Can you judge a book by its cover?

The title of this post asks, “can you judge a book by its cover?” You can when the “cover” is the front page of someone’s Twitter account and you’re judging whether to follow them. That page contains an avatar image (usually the person’s photo), a short biography (no more than 160 characters long), a link to the person’s home page (or company, blog, LinkedIn profile, etc.), and — crucially — the most recent 20 tweets that the person has sent. You can click through to see more tweets in batches of 20, but if you follow many people on Twitter, doing that often takes more time than it’s worth.

And there’s the rub: if you want more people to follow you on Twitter, you have very little time to make a good first impression on them . . . but many ways that you could string landmines of the “Don’t Follow Me” variety across their path.

Recently four heavy Twitter users — Meg Fowler, Jim Storer, Aaron Strout, and Tim Walker — got to talking (on Twitter, of course) about the poisoned words, phrases, and other cues that automatically signal “Don’t Follow” for them. The end result was that the four decided to bang out a joint blog post that talked about best practices in not following based on not liking the proverbial “cover” put forth by fellow tweeters. Here’s what we came up with:

Tim Walker’s “not follow” strategy
  • “MLM” (multi-level marketing). I’m sure that somewhere, some nice person who does MLM could explain to me how it’s not a veiled Ponzi scheme. Until then . . . you’ll pardon me if I continue to think of it as “a veiled Ponzi scheme.” No thanks.
  • Tweets that include “buy followers” or “hundreds of followers” or anything else in the “get lotsa followers!” genre. I try hard to earn new followers by being relevant, interesting, funny, and personable. The idea that you would buy yours in bulk — much less promote that process — disgusts me.
  • Political ig’nance. I follow people of all political stripes, from all over the world. But if you have to wear your politics on your sleeve, and if your politics are of the knee-jerk type (again, regardless of your leanings), I just can’t stand to follow you.
  • Calling yourself a “visionary” or “expert” or (shudder) “guru.” It’s much better to say you’re a “marketing veteran” or “experienced sales leader” or whatever. Let *others* call you a visionary.
Meg Fowler’s “not follow” strategy (cross-posted on “friend” Gradon Tripp’s blog)

Love it, Tim.
  • For me, it’s more about “who do I need to block around here?” Because no one likes to be spammed. So if I see any of this in your bio and/or first 20 tweets…
  • Requests to “follow me back!”
  • Promotion of affiliate programs
  • Actual affiliate links as the link in your bio
  • Any mention of followers (“I can get you followers!” “Get thousands of followers!” “5,000 followers and growing!” “This program will get you followers overnight!”)
  • “Make money online (from home, easily, doing practically nothing, overnight, with my system, etc.)”
  • Promises to “generate” anything: money, cash, followers, success, creeping rashes…
  • Promotion of tooth whitening programs (Seriously?)
  • A mention of your Twitter Grader Rank
  • Mention of “Sponsored Tweets”
  • Mention of your “Twitter eBook FREE JUST CLICK HERE”
  • Presence of “69” in name (or “Shelly Ryan” as your name… poor, poor real @ShellyRyan)
  • Rockstar/Maven/diva/coach/thought leader/guru/expert/pro/maverick
  • Porn-star-like attributes in avatar or links (Nudity, actual sexual acts, clear intent to seduce me with something other than words)
  • Requests to click through to “see your profile”
  • Googly-eyed “Twitter Basic” avatar (upload a photo, PLEASE)
  • @ing people the same link OVER AND OVER

Jim Storer’s“not follow” strategy
I’ve never auto-followed anyone, which at this point means I’ve vetted (to varying degrees) nearly 3,500 people. Until recently you had to click through to a person’s/bots profile page to get the skinny on who they are. Now some of that info is available in the new follower email, but what I look for is the same.

  • Following to Follower % (you’re following dramatically more people than follow you) – If this is too imbalanced there’s something fishy and I’m not biting.
  • # of Updates to Followers/Following #’s – In the last six months I’ve started to see a lot of people with 5k+ followers/following and less than 100 updates. That suggests you’re just using a program to rack up followers and that just wrong (IMHO). I’m not interested in being another notch on your bedpost.
  • If your bio includes any of the following I’m not interested: “more followers”, “make money”, “expert” (at anything), “MLM” and everything else Tim, Meg and Aaron came up with. I trust them.
  • If the words you chose to describe your pursuits in your biography are overly loquacious I will not be inclined to follow you back. Get real… use real words and tell me who you are.
  • If you haven’t written anything in your bio and/or you haven’t added a photo, I’m not following you.
  • If you have zero updates how am I supposed to know what you’re going to talk about? I’m not listening until you start talking.
  • If your last few updates are repetitive and too self-promoting, I’m not interested in seeing that day to day. I already saw what you have to say when I was checking out your profile.

