Home Articles My hunch says: don’t block Twitter followers

My hunch says: don’t block Twitter followers


If you use Twitter as part of your personal or company marketing, Frances over at Edublog asks interesting questions: “When potential contacts are researching you on Twitter, will they judge you by the people who follow you? Should you therefore invest time in checking your follower lists and blocking the spammers, scammers and pornbots following you? Does it reflect poorly on you if they are there?”

First, my usual word of warning: nobody really knows yet.

No matter how impressive the social media guru or digital strategy expert, this is still shortly-after-dawn in the Age of Social Media and nobody really knows anything for certain yet. Social Media was born as a means of subversive online communication — it only recently and reluctantly began to bend to the will of marketers. The industry is still developing the methodologies that will one day tell us for sure the answers to these big social media questions.

In the meantime (as Quasimodo said to the archdeacon) I have my hunches. Here they are.

Relax, don’t do it

No, I don’t think a follower list full of spambots and pornbots reflects poorly on you. I don’t think you should prune your follower lists. I believe, in most cases, people will not judge you by the calibre of people following you on Twitter.

If someone does judge you on the kinds of people who follow you on Twitter, it’ll vary greatly by age, industry and nationality. You won’t find the same standards applying in Paris as you do in Texas, or between tweens and seniors. Twitter is a very international community and there’s no easy way to track location or demographics of the people who view your Twitter profile unless they also choose to follow you.

So why worry about unmeasurable opinions of people you can’t identify?

There are more productive things you can be doing

For most of us, the investment required to curate our follower list will not equal whatever return we get from having a ‘clean’ follower list or the risk we take by not having a ‘clean’ follower list. (This may not be true for conservative politicians, church leaders and captains of industry.) I have 1,700 or so followers currently and I’m not even going to try to keep so many followers in line. The spambots and pornbots will eventually wither and die from neglect if Twitter’s own anti-abuse team don’t get to them first.

You won’t see me saying this often…

Let’s take a leaf from the pages of Old Media History. If you own a television set, TV networks can’t stop you watching their programming. There is no ‘block’ button on the control panel at your local TV station. Yet the demographic composition of a TV audience is essential to the success of a television when courting advertisers.

How do they change their audience composition? Through means much more subtle and yet even more effective than a ‘block follower’ button. They use programming changes to change the content being broadcast and when it is broadcast. And they use audience research to learn more about not just who their audience is, but what sort of content they need to offer in order to reach the audience they aspire to.

What is the Twitter equivalent of ‘programming changes’? Change what you say, change when you say it. Change what you reply to, and how rapidly you reply to it. Encourage interaction with the followers you aspire to have more of. Seek less interaction with pornbots. Respond less often to phishing scams. Please, for all our sakes!

‘Audience research’ on Twitter is not dissimilar to TV: time-consuming, inaccurate and prone to erroneous conclusions. But it’s still worth a try. Pick a follower who typifies your ideal audience. Take note of who they follow and what they reply to. Mimic. Repeat.

No undo

Remember, I’m making this up as I go along, based on what I observe every day and what I can find in my hunch bag, but here’s the big take-away: I am not a fan of the ‘block’ button. If you decide to block followers who your business contacts won’t approve of, what next? Because there’s no ‘undo’.

What if you’ve just blocked someone still finding their way around social media etiquette the hard way? What if that person might have become a valuable business contact or customer if you’d just given them another chance? Even if you keep following them after blocking them to see if they turn over a new leaf, you’ve sent them a message: you don’t want them following you. It’s a small thing to not follow someone, but a very large thing to not let them follow you. There’s no undo.

No wonder TV sets don’t have a ‘block viewer’ button.

Alan Jones is Chief Hindsight Officer at Doing Words. Since 1995, he has consulted to early-stage companies and new product development teams, helping with online strategy for communications, product development and marketing. He also has hands-on experience founding and co-founding web and mobile startups, as well as senior management experience in larger companies including Yahoo!, News Digital Media and Microsoft.