This is what Shawn Morton would look like if he had been made of LEGO -- the personal website of Shawn Morton
UPDATE: This blog has been retired as of August 2011. See this post for more information or connect with me on Twitter.
Monday, January 26, 2009
My Twitter rules of engagement
I am working on a Twitter 101 session for some of my colleagues at Nationwide. There is a lot of interest in social media internally and Twitter seems to have everyone's attention right now. One of the questions I often get from Twitter users (after they have been active a few weeks) is "How do you choose who to follow back?"

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I try to keep my "Following" list short so that I can stay engaged. Over a certain number (it's about 400 for me), I end up missing too much and trying too hard to catch up (Michael Pinto at has a great commentary on people who follow thousands of people. Very true and very funny).

So, I will share my criteria for deciding who to follow back. Don't expect everyone to agree with these, but wanted to share them and see what others use.

1. "Followers" to "Following" ratio
This is the biggest, most obvious factor. If someone is following 1,000+ and they only have 100 followers, then I usually won't follow them.

2. Number of @replies
I also look at how many @replies they post. If there are a ton of them, I usually don't follow them. If there are a ton of them and they're all to @chrisbrogan, @jowyang or @scobleizer, I definitely don't follow them (these are the "drone level zombies" that Michael Pinto from references).

Chronic @repliers like to use the excuse that Twitter is about "conversations." It's not. It's about relationships. It's about telling other people who care to know what you're doing what you're doing (with simple replies so those people can comment on it). If Twitter was really intended for conversations, it would have a better featureset (like threaded message views) to support it.

NOTE: Chronic @repliers who follow thousands of people will tell you that they are maintaining relationships with their @replies. However, these people are "zombies" and can't be trusted :)

As Michael Pinto explains:
"The zombies then seek each other: You'll always notice that of the 5,000 followers that a social media expert has that all 5,000 of them are also social media 'experts'. Their only form of conversation is to quote each other and live tweet conferences where they gather. Like any good Ponzi scheme the lead zombies can make a good living feeding the hopes and aspirations of the worker level drones who parrot their every blog entry."

3. "Good morning" or "good night" posts
This one is nutty/nitpicky, but if there are "Good morning, INSERT CITY NAME HERE" or "Good night, Twitter!" posts in the timeline, I don't follow. Those annoy me and this is my list :)

4. Too many links or retweets
To be fully transparent on this one, I use Twitterfeed to push posts from this blog into Twitter; however, I only post about once every two weeks, so it makes up a very small portion of my overall Twitter participation. If I see someone's timeline and it is dominated by automated blog posts and little else, I won't follow them.

Same goes for retweeting. If all you're doing is pointing me to other peoples' tweets, I will just follow those people.

5. Using your iPhone GPS coordinates instead of your location

[UPDATED 1/28] Just remembered this one. It's great that you have an iPhone and it's great that it has a GPS built in. Unfortunately, I don't know all of the world's GPS coordinates off the top of my head. I like to know where someone is located when they follow me. If I click through and find "iPhone: 39.979176,-83.032539" for your location, I'm not following back.

What works for me
Reading back over this list, it would appear that I am only looking for ways to NOT follow people. Definitely not the case. I love finding new, interesting people to follow.

Here are a couple of things I appreciate (of course, a common interest is still required):

1. Use Twitter as intended
I love the randomness of Twitter, so I love it when people actually use it as intended and answer the question, "What are you doing?" So things like "Going to the bank" or "Having lunch at XYZ" are A-OK with me.

If you don't like to hear these posts from the people you follow, then I would assert maybe you are following people you shouldn't.

2. Be funny
It's hard to be funny. It's especially hard to be funny in 140 characters or less. Micah Baldwin is great at doing it. Diablo Cody has some good ones, too (this is a favorite). Consistently being funny is enough to trump many of the reasons for not following listed above.

So that's how I figure out who to follow and who to avoid on Twitter. As I mentioned, this is just my non-scientific, completely subjective criteria. Would love to hear how you decide.

About Shawn Morton

Married father of 6; VP of Social Media at JPMorgan Chase; gluten-free; gadget enthusiast; hair metal aficionado; #Movember man View more on LinkedIn.