Aaron Strout’s “not follow” strategy

The upside and downside of going last is that 1) all the good stuff has been said but 2) it leaves less stuff for me to say. Out of the list above, I’m probably the most lenient of the four. Like Jim, I’ve never auto-followed (but have considered it) so that means that I’ve hand followed back nearly 9,000 people (yup, that’s a lot). However, I have a few basic rules that I follow:
  • In most cases (not all), I like seeing a picture. If someone is obviously a n00b who looks to be figuring things out, I’ll cut ‘em some slack. Otherwise, they don’t make the cut.
  • I need a bio. Is it too much to tell me what you do?
  • I also need a tweet or two (unless they are a friend of mine and then of course they get the free hall pass)
  • No “get rich fast, affiliate or “let me sell you some shit” in the bio or last few tweets.”
  • One I get stuck on a lot is the news feed/blog title posts. These really depend on follow ratio and quality of the tweets. It also is up to my mood. If I’m hand following 40-50 people, these folks usually make it in. If it’s 4-5, not so much.
  • I will follow ANYONE from Austin (pornos excepted)
  • Oh yeah, I don’t follow webcam girls or known pornos.
So what’s your strategy? Who do you or don’t you follow? Share your tips in the comments below.
photo credit: library.cornell.edu
  • http://www.buzzstream.com/blog Paul May

    People with massive numbers of followers/following/updates, but just recently joined twitter (love the WhenDidYouJoinTwitter bookmarklet) and almost all of the tweets are robo-retweets…you know it's just a matter of time before they start filling up their feed with the hard core sales pitch.

  • http://sydneyowen.com Sydney Owen

    At this point in time, I use Topify to send me emails when I get new followers, which is pointless, because nine times out of ten I delete them. I don't follow you unless we were talking and that's why you followed me, or you follow then @ me. If you're just following and I don't know why, how do I know how to engage you? This is a great way to get me to follow you:::follow::@SydneyOwen – hey, I found you via @AaronStrout, looking forward to your tweets. -or-@SydneyOwen @aaronstrout said you're a really awesome person and I would have to agree…or something along those lines. I don't know, call me crazy, but I could care less about the numbers, I just want some more people to chat with!Awesome idea for a post. Can't wait to see more comments!

  • http://twitter.com/catherinventura Catherine Ventura

    Great post, guys. I agree with almost everything. But Jim, I just wanted to gently remind you that Twitter lost a lot of tweets and is just restoring them now. So those 100 tweets you saw could actually be a fairly prolific Tweeter who got caught in the fallout from the attack on Twitter. I had tweeted over 5000 times but for two weeks (until today, in fact) it looked like I only had 200.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09964204478772858370 Aaron_Strout

    Paul – good addition to the list. "Hey, look at me. I just joined and already hit 5,000 updates because I threaded ReadWriteWeb's RSS into my Twitter stream. Yay!"Sydney – also a good suggestion. And thanks for making it personally relevant. ;)Catherine – that's interesting. I just heard about that point (ironically, I believe it happened to @TWalk as well). So maybe you still can't always judge a book by its cover. LOL

  • http://www.gingerwilcox.com Ginger Wilcox

    I have to admit, I get so many bots/spammer followers that I am terrible about following people back. I almost always follow back someone who sends me an @ message. My other criteria is pretty much the same, I look at follower ratios, who they are talking to, and how much they talk/listen/engage versus broadcast.I think the @ message is critical. I wish the practice of sending a personal message would also carry over to facebook. Off topic, but so important. I have gotten particular about my facebook additions, a personal message would make it so much easier for the person to decide quickly if they can follow back. Otherwise, they get pushed aside to my "research why they want to be my friend pile", and they can get lost in the shuffle.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09964204478772858370 Aaron_Strout

    Ginger – good advice. I'm usually a sucker for anyone that @s me (although I've noticed that some of the sketchy affiliate folks have started doing this). Totally agree with the Facebook thing although I'm not as strict as you. A personal note is always helpful!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05746594661626608092 Neville Ridley-Smith

    You might find this tool handy as well :http://www.howoftendoyoutweet.com(as well as http://www.whendidyoujointwitter.com)