How do you decide who to follow, on Twitter?

This is part of a series on “Social Media and Farmers” (Twitter & LinkedIn – for bushies). I’ve written down the basic policy I figured out via trial & terror, as it contains points other social media users might like to think about too.

My twitter policy regarding who I follow, and managing followers:

I follow Twitter account holders who:

  • Care about the world and are interested in the sorts of issues I’m particularly interested in – food producers & production and the natural environment
  • Don’t have a simplistic view of the environment
  • Are happy to express forthright opinions, try to be objective, enjoy discussions & listening to different points of view (& able to ‘agree to disagree’ amicably)
  • Have a healthy sense of humour
  • Don’t obsess about errors. We all make them!

Many of the people I follow grew up in the bush and/or have a particular interest in the bush (people in touch with the practical realities of life)

I don’t follow (or converse with):

  • Fanatics. This includes people only interested in (i.e. mostly only tweet about) a single issue, and in a negative, nasty manner:  politics (of all kinds), refugees, anti-religion, anti-abortion, anti-meat eating (animal rights extremists & vegans), anti-farmers (extreme ‘conservationists’) etc. Eventually someone will do some research which will undoubtedly show all “anti” obsessives have a similar personality type, regardless of which issue they’ve chosen to latch onto.  None of their blinkered rants do their cause any good or make the world a better place, in fact quite the reverse. ‘Discussion’ with people with closed minds is an oxymoron.
  • Nasty/vitriolic tweeters and trolls. (These are mostly covered by the above exclusions; political fanatics, anti-religion types & animal rights extremists in particular).
  • Anyone using twitter as a personal diary.  I enjoy witty comments and interesting observations on all sorts of topics.  But acres of pointless waffle is mind numbing.  Ditto endless selfies.

I rarely follow (or converse with):

  • Anonymous/semi anonymous tweeters – anyone not using their full (real) name. Some tweeters have good reason for anonymity, same as people with private phone numbers (eg people with domestic violence issues and police force & legal profession members who have genuine, realistic security concerns). But usually anonymity is simply misguided paranoia, or a licence to abuse others without consequence.  There are plenty of tip-over-the-edge types amongst the 500+ million tweeters online, and if you have a good look around you’ll soon realise whatever you have to say is unlikely to be singled out by anyone as so spectacularly offensive that it warrants a housecall!  Anonymity  also provides the freedom to troll with impunity; so tweeters who have not completely identified themselves are treated with much suspicion by others.  I’m publicly identifiable and I’m absolutely not interested in talking with anyone who has chosen to wear a bag on their head.  (I’ve found that if someone doesn’t trust me, it’s a good indication they aren’t to be trusted themselves.)  If you’re anonymous, you’ll have to be brilliant and/or identify yourself to me by email, or I will not ‘follow’ you. I often block anonymous followers too. Having an unidentified person listen in to all your conversations is like being stalked by someone hiding in the shadows.  It’s creepy.  I can’t stress this enough. Yes twitter is a public conversation; however if you’re regularly (by following) listening in to the conversation of someone who has made themselves completely identifiable, it’s good manners to ensure you’re completely identifiable too, so it’s a level playing field. From your own point of view, identifying yourself fully leads to a larger number and much more enjoyable conversations, as people have clues regarding your background & interests, and most people are reluctant to converse openly with someone unprepared to identify themselves fully.
  • Anyone whose Twitter account does not include some intelligent bio information, a pic of some type, and location (region within a state, at least).  Quite understand when people first open an account and are just learning they mightn’t complete this for a while (this was me too!) but once a twitter account is used actively it should be filled in properly so people you’re talking to know who you are. It’s simply good manners. Twitter is a public conversation, where everyday manners also apply.  Incomplete or vague identification details prevents people from looking you in the eye when they’re talking to you. If you don’t get this, then we won’t get along.
  • “Protected tweet” accounts.  Twitter is one big public conversation. If you follow me, but I’m unable to read your tweets as they are ‘protected’-only readable by people you have ‘approved’  (though anyone can read all my tweets straight away, even if not a twitter account holder), I’m going to find that creepy and more than a little one-sided.  Potentially you could be discussing my tweets without me being able to know about it (rude!).  If you want to have private conversations – use a private Facebook or LinkedIn group, or better still, use email.  Or encrypted notes in invisible ink, transported by carrier pigeons.  If you have a ‘locked’ (private) account to ‘avoid trolls’, then you have to question whether Twitter is really the place for you. (LinkedIn groups would be better.)
  • Anyone whose main priority is clearly centred around  broadcasting, self-promoting as a guru or just intent on obtaining a large number of followers, displaying arrogant self-importance by following few in return.  Unless you’re the Queen, a Prime Minister or a multi-millionaire celebrity, you just look like you’ve got delusions of grandeur.  Not following someone basically says “I’m not interested in what you’ve got to say”.   Use Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to follow lists of favourites if you’re getting bogged in too many tweets of lesser interest.

