follow on twitterTwitter can be a nightmare of etiquette. I’m sure we’ve all experienced the moment where someone follows us and we aren’t quite sure whether or not to return it, right? To follow or not to follow on Twitter? That is the question.

But forgetting the clichés (and the fact that I revisited Hamlet as part of my studies this week), there are some serious implications behind the decision to follow somebody on Twitter. Follow everybody, and you’ll end up with an incomprehensible update feed, but follow no-one and you’ll stand no chance of growing your fan base.

So, how does one find a balance on Twitter? I’m not talking about tweet content, as I’ve already done that, but in terms of following and following back? Here are a few paths you could explore.

Path 1: The ‘Follow Everyone’ Tactic

This route is probably the fastest way to gain followers for yourself. Type in #amwriting, follow 50 or so people, and watch more flood in. Follow everyone back who follows you.

This tactic can be beneficial, as amongst these thousands of followers, there will no doubt be the odd true fan. However, I question how one can truly gain a fan base through this method. Not only will your own feed get clogged up, but the bulk of your mutual follows will see you as little more than a figure. That is assuming, of course, they see you at all.

Of course, there are ways to filter through people using this method: many writers set up Twitter lists for those they are interested in/family/friends, etc. I use lists myself, but I wouldn’t say I follow everyone back. No, my tactic is slightly more conservative…

Path 2: The ‘Follow Intelligently’ Tactic

I reckon I fall into this group somewhat. I don’t follow everyone back. I always read the tweets of those who follow me, and work out whether they are within my niche, before clicking the follow button.

Let me elaborate a little: a writer follows me. They share links, and musings about the process. They visibly interact with others. Do I follow? Of course.

Another writer follows me. They don’t interact with others, and only talk about their own writing/links. Do I follow? No. Unless they interact with me, I don’t.

Funnily enough, these are the people who usually unfollow after a week or so without me following back, so they aren’t really that interested in the first place.

Basically, I follow back those who balance their tweets. Call it being picky, but yeah, that’s exactly what it is, and exactly how it should be. You should not feel obliged to follow everyone back. In fact, exactly the opposite – if you follow people completely outside your niche or friend group, you’ll build a bunch of followers who aren’t too bothered about what you have to say. Thank them for following, if you’re feeling guilty, but generally, you shouldn’t have to apologise for not returning a follow.

Path 3: The ‘Follow Hardly Anyone’ Tactic

This method has its advantages and disadvantages, as with the others. Many people choose not to follow anybody, mainly for the reasons I’ve already outlined – they want to genuinely connect with others, or they are uncertain about the legitimacy of said follow.

This method is probably the best on paper, but if you’re looking to reach a wide audience in a shorter timeframe, then it’s probably worth considering another route.

The method relies solely on you building a name for yourself elsewhere (whether it be through your website, or your blog), and for people like me who bring in the bulk of my traffic through social media, it isn’t really viable.

So, answer the question already: should I follow back or not?

Well, that’s up to you. As I said, I sit somewhere around Path 2. As it stands, I follow 780 people, and have 843 following me in return. That’s a ratio I’m comfortable with. Sometimes, I’m more generous with my following back than other times. Really, you’ve got to find that balance yourself.

To follow or not to follow? Research. Think. Make hitting that ‘follow’ button a conscious decision rather than a desperate lunge.

What is your approach to following and following back on Twitter? Do you fall in any of these three paths, or somewhere different altogether?

Image courtesy of Slava Baranskyi via Flickr