Is Chris Brogan Wrong?

Recently, Chris Brogan – a respected industry colleague and someone we’ve worked with on occasion, wrote “50 Power Twitter Tips,” a nice little post that’s been viewed about 10,000 times or so. It was also put into video form by one of his fans, as you can see here:

One of those 50 tips seems pretty straightforward: “Follow anyone who follows you (and unfollow spammers/jerks).” Now, I realize that this may not be everyone’s style on Twitter but with nearly 150,000 of his own followers (on just one of his accounts), I tend to think Chris’ advice is probably pretty solid if you’re looking to build influence. But lately I’ve noticed a lot of folks doing the opposite – or, more specifically, I’ve noticed a lot of long-time Twitter friends who have reached large follower numbers suddenly unfollowing massive amounts of their followers. It seems to be a trend – they reach 18,000, 20,000 followers and suddenly they trim their following list to 500, 200 or less. What’s with the new trend?

I asked a few folks and some feedback has been genuine “I’ve decided to only follow people I’ve met personally or who add value to my life,” and some has been esoteric, like “Just cleaning up.” Personally, I think it comes across as a bit narcissistic (of course, lately I’m feeling this way about a lot of social media) and disingenuous. It seems like these folks are building up to large numbers and then unfollowing to make themselves seem more interesting, popular or influential. It seems like they’re banking on the fact that most Twitter users don’t spend a lot of time managing their network and therefore won’t realize they’re no longer mutually connected.

Anyone else notice this trend? Any insights into why folks are doing this? Is social media becoming a burden and therefore people are changing their strategies? Personally, I’ve decided I like Chris’ advice. The reason I like it is that yes, following a large group of people could be cumbersome – if you didn’t know how to use tools to manage your lists and find what you want when you want it. But I use technology like Nutshell from Constant Contact (a client), TweetDeck, Tweepl and many more awesome tools to do just that. So I can always find what I need and track key words, trends, followers and more in a timely fashion. But I like to follow most of those who connect with me because in doing so, I sometimes find nuggets of information that I wouldn’t have been looking for – the more people I follow, the more interesting information comes my way. So for me, I’ll keep following my new followers … unless of course, they’re “spammers or jerks.”

What about you? What’s your Twitter following strategy?

41 thoughts on “Is Chris Brogan Wrong?

  1. I have noticed the same trend of people following & building numbers and then unfollowing LOADS — like the numbers still matter. They really don’t.
    I follow WAY less people than follow me, but I’ve done that since I started my account because
    1. I don’t do social media
    2. I only follow people who really interest me in some way
    C. I don’t really like people all that much anyway. :)

    WHY I think Chris Brogan is wrong (well, I think he is wrong in many, many ways but I’ll try to stick to this single issue): Social Media “Experts” preach preach preach to ENGAGE! CONVERSE! DON’T BE A TALKING HEAD!… and yet almost every “bigshot” social media expert/guru/maven has ignored many of my @ replies to their questions.
    I wish Chris Brogan and others of his ilk could explain to me how that is being ENGAGING and making CONVERSATION and not just FULL OF TALKYTALK.
    I say follow those whom you’re most likely to engage with — the other people followed you for whatever reason – they’ll stay or go.
    THE END. :)

  2. As someone who has a lot of followers and cleaned out my account due to the spam. It has nothing to do with ego. It has to do with perfect strangers DMing you to RT something they are peddling, people using keywords to follow you, etc, And ppl who have zero interaction with me. I add ppl as I go along, so definitely not trying to build an ego. Can’t social media be what the person needs for it to be them without others thinking they know motives or what’s best for them? I think so. Oh, and you can have a gazillion followers, but I guarantee they are not engaging with more than 100 of them, if that.

  3. I don't have a follow strategy and am doing everything Chris Brogan says not to; I don't keep track of my followers, I just follow cool people I stumble across, I RT interesting things at random and I don't obsess over my “influence” etc.

    I have noticed that when I start following an “ego” and tweet, they tend to interact early on, but then ignore me. Not sure what that is all about, but it seems like they all collectively read a book that says, “tweet with only fresh folks, but don't actually go into a relationship.” Ok, don't care.

    I have no twitter strategy and that to CB is probably bad business, but I'm not selling anything nor do I much care if you are cause I'm not buying. Twitter for me is a fun thing to do. Kick me.

