Twitter: Smiffy’s Rules of Following


Despite my initial reservations, I cannot deny the value of Twitter as both a (social/professional) networking tool and a source of news/information.

Like fire and electricity, Twitter presents hazards if untamed; follow too many and/or indiscriminately, we risk information overload and excessive, unproductive, use of time. If we use Twitter purely as a means of socialisation and have time to spare (dare I say waste?) this may not be an issue. As a professional tool, however, our Twitter usage needs careful management.

This article outlines some of the Rules of Following I use to manage my Twitter usage. Note that these rules are constantly evolving as they must – because the medium itself is evolving as more people use it and patterns of usage change.

Value and SNR

In my use of Twitter, I strive to gain data of the greatest value and highest Signal-To-Noise Ratio (SNR).

I estimate the value of data based on whether it:

  • Provides me with data relevant to my profession.
  • Improves communication with my existing ‘tribe’ (clients, vendors, peers).
  • Allows me to expand my tribe.
  • Stimulates me by making me feel interested or just generally good without excessive distraction. (Makes me more productive rather than less productive.)

Follow Your Tribe

As a rule, I don’t go out of my way to find people to follow on Twitter. The exception to this is members of my current tribe, which includes both those with whom I already communicate and also those whom I know through mailing lists and bodies such as the Web Access Initiative and the Guild of Accessible Web Designers (GAWDS). I feel that these followings have already strengthened ties with several members of my tribe.

Follow Your Followers?

Unless you have some specific need (like you are doing some form of research,) I would advise that blindly following all who follow you is not a good idea.

When I receive a notification that “So-and-so is now following you on Twitter!” I will visit that person’s profile page (assuming that it is a person and not a ‘bot) and perform an evaluation before deciding to follow, ignore or block that person (or ‘bot.)

Evaluating a Profile

Until such time as there is a means of producing an accessible flow-chart in a web page, I will try to describe in words how I evaluate a follower from their profile.

  1. Do I know this person?
  2. Is this someone with whom I might want to network?
  3. Does this person provide data I might find valuable?

If the answer to any of these is ‘yes’, I will follow them. Other than the first point, I will attempt to assign a value score based on their profile. Given a high enough score, I will follow. If the value appears to be low, I will ignore. If this looks like a spammer or similar low-life, I will block.

  • Is the profile filled in? (Positive score.)
  • Are there any updates? (If no, negative score unless just joined.)
  • Are there a vast number of updates every day? (Probable zero score and ignore – too much information is too much time spent wading through it.)
  • Does the profile really tell me anything? (Positive score.)
  • Creepy profile photo? (Seriously; and I mean creepy, not just artistic. Negative score.)
  • Updates that make me feel uncomfortable. (Hateful, bigoted, intolerant. Zero value, ignore.)
  • Is there a link to web site? (Positive score.)
  • Are the profile or updates in a language/character set I cannot read? (Zero value, ignore.)
  • Does this look like a spammer? (Score set to minus infinity, blocked.)

Spotting Spammers

What makes me think that I have been followed by a spammer?

  • Very high number of following, small number of followers. (Remember what I said about not following automatically? Yep, that’s where that small number of followers came from.)
  • No posts
  • 1 or 2 posts with a link to something that they just got for “free”.
  • Link in the 1 or 2 posts is the same as the link in the profile.
  • Profile photograph is of a young woman (who would probably be unamused to find that her Flickr/Facebook/etcetera image is being used in this way.)
  • User name that makes little or no sense (looks like random characters.)

Follow Forever?

Whilst it is very unlikely that I would stop following anyone in my tribe, anyone else whom I may follow is subject to re-evaluation.  Some may think that this might sound like a brutal approach but it should be noted that:

  • Your time is precious.
  • You don’t really owe them anything.
  • It’s not like you’re going to give them a kicking or anything – you are just stopping a subscription to their feed.

Criteria for my ceasing to follow include:

  • Updates too frequent (most common reason for me)
  • Updates not relevant.
  • Updates make me feel uncomfortable.

If you are a follower of mine who I have ceased to follow, don’t take it personally – it’s most likely that you simply have more to to say than I have time to listen.


I hope this provides an insight into how I manage my Twitter followings.  This is what works for me; those who are overwhelmed by Twitter may find this useful for ideas but I would say this: Make your own rules, find what works, and be prepared to change them.


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