Monday, August 24, 2009

Eight Twitter Habits That May Get You Unfollowed or Semi-Followed

Best practices on Twitter are still developing, and everyone seems to have their own preferences and attitudes about right and wrong on the microblogging service. Standards vary widely depending upon whether one is using Twitter just to keep in touch with friends or is tweeting on behalf of their business or employer. Whatever your purpose, you may have some tweeting habits that encourage others to unfollow or semi-follow you.

Before delving into the list of attention-repelling habits, let's first explore the concept of the semi-follow. On Twitter, there are only two possible states for following--a person either follows another or they don't. But while most people still post updates via the Twitter Web site, many use third-party applications that help group and organize followers. People using software such as TweetDeck or sites like HootSuite can follow others with different levels of rigor--some people are followed closely, others are semi-followed, and still others are almost completely ignored.

For example, I follow over 2,000 people, and as my list grew beyond several hundred, I found I was missing tweets from the people I care most about. I could have opted to axe strangers with interesting things to share, but instead I opted (as do most people with large Twitter follow lists) to use a tool to group my Tweeple. I have HootSuite organized with groups that include friends, peers and clients from Fullhouse, local people of interest, marketing thought leaders, news feeds, and Social Media movers and shakers. This gives me the ability to track about 200 Twitter feeds more closely than the remainder of my follow list.

They key to being followed more closely is to say and share things that others care about. This requires a great deal of focus and an awareness of the subtle tendencies that can cause others to begin to tune out, consciously or not. Here are eight things Twitterers do that tend to diminish the attention they receive from others:

8. Constant Tweeting about your own business: I was just followed by a printing company in Raleigh, NC, and every single tweet was about their business--"lowest prices," "visit our site," "why everyone is switching to us," blah blah blah. According to TweetLater, the tool I use to vet followers, over 50% of those followed by this business chose to ignore this account, and it is a sure bet almost none of the remaining 50% will pay any attention to what this Twitterer has to say. Constant self-promotion isn't a stream of tweets, it's a stream of ads, and no one really wants to subscribe to that.

7. People who mistake public tweets for private messages: When you make lunch plans via email, you send a message only to the people you wish to invite and not to everyone in your contact list. This common sense approach isn't so common on Twitter, where some folks seem to believe every communication to anyone should be broadcast to everyone.

As the number of followers grows, the need to cut down on noise increases, so if you wish to encourage your followers to pay attention, keep private communications private and send a public Tweet only when the message may be of interest to many of your followers. The Direct Message (DM) is a powerful tool--don't fear the DM!

6. People who engage in partial and cryptic @replies: Twitter is intended to be conversational, but remember that people will begin to tune you out if they cannot understand or decode many of your status updates. For this reason, it's important when replying that you give context; for example, what is "@you Word," "@you I'm sorry to hear that," or "@you ROFLOL" supposed to mean to people unless they 1) follow both you and the person to whom you're responding, and 2) care enough and have the time to follow the dialog back and forth?

It's one thing to say "@you That Conan O'Brien video clip of Shatner reading Palin's speech was funny," but it's an altogether different and more annoying thing to tweet, "@You That was hilarious." The former gives context that invites attention and replies from others; the latter is just noise that will only have relevance to one person.

5. Just links: Sharing links is a great way to create value for your followers, but please don't share links with no explanation. What is on the other end of a link-shortened URL such as Is this news, a video clip, spam, spyware? I don't know and I don't care--links with no context not only won't get clicked but may encourage others to dump you.

4. Excessive games, sweeps, & viral marketing: I'm a marketer and support the appropriate use of Twitter for participation in marketing promotions. But when a Twitterer becomes obsessed with a game or sweepstakes and litters their Twitter feed with promotional tweets, it isn't any different than spam. Sharing a cool branded video or a relevant sweepstakes is great; tweeting #moonfruit 20 times in 5 minutes because you want to win an Apple computer is just damn annoying.

Of course, smart marketers will find a way to create Twitter promotions that engage others rather than irritate them. For example, Marriott launched an annoying Moonfruit-like promotion at It's causing a minor flood of useless and repetitive tweets like "Trying my luck to win a Hawaiian getaway from @marriotthawaii." As my Twitter friend @RobertKCole pointed out, "This is spam without some form of community benefit, like naming a favorite activity in Hawaii." Marketers need to challenge themselves to get people sharing something of interest and not just spammy and irrelevant tweets, because what worked for Moonfruit once could well become a PR disaster for a brand running a Twitter sweepstakes in the future.

