“Who are all these people following me? I don’t know any of them.” The speaker was a client of mine, a high-tech guy. Some people think that IT specialists are all deeply into social media, but in fact the technorati often aren’t at Twitter, Facebook, or MySpace at all. This client had checked in on his company’s Twitter page and felt slightly alarmed. “None of my staff are following me.”
I acknowledged that this was so. “None of them have Twitter accounts,” I explained. “I tried to follow them all, but they aren’t here.”
“Then who are these people? Why are they following me? Do they want jobs?”
I allowed as how it was possible that they wanted jobs, but likely not. “They’re interested in what you have to say. They find your links useful.”
There was silence. The explanation obviously didn’t compute.
“Following someone on Twitter doesn’t necessarily mean that they want anything. It’s less than being Facebook friends,” I explained. “It’s the smallest commitment one human can make to another. It just means they’re kind of interested in you, and willing to see what you have to say.”
“Should we talk to them?”
“We could. Sometimes we do. If we have something to say to them. Sometimes they answer, even.” I pointed out how we had wished 37signals a happy birthday. “I get job offers on Twitter sometimes, but I’m in an industry where everyone’s on Twitter. Your industry is a little behind the curve on this. But when they get there, you’ll already be established.”
I assured him that I went and blocked people who wanted him to look at their smutty pictures, and followed back those who seemed interesting. “You’re getting new followers, you’re getting listed. This is good.”
We moved on at that point, but it brings up a question: who are those people following you, and what should you do with them?
- Check them out. When you get a new follower, go visit and see if you can tell why they’re following you. If they say interesting things, if they seem to be a human being and not a bot that followed you automatically because you used the word “software,” if you actually know them — well, follow them back.
- Read their tweets. If you always post automatically from somewhere else and never make time to visit your Twitter page and see what people are saying, you’re missing out on networking opportunities. Set aside a block of time occasionally to visit your followers, including the ones whom you don’t follow back, and see what they’re up to.
- Talk to them. Watch for opportunities to join conversations. This doesn’t mean you should spam your followers with sales messages. It does mean that when you have an opinion, or some encouragement or sympathy or a birthday greeting, it’s completely appropriate to have a little conversation.
Twitter is more valuable for some companies than for others, and the degree of value you receive should inform your decisions about how much time you spend on Twitter. But it’s worth it for all of us to pay a bit of attention to our followers.