Managing followers:

I regularly check out all new followers and recommend others do this weekly if not as soon as new Twitter followers appear.  I check the name, bio, location, pic & tweets.   If further clarification is needed, I check who else the new follower is following & maybe also who is following them.   The latter is a good way of discovering fake and spam accounts, as they usually set up a web of accounts.  Checking might sound tedious but it really does only take a few seconds.  I follow anyone who follows me, if it looks like we’ll get along (see points up the top).  But:

  • Spammers and really nasty accounts are immediately blocked & reported (most seem to come from the U.S; sales pitches etc).  If everyone did this, there’d be less dross on twitter!
  • Trolls are blocked because I don’t want to be associated with destructive, nasty behaviour.  And I don’t want to be tempted to enter into pointless conversations.
  • Anonymous followers are blocked if I don’t like the tone of the tweets being sent, and who they are associated with (following/followers).

Automatically preventing spam (computer/robot) accounts from following your account:

Some people like to use an app called ‘True Twit Validation Services’.  When anyone follows them, they receive a tweet with a link that must be clicked, to confirm they are a real person not an automated spam account.

Most people find it fairly irritating to have to do and I don’t recommend using follower approval services such as this. Simply check your followers regularly and block any that are really dodgy.  Someone using True Twit Validation should be checking their followers regularly anyway.

Private (locked) twitter accounts:

It’s possible to set up a twitter account that is private.  If your twitter account is private, all followers have to be approved by you, and your tweets are not seen by others.

Personally I can’t see the point in having a private account on twitter. Because:

  • Your messages can only be seen by your followers. So random (interesting) people can’t read and respond to your tweets. You’ll have to do all the running, to find new interesting people, because they won’t be finding you!
  • Your messages can’t be retweeted  – even by your followers.  No more spreading your wit and wisdom to the masses!
  • Your followers could cut and paste or even screenshot your tweets and share them with other people, if they were that way inclined.  And your account could be hacked anyway (it happens sometimes).  IE a ‘locked’ account is not a cast iron guarantee that the only people to ever read what you’ve written, are those you’ve approved of as followers.
  • Some people may want to refer to your messages every now and then but not follow you (especially likely if you send a lot of tweets – more than they want to see constantly appearing in their timeline). They can do this by adding you to a list (eg they might want to catch up with you at an event you’re both attending). If you have a locked account, you can only be added to a list by people who have followed you.
  • Worst of all; when a private account follows a public account, the public account owner feels as if they’re being stalked.  It’s like answering the phone to a ‘private’ caller, or opening the front door to someone with a bag on their head.  They know who you are, but you don’t know who they are.  This sort of inequity is not my cup of tea.
  • It looks pretentious. Unless you’re a tax collector, a debt collector or a parking fine issuer…in which case social media probably isn’t the place for you.

There is a joke that goes around twitter along the lines of…”private account? What are you tweeting, nuclear missile launch codes?”

If the messages you are writing are sensitive, then social media is not the place to be.

It’s always possible I missed following someone that I’d actually really like to, so if that’s you, don’t hesitate to sing out!

I might have checked your account when you first started out on twitter, and not followed you, due to insufficient information on your account and no track record to see.  This is why it’s vital to include a pic, bio & location as soon as you set up your account.  Most people will only check a new account, and decide whether or not to follow, once. No second chances, down the track!

Note: The majority of this blog post was written in February 2013. It has since been updated, and the above info is current as at August 2016.

Summary of blog posts with tips on how to best use Twitter: