7 Traits of Bad Twitter Follows

by Meryl Evans | Category: Blogging, Business, Customer Service, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech 51 comments

I hit 2000 “following” on twitter. Yet, I discovered more brilliant people I wanted to follow and couldn’t because I hadn’t reached 2000 “followers”. This compelled me to do way early spring cleaning of my twitter account.

Twitter puts this in place to minimize spammy accounts. It would be nice if it would use math instead of a flat 2000 number. A person with 2000 following and 1500 followers is obviously an active twitterer. I’m not about to go begging for 500 more followers, so cleaning it is.

The chiseling process amazed me as I found that I followed people that I wouldn’t follow today. They had one or more of the following seven bad traits:

1. Contain lopsided numbers of following, followers, and updates. There’s no magic formula. The numbers and updates quickly tell the story.

2. Discussed company and product constantly and in a promotional way. Some company twitter accounts do serve customers and they’re there to help. But helping isn’t akin to marketing and promotion. There’s a difference!

3. Did nothing but link link link … mostly to their own stuff.

4. WYAIM: Was yet another internet marketer. How do they earn a bundle of money when there are this many? These folks tend to violate #2 having over 1000 “following,” 100 or so “followers” and one comment linking to the next get rich scheme. Block these people to send a message to twitter that it may be a potential spam account to delete.

5. Sent a DM or @reply with “Thanks for the follow, check out my site…” Please don’t add to the noise with wasteful messages. Some will debate this, but this is my take (oh, and Mashable’s too as I discovered after drafting this post — honest). I try to avoid “Good morning, twitterville,” “How are you today?” and “Time to hit the pillow” as twitter has too much noise with this. But I know lots of people who think it’s nice and we need to bring such greetings back in conversation. Agreed! But not in twitter.

6. Talked about every mundane detail of their life: I’m going to the store for milk, I ordered a veggie pizza, going to sleep… this is what many folks think twitter is about. Yes, a lot of people do the this — but the ones benefiting most from twitter are business professionals who do a little of everything: link to good content, say insightful things, add another thought to someone’s original thought, retweet someone else’s good thoughts or links (retweeting is valuable as that’s how things spread).

7. Had the default avatar: Default Twitter AvatarI do make sure the person has “settled in” twitter by looking at the followers and updates because not everyone immediately adds a picture as it takes a little time to figure out all of twitter’s features. Smart of twitter to make it ugly to encourage folks to change it ASAP. Those disproportional eyes look eerie. Avatars are no longer a tech-savvy thing. If you don’t know how, ask for help! Twitterville loves to help.

Bonus Tip

Showed last update over six months ago: These users obviously tried twitter and didn’t like it. Such people don’t stick with twitter long enough or interact the right way to see the magic happen and why so many of us keep coming back.

This is more for people who weed their twitter “following” list because you probably won’t follow them if you look at their updates page.

Agree? Disagree? Missed something? Love to hear your thoughts. Next post: How to get going fast with twitter.


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  • Posted by Tumblemoose on January 7th, 2009, 9:39 AM

    yes indeed these are great twitter-quite points.

    I guess I could do without the Good Morning tweet, but I kinda use it to announce my presence. I don’t do a good night tweet – I figure my absence from convos is a pretty good indicator.



    Tumblemoose´s last blog post… The inspired writer

  • Posted by Jenni on January 7th, 2009, 9:42 AM

    I’m a good morning and good night kind of person, but I agree w/Tumblemoose–I’d rather announce my presence before jumping in. Maybe it’s my Southern upbringing:) I think you’re right on with all the other negative traits.

    Jenni´s last blog post… That is Quite A Case of Gas You Have There

  • Posted by Steve Woodruff on January 7th, 2009, 9:42 AM

    Good summary. Probably very little lost by eliminating those with the characteristics you’ve described. Those that are mainly self-referential and trivial won’t add a lot of value for folks in business…

  • Posted by Doug from Nullvariable Web Consulting on January 7th, 2009, 9:44 AM

    I did exactly the same thing the other day with my following list. Twitter really is all about who you follow but don’t waste it!

    Auto following people is also a very bad idea. I frequently go back and unfollow people who DM me the instant I follow them (unless they are really witty!)