  4. People who follow a bunch of folks then unfollow most to make themselves appear more influential aren't kidding anyone but themselves. Most people in a given industry know who the contenders are and who the pretenders are. Sites like socialoomph are free and let you set up your Twitter account to automatically unfollow anyone who unfollows you, so using tools like that, mixed with good common sense about whom I follow, usually help me weed out the “spammers and jerks”. Just for an added stop-gap, I will also once in awhile send a tweet that says “Am I not following you back? Sorry about that. Send me a shout and I'll check you.” This let's people know it's not personal, could just be a mistake.

  5. Lots of people disagree with the “follow everyone back” one. It depends on how you want to use your account. In my case, look at @chrisbrogan as if it's an account and not me. Look at is as a media hub. As of this post, I have 141611 followers.

    I'm followed by about 450 new people a day. Can you imagine me manually approving each one? If it took me 10 seconds each, that's a hair over 1 hour a day spent just looking over Twitter followers to pick who I should follow back or not.

    Let's agree that I'm a bit unique in that regard, or rather, that I follow into a different class than people who gain 20-30 followers a day. Maybe my advice works better with certain levels of volume.

    However, even if not, here's what I do with those masses:

    * Delete the jerks.
    * Corral the awesome people into lists.
    * Reply as often as I can.
    * Get my stories and promotions spread more than famous celebrities (source: sysomos).

    So, I'll take it. : )

  6. Chris- I'm with you on this one and I'm glad you raised the topic. I've seen scenarios like the one you described happen several times and it always annoys me, especially when the person tries to cover it up with bogus excuses like those you mentioned. Even worse is when they openly cite “noise in my stream” as a reason after the fact. That doesn't feel good when you're one of the folks who got dropped!

    I think welcoming people who aren't “spammers or jerks” into one's stream is a way of saying you're open to making the conversation a 2-way street (even if it ultimately doesn't happen).

    I've often wondered if follower:following ratio is an accurate indicator of how the Twitter user would behave in a social setting. I picture those who don't follow back as the folks who would stand in the corner with their bodyguards blocking access, only seeking to engage with equally “important” people. :-)

  7. Unless it's clearly a spammer (or someone pumping the donald trump network…for some reason that annoys me to no end) I follow them back. I scan the full feed of followers every once in a while and if someone is interesting to me I pop them in my friends column and tweet with them. I agree, I think people are using twitter to stroke their ego. I could name several twitter pseudo-celebrities with a bajillion followers who I've met, that are total doorknobs.

  8. Not so easy to pick and choose who you follow when you get 100 or more new followers a day, or like in Chris's case, I'm sure it's way more than that. You either auto follow everyone who follows you with a script or you follow none of them and only add to your following list when you find someone worth following on your own, like I do. Frankly I don't see anything wrong with not just blindly following everyone who follows me. I assume they followed me because they think I have something interesting to say, but that doesn't mean I'll feel the same way about them. Do you become friends with everyone you meet that likes you or do you only become friends with the ones for whom the feeling is mutual?

  9. I don't have a significant number of followers by any means, but I don't follow everyone who follows me. I follow people whose tweets interest me. When someone follows me, I usually go and check their feed out to see if what they are saying is something I want to see on a daily basis. If not, I don't follow back.

  10. I'm of two minds.

    On the one hand, it's totally legitimate to change your mind about the way you want to interact with a service. It's entirely possible that these people had a “follow anyone” policy and then discovered, at 20,000 followers, that their timeline was just too fast and unwieldy, or that they discovered that they really preferred to use the service to connect to people they know well.

    On the other hand, it looks disingenuous. Mass-unfollowing people makes it look, at best, like you've decided that you want a broadcast platform and not a communications platform (or that you were swayed by one of those “how valuable is your Twitter?” pages that values high follower-following ratios). At worst, it makes you look like one of the spam users who just follows people indiscriminately up to a certain number and then immediately unfollows them and starts following new people…

    It's especially odd because there's an option that satisfies both conditions: lists. Make a private list of the people you REALLY want to connect with, and then only watch that timeline. Your following count will stay the same, but you won't have to deal with the fire hose of updates. You can do similar things with clients like TweetDeck (where you don't have to keep the main timeline if you don't want it – but you can re-add it at any time).

    (Personally, I tried that for a while, and to be honest it was boring. I only follow about 1000 people, but I MISSED the fire hose. I'm much happier now that I've gone back to the full stream. :)

  11. Chris,

    I give you permission to ask me if I'm going to “unfollow” folks, when I hit 10,000 followers.

    In other words, if someone (@ChrisBrogan) has 150,000 followers, why the heck would I question his/her advice?

