November 27, 2014

Twitter Now Prohibits Automatic Follow Back

Twitter auto follow back

This week Twitter revoked its permission for apps that allow users to automatically follow back other accounts.

In other words, if someone voluntarily follows your Twitter account first, you cannot use an app to automatically follow them back.  You must manually press a button if you want to follow them back.

Twitter Automatic Follow Back Language Dropped

This was confirmed in the Twitter Developer forums by a Twitter employee who goes by the online name of @truebe, responsible for “Twitter Platform Operations.”  Truebe noted on July 4th:

“We removed the clause permitting automated follow-back, as we would prefer that users manually review their new followers and then choose whether or not they would like to follow back individual accounts. We understand that some users feel pressured to follow back;  however, if not all of the accounts which followed you contained content which interested you or were gaming the system for your attention, would you still want to follow them back if they weren’t actually interested in you or your content? Accounts which follow-back may quickly find their home-timeline useless due to too much noise if they didn’t carefully pick and choose who to follow. We still welcome services which perform analyses on recent followers and highlight those that may interest you, but only if these services only allow you to followback each account individually and manually.”

Some are applauding the move.

Shelly Kramer of V3 Integrated Marketing, who is very active on Twitter, told us in an interview with Small Business Trends that she supports Twitter’s move:

“Auto-following allows spammers and other people who are interested only in building huge networks to ‘automate’ the process of doing so. Which is lame. Followers who aren’t strategic, targeted and with whom you ultimately want to engage in some manner are worthless numbers intended to game the system.
I have as many commitments on my time as any other marketer or business owner does, so the ‘oh, but we don’t have time for this’ argument doesn’t work. If you want to build a network, realize that doing it online is no different than doing it in ‘real’ life. There’s no ‘auto-follow’ button IRL, don’t expect for it to exist on social networks.”

However, others on the Twitter Developers board criticized the move. Critics view the restriction as Twitter dictating how to use the social media service.

A user by the name of @NameSugar said, “I don’t personally read my home timeline, I have tweetdeck to filter through it for interesting things. I want to follow as many (real) accounts as I can and sometimes drinking from the firehose is my choice. It’s not up to Twitter to manage how I personally use Twitter.”

Another, @JerryBoutot, predicts that Twitter will go the way of MySpace and become less popular, if it becomes too restrictive. He goes on to say that Twitter is failing to recognize how users want to use the platform, noting that “Your users have turned Twitter into a web of microconnections,” and that the original idea of a place where you let your friends know what you’re up to “is long gone.”

A Sign of Twitter Crack Downs to Come?

This move leaves some wondering if this is a signal of more restrictions to come.

For instance, there’s the recent spate of Twitter account suspensions.  We’ve noted a number of legitimate business Twitter accounts being suspended in error recently.  Based on comments and emails we’ve received, those types of suspensions are ongoing.

The suspensions are not necessarily related to auto-followbacks (one of our smaller team accounts was suspended in error, and we do not automatically follow back).  But it leaves the impression that Twitter is getting more restrictive.

Apps such as SocialOomph have been forced to change and no longer allow Twitter automatic follow back activity.  In an email to users on July 4th announcing that automatic followback would no longer be allowed, SocialOoomph noted,  “We’re as dumbfounded by Twitter’s decision as you are.”

Clearly there are differing points of view on this topic. What’s your position on Twitter automatic follow backs?

More in: 16 Comments ▼

Anita Campbell - CEO


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses, and also serves as CEO of TweakYourBiz.com.

16 Reactions

  1. Twitter wants to make it so that its NOT a business platform unless you purchase their own services.

    It stinks, but its understandable from a profit standpoint.

    • Hi Richard,

      Yes, that’s a complaint that’s being leveled against Twitter as well as Facebook.

      Certainly I don’t begrudge any site making money – I believe in capitalism, after all. But I prefer not to have overly restrictive rules, either.

      Speaking for small business people, it makes biz owners want to invest LESS time, effort and money in a platform when they’re concerned that the rug will be pulled out from under accounts they’ve spent years building up.

      When you’re not a household name, it takes considerable effort to earn thousands or tens of thousands of followers, as many small businesses have done. And I wonder how many Twitter employees realize what it’s like for folks outside of Hollywood, the Fortune 500 and Silicon Valley to generate a following? For instance, the small biz people I know who’ve had their accounts suspended feel betrayed … one told me “sucker punched”….

      – Anita

  2. Hi Anita,

    I think it is a good move as I wonder why anyone would want to automatically follow back unless you want to have completely unfiltered followers. What we need to understand is it is Twitter’s platform and they set the rules and then it is up to us how we use it. They will make decisions as we all do that will not be popular with some people. It would be interesting to know why they made the change now and not before.

    • Hi Susan,

      Some people thought auto followbacks had already been prohibited, probably because some apps voluntarily moved away from the practice previously.

      Years ago (4, 5, 6 years ago when Twitter was smaller) we did automatically follow back. We stopped the practice when it simply became unworkable. We got hit with spam accounts following us. We didn’t want to end up following spammers and porn accounts — which happens when you automatically follow back.

      Now we try to follow selectively although we miss a lot of accounts that way.

      As to Twitter making decisions that are unpopular, we certainly understand that! Every business goes through that – ours included.

      – Anita

    • I couldn’t agree more on your point about waiting to make this decision. I feel it is way overdue. I want real followers. People interested in my content as I only follow accounts who offer me content I am interested in.

  3. Glad they made the change official. Helps the credibility of the platform as they seek more advertisers too.

    • Hi Robert,

      You raise an important point about credibility. While we don’t like restrictions (hate them!), I also recognize that site owners must exert some rules to keep a site from being overrun by spammers. So I get that.

      Over at BizSugar.com (the social sharing site we run), we also have some rules in place. They haven’t always been popular when we’ve implemented them. But the reason we are forced to put them into place is precisely because of spammers, who will make a site unusable for legitimate users if you let them have free rein.

      It’s my hope that Twitter will make better distinctions between legitimate business users — and the kinds of activities they want — and true spam. Go harder after the true spammers….

      – Anita

  4. Jonathan Weavers

    Hey Anita-

    Your last post [Twitter Now Prohibits Automatic Follow Back] was freaking awesome. I have gone ahead and added your stuff to my Feedly account. Please keep me updated if you post anywhere else.

    Keep rocking –

    Jon

  5. Happy after knowing that twitter made official change.

  6. Social Networking just got WAYYYY more difficult for the majority of SMB owners who are just getting their networking started. It seems just as with everything else on the internet, specialization is going to be needed on twitter just like it is with FB now. Perhaps that’s why many experts say that Social Marketing is plateauing?

  7. Anita’s comment about the possibility of the rug being pulled away under you reminded me how important it is to build your core community on a platform where you can mostly set your own rules, and that’s unlikely to shut down without you pushing the button. That would be your own blog, and/or email list. Maybe those tools will go extinct or be completely transformed in a couple years, but probably not overnight.

    I personally want to have that initial interaction with every person who connects with me on Twitter, but I also understand that that might not be as great for other types of businesses and organizations.

  8. Happy to see this change but am concerned about the recent uptick in account suspensions – legitimate accounts, that is.

  9. I do believe is a way to avoid “follower spam” and I see it as a contributing factor to a business credibility.

    The account suspensions is a problem though, especially if we are not sure of the reasons behind it

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