Friday, December 17, 2010

Follow Friday On Twitter - A How To Guide

FollowFriday Twitter IntroIf you are new to Twitter, you might be wondering about a common hash tag you see every Friday. And just so we don't lose anyone here, a hash tag is any word or group of words put together without spaces and preceded by a "#". Hash tags help people search Twitter for key words, the key words in this case being simply those words proceeded by a "#" sign and called... you guessed it, hash tags. But on any given Friday one of the most popular hash tags on Twitter is #FollowFriday, or at times simply #FF by those hard pressed to come in under the Twitter character limit of 140.

The #FollowFriday phenomenon took off a few years ago when Micha Baldwin tweeted, "I am starting Follow Friday. Every Friday suggest a person to follow." Wow, what a concept right? In theory, just as Baldwin suggested, these are your recommendations for who your friends should be following. In reality it has sadly been perverted into something totally removed from that simple concept.

But for the purpose of this article we'll sidestep what's wrong with the world and focus on how you can use the #FollowFriday hash tag easily and effectively.

Let's start by keeping in mind that social media in the virtual world is simply an extension of our social interactions in the real world. As such, I like to apply the same rules to both.

How hard can that be? It's not. Just follow the social rules that most of us everyday. So, what exactly are those social rules and how do we apply them to #FollowFriday on Twitter?

The simple rules I use are: When someone says hello to you, say hello back. Keep in touch with those you would consider friends or acquaintances. Make small talk with other people, not just random tweets to no one. Mention those you admire even though you may not interact with them. Say thanks when someone does something nice for you, such as mentions you in a #FollowFriday or other positive list. Finally I would urge you to avoid arguing with clowns, as no normal person would want to follow a Twitter stream full of negative tweets or arguments.

When it comes time to apply these simple rules, well, as the saying goes, "there's nothing to it but to do it." But let's make sure we do it effectively. For that I would recommend a Twitter app along the lines of TweetDeck. Using a columnar based app such as TweetDeck, that separates your mentions into their own column, makes it quick and easy to reply to all those who mention you. With that ability you simply build your #FollowFriday tweets with all those who have mentioned you or tweeted with you in the past week, or even those you want to mention and might just happen to be on your screen at that moment. This is of course far from an exact science.

To further illustrate, my personal #FollowFriday routine goes like this: Load up TweetDeck, scroll down my Mention Column as far as it will go or until I hit last Saturday. Find those with whom I interacted, as opposed to those who just spammed me, click on the reply button, scroll up, repeat. By doing this again and again you will notice you are building a tweet that mentions all those you just replied to. Do this until you are down to a minimum of 14 characters remaining and then go to the front of the tweet and add "#FollowFriday". There is a chance that you might accidentally mention someone more than once, but there are worse things in the world than being overly friendly. But just try your best and keep going.

One quick improvement on this scheme is to try and apply a hash tag to the user or group of users you just mentioned in your #FollowFriday. For example I often #FollowFriday those of the politically conservative persuasion, so I might add a #tcot tag at the end to tell others these people are fellow conservatives. Also, if you have room in the tweet, a nice touch is to add a personal comment that makes each #FollowFriday tweet unique. An example might be "#FollowFriday @OhioHope @BentlyHogan @JohnBeagle // My Favorite People On Twitter!" As long as it's genuine and you have room, anything that makes your #FollowFriday tweets, or any of your tweets, stand out it's a good thing.

Be careful though, as this procedure can quickly crank out the tweets so take care to slow it down. That is to say, you don't want to fill out your followers' general stream with a dozen back to back tweets of nothing but #FollowFriday mentions. Do that and you may very well lose a few followers.

Will this in and of itself necessarily gain you any followers? Perhaps, but from experience I have not seen any increase in followers, even after 50 or more #FollowFriday mentions, over what I would have picked up on any random day. However, I do see an increase when I get involved and use #FollowFriday to follow those recommended in the tweets of friends. As there is a good chance you have something in common with those mentioned in a #FollowFriday by a friend, there is a good chance those folks will follow you back.

One last parting thought: In real life we don't attend a party or say hello to friends just because it benefits us. We do lots of things simply because they are the polite and nice thing to do, and perhaps we enjoy it a little bit too, and so in my humble opinion #FollowFriday should be thought of in the same way.

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