    Doug from Nullvariable Web Consulting´s last blog post… Twitter Report Spam Script

  • Posted by Meryl on January 7th, 2009, 9:45 AM

    Thanks, George. Also forgot one thing — people who protect their updates. I subscribe to a couple because they’re friends. But it’s annoying to click on “reply to twitterID” only to find it’s a protected ID so the conversation makes little sense. It’s more of a judgment call.

    I haven’t seen good reasons for joining twitter and then protecting your updates. Anyone?

  • Posted by Meryl on January 7th, 2009, 9:50 AM

    All right, Jenni and Doug — you’ve convinced me “Good morning” has a place. I just dive in and reply to someone and my presence is known.

    Steve, exactly. Since I weeded my following list — I see more quality conversations and less garbage. If I find something I don’t like, I’ll check the person’s update to see if it’s a pattern or not before unfollowing.

  • Posted by Doug from Nullvariable Web Consulting on January 7th, 2009, 9:57 AM

    Twitter is what you make it! Different people (and companies) are going to use it differently. What I forgot to say earlier is that more important than all those factors, does this person respond to me? Twitter is all about being able to network and build new relationships if they’re not talking to me (following and/or replying) then its quite likely they’re not worth following!

    Doug from Nullvariable Web Consulting´s last blog post… nullvariable: Did you install my report spam script for web based Twitter yet? no? check it out: http://twurl.nl/qwnzxf

  • Posted by Cynthia D'Amour on January 7th, 2009, 9:57 AM

    Great list. I think it will be hard to eliminate all the mundane stuff – especially as Twitter promotes it on their home page page with example “just landed in LA”

    People who tweet at every red light get me. I’m at X and Y. Now at X1 and Y2. Etc. If they talk about major back up or something maybe. But just because you are crossing a street, why?

    Thanks for sharing your insights!

  • Posted by Oliver on January 7th, 2009, 10:05 AM

    Someone with protected updates is just using Twitter in a different way, to communicate with preexisting friends. Nothing wrong with that. I think we sometimes forget Twitter is just an interesting tool. Some people aren’t looking for more and more followers. Let’s all (including me) chill the heck out once in a while. Sometimes I begin to feel the proscriptivism goes too far, takes me back to inane popularity dynamics of middle school.

    That being said, thanks for this post, Meryl. A lot of it does make sense.

  • Posted by Maggie Lahey on January 7th, 2009, 10:10 AM

    Great tips on Twitter! I quickly checked our Twitter account to see if we were guilty of any of these. This post will certainly help a lot of people become better Twitterville citizens.

  • Posted by Meryl on January 7th, 2009, 10:13 AM

    Cynthia, you’re right that the mundane stuff won’t go away. But by controlling who we follow — we can cut it down.

    Oliver, thanks for the insight. I agree with you that we shouldn’t obsess over numbers and some people just want to stay in touch with a small circle of friends. Alas, twitter won’t let me add more people to follow if I reach 2000 again and I am not about to start this “I need XX more followers” tweets. I’ll just have to tighten my following list belt again, if needed. No problem. 2K is plenty!

  • Posted by Meryl on January 7th, 2009, 10:24 AM

    I’m so embarrassed! WordPress messed up the numbering, so I had to unite the two paragraphs in some of the traits. Breaking up paragraphs in numbered items made the numbering start over.

    Thank you, Maggie. I think MailerMailer is doing great with its business twittering.

    Good point, Doug. So it won’t be a problem to cut my list if needed.

  • Posted by SoloWytch on January 7th, 2009, 10:29 AM

    Some people may have the default av due to circumstances beyond their control. I’ve had it since the end of November because I tried to change mine and for about 2 weeks kept getting the “over capacity” message so I gave up.

  • Posted by Lisa Goddard on January 7th, 2009, 10:30 AM

    When all tweets contain too much of that short-hand text messaging speak, I just want to poke my eyes with a rusty nail. I understand that with 140 characters, you’ll have to abbreviate but there are limits.

  • Posted by Lilnanajo on January 7th, 2009, 12:09 PM

    I’m new to Twitter so these are great tips.
    I follow very few people and if they post too much mundane stuff, I loose interest and weed them out.

