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Who not to follow on Twitter! – A guide for public sector employees.

Who not to follow on Twitter

For public sector employees venturing out onto Twitter, finding out who’s who can be confusing and frustrating. While there are untold numbers of individuals and organizations sharing valuable information and contributing to a healthy flow of information, there are also oodles of people just trying to make a buck – usually at your expense.

This little guide should help you wade through the mire and figure out who is worth following on Twitter and more importantly, who isn’t.

There are many types of accounts you would want to avoid on Twitter but most of them fall into one of these categories: Spammers and Follower hoarders.


Spamming by the way is prohibited by The Twitter Rules and can lead to account suspension, although you wouldn’t know it to see the numbers of Twitter spammers out there..

Spammers fall into 2 main categories: Direct spammers and reply spammers

Direct spammers
These have become a plague lately. They will likely @mention you in a post with a link to whatever they are trying to sell.

How to spot them:
Since these are throwaway accounts (the spammers know they will be reported and the account suspended), these accounts usually:

  • Have names made up of random letters @markldusepxyna
  • Have 0 followers and 0 followed
  • Have a link to a commercial offer of some kind or worse, to malware.
Reply Spammers
These people will scan Twitter and pounce on anyone mentioning anything even remotely related to what they are selling.

For instance, I was live-tweeting at a conference lately and tweeted the speaker’s comment about how they had studied online games like World of Warcraft to identify social behaviours online. Within 10 minutes, I had received several @mentions offering me “gaming secrets” and other gaming services.

Note: A caveat here, there is a difference between someone offering genuine help because you mentioned something in a tweet, and someone trying to sell you something because you happened to mention something on Twitter.

For example:
A while back, I tweeted that I was looking for recommendations for a monitoring platform for my organization. I quickly got an @reply from the president and a vp of marketing of one well known monitoring solution asking me if I needed any information on their product. In this case, it was a very legitimate reply because I had stated a need.

Follower Hoarders
These individuals only have one goal: to accumulate as many followers as possible. They do this either through simple vanity, or because they are trying to establish themselves as some kind of authority (social media guru, business/emarketing specialist, etc), or they want to impress potential clients into purchasing their real-world services.

There are different kind of follower hoarders, some worse than others.

The @mention fishers
These individuals will mention 5-6 people in a tweet, usually with a flattering line like Top tweeps to follow @joebloe, @plainjane, @ etc

How to spot them:
This is a bit harder because there are people who will do this very legitimately; in the course of follow Fridays for example (#FollowFriday and #FollowFridays). The point is to shine the light on people you think are worthy of being followed.

So, how do you spot the fakes? First, ask yourself if you have interacted with these people recently. Did you exchange a few tweets last week? Did you meet them (even virtually) at an event of some sort? Did they RT one of your tweets recently or @mention you for something specific? Go their account and check out their Twitter stream. If you see 7,8,9 tweets in a row where all they do is mention a bunch of accounts, chances are they are hoarders.

Spam Followers
These individuals are counting on you having an auto-follow mechanism in place. Their tactic is simple:

  • Follow 500 new accounts
  • Wait 24h-48h
  • Stop following everyone who doesn’t follow back

This is known as a Follow Churn and is considered cause for account suspension. (Please read Following Rules and Best Practices.)

How to spot hoarders?
Hoarders typically share these characteristics:

  • Low number of tweets (this is not always the case but it is a good indicator)
  • Chain repeat tweets (tweeting the same thing over and over, and over, and over, and… you get the point)
  • They have a Twitter Follow/Follower ratio well below 1.0

What is a Twitter ratio? That is the amount of people you follow vs the number of people who follow you. (To calculate yours, simply divide the number of people who follow you by the number of people you follow)

As a general rule:

  • A ratio of less than 1.0 indicates that you are seeking knowledge (and Twitter Friends), but not getting much Twitter Love in return. You might also be a hoarder!
  • A ratio of around 1.0 means you are respected among your peers. Many people think that a ratio of around 1.0 is the best – you’re listening and being listened to.
  • A ratio of 2.0 or above shows that you are a popular person and people want to hear what you have to say. You might be a thought leader in your community.
  • A TFF Ratio 10 or higher indicates that you’re either a Rock Star in your field or you are an elitist and you cannot be bothered by Twitter’s mindless chatter. You like to hear yourself talk. Luckily others like to hear you talk, too.

Note: The above was adapted from the list at tffratio.com

TechCrunch did a good piece on the Twitter ratio a while back: Twitter’s Golden Ratio

Bottom line, if you are following many more people as are following you, your motives are suspect!

Other types of accounts and behaviours you might want to avoid

Phantom accounts
These are accounts people set up to boost their own stats. I have hears of marketers who have 500 plus fake accounts that automatically retweet content in order to try to make their content trend.

How to spot them?
Go to their stream. If all you see are RTs of one or two accounts, then these are probably Phantom accounts.

By the way, Twitter has strict rules on automation. I suggest you read Automation Rules and Best Practices.

Any of these types of accounts

  • Accounts with a profile picture that feature an obviously photoshopped, scandily clad woman or man
  • Accounts with no bio and/or picture
  • Accounts that promise to increase your Twitter followers or help you make money with Twitter, Facebook, etc
  • Accounts that only tweet their own content, never engage anyone (@mention) and never RT anyone – they are only these to push their wares, not to share and interact with fellow tweeps. They have completely missed the point of social media.
  • Accounts that only post drivel about themselves: My dog is sad today 🙁 . Forgot to brush my teeth this morning. Aunt Rose is in town again (no kidding, do a quick search – you will be surprised!)

I was at a social media conference recently and the keynote speaker, Dr. James Norrie, Associate Professor at Ryerson University, talked about social media as a new social space. In order for an individual to be accepted into that social space, he/she needs to conform to the social etiquette that has developed in that space.

This is what this article was about. Understanding the etiquette around Twitter use will help ensure that your foray into the Twitterverse is a successful one!

Alain Lemay

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Christopher Whitaker

I don’t know if you can always use the ratio as a rule of thumb. My ratio is well below 1 (.49). I follow a lot more people than follow me. Some of it’s off-set by the news accounts I follow (and those accounts that do not follow back at all like LordVoldemort7 – who is hilarious)

Megan Price

Thanks for the post. I reported my first twitter spammer today – felt bad about it, but you gave me the confidence to do right by twitter! And of course recognize his spamming tactics!

Alain Lemay

As I mentioned, the ratio alone does not mean someone is a hoarder but it can be an indicator. And of course, in the beginning, you will very likely be following more people than follow you. But if you are following 1600 people and only have 400 followers, something is off. Combine that with other clues and you can make an informed decision. You have to use your judgement. I aim for a ratio close to 1 myself.