3. Automatic Direct Messages (DMs): Talk about getting a relationship off on the wrong foot--someone trusts a Twitterer enough to follow him or her and then is repaid with an impersonal and spammy Direct Message. Many is the time I've followed someone, received a generic Auto DM, and immediately unfollowed, beginning and ending a Twitter relationship in less than five minutes.

Using an Auto DM may seem like a good way to "welcome" new followers, but most people actually find it very unwelcoming. Also, Auto DMs can fill up peoples' lists of incoming Direct Messages, making it difficult to catch real, valuable, person-to-person DMs.

A move is afoot to shame those who send automatic DMs. The site recently launched, encouraging Twitterers to send an @reply containing the hashtag #stopautodm to those who use Auto DMs; doing so causes the tweet to appear on the site's "Recent Offender Newswire."

2. Publicly thanking others for thinking you're terrific: It's very rewarding when new people follow, when you get cited by others with a #followfriday mention, or when you get retweeted. Each of these occurrences is an appropriate opportunity to thank someone--privately with a DM!

Sending a public tweet that thanks someone for following, for recommending you, or for retweeting your post isn't an expression of gratitude but a boast sent to everyone who follows you. It's a big, needy, self-serving way to make sure a wide group of people are aware that someone thinks you're terrific.

Think of it this way: When you receive a compliment from a boss or peer, do you express genuine gratitude in a private manner, or do you stand on a chair and bellow "Thank you for complimenting my work!" Public tweets that express appreciation for referrals and recommendations are the Twitter equivilent of a vain bellow.

1. Politics, Religion & Sex (unless that is your Twitter profile's purpose): If you create a Twitter profile to support gun rights, gay marriage, your church, or your adult film career, by all means talk politics, religion, or sex; that would be expected by people who follow you. But if your Twitter account is intended to be professional, then tweeting about politics, religion or sex is a good way to offend or annoy some portion of your followers.

Miss Manners' advice is as relevant on Twitter as it is at dinner parties: "Unless you are like-minded old friends, (do not talk to another) about sex, politics or religion. That is not a quaint prohibition. Such subjects as gay marriage, taxes and abortion have been known to explode otherwise pleasant dinner parties." Or Twitter relationships.

Some folks reject the idea of "rules" for Twitter and think anything goes. This attitude may be fine for those who don't really care whether they're followed or what others think, but that's a luxury not afforded most of us with a professional intent on Twitter. The microblogging service hasn't changed the essentials of communications and relationships: People listen to and connect with those who demonstrate concern about their relevance, comprehension, and value to others.


Unknown said...

Thanks for some common sense. I don't use DM much and may increase that now that you helped remove the fear.

Augie Ray said...

Thanks Ed! Don't fear the DM! :)

Seriously, some people treat DM as if it's the antithesis of Twitter, but it's a valuable tool for communicating 1-to-1 as opposed to 1-to-many.

Thanks for the comment!

Brian McDaniel said...

Thanks for this post - I think you make a lot of good points and I agree with all but one (obviously because I am guilty of it.) I am a huge link/resource tweeter (100-150 a day) and I have quite a few followers who retweet my links to share with their followers. I have made it a point from the beginning to thanks every single person for a RT. But I do it publicly in a list format as opposed to a personal DM for a few reasons:

1. I want to be polite and thank everyone who finds enough value in the things I tweet to deem it worth sharing. It seems the polite thing to do to thank them.

2. Many people do not read their DMs or check them very often. Nor do they want them cluttered with thank yous. The quick "Thanks for the RT" tweet just zips by in their stream and gets the job done.

3. By tweeting their names I am exposing my followers to them. Some of my followers have followed others who are RT'ing me.

4. I have had a lot of positive response to the thank yous. People really appreciate them and like that I am personally interacting with them at a level beyond link tweets.

5. I could not possibly write a thank you DM for every RT I get. That would become a full-time job. Nor do I think my followers would want them.

