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“Following” on Twitter is an interesting concept. Everyone does it differently. Following means that you subscribe to someone’s updates. When they post something, you’ll see it on twitter or on your IM or your phone or whatever you’ve got set up. There are debates on how many people it makes sense to follow and whether it’s better to follow or be followed Blood Trails film . There are different following strategies from @scobleizer‘s custom written follow back script and @sol‘s “flow” on one side and on the other, people with tons of followers who follow very few in return like @techcrunch. Shel Israel has even posted a “follow policy“.

Last night, I remarked how amazed I was at how people find and follow me. I’ll get followers who I’ve never heard of who are following eight people (including me) and I have no idea who the other seven are. I also get followed by some people who follow 14,357 other people and I know only about 435 of them. So @TeachaKidd asked me: “How do you decide who to follow?

I get the email notices sent to me when someone new starts to follow me. When I get the notice, I ALWAYS click through. I figure that if you’ve taken the time to follow me, the least I can do is give you a click. From there, I’d say that I follow liberally, but judiciously.

Here are the things that will make me follow you:

  1. I know you. Like as in you’re my mom. Or a friend. Or someone who I invited to join. The most sure fire way to get a follow back from me is to be someone I know personally.
  2. You’re someone I’ve heard of. There are a lot of people I follow who are influential interesting people. I don’t know @scobleizer or @jowyang or @chrisbrogan, but they’re interesting people, so I follow just to stay in the loop.
  3. You’re interesting. Or even just not boring. It doesn’t take a lot to impress me. You’ve posted a few times and had some interesting things to say beyond, “I’m having lunch.” You don’t even need to be very interesting, just interesting. And I’ll usually follow you back.
  4. You @ people. I believe that the tools being developed in social media today are conversational tools, not publishing tools. If you’re participating in conversations, I’m pretty likely to want to hear what you’re talking about. There are some notable exceptions, like @hotdogsladies…who is just funny. Even @tweetjeebus talks to people on Twitter

And as you might expect, there are a few things that will make me NOT follow you:

  1. It’s not in English. I’m sure it’s interesting, I just can’t read it. I wish I could, really, but my Mandarin isn’t what it used to be.
  2. You have a cartoon avatar, a cutesy 1996 Internet name like ILoveHorses, and there’s no personal URL. You’ll notice that the people who seem to be (and I say “seem” because I can’t validate this) using twitter “best” (again, whatever that means), use their real names and let you know who they are. If between your name, your avatar, and your URL, I can’t find you at a conference…I’ll generally pass. Kthxbai!
  3. You follow 8,742 people and have 235 followers. You are a spammer. You’re doing exactly what email spammers do. You’re throwing out as many links as you can hoping to get a few nibbles. And there are a few people who follow you back. And all of a sudden, you think you’re popular. You’re not. You’re a spammer. Spam.
  4. You are a robot. Generally, if you’re a robot just posting web links, I’m not going to follow. Unless it’s something I’m really interested in. But I do wish you’d come out from your robot shell and start interacting with people as well. Thanks for the info, but come be human with us. Are you listening to me @sethgodin?!

Keep in mind that these are guidelines, not rules. I make exceptions all the time. And if I don’t follow you, could just be that I fell behind. I’m following 461 people as of this post. I think that might be a few too many, but seems to be working when I combine it with IM alerts for the people I really want to hear from.

What about you? Are you a “follow many” or “follow few” person? How do you decide?