Was Twitter Ever REALLY a Numbers Game?

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Published: 08th April 2015
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These past few months have been a bit of a rollercoaster for many Twitter users. First, in April 2013, Twitter and Tweet Adder announced they had settled their 1-year legal dispute, resulting in the discontinuation of popular Twitter software Tweet Adder 3.0 and the introduction of a significantly different Tweet Adder 4.0. The primary difference in this new edition was that it no longer made it possible for its users to follow or unfollow other Twitter users automatically. This change made Tweet Adder compliant with Twitter's new Terms of Service.

At that point, Twitter still allowed automated 'follow backs', i.e., following back people who had already followed you. But later, on July 4th, the producers of Social Oomph -- another popular Twitter App -- sent an email to their users saying, 'on July 2nd, 2013, Twitter changed their terms of service and outlawed automated following back of people who followed you first.'

Social Oomph then said that their software would no longer follow back new Twitter followers automatically, and all their users would now have to follow back manually. They ended their email with the words: 'We're as dumb-founded by Twitter's decision as you are.'

While their use of the word 'outlawed' is somewhat amusing, it's clear that Social Oomph were pretty irritated. And not surprisingly so: their follow-back service has been around almost as long as Twitter. To date, Tweet Adder has yet to address this most recent change in Twitter policy, but I'm sure they will release a similar change in their software over the next week.


Twitter's reasoning for this revision in policy about auto follow-backs was explained on their blog by one of their platform operators:

'We removed the clause permitting automated follow-back, as we would prefer that users manually review their new followers and then choose whether or not they would like to follow back individual accounts ... accounts which [auto] follow-back may quickly find their home-timeline useless due to too much noise if they didn't carefully pick and choose who to follow ...'

What is interesting to me is that ever since the new Tweet Adder was released in April, I was also coming to the conclusion that there was 'too much noise' on many of the Twitter accounts I managed. In point of fact, I was beginning to wonder whether follower automation had EVER been all that useful.


I used to think automated following and unfollowing was a Godsend. I loved finding quality Twitter lists and queuing them up to follow. For follow-backs, I had an open-door policy of following anybody who followed me, removing unwanted Tweeps later. It seemed like a smooth, sound system. But recently I've come to look at things from a different perspective.

I manage about 20 Twitter accounts in Tweet Adder, predominately for clients. A few of my recent clients 'appeared' to have good Twitter numbers in excess of 15,000 followers. They had all been using auto follow-back before they came to me, and had around a 1:1 ratio between followers and 'friends' (those they were following).

But then, when Tweet Adder 4.0 was launched, I started using their newly introduced filters to study exactly WHO my clients were following. And what I identified was not encouraging.

I discovered that nearly half of my clients' 'friends' were of no use to them whatsoever. Around one-fourth Tweeted in languages they could not even understand. Another 15% or so had been inactive more than 6 months. Many others were spammers or annoying people shouting '#TeamFollowBack' all the time. It's taken me weeks to tidy up the mess and replace this random bumph with appropriate connections.

To my horror, I found that my own accounts were only slightly better, in spite of the care I had taken to clear out dead wood every week. Now I'm more prudent about who I put in my 'to follow list', so I don't have to deal with the 'noise' later.

But here's the surprise: Since I've been doing this, I've seen a substantial increase in the number of ReTweets I receive, and the traffic visiting my blog from Twitter has risen by over 50%. Was it true that less is sometimes more?

Then, yesterday, I finally switched off my automated follow-back and checked out my new followers. I quickly rejected about one-third of them. Had I automatically followed all of them as had been my practice in the past, these unsuitable accounts might have remained in my Twitter stream for months, making it hard to interact with people who might be more suitable connections.

I then asked myself: 'Had automated follow-backs actually been useful to me and my clients?' The resounding truth was: 'Not nearly as much as I had previously thought '. Even when we are meticulous about choosing people to follow, if others follow us indiscriminately and we follow them back automatically, it only creates more work for us down the line.

While Social Oomph say they are 'dumb-founded', I'm not so sure I am.


It's easy to get carried away with Twitter when we see our numbers grow rapidly. But numbers are meaningless without understanding their context. If you have 100,000 Twitter followers who neither understand you nor care about what you have to say, connecting with them is not likely to be of much benefit to you or your business. But if you have a mere 100 followers who 'get you' and listen to you intently, you not only have an inspired audience, but one that will tell their followers about you.

And THAT is how real platforms grow.

I've come to the conclusion that Twitter was NEVER a numbers game. Twitter is a medium for a new paradigm of communication. The old strategies and statistics do not apply in this environment. Clearly, the developers at Twitter get this. And while it might be an inconvenience to be required to select our followers manually from now on, I personally applaud Twitter for challenging us to make the time to get to know one another.

LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is an independent marketing consultant and author of the award-winning books The 7 Graces of Marketing and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed as one the Top 20 Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine, and has created dozens of successful bestseller book launches through her company Spirit Authors. She is also Founder of the 7 Graces Project CIC, a not-for-profit social enterprise that trains independent business owners in ethical marketing.
Find out more about Lynn and her work at http://the7gracesofmarketing.com. You can also get instant access to Lynn's free 90-minute Twitter marketing class at http://tweepelicious.com.

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