the Predominant Behaviour?

First off, is mutual or reciprocal following the predominant behaviour? I think so, though I haven’t seen any empirical data or surveys on the subject. I receive an occasional coolly-worded tweet from somebody on Twitter that implies that I should be following them presumably because they’re following me. Lee recently mentioned how that he doesn’t adhere to this policy. His approach seems similar to my own views on the subject:

I take a decidedly lightweight approach to social media. If I haven’t met you or don’t know you personally, I’m not likely to add you as a friend or follow you. I currently follow about 200 people on Twitter and it’s still too much. When I follow someone with the @leelefever account, I try keep up with most of their updates. This is how I’ve always used Twitter.

Giving into this perceived social pressure would force an unwelcome change in how I want to use Twitter, and make it a less useful tool.

The New Blogroll?

Julie pointed out that reciprocal following feels a bit like the new blogroll. A blogroll was a handy way of linking to all of the websites you read. It was also a polite way to recognize that another blog or site had linked to you. They ‘voted’ for your site, and in return you ‘vote’ for theirs using your blogroll.

I’m not sure why (though I expect RSS played a role), but blogrolls seem to be going out of fashion. And the difference between a blogroll and reciprocal following on Twitter is that the former is a passive list on a static page or sidebar, while the latter changes how you use the tool.

In both cases, the behaviour feels kind of punctilious–that I’m doing it primarily for the sake of appearances. The two perspectives feel like, I don’t know, like the socialist versus capitalist view of Twitter. What do you think?

Bonus links: There has, of course, been plenty of other discussion on this topic. Plus Rebecca just posted a big list o’ Twitter tools.


  1. I don’t automatically follow someone if they are following me on Twitter. I look at their profile, and if I feel like we have something in common, or if their tweets seem interesting/informative/funny, I’ll follow them back. I will not follow back people who don’t have a profile, a photo, or any tweets. I also look at thier follower-to-followed ratio. If they are following a lot more people than follow them, that’s also a red flag for me. At this moment, I have more followers than followed (but I’m using tools to try to even that number out!).
    I follow people on Twitter that I don’t know, whereas with Facebook, I won’t be friends with people I don’t know (even if I haven’t met them in person). The reason for that is, my stuff on FB is much more personal.

  2. Thanks for the link!

    That’s the funny thing I’ve discovered in discussing Twitter philosophies with various people – everyone has their own idea of how a following/follower relationship is defined.

    It’s easy (and tempting) to ruminate upon it at length, but you hit the nail on the head – the obvious difference between a passive, static list (i.e., a blogroll) and an active, attention-summoning Twitter following/follower relationship changes the behavior and strategies behind the usage.

    In truth, it’s a personal decision, unique to each individual. Trying to fully accommodate each person’s expectations – and not my own – hurts my head. Attempting to streamline the understanding behind it is only going to lead to more confusion. So I’m going to quit trying to analyze it while I’m ahead!

  3. I used to feel really guilty about not following back someone, but not anymore. I am currently physically and mentally unable to follow more people than I do. Even with TweetDeck, I still struggle to pay attention to people.

    I know for a fact that I’m noisy, but my personal Twitter account (hummingbird604) is predominantly for friends and the like. Occasionally, I’ll throw in a few tweets re: useful stuff on social media, environment and the like.

    My research account (raulpacheco) is meant ONLY for work-related stuff. With BrightKit, I am able now to use both seamlessly too.

    Since you’re writing about the business side use of Twitter, may I submit one tidbit? – if you’re an organization that is using Twitter, I’d suggest to make sure to mix some “broadcasting” (e.g. pushing blog posts, tweets, promo) with some stuff that will let me (the potential client) that there is a human behind the Twitter account.

    Sorry, Darren – I am sometimes wordy with my comments. But I do hope this one is useful to your readers (and to you, obviously!)

  4. Thanks for the mention Darren.
    Overall, of course, there is no right way. It’s up to each person and everyone has different goals, time, needs, etc.
    Though I think it may be different for business accounts, I think reciprocal following, especially when we’re talking about a personal account following 1000s of people, is an empty promise. It’s all gesture and no substance. It’s essentially impossible for someone to follow the updates of even 1000 people. It’s far too easy to click “follow” 1000 times and feel good about what a great Twitter user you are.
    I like the idea of *following* people I know. Perhaps it’s voyeurism, but the value I derive from Twitter comes from the actual following, not the gesture of following. That’s just me.

  5. You start the article asking if an organization should automatically follow back. I think it should, simply because the purpose of an organization on Twitter is promotional.

    If you are an individual, then there are ten thousand different strategies you can encompass with Twitter, so narrowing it down to just one doesn’t sound very smart.

  6. I follow anyone who appears to have an established account if they follow me (more than a few updates, and a decent ratio). Here’s another way to look at it though:

    I can’t prove it, but I’m fairly certain that a number of folks use my “following” page (the list of people I am following, handily organized in reverse chronological order) to find others to follow. I do this as well, frequently looking at the following pages of others. It really only works when the page changes regularly however – that is, when the user follows new people.

    Both Andrew and xavierv make good points too.

    Never really thought of it as a blogroll, but I suppose it could be.

  7. When I first started using Twitter I followed everyone that followed me. As my use and my “follow” list grew, I started becoming more picky. Now I will look at the person’s profile, check their Tweets, and see if they look interesting first.

    It would be interesting to know if that is common behaviour – large follow-to-follower ratio declining over time.

  8. In the beginning (2007 when I joined), I followed everyone that followed me. I used IM to view my twitter and I would only add notifications for a few people. What this mean is that I was following 100 people but only ever reading the tweets for 30 or something.

    When twitter stopped IM, I came up with a new strategy. I stopped following a 200+ people and got my following under 100 as I don’t have the attention span for more than that.

    I don’t feel any obligation to follow people that add me. I basically follow people that tweet things I’m interested in. I don’t follow many that tweet excessively. I have friends on twitter that I don’t follow and I follow people on twitter that are complete strangers.

    Anyone that adds me would see I am very selective 95/663 at present and basically am using twitter for my benefit, not as a marketing tool or to build relationships with friends (that’s why I use Facebook).

    Basically I don’t really think about why/why not I don’t follow people back. I can’t imagine anyone caring whether I am following them or not when there are so many larger issues in the world to worry about.

  9. Recently I started using @MrTweet as a means of keeping track of people that are interesting in my network.. What’s fascinating is that they provide the metric of how often other users follow their followers. I know for me I don’t generally follow my followers unless their tweets pop up in one of my keyword searches, or if they message me directly and I manually glance over at what they have to say.

    Either way, is this metric useful? What does it say about people? Why is it important?

  10. I have notifications of new followers turned off, so I don’t even know when someone starts following me. I’m also considering un-following some of my current list, not to offend them or because I actively dislike what they write, but because the River of Tweets becomes a bit overwhelming, even if all you do is dip in and out.

    Lee is right, though: if you follow everyone who follows you, it’s something of an empty gesture. In addition, however, it could be useful if you’re the type of person who asks lazyweb-style questions of your followers. If you have a lot of them, you’ll get answers sooner. But that’s being selfish again, isn’t it?

  11. At first I would only Follow someone after reading through their site or blog, depending which they showed in Twitter and reading through their posts to see if they offered anything of value. Then, I admit it, I got lazy, and combined with Scoble’s philosophy on Following everyone back, decided I would just Follow back anyone who Followed me. The only time someone would get unFollowed would be if they pissed me off, were obnoxious, were nothing but noise or were using Twitter as a hard-selling tool. I thought it be great to have as many Followers and Followed as possible.
    Then Twitter started getting really populated. I developed some rules as to why I wouldn’t follow back ( Then I found my self job hunting. Twitter has such a buzz that I worked my Twitter grade and Follower list into my resume. It worked great except I Followed more than Followed me, which hurt my Twitter grade. So, now it’s a fine balance between quality and quantity, as it should be. I’m in the long slow process of weeding out nonFollowers that offer nothing of value.

  12. I am currently following everyone who follows me, and right now it’s manageable for me. I’m actually interested to read whatever my followers are tweeting, if only for the sake of getting to know them better. If they’re interested in me, then I’m interested in them. I use Twhirl to read the updates as they come in while I’m working, and it’s akin to the newsfeed on the bottom of TV news as far as I’m concerned. It’s news, it’s entertainment. If there’s something I’m interested in, I can click on it and read the rest, send a direct reply or an @reply, etc. Now if I end up with a lot more followers, will it be impractical? I don’t know. I can’t say for sure yet. But these are very short messages, microblogging being what it is, and that’s what makes it work.

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