My Most Asked Twitter Question, Answered


My most-read blog post of all time, hands-down, is my twitter follow-back policy. It took me a long time to develop that policy, tweak it, and think about it. Before I ever wrote about the policy, I tweeted about it. And both the kudos and stark resistance I encountered helped me refine it.

Finally, one day, I woke up with something on my mind and the post poured out. It’s from the heart. It really works for me. Most people who comment or tweet me about the post tell me they love it, or at least most parts of it. About ten percent tell me they hate it. Some are extremely courteous, like Ubaid Ansari. Others treat me like you would Attila The Hun, which used to hurt quite a bit.

Now? Well, passionate personal attacks are still hurtful to me, but I guess I’ve grown used to them over time. Plus, I take solace in this Hollywood axiom:

“If they aren’t talking about you, you’re doing something wrong.” – Unknown

Unknown was pretty smart.

Anyway. In my policy, I state that I follow everyone back, with just a few caveats, like obvious spambots or people who have never tweeted.

The result of following everyone back is that I now follow over 200,000 people. So – fairly, I think – several people per week point out to me that if I’m following that many people, I can’t possibly read most of their tweets (and I actually say this in my policy). If I’m not reading them, these astute folks point out, then maybe my follow-back isn’t that sincere after all.

Maybe. Perhaps all my follow-back does to people is (a) say “thank you for your kindness” and (b) free them up to follow more people – the mechanics of which I explain in my follow-back policy.

“If they aren’t talking about you, you’re doing something wrong.” – Unknown

Unknown was pretty smart.

But there’s more to my policy than that. Twitter really works for me. And – because of the resistance from my policy’s detractors – I’ve thought long and hard about how I experience Twitter differently than many folks do.

I think I finally stumbled upon something that will help me articulate the difference. Here goes.

Most people experience Twitter as I once did… as a binary equation: either you’re part of the 200 million strangers using Twitter, or we follow each other and you’re part of my small in-group. It’s yes/no; friend/stranger.

That’s how we do Facebook and LinkedIn: I know you or I don’t; you’re in or you’re out. I grew up in the Northeast, just a bit outside NYC. All the meanest New Yorkers were exiled to my town. And their children? Those were my peers. We Yankees are raised to ask, “Do I know you?” These are my people. We don’t like strangers.

Perhaps all my follow-back does to people is (a) say “thank you for your kindness” and (b) free them up to follow more people – the mechanics of which I explain in my follow-back policy.

I never quite fit in there (and as a kid, I got beaten up a lot). To me, one of the great joys of life is meeting strangers, even if just for a minute before flitting on to the next new thing. Ever watch a Labrador retriever meet new dogs? …Or new humans? …Or new sticks, even? That’s me.

So – at long last – here is how I regard following 200,000 or more people on Twitter: I think of my interactions as a series of concentric circles, with me in the center. (As you read this, put yourself in the center of your own concentric circles).

  • Beyond the widest circle is everyone I have yet to meet, and there are a couple hundred million of them. I want to meet them all!
  • Then there are all those thousands of people I follow back. They and I have followed each other, which is at least a cursory kindness – like smiling at a stranger you pass on the sidewalk. “Hello, fellow human”, you each say with your eyes. “You matter”, as my idol Angela Maiers likes to say.
  • Now that I have a person in my widest of wide circles, I will take any excuse to draw them in closer to my next circle. I’ve even created a Twitter list called “The Circle” which has many, many of these folks in it.
  • If someone engages me in anything like a genuine conversation, they’re in. Not “Thanks for following”, and certainly not “Like my Facebook page.” Rather, anything even remotely thoughtful, no matter how lame, earns access. “You live in Florida? I went to Disney in 1976! Have a great day!” Boom, you’re in!
  • This list, “The Circle”, is where I spend a lot of my time. I often re-tweet fascinating links and remarks from my friends there. But that’s still not all.
  • Once you’re on my real radar and I’m on yours, we often converse, albeit 140 characters at a time. Over time – years, often – a true friendship forms. That’s how I met many of my best friends from around the world in the past 4 years. That’s how Shawn Murphy and I met, and started Switch and Shift. That’s how Shawn and I met YouTern’s CEO, Mark Babbitt, who is one of Three Musketeers with Shawn and me now (which I suppose makes Dave Ellis, d’Artagnan). It’s how we met about half of the contributing authors on this blog.
  • I could go on with this all day, but I think you get the point.

Maybe when I follow someone back, some think that’s bogus and completely insincere; a false gesture that means less than nothing, as my detractors contest. Maybe.

But that’s not where I’m coming from when I do it. To me, following back is a simple gesture of courtesy, of recognition of another’s kindness, and of their humanity.

And it’s an invitation! “Now you’re part of my massive extended family”, it says, “Welcome! Let’s get to know each other, cousin!!” If someone never engages further, that’s fine. If they wait a year before connecting any deeper, that’s cool too. I’m the host who’s let you into my party, to meet my friends and join the conversation. If you’re satisfied at that level, then how cool is that?!?!