  • Posted by Meryl on January 7th, 2009, 4:24 PM

    SoloWytch, I had the same trouble with the avatar for my client last night (over capacity) and the logo was small (I am guessing some people might be uploading too big of a file). Sounds like we need to make people aware of this.

    Lisa, I just discovered another short-hand that I didn’t recognize. Hard to be sure what’s standard (RT for retweet) and what’s not.

    Lilnanajo, sounds like you’re off to a great start.

  • Posted by Lisa Jander on January 7th, 2009, 8:52 PM

    Thanks Meryl! I am 2 weeks new to this and already committed a cardinal sin. Thought “following” was a compliment – afterall, I kept getting the “thanks for following” message back. But in fact, my account was suspended for “aggressive following.” Wow. Haven’t had a criminal record in 50 years. Nice job.
    Wish I had known all this before the hand-slapping. This has certainly helped.
    So here are my 2 questions:
    1.what is “retweeting?”
    2. Is it appropriate to “link” to my blog post for parents of teens once a week (without ending up in the slammer!)

    BTW~ This was most helpful!

  • Posted by Meryl on January 7th, 2009, 8:58 PM

    Lisa, you’d think following would be a good thing — but only in today’s world can it be bad. After all, there’s paparazzi!

    1. Retweeting is simply copying the original tweeter’s tweet in full. For example:

    merylkevans new blog post on 7 traits of bad twitter follows at link

    lisa RT @merylkevans new blog post on 7 traits of bad twitter follows at link

    The second one is a retweet of the first. Sometimes RTs have to be shortened since you have both names in it.

    1. It’s OK to link to your blog post. That’s how mine got so many great comments today — because I tweeted it. I take care not to link to myself more than once a week. That may be conservative, but I don’t want to sound greedy.

    Good luck, second time around. Next post will cover mistakes of my own and how I helped a client get started the right way on twitter.

  • Posted by Lisa Jander on January 7th, 2009, 9:14 PM

    Thanks for the personal touch. Sometimes moms need mommies too!

    I will try to follow the rules and not get kicked out of class the next time.

    Thanks again!

  • Posted by John Lessnau on January 8th, 2009, 11:31 AM

    I am constantly weeding out tweeters who insist on telling me all about their insignificant life.

    My goal is to follow no more that 200 high quality tweeters. Each day, I dump a few that start boring the heck out of me because of their addiction to tweet just to tweet – “waiting at the baggage claim”. Why do I care.

    John Lessnau´s last blog post… Twitter Tweets about linkedin as of January 8, 2009

  • Posted by Suzanne on January 8th, 2009, 11:58 AM

    I live online, so my personal life, professional existence and interests all collide, in both what I tweet, and whom I follow.

    I find many of my colleagues have similarly blended tweets and followers, but some are dedicated to only professional, only personal, or only hobby, and I’d love to be able to sort them into groups/tabs where I can view professional tweets, or friends’ tweets instead of them being blended together.

    I have an account on Ravelry.com, where various favourites can be tagged and sorted into tabs (custom search by tag) by personal preference, and I think this is, in many regards, the example the rest of the web’s social networking sites and applications should be following.

    Lots of interesting thoughts on this one!

    I had to remove a few people/companies because of their volume; they were literally drowning out the other people I follow. Being able to separate them out with a tag would mean I can follow them when I have a chance, and they wouldn’t overshadow the rest of the information coming in. (I’m thinking specifically Guy Kawasaki and Huffington Post).

    I suppose this is only tangentially related, but I like to put my ideas down where I find them. 🙂

  • Posted by Deborah on January 8th, 2009, 3:18 PM

    I’m one of those Twitter users who protects their tweets.

    I keep to a minimum number of people I follow on Twitter, mostly because I can’t keep up with everyone’s tweets! It’s easier for me to maintain relationships with fewer number of people to follow.

    I follow friends, colleagues, and people (like you) I’ve only met on the web.

    That may not be the best advice for others, but it works for me.

  • Posted by Meryl on January 9th, 2009, 8:30 AM

    John, that’s admirable and a great use of twitter. I am being more conscious about the twitter timeline and weeding out useless ones.

    Suzanne, some folks do tweet too often and dominate. So yes, those go off my follow list.

    Deborah, good to hear your perspective. Then the privacy option is indeed a good one as there are many like you.

    Next post on four tips to get going fast on twitter is up.

  • Posted by Kris Cain on January 12th, 2009, 1:55 PM

    Good post. I agree with all except the “Good morning” one. Sometimes I do indeed just jump in, but usually I say good morning.

    I joined less than a month ago and I am following some awesome people (including some of you that commented above). I am certainly stopped following at least one where every tweet was “having coffee with my boyfriend, curling my hair, driving to school, etc., etc.”

    For some, I am certain Twitter is a way to connect with family and friends that might care what they do every moment of the day. But mostly it is a great way to connect with people with similar interest and useful info. I don’t mind the links too much as long as they contain useful info.

    Kris Cain´s last blog post… Chicagoan’s v103 now available on the iPhone!

  • Posted by Meryl on January 13th, 2009, 8:58 AM

    OK — y’all convinced me — “Good morning” is A-OK with me.

    Kris, I believe some people do use twitter to link with friends and family rather than the whole world. Posting day-to-day stuff would be fine in that case as that’s the purpose of their twittering.

  • Posted by Marsha Keeffer on January 13th, 2009, 11:26 AM

    Ack! The Internet marketing people – can’t they do it somewhere else? It’s like being in an Amway meeting….great post and I’ll use these guidelines as I begin an early Spring cleaning of my Twitter account. Thanks for the helpful information!

  • Posted by cypress on January 13th, 2009, 1:13 PM

    the people who take up two pages of updates with venting are a biiiig no no. Four or five is one thing, but if you are hitting 10 updates in one go, please get a free blog some where and blog yourself, how many of you are twitter grammar police? Lack of caps and correct punctuation irritate you on twitter?

  • Posted by Jeremy Gloff on January 13th, 2009, 1:58 PM

    i can’t believe anyone actually cares about twitter this much lol

  • Posted by Doug from Nullvariable Web Consulting on January 13th, 2009, 2:10 PM

    @Jeremy Gloff over 3 million people (and a lot of companies making applications based on twitter) do…twitter has grown by something like 500% during 2008. Defining how to handle social stuff like this is important!

    Doug from Nullvariable Web Consulting´s last blog post… Twitter Report Spam Script

  • Posted by Terry S on January 13th, 2009, 11:35 PM

    I will be spending lots of time on your blog tomorrow – the old dog is trying to learn some new tricks and I’ve gotten more info from you than anywhere else I’ve seen so far! Thankyouthankyouthankyou!

    Terry S´s last blog post… Tech Terms for Dummies

  • Posted by Meryl on January 14th, 2009, 8:29 AM

    Marsha, I think a lot of us see what they’re doing and we’re not buying into it. So it will go away eventually.

    Cypress, right on. Some people post way too much. However, I know that some groups have twitchats and the chats take place in twitter. So I had a lot of updates when I did that. So there’s no moving away from that. As for punctuation — it’s a matter of space. Sometimes I leave off a period or something to make my character count.

    Jeremy, see Doug’s stats. When I first heard about twitter (and I usually jump into the latest… started blogging before most), I wasn’t keen on the idea of posting my daily activities. But as I participated, I discovered intelligent conversations that don’t take up much time.

    Terry, my pleasure. Age plays no role with the internet. Let me know if you have questions and I’ll gladly answer them.

  • Posted by Lindasusan on January 14th, 2009, 3:42 PM

    FWIW, personal tweets are one of the things I actually value most about Twitter — they help me feel connected on a one-on-one level. This is particularly the case with writers, musicians, journalists, and others whose work I admire but whom I’m unlikely to meet in real life.

    Certainly, super generic tweets all the time would be a waste of space on my feed (“doing the dishes”…”on the bus”…”watched TV”…”bored my followers until they wanted to scream”…). But tweets that communicate a sense of someone’s personality, inner process, and passion are ones I treasure. By learning more about the “person behind the tweet,” I also get a better idea of whether her/his other work will interest me.

    There are lots of types of business out there, and how you define “utility” depends on what you’re trying to use Twitter to achieve.

    Looking forward to reading more on your site!

    Lindasusan´s last blog post… Call for Personal Stories from Bisexuals (San Francisco Human Rights Commission)

  • Posted by Rich Hopkins on January 15th, 2009, 1:23 AM

    Interesting thing happened to me this week. With just over 1900 followers, I was able to break over the following 2000 mark. As of right now, @richhopkins follows 2030, and is followed by 1953.

    Not sure why the boundary went away, and I had gone to extreme lengths to try to stay balanced, before I took the plunge and tried to follow my 2001st.

    So – maybe the rules have changed?

  • Posted by SterlingMineral on January 15th, 2009, 8:58 AM

    Great post. In fact you couldn’t have said it any better. These were very close in reasons why and how I choose to follow individuals. Indie Business just did an interview with me last week and my answers were similar. Thanks for making it clear what matters on twitter. I just received your follow and I will be following back.


  • Posted by Meryl on January 15th, 2009, 9:41 AM

    Lindasusan, twitter users could probably be divided into four groups: business, personal, lifestyle and those who don’t get it. I am sure someone will add another group. I tend to focus on the business and that’s probably where I was coming from when I wrote this.

    Certainly, if I had childhood friends who regularly used twitter — I’d post tweets about my life (not generic “I brushed my teeth, ate breakfast” type mind you… but more of “Daughter won volleyball game.”). Many people use this for staying in touch with friends and family (my friends are more into Facebook).

    Rich, I hope you’re right! I have been very strict about who I follow back because of the 2000 rule. I shall loosen up the rules and see what happens. Thank you.

    Katherine, thank you for the kind words. Guys — the interview is on Indie Business here. Great photo thanks to your lovely expression, which says a lot of positive things about you!

  • Posted by Carolyn on January 15th, 2009, 11:04 AM

    I’m new to Twitter, like a lot of commenters . . . and I especially like one of your last ideas: Twitter for biz and Facebook for personal.

  • Posted by Gerhard Kaiser on January 15th, 2009, 11:37 AM

    Hi Meryl, thanks for making it clear what going on with twitter. Very good post. I agree with all of them.
    I hope and will try to follow the rules.
    Thanks for sharing

  • Posted by Suzanne on January 15th, 2009, 12:06 PM

    Twitter for business?! Facebook for personal? Oh I don’t like that idea at all. Twitter isn’t a business channel. It’s a communication channel, period. 140 characters of communication to whomever chooses to listen.

    Facebook isn’t a personal network, it’s a whole person profile, and can easily be personal and professional and family oriented with careful control over groups and permissions.

    We use the online tools as best suits us. We should not be enforcing our uses on the rest of the users as the only uses permissible.

    What works best from a business standpoint may be facebook, or twitter or a standalone website with hooks into those communities, but you can’t say that twitter is for business and facebook is for personal, nor the other way around. It greatly depends on how you’ll be using them.

    Some businesses use twitter to redirect to a blog, to offer tips, to discuss some of the issues that are currently being hammered out for their fields, to talk to colleagues and other professionals.

    It’s a different channel. Snail mail, phone calls, face to face meetings, social get-togethers, email, blogs, comments on blogs, forums, online social networking, im, twitter, these are all different levels and formalities of communication, and as such are suitable for different levels of communication both professionally and personally.

    (Sorry Meryl, this just really bothers me, that any part of the web be deemed “business only” — we are not just machines, we are all humans interacting and we cannot fully isolate business from the personal without losing what makes us good at our jobs.

    I don’t think your post here was suggesting that at all, but rather how to find the value in a different channel for however you choose to use it.)

  • Posted by Meryl on January 15th, 2009, 12:13 PM

    Carolyn and Suzanne — Ack! I didn’t say twitter is for business and Facebook for personal. That’s just how I use it. I did make a comment that twitter has various audiences, one of being for personal use.

    I do have some business connections in Facebook, but LinkedIn is where we do the business networking. It just happens that my connections actively using Facebook do it for personal not business.

    Gerard, glad to be of help. That’s what I aimed to do — explain twitter for everyone: new or not.

  • Posted by Meryl on January 19th, 2009, 8:19 PM

    Rich, just hit 2000 people following again and could not go beyond that. I don’t have 1700 followers — maybe twitter thinks 2000 to 1900 is OK, but not 2000 to 1650ish.

