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Follow me, follow you?

As chaperone for Xero’s social media I may be late to the party but I’m looking for some advice on the etiquette of ‘following’. I always have my ears and eyes open for how others manage Twitter for their companies, and indeed people always ask me what approach I take when tweeting for Xero, and recently I’ve come across two differing opinions on following.

One: you should follow everyone who follows you, or everyone that mentions you. You can’t be truly engaged and having a conversation if you don’t.

Two: follow selected tweeters you’re particularly interested in or those who tweet snippets relevant to you (or your company).

There are pros and cons either way when I think about what we ‘should’ do at Xero. Following habits from a personal account are probably driven differently than from a company account – as a company, your attachment by way of following is probably fairly loaded and open to interpretation, more so than when you’re following someone as a friend or stranger.

  • If you follow loads of people, or indeed everyone that follows you then you’re probably sending the message that you want to listen, that you’re not just doing all the talking. However you’d undoubtedly miss tweets from many of your followers; does it seem rude to say ‘hey I’m interested in what you’re you’re tweeting’ by following them, yet don’t actually see much of what they tweet? That doesn’t seem like true engagement, however one measures that!
  • If you follow based on selection, what’s the criteria and how political does this become as a company? How time consuming is it to background check each new follower and bring brand allegiances and influence into it let alone checking for spammers and bots? Social media is supposed to be open and free of the triple-checking shackles of traditional publishing and that’s taken away if you have to give considered thought to everyone you follow.
  • If you follow all who follow you, then you’re giving everyone the opportunity to send private direct messages to you – perhaps as a company this is good because you don’t have to have those awkward conversations and complaints aired in public. However in the age of social media, you’re ‘doing it right’ if you don’t hide from this, you should have the good, bad and uncomfortable conversations where others can see them and contribute.
  • If you follow everyone that tweets about your company or everyone who follows you, you may be thought of as spamming, the hollow-follow. Perhaps following those who you at least have a back-and-forward exchange with wouldn’t be as bad.
  • Is there actually not much thought to this and it’s all about getting as many followers as you can so everyone’s following each other, even though many say it’s not about the number of followers you have, it’s the quality of the conversation?
  • Using Twitter ‘favorites’ or the concept of ‘fans’ doesn’t require any following, and is a way of showing appreciation for good feedback about your company if you use it for this purpose and not just as a bookmarking tool. Although this could be seen as a bit one-way too, it’s a pat-on-the-back and thanks for good tweets but the only reciprocation is that person’s tweets being published on your list of favorites.

Where are we at right now? Xero follows a few hundred that I inherited when I took over the account as primary tweeter and under my watch I’ve followed those who expressly ask for the purposes of direct messaging … and now I’m at a crossroads!

I’d love to know how others tackle this. Do people really think about this and make a conscious decision either way? Is there a middle ground? If your social media management is outsourced do you or they make this decision and what did they decide? Is Xero not following you and you’re upset about this? Why? Or does it simply boil down to the type of twitterer you are and how much time you can give to your Twitter stream – someone who’s pretty anal and goes through every tweet, winding the stream back to when they last looked, or someone who’s OK to have it streaming in the bottom right-hand corner of their monitor to glance at from time to time, to see what’s going on ‘in the moment’. (Guess away re my Twitter personality type if you like!)

Find us on @Xero or @XeroPersonal or @XeroAPI and view our favorite tweets at twitter.com/xero/favorites/

 

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14 comments

Ray Tomlinson
18 January 2011 #

I am more interested in finding out how Xero are developing as a business and what you have to say than whether or not you are following me on twitter.

I have been using Xero for along time now and have my Governing Director Father at 75 sold. So much so we bought a small slice of the company.

Keep up the great work.

Jim Morrison
18 January 2011 #

You pose some very interesting questions ( to which I’m afraid I’m not about to offer any conclusive answers ).

Interestingly I think approach is quite tightly bound to the tools you use. You guys use TweetDeck IIRC which gives you plenty of headspace to have Friends, Mentions & DMs of your accounts plus half a dozen search streams all running along together.

Where we have a similar [but probably much smaller] problem is folk tweeting about fmbip.com which happens maybe a couple of times/hr on average. The company account (@deepbluetweets) couldn’t possibly follow everyone who does so because it would become impossible to manage and besides much of the time it wouldn’t be relevant. We’d end up with a torrent that no-one would get any value from.

What we can do though is to search on relevant topics and engage (properly) with those who are asking questions or trying to engage with the site.

I’m guessing that you guys do much the same thing; follow those who you naturally engage with and keep a close eye on your namespace to allow you to engage with anyone out there who’s discussing Xero and wants to help, get help or simply evangelise?

Where Xero is different to most corporate twitterers is that somehow you’ve hit a nerve with your product; it’s a bit of a life-changer in and otherwise pretty dry area of running a business and coupled with a vocal and frequent feature roll-out and great attitude to social engagement I think you have more folk talking about how much they value the product than most companies do – certainly than some of the competition.

Demographically also your user-base is probably more on-line, on-twitter than most which gives you guys a further edge.

So to summarise I’d say you’ve got probably exactly the right approach; engage with those who are trying to engage with you (found in search as-well as @mentions etc) and don’t pretend to engage with everyone you meet because it’s not possible to do effectively….

