If you’ve been on Twitter for a while, you have no doubt heard of and probably seen auto-follows and auto-DM’s. If you’re new, I’ll explain them briefly below. I have fairly strong opinions (as usual!) on these topics, so I thought I’d share my thoughts.
For every person who follows you, rather than going through and making an individual decision whether to follow back or not, you set up your account to automatically follow everyone who follows you. Socialtoo and TweetLater are two applications that I know of that do this.
Stepping back, first, I think it’s important to understand why you are using Twitter. Personally, I use Twitter to connect with people who have similar interests. I want to engage with people I find interesting, and who have something useful to say. It’s like going to a party… I want to talk to people I find interesting. (If you are on Twitter for a different reason, you will probably have a different thought on this.)
So, will you find every person who follows you interesting? Do you want to talk to everyone at a party who wants to talk to you? Many times the interest is mutual, but many times, it’s not. Therefore, why would you want to follow everyone back who follows you? Some people even go as far as un-following people who don’t follow them back. Again, my same thought applies. If you think they are interesting, it doesn’t mean they find you interesting. Why should their lack of interest in me, affect my interest in them (unless we’re talking about dating, of course!).
In general, I don’t understand the concept of why auto-following makes sense for people, but there are a few situations I see that it would be useful:
- People with tons of new followers every day – Personally, I am starting to see how difficult it can be to keep up with new followers, and I’m sure that people who add hundreds each day, can’t spend their life deciding who to follow. They have to auto-follow, in order to manage the flow. While I don’t know for sure, it appears that @GuyKawasaki and @Pistachio auto-follow, probably for this reason.
- Companies – If a person is interested in a company, then typically a company is interested in them. An example of this is @BostonTweetUp, an account I co-manage. We are interested in anyone who is interested in us. And, we want people to have the ability to DM us about events.
- Broadcast accounts – If you are an account that primarily broadcasts information, but you want to give people the opportunity to DM you, you might want to auto-follow. An example of this is @Twitter_Tips.
If you do decide to auto-follow, you will most likely need to set up a good system in Tweetdeck or another application to separate out those who you are actually interested in.
For every person who follows you, you automatically sent them a DM (direct message). These vary in content, but are normally suggesting you visit their website or purchase their product. TweetLater is one application that I know of that allows you to set this up.
Using a networking event as an analogy, think of how you approach a party. You walk in, say hello, introduce yourself, and start chatting and getting to know each other. After a while of talking, you may start making a sales pitch or telling them what you can do to help them. But, you DON’T walk in and immediately say “Hi, would you like to buy my product?” That’s what an auto-DM feels like to me. It feels like spam, and that’s what the vast majority of people on Twitter feel. Do a search on auto-DM, and you’ll see it’s 95% complaints.
Some people even go as far to say “Auto-DM = un-follow”… if you auto-DM them, they will un-follow you. Socialtoo even dropped the ability to auto-DM from their service, and instead gave you a way to block auto-DM’s (a bold, but smart move on their part)
Until yesterday, there were no acceptable exceptions in my mind to my no auto-DM rule. Then I saw John Haydon’s take on auto-DM’s in his blog post… focus on OTHER people, rather than yourself. His auto-DM recommends people he thinks are good to follow, and he rotates the people for each auto-DM. I really like that idea, as it’s not salesy, and is helpful to most people.
What do you think? Are auto-follows or auto-DM’s OK? If so many people dislike auto-DM’s, why do so many people still use them?