Customer Service Ethic, Twitter Policy | Merlin Mann Quote

How a Customer Service Ethic Changed My Twitter Philosophy

When I first began blogging and engaging in social media, I was fortunate enough to be exposed to Mark Schaefer’s excellent introduction to Twitter, The Tao of Twitter. Mark’s book was the perfect introduction to a medium that I had dismissed as banal and incoherent only a few months earlier.

As I leapt into social media, The Tao of Twitter was by far the most significant resource in terms of increasing my comfort level and skill level. Yet, for all of the wisdom in The Tao, one can only ever learn so much in the “classroom.” The lessons are never fully learned until they are applied in the field.

So, I jumped in. I began tweeting, following, and at some point, even being followed. Over time, I learned the rhythms of the medium and, hopefully, the etiquette of it as well.

Customer Service Ethic, Twitter Policy | Merlin Mann QuoteBut one piece of the Twitter puzzle continued to elude me:

When to follow someone back.

I simply could never get a handle on this topic. Of course, I always followed back people I knew or with whom I had conversed, but what about the other people — the ones who appeared in my Twitter profile with no previous connection to me and, often, no discernible connection to my topic of customer experience. Should I follow them back?

Over the past 16 months or so, my approach has been haphazard to say the least. Then, I was reading the ever-informative customer service blog of Flavio Martins and came across this post about his Twitter policy, a post which he “stole” from Ted Coine of the excellent Switch and Shift blog.

It was these posts from Ted/Flavio that gave me the perspective I needed to finally come to grips with my follow-back quandary.

My New Twitter Philosophy

I highly recommend you read Ted Coine’s original piece My Twitter Follow-Back Policy in full, but I will paste a few of his more salient reasons for following back below:

“1. For whatever odd reason, Twitter limits how many people a person follows. If you follow a bunch of “celebrities” and news outlets that don’t follow you back, you’ll hit a wall at 2,000 where you find you can’t follow anyone else. And even if your follow-followee ratio is close enough that Twitter lets you slip past this stupid, arbitrary wall of 2,000, you still have to stay within a close ratio to continue following more people. So any time you don’t follow someone back, you’re limiting who else they can follow. That’s not nice. Be nice.”

“2. The friend who introduced me to Twitter explained that automatically following back is the ethic of the medium. It’s what you do, he said. A lot of us still act that way, and so this rule has served me well in making some really cool friends and acquaintances along the way.”

“4. Much more importantly (to me), here’s why I follow everyone back: I’m not more important than my followers. Indeed, I’m grateful every single time a person compliments me by following me. It’s their way of saying, “Hi Ted! I want to get to know you better.” For me to snub their kindness would be ungracious…”

“5. On that last point, following back is consistent with my status as a customer service author and leader. How on earth can I tell people to provide Five-Star Customer Service, which is based entirely on manners, when I am impolite myself? So for me, it’s an easy decision…”

It was this final point that most resonated with me, for customer service is based not only on manners but also on assuming the best of people in the absence of evidence to the contrary.

One customer service ethic I regularly promote is that we should be willing to allow some customers to get over on us. If the concern that 2% of our customers might take advantage of us results in paranoia and policies that denigrate the customer experience for the other 98%, then it is not worth it.

Correspondingly, should concern that I might follow-back someone with questionable motives cause me to not follow those whose reasons are genuine? I think not. And it is this customer service ethic that has inspired me to change my Twitter philosophy (which I should note is my policy and simply what I believe works for me).

So, now #IFollowBack, and I have changed my Twitter bio to the following to indicate my new policy.

I should note that what I am adopting is a follow-back policy, not a follow-back strategy.

I am not out there following people in the hopes that they will follow me back and bolster my numbers (the numbers above should be proof of that!). I follow-back those who are kind enough to follow me and to show them the courtesy that their actions and the medium deserve.

Of course, if my follower levels ever increase to a certain level, I freely admit that this this policy might not be sustainable. For now, however, #IFollowBack because, quite simply, it’s the nice thing to do.

PS. A tip of the hat to Ted Coine and Flavio Martins for providing me the inspiration needed to resolve my follow-back dilemma, and many thanks to Mark Schaefer for guiding me (and many others) through the murky waters of Twitter. Make sure to check out Mark’s new book on online influence.

What is your follow-back policy? Why?


By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.

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