How a Customer Service Ethic Changed My Twitter Philosophy

July 23, 2012

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 Quote

But 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 (link no longer available) 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?

6 thoughts on “How a Customer Service Ethic Changed My Twitter Philosophy”

  1. Tenoroc called and confirmed I won yesterday 27 to 26…………if only you would have been successful with the pink shell…….

    My strategy is similar to yours. If they show up on my doorstep I will do the cursory check and if they appear human enough I will follow back. I did however sign up w/ Qwitter which tells me who drops me. I only did this because half of the people who show up were automated generated follows and drop back off just as quickly.

    For the people who think it’s cool or strategic to drop all their followers……no thank you; I’m pretty sure you will never see me buy into anything you have to say or sell………..just sayin’…………

    Thanks for b’fast and conversation yesterday, it was a good day indeed.

    1. I might have believed you if you said you won 11 to 10; there’s no way we had 50+ hits!!!

      I will have to check out Qwitter. I definitely have gotten a number of the follow then unfollow a few days later crowd. As for just dropping followers, I agree, and I think the rationale above covers what I think of that.

      Really enjoyed yesterday also! I’ll have to send you a picture of the interstate after I left.

      1. Bill and Adam, have you ever used Twit Cleaner at Ray Andrews (@SteelToad) recommended it to me a long time ago.

        I love how Twit Cleaner categorizes the folks we follow into groups like Potentially Dodgy Behaviour, Not Much Interaction, etc., and provides profile pictures and links to the Twitter profiles grouped in each specific category. They make it easy to decide who to continue to follow and who to unfollow.

        Twit Cleaner will also unfollow for you, and slowly, if you allow that function.

        I’ll have to check Qwitter out, too.

        1. I’ve heard of TwitCleaner but can’t remember if I ever looked at it in detail. Will definitely take a look at it again. Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. I’ve struggled with this one for a while, Adam, especially after some big names I follow decided to UNfollow their Twitter audiences. I understand why they did it (the noise in their streams, plus, I’m assuming, they want to capitalize on the appearance of being celebrities in their fields), but it was highly controversial.

    I juxtapose their philosophy with Mark Schaefer’s, too. Mark has a LOT of fans, and his Twitter follows/followers numbers are nearly identical. Plus, he’s so doggone nice! I like nice people, and Mark is one of the nicest, isn’t he? On a human level, I respond and relate much more to people like Mark than I do to the others I mentioned. That should tell me something right there. Who do I want to be more like? Them? Or him?

    After reading your post here, I’ve decided I’m going to follow your example, but with some boundaries. Like Bill, I’ll continue to check out profiles first and make sure they’re not spammers or bots. I also only want to follow back people who are using Twitter to talk to others and build relationships. I’m not interested in broadcasters who aren’t interested in anyone else, as evidenced by the absence of any @ replies or RTs in their streams.

    I’ll pair all of this with much more extensive and focused use of Twitter lists so I can control the noise and clutter in my Twitter stream.

    Following people back is just the right thing to do. It says, “I’m grateful for you.”

    1. I never really understood the rationale for the mass unfollow. The clogging of streams argument just seemed weak to me. Any person with tens or hundreds of thousands of followers is using lists or tools to manage their streams; there’s no way around it. So, using a crowded stream as a reason for mass unfollowing seems a bit odd.

      I’m with you on the boundaries. There are still spammers and others that I won’t follow. I have a great spammer now in my stream now whose bio says “interested to 10000 followers for your twitter?” The beautiful part (besides the fractured language) is that they have less than 4,000 followers!!!

      Appreciate the great comment Michelle!

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