Cleaning up my Twitter friends

18 May 2011 10:52

In the last few weeks, my online presence has been a bit subdued. This is my first blog post in a month, and I’ve been using Twitter only about half as much as usual. As a result of this, each time I do turn on my Twitter client I have a lot of messages to read.� A lot of these messages I find entirely uninteresting, due to the fact that I follow a lot of fellow writers who mostly only tweet about their own work and never socialize.

Every now and then, I also receive e-mails from Twitter that some new person is following me. These usually fall into 4 categories:

  • Spam accounts (for instance: I once mentioned "cholesterol" in response to a friend posting a picture of his food, after which I gained 4 followers that promoted all sorts of diet stuff)
  • IT companies (I am a software engineer. I’m guessing they’re looking for employees. Sorry guys, not interested)
  • Family, friends (or family of friends in some cases) who decided to give Twitter a try (auto follow-back)
  • Fellow writers

Now that last one is interesting. Roughly half of those fellow writers end up following me due to mutual people we follow, and the other half use some sort of app to auto-follow me. Some of those people are undoubtedly looking for writers to socialize with, but I’m guessing the majority of them are trying to expand the amount of Twitter followers they have to "build their platform", a phrase often heard in both traditional and self-publishing circles. In layman’s terms: they’re looking for potential readers.

They’re doing it wrong

Ok, so maybe I don’t "get it", but why are you targeting fellow writers if want to sell your book? Sure, most good writers also tend to read a lot, but they’re not the people you want to reach. Why should a writer help promote your work if they have their own stuff to worry about? The people you really want to reach are reviewers and passionate readers who don’t write themselves.

Still, those automated tools they used to get more followers sounded interesting, and being the software engineer that I am I decided to check them out. Most of them are actually quite simple: you give a list of users whose followers you consider interesting (combined with a few keywords) and it makes a list of those people you should try to get as followers. These tools then automatically follow them, in the hope that they follow you back (and if they don’t, they unfollow them after a few days).

Seeing as most of these solutions require paid subscriptions, I was rather hesitant to use them. So I decided to make my own instead (a Master’s Degree in Computer Science does come in handy).


The first feature I built into my new Twitter app was the ability to make lists of:

  • People who don’t follow me back
  • People who follow me, but aren’t followed by me
  • People who I stopped following but still appear in my lists

Each of these lists also provides the options to remedy or ignore the situation. As a result of these generated lists, I followed 10 new people, and unfollowed about a 100 who weren’t following me back. As a result, my friend/follower ratio has become much healthier. The next step of course is to add the ability to seek out new potential followers and get them to follow me back, but I am confident I’ll get that to work as well. The idea is simple:

  • Make a list of people whose followers I am interested in
  • Enter keywords I am looking for (or that I want to avoid, such as "writer" or "author")
  • Optionally make a list of people I consider "exemplary followers", as a basis for comparison with potential new followers

Based on this, I should be able to ensure I target only those people who might be interested in buying my books. Of course, having followers is just the start. Keeping them is probably the hard part, and the key to that is to realize they are persons, not commodities. I’m no expert, but I’ve found that my most loyal followers aside from those I know in real life, are those I interact with.