  • Posted by Find the Right People to Follow on Twitter on April 15th, 2009, 11:02 AM

    […] Friend or Follow can be useful as it lists all the people you follow who don’t follow you back, as well as people who follow you but whom you don’t follow back. Of course, experienced Twitterers have their own rules of who to follow that goes beyond simply following back everyone who follows them (I explain my personal rules in “7 Traits of Bad Twitter Follows“). […]

  • Posted by Sherri Garrity on April 15th, 2009, 1:55 PM

    Keeping up on all of the “netiquette” is tricky – thanks to it, we have so many more opportunities to connect, start businesses etc. But it is a little daunting at times. I have been struggling with the auto DM and have decided against it. I use online marketing tools but want to find the balance that’s right for me. What I appreciate most is the freedom to express opinion, and choice. It’s all about conversation and value… and I found that about 85% of the auto DMS I get, really tell me nothing.

  • Posted by web chick on April 16th, 2009, 2:04 PM

    Folks who are having a hard time keeping up with the volume, I strongly suggest you download TweetDeck or a similar app. It allows you to organize your followers into a personal dashboard. This helps me keep the noisy tweeters in a separate “stream” so I can keep sane.

  • Posted by Steven Johnson on April 17th, 2009, 12:18 PM

    AS a brand new Twitter user. I appreciate the tip. I’m confused though as I was adding people yesterday to my “follow” list I thought I noticed several well-known people who had thousands of followers but were following no one. Does Twitter make an exception for celebs?

  • Posted by Meryl on April 17th, 2009, 12:25 PM

    @Sherri, I ignore auto DMs. They don’t say anything except thank you, how can I help you, or read my stuff. I know in some cases people are trying to be nice. But I’ll just wait until we have a real twitversation about something.

    @web chick, amen to that! Lots of (maybe too many) great Twitter apps to help make things easier. WWD posted an article on how to monitor online conversations.

    @Steven, twitter is more concerned with us following too many people — not being followed by too many people. If you follow 2000 people and only 100 people follow you … you’re likely a marketer trying to get people to follow you back, but we know better.

  • Posted by Lise on April 17th, 2009, 5:22 PM

    I’ve been twittering for just a bit, but yet I’m still trying to feel my way along. I twitter on Monday’s about my business weekly special, and other than that, I am working hard to find my comfort zone for other twits.

    I posted a very cool website I found the other day, but had no reply or response. I asked an honest question about why folks push for more followers, no reply or response. Not sure what I am doing wrong.

    I do send an email to new followers, generally asking them how they found me, but very few reply. I think I am looking to build relationships when most folks are not?

    In any event, I found this blob incredibly interesting and will be following you Meryl. Thanks!

  • Posted by Meryl on April 18th, 2009, 8:42 AM

    @Lisa, thank you. Don’t give up on twitter yet. Even after twittering over a year, I have days where I feel like Mr. Cellophane. Just keep interacting, keep retweeting (RT) and take care not to overdo the links.

    Many of us are looking to build relationships. I never send an email to new followers. It just doesn’t work. Better to interact in twitter and then DM when it’s something specific. Good luck!

  • Posted by Jacob on May 12th, 2009, 11:31 AM

    I wasn’t really checking out who follows me and I would just follow back. But at the moment I’m getting so much messages about making money, SEO and other stuff that I decided to let go of the dead wait. If you want to get a quick view of the Tweeps you follow use http://www.follower.com

  • Posted by Using Twitter for business and networking | Meryl.net on July 6th, 2009, 8:12 AM

    […] 7 Traits of Bad Twitter Follows: This came before the previous one. […]

  • Posted by Jennifer M. on March 16th, 2010, 7:17 PM

    I find it slightly arrogant to assume that only business professionals will find Twitter useful. A lot of different types of people use Twitter. Furthermore, what exactly are you looking for in Twitter? You don’t want good mornings, good nights, links, DM’s, or chit-chat. What else is left??

  • Posted by Favorite Posts of 2009 : Writing / editing services Meryl Evans on June 28th, 2013, 8:51 AM

    […] 7 Traits of Bad Twitter Followers: The things to do if you hate Twitter. […]

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