I’ve seen this strategy pushed all the time and tried it myself on Twitter. I didn’t just do automatic follow-backs either; I regularly retweeted, shared cool content, joined in conversations, etc. This took a fair amount of time to do properly (sifting through all the material to find the articles I thought merited retweets, for example), and as the number of people I followed grew, my stream became so noisy I began to be unable to find quality content or the people I actually wanted to talk to.
I know, I know, Tweetdeck. But all Tweetdeck does is allow you to divide people into lists, and show those lists in different columns. It’s still the same amount of information to read. And most people don’t have time to read that much information. I began to realize that, in fact, most people weren’t reading the information I was sharing. The whole “I’ll follow you if you follow me” game was resulting in a torrent of what I like to call “Fake Follows:” follows in which neither person actually reads anything the other person is sharing, instead using lists and circles to avoid each other, while boosting up Follower count.
So when I got the opportunity to start over again on Google+, I decided to try something different. I don’t feel obligated to circle someone when they’ve circled me. A revolutionary thought! Instead, if I have the time, I go look at the person’s posts that are visible to me, and I decide whether or not to add the person to my circles based on how interesting she is to me. And if someone starts posting up a storm about topics that make me feel stressed or bored, I remove them from my circles. (For instance, anyone who starts complaining all the time about Google+ while not being constructive or actually saying much of anything? Kaput. Life is seriously too short.) Meanwhile, if people who are reading me comment intelligently about something I’m sharing, I’m very likely to check them out again and see if their posts have become more interesting, giving them another chance to be added to my circles.
What I am left with is a much higher quality stream than I would otherwise have, without the charade that I’m following people who I never read. I circle people who I think are interesting without worrying about whether they’ll find me interesting in return. And I curate the “Amy feed” knowing that if anybody finds it extremely dull, they can always remove me from circles, which means I don’t have to censor myself from sharing on a variety of topics.
I don’t think Fake Following is effective at marketing or spreading the word about your book or getting people to spend money. What I think is truly effective is following people who give you value: with whom you can engage on a personal level, or who feed your artistic spirit (I follow some great photographers for this reason), or who give you interesting food for thought. These are the people who will enrich your life, and if you begin to develop a relationship or even a friendship with them, these are the people who will support you in your endeavors. You can’t fake this support; it must be earned.
So for those of you on Google+, I encourage you to share some posts publicly, so that other users can tell if they might enjoy adding you to their circles. And for those of you on Google+ or Twitter, I encourage you to choose authenticity over the Fake Follow, to follow people because you are truly interested in them, not just to add to your numbers.
How about you? How do you decide who to follow on social media? Are you interested in following people you don’t know personally?