    Chris has been nice enough to ReTweet posts of mine once in awhile, and when he does, some of his followers go to my blog. I don't really care if some of them are really tight with him, or not.

    I like to keep things simple;

    Please follow @FranchiseKing right now, all of you commenters!

    Good post, Chris!


  12. I think it all depends on your reason for using Twitter. Not everyone will have the same objective, thus, not everyone should follow the same “rules”.

    While I hear you when you say you're feeling social media is trending toward “narcissistic” and “disingenuous” usage, I'd like to offer another perspective. Social media continues to evolve, as do the people who adopt it. As such, it may just be that instead of Twitter users trying, ” to make themselves seem more interesting, popular or influential”, what they're really doing is giving themselves permission to re-think how best to use SM in ways that apply to their reasons for adopting it in the first place.

    Of course, there will always be exceptions, but maybe that's what makes SM so interesting? It leverages the playing field and allows people entrance and room to experiment. Not always the prettiest of sights, for sure, but then again, at least it's not boring. ;)

  13. I am not in the same league as you guys, but I am commenting because I believe there are a lot more people like me with 1000 followers than there are you TURBO folks with 10K followers. I am fortunate that I can actually go to the profile and see if I can be helpful to the person, or are interested in learning from them. I think it makes a big difference (EXPONENTIALLY) and creates a whole different reason for behaving the way you do- and that is to MANAGE it and make it work for you, instead of YOU working for IT!

  14. I personally unfollowed my whole list the other day because my stream was swimming with spam and fake gurus. I took a noticeable hit by losing over 1,000 followers, and it's still falling. Most were the auto unfollow ppl. I did not mind at all b/c I have been more engaging with the people I am following instead of just the person who RTs everyone else's stuff. I don't have any spam in my stream. Not getting any Auto DMs, etc. Social Media needs to work for you and as it was, it was not working for me. I don't apologize for making the right choice for me. I think it is a tad presumptuous to assume people did this for negative reasons, but I guess you can always find what you are looking for. Oh, and ok so a person has a gazillion followers, the real question is how many do they actively engage with. You would find that number to be very small.

  15. I hear what you're saying. Chris isn't wrong though, neither is anyone else. If it's one thing we've learned by discussing this for almost 4-years now is that how you use social media is your choice, and never wrong. Use it how you wish. End of story.

    Cool blog here, glad I found it!

  16. Very good point, Jim. It also depends on why you use social media – so one way isn't “the” way – you're right! Thanks for reading – and commenting. I appreciate it.

  17. Rufus, I never kick dogs – I like them too much (as evidenced by my three at home). And, I don't really think Chris Brogan is wrong… I do hope people got that headline in jest. I think a lot of folks here said it right – everyone uses it to their own liking and for their own purposes, so do what works for you. But I own a PR agency and this is a marketing blog so of course I'm looking at it from that perspective. Many people, clients, colleagues and friends of mine ARE trying to build influence and sell things – and many of those marketers are the folks I noticed changing their strategy in this way. I'll be interested to see if they change it back.

    Thanks for reading!


  18. I like that approach, Russell. I haven't tried the “am I not following you back” message but maybe I will. It's a nice gesture.

    Thank you for reading – and commenting!


  19. Chris, you're a good sport. I think you know we don't think you're wrong – but it was an interesting question to ask, don't you think? With 450 new followers a day, as I mentioned, it sure seems you've got this Twitter thing down. So, it's interesting when I see marketers who I know follow and respect you, do the opposite. Me noticing this trend just happened to follow on the heels of your post, so the connection came to me and I'm curious to see how these folks will continue in the long run.

    Not taking the time to manually approve each follower is understandable. But taking the time to delete the majority of your followers is just as painstaking – and that's what I see a lot of people doing. So I'm very curious as to why. And, since many of them are marketers or journalists, how it will work out.

    Thanks for commenting. Thanks for the great posts. And, thanks for the extra tips!

  20. Thanks for reading, Chad. I agree with the self-importance evaluation – that's exactly how it comes off and for me, is off-putting. But then again – to each his own… I am just curious why I've noticed this happening a LOT lately. And, what folks expect to gain out of it.

    Thanks for the comment!

  21. My favorite quote of the day “and they are doorknobs.” Brilliant. And, sadly, true. I hope when I meet you in person I do not fall in that category!

    Thanks for reading, and commenting, Bonnie.