So I just wanted to provide an alternate opinion. I'm sure there are plenty of people who are annoyed by the thank you tweets and that's fine. Everyone is free to follow or unfollow anyone they want to. And as you so rightly stated, the 'rules' are still forming. So I guess I just wanted to defend the accusation that I say thanks for RTs to promote how great I am. On the contrary, I just truly am grateful and my Mom always taught me to be polite. This seems the best way to do it.

Thanks again for a great post. I tweeted it, and will thank those who RT it too! ;)

Augie Ray said...

Thanks for the comment, Brian.

Here's my feeling: I recognize all the reasons you publicly thank people for RTing you, but if you REALLY wanted to thank them in a genuine way, there are better ways.

A personal thank you is always better in every circumstance. But if what you want to do is recognize others, then recognize THEM and not yourself. Find something of theirs to RT or give them some #FollowFriday love; that means more than expressing gratitude in a way that promotes yourself as much as it does the person who RTed you.

Of course, everyone has to set their own rules, but if you want people to follow your valuable links and resources, I'd suggest it might be better to focus on that rather than public "thank yous."

For the record, I don't think it is NEVER appropriate to reply to a RT. For example, asking the RTer for feedback or commenting on something they said in their tweet is a good way to recognize them without being quite so "me" focused.

Just my two cents. Thanks for pointing out your reasons for publicly acknowledging RTs!

Tina said...

My personal biggest twitpeeve is when people RT every answer to a question they ask. People know that the question was asked, and if they care enough to see the responses, they know how to look them up!!! It makes the assumption that people really care about EVERY question you ask!

Brian McDaniel said...

I definitely do NOT want to get into a comment smackdown with you, but it is difficult for me to not respond when your response implies that you are the authority on what is REALLY a genuine gesture of gratitude. I think it's important to show some sense of humility and accept that your way may not be THE right way, especially in an arena that is still so relatively new and, as you correctly acknowledged, is still in the process of shaping it's users' etiquette. Very often different is not wrong - it's just different.

I have only been on Twitter for about 4 months but in those 4 months I have publicly tweeted RT thanks to every single RT I've received, sometimes as many as 200-300 a day. I have had 2 - yes, only 2 - people very politely request that I not thank them every time they RT my tweets. They said they knew where my heart was and they didn't need a thank you. Of the rest of my 5500+ followers I have never received a complaint, but have received numerous thank yous for my attitude and graciousness.

So how then can you suggest that my aim is not REALLY to thank them genuinely? It may not be your intention, but it comes across to me as a bit condescending and egotistic. Forgive me if this offends you or is a misinterpretation of your comment. I just felt that you should hear how it sounded to me. Hopefully we both can grow and learn from this and other experiences as we find our way through the Twitterverse!


Augie Ray said...


I respect your thoughts on this, and I certainly would not claim to be an authority on right and wrong on Twitter (since those sorts of best practices are still developing.) I just wanted to suggest there are small things that motivate others to stop paying attention.

If you post 100 valuable tweets a day and then send up to 200 thank you's, then FOR ME your noise-to-content ratio is out of whack and I'd stop following. Your thank you's have no value to anyone but you and the person you're thanking; to the rest of your followers, those tweets are just things to ignore in the tweet stream.

You say you don't get complaints, and of course you're not going to. Given the choice of unfollowing (one click) versus having to criticize someone for their Twitter habits NO ONE will go the route of complaining. (Ever try to criticize someone in 140 characters without sounding like a complete jerk--it's impossible!) It's just too easy to opt out of someone's tweet stream, and that's the real point I was trying to make: Real influence is built with value but lost in little bits one tweet at a time!

Thanks for the comments. I really appreciate your outlook on this, and you're hardly the only one to disagree with me on the public thank you's!

Brian McDaniel said...


A quick clarification: 100 valuable tweets and possibly 1/2 as many thanks for RTs - thankfully due to thanking many people at once as opposed to 200 DMs.

Sounds like we have a good stopping point here. I absolutely agree - if you don't like what's playing on the radio, change the station. My goal has never been influence anyway - it's been connection. That's probably why we have two varying opinions of what's important.

I'm not trying to get the last word. It's your blog. So unless your response requires a response from me I am respectfully bowing out.

Thanks for the discussion.

Jeff Larche said...

