“Followers” is a Terrible Word.

“Interested parties” or “Supporters” would be better.

“I don’t want more followers on Twitter,”
said no marketer/salesperson/job seeker/writer EVER.

Sure, there are a small number of folks on Twitter who keep their tweets private, visible only to approved parties. But these are the minority. The majority of us who are on Twitter are looking, to one extent or another, to grow our connections. We’re doing so for reasons like greater reach, social proof in support of our businesses, establishing credibility in our fields and so on.

We’re stuck with the terms “following” and “followers” on Twitter. These terms are logical and accurate from a literal perspective. I’m not accusing Twitter of making a bad call with these. But I do feel that these terms lend themselves to a subliminal psychology that might just be a bit on the negative side. They might foster egotistical behavior and, by extension, a failure to make real connections.

Who are your followers?

Your followers are people who have agreed, albeit tentatively in most cases (since they might be following hundreds or thousands of others whose tweets will show in their busy home feed), to listen to you. They’ve expressed an interest in whatever you might have to say next. Pretty nice of them, no?

*The exceptions here would be those folks who’ve only followed you in hopes you’ll follow back and bolster their own follower count (ego), only to unfollow you in a misguided effort to appear more influential than they actually are.

Do you see your followers as a gift or as stepping stones?

If your only goal is to grow your follower count without actually building relationships, you probably look at your followers as numbers. You see them in the plainest sense as leads, prospects, dollar signs or stepping stones. Many have been incredibly successful at amassing large follower counts while hardly following any others. This can be accomplished in a number of different ways such as:

  • Offering something so wildly popular that everyone wants to know about it (think: Apple, Google, news channels, Ellen Show, etc)
  • Buying followers (these truly just serve as numbers… there are no interested people behind them)
  • Following and unfollowing in bulk (mentioned above)

In the case of the wildly popular, it makes sense that they’d be following less people than follow them. Nothing personal… but could Google really follow every follower back? Would that even make sense?

But in the case of the latter two… the folks who are just looking to bolster their own numbers, what’s the end goal? These folks aren’t building relationships. They don’t appear the least bit interested in what any of their prospects might have to say. They really just seem to want to look good.

You can put lipstick on a pig, but….

If you have a hundred thousand followers but none of them are real people or none of them are worthy of your time to engage, you really just have a number on a page. Maybe that’s all you want and, if so, your mission is complete. But what if it’s not?

I submit that you should look at your followers with gratitude. I don’t just mean the casual, “#FollowFriday with emoticons” gratitude. I mean to consider these people both collectively and individually as worthy of your time. Look at them as supporters, as generous readers and as deserving of your consideration in return.

I’m not suggesting that you have to follow everyone back. I don’t follow people who spam, who don’t tweet in English or who tweet on topics that don’t interest me because I don’t want to mislead them into thinking a real connection is likely. But I certainly don’t discount anyone based on their Klout score, their follower count or a ridiculous assumption that I’m more important than they are.

I make my children call adults “sir” and “m’am.” Not so much for the words themselves but for the behavior that naturally follows.

“Follower” implies subservience. It can lend itself to the notion that the followed is somehow superior.

So I refer to my followers and even those I follow as “contacts,” “connections,” “mentors,” and even “friends.” I recognize that they’ve given me the gift of their interest and attention (even in a busy home feed where I may or may not be seen). I want to be worthy of that and I want to return the favor whenever feasible.

What’s your philosophy on the following/followers topic? Do you disagree with me?