Marketers know that Twitter is a valuable tool used to reach thousands of customers. But it's not just the output of content that's valuable—the people and other businesses you follow on social media are of equal worth.
Unless your account is private, you have no control over who is following you (unless you block them). But as a business with thousands of followers, is it wise to follow every single person who follows you?
"Don't fall into the trap of something I call a 'courtesy' follow—that is, following someone that has followed you out of a desire to appear grateful," advises Sheena Medina, community manager at Fast Company.
Medina, who says this "does nothing but fill your stream with noise," cites President Barack Obama's account, @BarackObama, which at one point was following 702,586 users—the most on Twitter. The account, overwhelmed by tweets, is in dire need of a bit of damage control. But, unable to dump seven hundred thousand followers at once, the admins must slowly reduce its followers in order to keep the President's social media-friendly image intact.
On the other hand, some say that businesses should follow back so that their followers may DM them privately.
"Here's a way to look at it: would you put up a Web page without adding your e-mail address or a contact form so that people could reach out to you privately?" asks Laura "@Pistachio" Fitton, inbound marketing evangelist for HubSpot, and lead author of Twitter for Dummies. "As a business, not following someone back means you're telling them, 'Thanks for your support, but you're not important enough to us to be willing to listen to you privately.'"
Fitton says she tries to reply to all of the genuine direct mentions, and when possible, she will thank or respond to @-mentions and retweets.
"Above and beyond that, stuff like retweeting their content, asking them questions and truly listening to their answers, giving them interesting stuff to interact with are all good ways to engage your community," she says.
Both Fitton and Medina encourage businesses to refrain from using an automated "thanks for following" mention. If you do decide to follow everyone, authenticity is key. Your followers will be able to tell whether they're talking to a robot or a person—and a real person is always more valuable on Twitter.
If you do decide not to follow everyone on Twitter, Medina advises to be strategic about curating your stream on Twitter—knowing your audience helps, but you must also think about what sort of content is going to be useful and entertaining to you.
"We're not one-dimensional people," says Medina. "And increasingly, businesses are using Twitter to show how multifaceted they are. Your stream should reflect the dynamics of your personality and business."
As a small business owner, do you follow every follower back? What ways do you show appreciation to your fans?