I agree with all of these (even the Thanks habit). Now for the big question: Why would a reasonable Twitter user be overly concerned with losing some followers? Every week, I gain some and lose some. But when I check to see who I've lost, my reaction is: Why did they follow in the first place?

It's true that we all publish our own Twitter channel. But why the race for ever-more "viewers?" A desperate need for follower growth = jumping the shark. No thanks.

Lorrie Walker said... about being well said! This is some awesome advice that I intend to share with a few people.

The Urbanophile said...

I would also suggest avoiding the use of entirely for posting things. This has many negatives for your readers, as I documented here:

Augie Ray said...


Thanks for the comment! You ask a great question about whether we should be overly concerned with losing some followers.

My feeling is that merely chasing a big follow list is a pretty lousy goal. The real measure of a follow list is how it aligns to a Twitterer's goals and the quality of the people on the list and not just its size. If a marketing professional wants to speak with peers but only has a list of folks who signed up because Oprah told them to, then their follow list isn't helping them achieve goals, even if the number is enormous.

But while chasing a big list is inadvisable, so is doing things that tend to annoy and lose people who would otherwise be interested in what you have to say. If I lose followers because I am not furnishing the value they seek, that's a legitimate loss. But if I lose followers because they get tired of trying to figure out what I'm saying with my partial and cryptic @replies or because they think I am too boastful, I think that's a horse of a different color.

Keeping everyone isn't the right goal, but keeping the people you want to keep is, don't you think?

Augie Ray said...

Lorrie, Thank you very much for the nice comment. I'm glad you felt the blog post was useful.

Augie Ray said...


I know and other link-shorteners are detested by some, so perhaps it is advisable people avoid them. That said, I like HootSuite and don't mind the link-shortening.

Your blog post ( is interesting, but I don't totally agree. Is link shortening and framing a security risk, as you suggest? I think the risk comes from who you follow and not because of a link-shortener. The risks you identify are certainly POSSIBLE, but one can get "drive-by malware" just as easily from a non-shortened link as a shortened one. If you follow quality people you trust, then there's very little reason to fear a link-shortened URL.

Plus, it is so darn easy to close the little frame! Just click the "X" if you don't want it.

As for tracking, I think that's a benefit and not a curse. It's great to know what people find interesting in my tweet feed. There are times I find a lot of people click on a tweet but no one comments, and other times a couple people comment while few people click. Tracking what interests my followers adds value, in my book.

I am not trying to convince you you're wrong! I think smart people can fall on both sides of this debate. I recognize the issues you reference, but I tend to believe the benefits are greater than the risks.

I appreciate the dialog!

Steve Grobschmidt said...

Great post, Augie. A lot of excellent points, a number of them that I hadn't even considered, despite being something a Twitter veteran myself.

I hadn't considered the point about thanking people for retweets from that perspective. I noticed a lot of people doing that and figured it had become sort of Twitter etiquette, and that NOT doing so was rude in some way!

I really can't stand the auto-reply DM. When it's obvious that it's canned and not personal, what does one expect to gain from it?

Augie Ray said...

Thanks Steve,

Lots of people have taken me to task for the "thank" you part of my blog post. I still stand by it, because I just think as Twitter grows there will be a need to cut down on noise and focus on the things most of interest to a large portion of followers.

It may be Twitter etiquette now, but I predict it won't be in the future. There was a time when welcoming new Twitter followers with a public tweet was considered proper Twitter etiquette, and now that's fallen by the wayside because it just isn't a value-add to followers.

Appreciate the comments!

Louise said...

Just wanted to throw my 2 cents in that I happen to agree with Brian McDaniel on the DM vs. @Reply question. I would much rather be thanked in an @Reply than by a DM, which clutters up my email in-box. I have DMs sent to my email because that's what I consider them - private conversations. Unless the content is really not meant for public consumption, I rarely DM and I would rather not get them either. Just putting it out there that others have different opinions. Most of your other points I agree on, though.

Augie Ray said...

Thanks Louise. I appreciate the input.

As I keep noting, people can set their own rules, but I find this interesting: Everyone who comments on the issue of public expressions of gratitude for RTs says "I like sending the public thank you" or "I like getting a public thank you." No one says, "Reading one person thanking another is valuable to me."