… and then I think you’ll build a good little army of people who’ll do as much if not more for Xero in the long run than any cold marketing could achieve.

//ramble over.
Jim

Rod Drury
19 January 2011 #

Microsoft are patenting Fans – ‘one way public relationships’

http://techflash.com/seattle/2011/01/microsoft-applies-for-patent-on-being.html

matt@microtax.co.nz
19 January 2011 #

I see Twitter like a town hall/trade show event. You can either be the one of the people with microphones speaking to anyone willing to listen or be in the crowd, listening to some/all of the public speakers and getting into private conversation circles with people you are personally connected or trying to network with. One twitter account can’t be both. Just like in “real life” the companies themselves should be the public speakers = many followers, following nobody (as it’s not possible to listen to everyone in the crowd). The company’s sales staff etc would be mingling in the crowd getting to know the customers and listening to them. ie. Their accounts would follow a number of people/clients that’s possible without missing anything.

matt@microtax.co.nz
19 January 2011 #

The company might also just follow it’s own staff etc relying on them to re-tweet important messages from the crowd..

Simon Lampen
19 January 2011 #

I totally agree with Matt’s analogy, given its public nature, it necessary starts out as a broadcast, then only in certain cases develops into a conversation which might even move media and become more personal. Aimlessly following would dilute the value you would derive from your experience as a follower.

Catherine
20 January 2011 #

@Ray Fair enough and the ‘what we’re saying’ on Twitter aspect is a lot lighter than it could be – I spend most of my tweeting hours responding to queries rather than posting messages that all our followers can see. Perhaps that’s something I could look to improve. And thank you for buying some shares – fantastic to have your support.

@Chad Thanks for that link – great thread with some useful advice – seems the majority of it is indeed about engaging and responding to mentions of your company and that there’s a feeling that you “don’t lose Twitter Brownie Points for not following someone back”. I also like one of the suggestions that following people could be based on “identifying possible champions for your story” – I think we’d have plenty of those which would be great! I’d also like to give more thought to re-tweeting as a “pay it forward” concept and another avenue for acknowledging and rewarding people for their comments as they would get recognition via the re-tweet. I’ve tried this once before but received feedback from a couple of people following us that it was a bit much to hear how great Xero was all the time, so perhaps a more general spread of tweets to pass along would be more well received.

Catherine
20 January 2011 #

@Jim Thanks for the ramble – great insights and feedback. It’s great we do get so many people sharing how they feel about the product or in fact accounting and people surprising themselves by enjoying accounting and having fun even! As well as the really useful stuff of being able to see what’s going on in their business.
You’re right I do use TweetDeck which suits me fine for now as it’s just me tweeting and I can get visibility of the 2 main accounts I tweet from as well as a search. It’s also great to see so many accountants and firms using social media as well and even though I love tweeting I love it when a customer asks a question and another of our customers or partners gets in there and answers it. Great to see the community working.

James Stevens
21 January 2011 #

I would like you to focus on improving Xero and forget about Twitter. Xero is good but it could be a lot better. People will talk about you on Twitter if your product is good.

Christopher Beckwith
22 January 2011 #

I personally believe these types of questions should be asked on Quora rather than on your company blog, though I imagine this is for when people complain you are not following them you can point them to your blog.

Nevertheless, a question was asked. My opinion is most definitely you should NOT follow everyone who follows you. If you did, your Twitter feed would be as large as twitter.com’s feed itself.

People want to be followed so that their posts will show up in friend’s feeds and then that friend may retweet it with their friends. But if you list is enormous then the chance of that dwindles.

If you follow people who you know and or have interesting things to say, then your feed will hopefully only be full of interesting tweets. If you include everyone your feed will be full of people’s bowel movements and their FedEx order statuses.

In my humble opinion.

Catherine
22 January 2011 #

@Matt @Simon The event analogy is a good one. I guess in that respect given that I am a real person behind the company account, I wear the hats of sales person, product expert, support, design and development while most of our contact on Twitter requires responses to these types of questions and where I can’t help I contact colleagues for help or direct response. Staff in these areas do have their own personal Twitter accounts but we tend to channel everything through the company account so there’s a single point of contact for anything Xero – saves customers having to remember who’s who if they have a query on a particular topic. Appreciate the comments about not following everyone.

Catherine
22 January 2011 #

@James There’s only one of us focusing on Twitter, rest assured the rest of the team are getting on with product development! Also Twitter has definitely helped us improve the product to date – we get so much great feedback on Twitter including lots about things that don’t work for people or where they see improvement, so it’s a really important two-way channel for us.

Catherine
22 January 2011 #

@Christopher Great points about following everyone – thank you – retweeting is a powerful tool for endorsement and recognition and I totally agree that if you were to be conscious about doing this fairly you’d need to scale your time to devote to this relative to the number of people you’re following!

Quora is one such place to ask questions like this but at Xero we like to have an active blog with contributions from anyone who works here. It gives our blog readers a diverse range of topics and often shows the breadth of our efforts to understand and communicate with our customers, shareholders, industry partners, family and friends, commentators and anyone else interested in what we’re doing, and gives them a chance to comment on it.

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