  22. Ah, all good questions Hugh. Social media is not mean to mimic real life, if you ask me. Why would I expect you to listen to me, when I'm not willing to listen to you?

    I do agree, however, that it's not easy to pick and choose – but the same goes for unfollowing. Maybe if these folks put that sort of effort into creating quality conversations and getting out of their usual bubble, they'd see value where they didn't before. Isn't that the point of social networks like Twitter – for the most part – to expand our networks, our thinking, our typical community?

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts (and for reading).

  23. Thanks for the comment, Andrew. I typically look at streams too before I follow back – believe it or not. I've commented on this before, regarding some guidelines on how to do a quick assessment. (No photo? No bio? No follow, for example.)

    As long as it's not spammy or offensive, I tend to reciprocate. I will unfollow if someone starts spamming me or otherwise offends.

  24. Chris, thanks for reading. Yes! I love lists! And, I love using other tools that make lists even more useful (like Nutshell – client or not, it sends me an hourly update on what people in my lists are saying… so I don't miss those I really want to watch…).

    I think the firehose is interesting, too. But, as many here have said, to each his own.

    Perhaps I would buy the reasoning above from newbies at Twitter… but not from the folks I've noticed. These are marketers. Not spammers. Smart people – and Twitter experts. I was just surprised – and surprised to see so many of them do it within a relevant timeframe to each other. Maybe I'm missing some cool new strategy – I hate to be left in the dark, so I had to ask :)

    Thanks for the comments!

  25. Thanks Joel! You're one of my original Twitter pals – and I remember and appreciate almost everyone who I originally talked with the first year or two on Twitter, before its explosion in popularity. So no matter how many people I follow, I make a point to remember or record somehow the people that talk with me.

    And here's the thing. Chris said it below – lists. Even just a “conversationalist” list is so helpful in managing large follower numbers. No one's wrong or right, but I do think there are ways to better manage your network without offending people – or coming across in a way that probably isn't what you intended.

  26. Leanne – you are exactly right. It does continue to evolve. So part of my post and question is to learn about that – why this new trend? What is the thinking? Do you find it more effective? If so, why, etc.?

    I'm looking at it from a marketer's perspective and a lot of the folks I noticed doing this were in that industry. I'm curious about their strategy – or if they have one.

    Thanks so much for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  27. Thanks Kelly! I don't think I'm in a different league – I have just been on the network probably a lot longer. Most of us here joined in 2007 so we have been connecting/building for a while. In any event, I totally agree with you that managing your network is key – that is, to ensure it's still interesting, useful, fun and purposeful. But that's still doable at large numbers with some of the tools I mentioned in the post. I keep a close eye on small subsets and enjoy the rest of the group when/if/as I can.

    I appreciate your insights very much – thanks for sharing. And thanks for reading.

  28. Fake gurus? That's one I hadn't heard of yet, Del. I agree – I miss a lot of my quality DMs due to the spam ones… it's definitely one of the downfalls, but I try to keep up.

    You're right – as is most everyone who commented here – we all have to do what is right for us individually. But I'm always going to be curious and ask why something works for someone when I notice a new trend – that's the beauty of learning through these networks.

    Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

  29. Thanks for writing the post I've written in my head a couple hundred times… ever since @Sethsimonds announced last summer that he was mass unfollowing. And then a pack of puppies followed suit — including @Tdefren, who heads a PR firm. (By the way, since when is it good public relations to act like you are better than the rest of the public?)

    I was put off by it all, especially a comment that became popular about “only following people who add value to my stream”. Seriously? Does this tweet make my ass look fat?

    I personally get nothing out of following someone with that kind of an ego. Celebrities get a pass because I honestly think a lot of them don't understand this is about engaging, not just trumpeting your own horn. (I don't follow many of them, anyway.) A guy like @badbanana gets a pass because he's really funny… and he has sent me emails thanking me for nice things I've said about him. But if you're a social media “player” or wannabe, I think arrogance is the wrong stance to take here.

    Besides, if you have over 3,000 followers and you don't know how to use some of the great tools out there — like Tweetdeck and Nutshell and SocialOomph — I'm wondering how you got your followers in the first place.

    To me, social media is about connecting and engaging. Some — like Chris — get it. Some don't. (Yeah, he's making a living off it, but he got there by being incredibly generous.) Ultimately, you reap what you sow. Sometimes you just have to be patient to watch it unfold. Thanks for bringing this up, Christine. I'm going to follow you more closely — in a nice, not creepy way — from now on.

