If you’ve read this blog over the years, you’ll know that I have very little nice to say about social media, despite having tried everything under the sun to come to terms with it. Yeah, it’s a love hate relationship, heavy on the hate. Today I want to talk about something special that’s been bugging me and that’s the concept of “follow for follow.” This is where someone follows you with the expectation that you will follow back. It’s not always stated explicitly (although sometimes it is), but it’s considered “good form” to follow back. This is all over social media, but it’s especially rampant in the writing community on Twitter.
Before I get into why this is a garbage philosophy, I want to talk about why follow for follow is a thing.
There’s a misconception among writers (and among people on social media in general) that somehow the sheer number of your followers matters. This is why you have people resorting to tactics like buying followers. While the number might mean something to someone who has built an organic and engaged group of people who genuinely want to hear that person’s thoughts, it means nothing to the average writer. Or average person, for that matter.
The pure number of your followers does not indicate how many people are likely to buy your books. Or even care about what you had for breakfast, or where you went on vacation. Hell, a ton of your followers probably aren’t even seeing your posts thanks to algorithms. All that number is, is a number. Pure and simple. It says nothing about your worth as a person, or as a writer.
(Now here’s where people will interject and say, “Well, agents care. Publishers care. They want that number as high as possible.” Here’s the thing with that. If an agent or publisher is only concerned with your magic number, then that’s probably someone you want to steer clear of. Anyone worth the royalty or commission will look at how well you engage with your audience, and how much that audience engages with you. (Not to mention the quality and salability of your work.)
A smart agent or publisher will know that the number is meaningless unless it’s backed up by actual readers who give a crap about your work. Yes, there are cases where people got deals based almost solely on their followings, but publishers are beginning to wise up to the stupidity of that strategy. They’re realizing that followings can be bought, followers don’t always (or often) read, and they can be duped into publishing a book that flops.)
Many people take that number extremely personally and do all they can to boost it. (Some people also use it intentionally as a strategy, hoping that you will follow back, then they unfollow you to make their follow/follower ratio look better, but you forget to unfollow them in return. Boom. Their number is boosted and yours drops. Sucks, huh? And, yes. There is an “industry” that teaches this to people.) They also believe that this number is the only thing keeping them from fame and fortune. (It can’t possibly be the writing, or some other problem.) It’s a form of validation for them. And that’s where follow for follow comes in. It’s also where the problems originate. Following becomes a quid pro quo, not a genuine connection.
What are the problems with follow for follow? Here are a few.
It’s unhealthy. Being obsessed with a number is almost never good for you. It’s not good when you look at the scale. It’s not good when you compare IQ’s or test results. Money? Yeah, those numbers can make you feel really bad, like when the experts say you should have $X accumulated by your fortieth birthday and you have $X minus $100,000. Almost anything that relies on pure numbers without context for measurement is doomed to make you feel bad. This is because the number doesn’t take into account what’s really going on.
Maybe your body can’t weight 100 pounds. Things like IQ and test results are based on many factors like genetics or how much you studied. (Or didn’t.) Random retirement numbers don’t take into account where you live, how much you spend, etc. So it is with social media following.
You number doesn’t account for how you gained those followers. Or how much they care about your work. It says nothing about how much those people can help you, or how much you can help them. It’s only a number. Instead of focusing on the number, you should look at your feed and ask: Does this make me happy? Are these people engaging/entertaining? Are these people I “know?” (Even if not personally, have they made some impression on you, or interacted with you for a while?) Did I meet this person in real life somewhere? Are these people commenting, liking, or retweeting my posts? Those are the sorts of followers that you want. Not just meaningless numbers.
It’s a pointless waste of time. When I first joined Twitter, I did the follow for follow thing. (I suspect most people do, at least at first, so no shame or blame from me.) But then I wised up and started culling who I followed. (This was inspired by a few things, not the least of which was realizing just how much spam and toxicity some of these people brought to my feed. More on this later.) Of course, as I unfollowed them, most immediately unfollowed me.
It proved the pointlessness of this. No one was in it for anything other than the number. None of them gave a crap about me and my work. It was all just about boosting their own number. Stupid, stupid, stupid waste of time. And I had to spend even more time going back and cleaning up my feed to prune the garbage after the fact. Life is short and there are better ways to spend time.
Oh, God, the spam. Follow for follow is a great way to see your feed and DM’s clog up with spam. Even if it’s not “Send money to prince in Nigeria” spam, it’s often “Buy my book!” spam. Over and over again. You’ll also get a lot of stuff that offends you. I mean, I’m open to different views on most subjects, but that doesn’t mean that I want my feed crapped up with political diatribes, conspiracy theories, and links to half-baked opinion pieces. I just don’t. But if you follow blindly, that’s often what you get. A feed can quickly become a toxic wasteland that you don’t even want to look at, let alone try to use to build your “real” following.
It can be risky. Blindly following people not only opens you up to a world of spam, it can also end up attaching your name and reputation to a person/cause you don’t want to be attached to. Since Twitter’s algorithm recommends followers based on who you already follow (and who your followers follow), you can end up inadvertently recommending unsavory people to other people in your network. You can also end up giving such people a platform they do not deserve. If you like something on Twitter, the algorithm will show that like to other people in your followers list. And if you follow someone, the algorithm will add that to their “popularity” and give them a bigger boost than their content might warrant. As with anything online, be careful and choose your contacts wisely.
It doesn’t do what you want it to do. Follow for follow doesn’t do what you want it to do: Namely, sell books. Other writers (or influencers who are hawking their own stuff not writing related) are not your audience. They will likely never read your book because they’re too busy hawking their own books/stuff. Or, they write in a different genre and your material doesn’t interest them. Or, they’re simply playing the follow game and will never glance at your posts again. Again. These people are not your readers. Most of them as simply chasing the magic number. Look for your actual readers, interact with them on social media, and forget the follow for follow nonsense.
You want followers who post things that interest you or make you happy. Or, at least people who make you think in a good way. You want followers who are genuinely interested in your work, and who want to hear what you have to say. You don’t want your feed crapped up by a bunch of spam, promotion, or other unsavory garbage. So quit following for following. It doesn’t work, anyway, and it’s a colossal waste of time that you’ll just have to spend more time to clean up later. Just let your number grow organically.
(Image by Eliens)