There are tons of valid reasons to follow folks. I’m not trying to give guidance so much as to be more transparent, since people ask about this :) I follow people mainly though not solely for:
- Communication with folks in our interest areas;
- To provide tech support (answer questions) for people;
- To compile accounts that I can search through for good tweets.
Categories of accounts I have followed include (it changes all the time), in no particular order off the top of my head:
- People who help other Twitter users;
- People who contact us for tech support;
- People who send us Twitter tips that we use;
- People that we have retweeted;
- People we discover who are helpful and engaging in general;
- Popular accounts or real people (not automated accounts) that tweet twitter tips;
- People we have engaged with on blogs or elsewhere;
- People I expect to be engaging with;
- Some people who RT us;
- Developers of some Twitter apps;
- Certain new followers sometimes;
- Twitter-focused people filtered from lists or groups;
- People we like chatting with;
- Family and friends;
- Authors of Twitter posts that we have tweeted;
- Accounts for blogs that publish Twitter posts that we have tweeted;
- And probably for several other reasons I’m not remembering at the moment!
How we follow
One of us will often go through our stream a few times a week and open a new tab for each person in it that we want to follow. Then we go through each tab and follow each person that we aren’t already following. Plus I do a lot of bookmarking to be followed later, and then open all bookmarks from time to time, follow all one by one, then delete bookmarks. I’ll also run certain searches as RSS through Yahoo! pipes to filter out certain categories of Tweets, then examine and further filter or sort the results in a spreadsheet and create a set of Twitter user URLs to import into Firefox as a group of tabs, and open them all and go through each one and follow. Sometimes I’ll grab the last 3200 tweets from a certain search (the API limit) and just filter and sort it using spreadsheet formulas before reviewing the top results. I have also tried other, similar methods for compiling and filtering lists of Twitter users.
Despite what some people think, you can never be a top account on Twitter just by following lots of people in order to get followers. Our ranking among most-followed accounts drops rapidly as Twitter continues growing. We’re not even close to being one of the top 1,500 most followed accounts on Twitter and will probably drop out of the top 2,000 soon.
What about auto-following?
Though we follow lots of folks who aren’t already following us, most of the kinds of accounts from the list above follow us first, meaning in essence we just have to figure out eventually who to follow back. So it might seem logical to use auto-follow, but the worst kinds of people we follow happen when we turn it on. However, I’ve experimented with leaving it on and then using services to unfollow the very worst spammish accounts (as Chris Brogan and many other tops users recommend). Unfortunately, I may be doing this more often, because it’s very, very time consuming to follow all the people according to rules like the list above, and it’s very, very easy to autofollow and then use tools to unfollow the spam accounts that slip in.