What I get out of this is that two people in each public thank you like it--the person sending and the person receiving--and everyone else?

Do you like reading other people thanking each other? When spending your limited time sorting the wheat from the chaff on Twitter, is all that private gratitude expressed publicly a value to you? I'm pretty sure the answer is no. And considering more and more people are asking how to use Twitter without it being a timesuck, might we not be smart to avoid tweeting the things that people have to get past in order to get to the tweets that furnish some sort of personal or professional value?

I'm not suggesting there is some moral right and wrong with this habit; keep in mind I was exploring Twitter habits that could encourage others to stop following (either actually unfollowing or simply paying less attention.) I think someone who sends a lot of messages like "@you Thanks for the RT" isn't thinking about what is valued by ALL of their followers and is increasing the risk that people will begin to tune out.

I have lots of people telling me I'm wrong (and some telling me I'm right). Time will tell, but I know one thing for absolute certain: Twitter success belongs to those people who furnish the most content with the least noise, and this will only get more important as the Twitter population and number of tweets grow.

Catherine said...

Hmm A twitter feed that is Miss Manners polite, never blogs about sex, politics or region, and won't acknowledge me if I do follow them. Sounds pretty f-ing boring to me.

Augie Ray said...


I didn't say people on Twitter shouldn't acknowledge each other! They should, but I think it's more valuable when this happens in ways that are focused on others (such as retweeting them or engaging in relevant dialog) rather than oneself (thanking others for a follow or retweet).

As for whether it's boring, I suppose that's in the eye of the beholder. I follow hundreds of people who are polite and avoid sex/religion/politics but still have fascinating things to say.

Plus, as I've pointed out, I wrote my blog post from the perspective of a professional, marketer, or brand. I notice you protect your Twitter account, but those with public accounts need to consider what bosses, peers, family, and future employers might read! With personal Twitter accounts, you can be as vulgar, sexual, or political as you wish, provided you remember who might be listening.

Thanks for the comment. Sorry if you find me boring!

Emily said...

Numbers 6 and 7 on this list are especially problematic as more "regular people," who are less savvy and more likely to poke around Twitter with friends who may also be less savvy, become active on Twitter. You explained the frustrations of those cryptic tweets very well. Thanks!

Augie Ray said...

Thanks Emily. I'm glad you found the post worthwhile. I really don't want my tips to viewed as "rules" but instead as (hopefully) good advice so that people encourage people to pay attention rather than become part of the noise.

As you mention, newbies need some help. If they enter Twitter the wrong way and discourage people from following and paying attention, they'll tend to miss out on the best benefits of Twitter and may end up leaving disappointed!

Thanks for the thoughts!

Emily said...

Of course, there don't have to be any "rules," and I think it's nice that Twitter is flexible. There isn't just one way to use it. I don't necessarily expect anyone to use Twitter the way I do . . . but I do hope people won't be too offended if I don't want to use it the way they do (as an instant messenger, or to broadcast every single show or commercial one sees on TV o_O)

Augie Ray said...

Thanks again, Emily. We'll have to agree to disagree, because communication always has rules! There is always a send, a receiver, noise, and interpretation, no matter whether messages are sent while speaking, in email, or in Social Media.

I don't at all intend to suggest a "rule" except this: People are pressed for time and attention--we live in an attention economy--and busy folks will tune out noise and pay attention to relevance. That's not so much a rule as common sense. The less "noisy" and more relevant we can make our tweets, the more people will pay attention.

Of course, if your Twitter feed is purely personal and you only have a network of friends, then anything you have to say is of relevance to those folks! But if you want to build more of a professional network, then concentrating on relevance helps to keep people's attention.

Thanks again. I really appreciate the dialog. I know some folks disagree with me, and that's okay. These are good discussions to have since it is still relatively early in Twitter's adoption cycle.

fickles said...

Those were the days when politics, religion and sex were fun to talk about over a beer (gasp!!) and talking war stories (ie work) got one an invitation to buy the next round..
It was another place, another time, another generation....

Augie Ray said...

Thanks Fickles. For the record, there is little I like better than an intelligent and passionate political discussion over a couple beers--but I save that for my face-to-face relationships and not for Twitter where future employers, current clients, and others may judge what I have to say without benefit of knowing me thoroughly!

Thanks for the comment!