  30. I don't think I said anything about ego, Delores. (In fact, I specifically said that it's legitimate to change your strategy if you decide you want to interact in a different way!)

    By the same token, are you sure you want to be making guarantees about other people's social media behavior? I feel like you're asking people not to pass judgment on you in one sentence and then passing judgment on other people in the next, and that's a little off-putting.

  31. The great thing with Twitter is there are no rules. As long as you're not breaking their Terms of Service, then use it how you want to, and not how someone uses their account. ;-)

  32. Personally, I have never seen the value in having that many followers/following that many. Not everyone is “really” on the same SoMe tool at the same time so conversations can be a real challenge even if you are using the tools and know how to search. Also, I refuse to follow anyone who does the “quote of the day” junk. If what you are posting about is not relivant to me, my business or my clients I don't want to waste my time reading the posts. A smaller number of followers makes that easier and more sincere.

    Another thing I have noticed is that people are (finally) starting to realize that the number of followers/connections you have does not neccesarily mean anything. If your SoMe strategy is to follow as many as possible, you will look for others that do that as well. Which means that you nor them are really of any value to each other–simply a number.

  33. Well, you've got me there, Shannon. Take a look at any single page of my tweet stream and you'll see about 89% on average @ replies. I can't talk to EVERYONE, because at 144,000 people, that turns out to be tricky.

    So, people of my ilk sometimes can't reply to everything.

    But to say I'm not conversing is untrue. I reply to plenty of people every day.

  34. I went through this a few months ago, I unfollowed everyone in frustration. I sat at 1500 followers for several months, and then about a month ago I read an article by Mack Collier talking about the “one” out of 99 spammers that was a real person, and that really wanted his help.

    I look at it differently now. I follow everyone back based on parameters I have set in a tool I use to manage my account.

    I am not a guruexpertninja, but I don't want to leave behind that one person because I was worried about getting a spammer in my stream. I can easily remove them as I notice them…

  35. So the idea is: Follow everyone back so they Follow you. This means you'll have greater influence right? And it's a win-win because while your influence has greater reach, those that Follow you are being Followed back and can therefore influence you. Right? Wrong.
    As both you and Chris have said you use various tools to thin out the noise, perhaps a small fraction of those you Follow make it onto a list that you actually view. So you're not REALLY Following them. If your Followers think they are getting tit for tat, they're mistaken. They are only being Followed back in order to keep them as part of your influenceable network that's not really a two way street.
    I've avoided the tricks and gimmicks to generate a larger Following (I joined at SXSW in '07) specifically because I want to know and interact with the people that Follow me. Of course I eject spammers, radical Conservatives and “life counselors” who are in their 20s and still live with their parents.
    I scroll through my emai every Friday and click on every Follower to view their tweets and decide if I want to Follow them. It's a painstaking process but offers me a much more robust and valuable Twitter network. I do have an auto-responder set up, but I use it as a way to sift the robots from real people. I've found that it hasn't been working so I'll be shutting that down soon.
    So, I don't Follow everyone, which is one reason that after all these years I only have about 3,000 Followers to Brogan's 150,000. However, it's a much higher percentage of valuable engagement I'd bet. You'd think other “social media gurus” wouldn't still be falling into the old-school media trap of “more is better”. Better is better.

  36. If people are really only doing the auto-follow to build up numbers and then dumping all those people later, I agree that that's a bit slimy. However, from the people that I've seen unfollow masses lately it's largely due to them trying to figure out how to corral their Twitter use into something that's more manageable. I tend to often lean on the side of giving someone the benefit of the doubt.

    I've considered unfollowing everyone and starting over. Right now, I have too many people that I'm following to keep up with that list. But, I'm still thinking about what I want to be doing.

  37. Danny, Spot on… It is amazing how everyone wants to put Twitter in a context of having walls. I have seen both the high level of followers from very influential people, and then I have seen the same type of people only have a few people in connection with their account. The norm with the high numbers of followers is that they also tend to have another account of smaller followers for personal use.

  38. Wow, that would drive me crazy – it’s hard enough trying to run a company account in conjunction with a personal/business one, without having yet another smaller one on top of that! :)

  39. Danny, very true. I personally have tried a lot of different ways of use and suspect – like many others – I will continue to do so as the community grows. I just hope that others are continuing to think for themselves as well – which is part of the jest of my headline.

    Pablo, good point on the secondary account for personal use – I've noticed that too. I guess the most important thing is to do what works for you – but also communicate clearly to your community on what to expect.

    Thanks for commenting

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