The Why of the Follow

Regardless of your medium of choice for social media — Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn, blog posts — the first, and easiest, measure of success is the number of followers you have.

There are a lot of social media articles out there that offer tips and techniques for building your followership.  This isn’t one of those articles.

Instead, I’d like to explore why people choose to follow someone.  I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, and, as far as I can tell, when people follow you, it boils down to basically three reasons — either individually or in some combination.

As you read through the three reasons, I invite you to think about some of the people you follow and which categor{y|ies} they fall into.

1. You Provide Useful (or Interesting) Information

There are several people (and corporate accounts) that I follow because they provide information directly relevant to my job.  There are others that offer useful tips for hobbies I engage in or things I use.

Then there are others who offer information that, while it has no practical purpose for me, I still find it interested.  Mental Floss, for example, has, to my knowledge, never once tweeted anything that was directly applicable to my work, but their topics capture my interest and generally get me to click the link to read their articles.

2.  They Find You Amusing

When you find someone who has a similar sense of humor to your own, or just somehow has that gift of making you laugh, it’s hard not to follow them.  Even if you entered social media with the most serious of intentions, having that writer who injects levity into your datastream has a way of giving you a quick mental break.

The example for me that leaps immediately to mind is GRAMMARHULK.  Seeing horrible abuses of grammar being corrected by someone TYPING IN ALL CAPS IN HULK-LIKE SPEECH just makes me smile every time.

3. They Decide They Like You

Social media has managed to create something wonderful.  It goes beyond a mere way for us to share information with people around the world who share our interests.

Social media has given us ways to feel a sense of connection, across distance, with people we’ve never even met before.  We sense kindred spirits and develop friendships without need for the formality of an introduction or even the inconvenience of actually ever having to have been in the same place at the same time.

For me, personally, one of the best things about going to conferences like EMC World or VMworld has been getting to have first meetings with people I already know…

Think about the folks you follow.  How many of them did you follow just because you decided you like them?

What Did I Miss?

Do my three categories cover all the reasons why you follow?  It’s entirely possible I’ve overlooked something.  If there’s someone you follow for a reason outside the three listed above, add a comment to tell us about it.

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4 Responses to The Why of the Follow

  1. Josh Atwell says:

    Definitely enjoyed this post as it mentioned many things I’ve discussed with others about Twitter. I would say that there is one other reason people might follow you:
    The Referral

    1. People who follow the other person see our conversation and may consider following me. Sometimes this is simply seeing me listed as someone a person they follow follows.
    2. People follow based on a directly stated referral in a #FF (Follow Friday). I know I have said on many occasions: Want to know someone interesting to follow? Check out who I follow.
    3. Site Referrals are also a reason people follow you. Simply including an easy to find link {Look to far right of this window :) } on a site/page that someone reads will get them to follow you.

    I know for a fact I would not have the quantity or quality of followers if it were not for the variety of referrals I’ve received.

    • GeekFluent GeekFluent says:

      You raise an excellent point; I hadn’t considered the referral.

      As I think about it, you may have stumbled upon a subtle distinction that wasn’t part of my thinking before.

      A follow is really a two-step process:
      1. Finding someone
      2. Making the decision to follow them

      In this model, a referral would be one way to accomplish the first step — probably even the preferred way, as we’re more open to trusting someone if someone else we trust already trusts them.

      (There are plenty of other ways to find someone in social media: meeting them in person and seeking them out, stumbling across them in a web search, seeing them engaged in conversation with someone we already follow, hashtag searches, etc.)

      For me, often a referral from someone I respect is enough for me to follow someone — but it’s not always enough to get me to keep following them. For that, they generally need to fit into one of the three reasons I mentioned in the posting.

      What do you think? Is it worth separating “how one finds potential followees” from “why one follows someone”? Or are they interrelated enough that they’re actually part of the same thing?

  2. Josh Atwell says:

    The referral follow is definitely a 2 step process. I personally only really use Twitter for professional purposes so my referral process goes as follows:
    1. Someone I follow and respect says “You should follow @person #FF” or Someone I follow communicates with a person or says “Great Post” or “Great Comment”.
    2. I will then look at who they are, check their bio, check their blog, check their content, and ultimately look at their tweets. If most of that falls in line with the information I want to receive through Twitter….I follow.

    I have yet to unfollow anyone. That may change one day but I don’t see that happening. At worst if most people stray from the things I’m interested in then it is only short term. I’ve gotten adept at locating hyperlinks and ignoring conversation threads that I’m not interested in. This definitely came with practice.

    I often worry when I get new followers. Lately my number of followers has increased DRAMATICALLY based on many key referrals and increased exposure. The flip-side; I talk a lot. Sometimes too much perhaps. I usually try to only comment if I have something to provide. Sometimes it’s technical, sometimes wit, sometimes just my thoughts. I do not have a history of losing followers so I guess others have similar filters to mine.

    In the end I think the how and why of following are directly interrelated. You can have one without the other but I’d bet that’s when you start regularly seeing tweets like “I really hate the cheeseburger here #FML” in your feed. :)

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