Maybe when I follow someone back, some think that’s bogus and completely insincere. Maybe.

But that’s not where I’m coming from when I do it.

Revile me for how I experience Twitter if you like. But please know this: I find it extremely enjoyable, and I want you to as well. That is my only aspiration for you.

As we say around Switch and Shift all the time, “No pressure, only fun.” You define fun on your terms.

If that includes me, I’m honored.


For another of my top social media posts, try It’s Time to Kill #ff Dead!


Art by: KingdomT

Ted Coiné is a Forbes Top 10 Social Media Power Influencer and an Inc. Top 100 Leadership and Management Expert. This stance at the crossroads of social and leadership put him in a unique perspective to identify the demise of Industrial Age management and the birth of the Social Age. The result, after five years of trend watching, interviewing and intensive research, is his latest book, A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive, which he co-authored with Mark Babbitt. An inspirational speaker and popular blogger, Ted is a pioneer of the Human Side of Business (#humanbiz) movement. He is also a serial business founder and three-time CEO. When not speaking at conferences and corporate functions, Ted advises CEOs on how to become Truly Social Leaders, or “Blue Unicorns” as they put it in A World Gone Social, in order to bring their companies into the Social Age. Ted’s advice: “Change is only scary if it’s happening to you. Instead, bring the change your competitors dread. That is something only a Social Age business leader can accomplish.”

  • Dear Ted,
    Thanks for this great Blog!
    In the 90’s, I lived couple of years in London while I was doing my higher education. The best thing I enjoyed while living there is the chance to meet Lots of people from all over the world (many of them are still my friends). It did not take me long to discover that my best hobby ever is to meet new & different types of people. My current work in higher education allows me to do that to certain extent. But Social Media in general & twitter in particular is by far my favorite channel to satisfy this craving of mine. I can read & communicate (sometimes) with people with different backgrounds & interests.
    Mr. Coine, In my country there is quote that says: “a tiny house can host hundreds of friends” and I usually add to it that “a good heart can host thousands of friends”. Now, after reading your blog, please let me add: “a great mind like yours can have thousands of followers”.  

    Have a great weekend!


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  • LitSuppGuru


    I appreciate your transparency and I agree with you. The connections are the most important. You never know how they might grow at some point in the future. That is cool that you met Shawn via Twitter. Thanks for the reciprocal follow this morning! 


  • Thanks for sharing Ted. I share a very similar philosophy and follow everyone back as well :-)

  • I always enjoy reading what you write, Ted because not only do you have excellent things to say, but your writing is so clear and inviting. I especially like the visual imagery of the circles. It helps my own understanding of Twitter. Thanks for that! ps. Hope I’m in one of the inner, inner circles :-)

  • I like your follow back policy so much that I also read this article. I recently watched a TEDTalk and heard social media and internet interactions articulated in a way that goes way beyond “professional social media” to the art of relationship & culture sharing. My view of Twitter & Facebook in particular has shifted because of that and your thoughts have shifted me even further along. I love it that you’ve developed “real life” friendships and working partnerships as a result of the formerly formidable (to me) challenge of the 140 characters. Funny thing is that before today I didn’t actually know who you are, what you did, or anything about you. [Still climbing out of my shelter. :-) ]  Thanks to Twitter, that is no longer true. 

  • In all sincerity, now I get Twitter. Not just because of this post, but watching you and others. Learning from the tweet exchanges how others were actually using the medium to connect, to be themselves, and to just enjoy the conversation.

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  • PeterPrasad SF

    HEY, can all your folks come over to my house for barbecue? I’ll send the Lear Jet.  

  • Ted, thanks a lot for sharing your so very thoughtful view on social media and twitter, and the respect you bring forward to everyone who has a potentially differing opinion about that. I like your way of being conscious about you using twitter, and in general about communication. I share your perspective on technology: using existing technology gives lot more means to communicate with each other and at the same time lifts the need to define for oneself how to use those tools, as well as defining how to communicate face-to-face, of course. So your thoughts have been very helpful to reflect my own habits. thanks again for your insights!

  • Wailana Jabir

    I absolutely loved your post.Let me tell you why.I was not too much of a twitter person, Until i realised there was a lot I could do with it, of it, by it and the like,specially being a media student. Alongside the realisation, also started keeping close check on my following-follower ratio. It wasn’t even hours back that I told a cousin of mine. “Woah guess what I have 86 followers now”( I feel like a speck in the desert.But never-mind,i guess..i should be able to do better and faster soon).And then, you follow me, I feel elated. I look up to to her from my laptop and say,”Hey,’its 87 now” .Then, this happens, I read your posts, both, the about your policy and this one.I found it absolutely fascinating because it wraps the excitement I felt about every new follower from the 14th till you with absolute sense and justification. I feel nice. And I think everything is eventually about being able to feel nice and make the other feel nice.
    I know some things are just as simple as,
    “How do you like your coffee”.
    “I like it black”
    “Because I do”( and then theres no further reasoning needed.)
    But, I just thought that you had to know Why your post kept me glued, that yes,while I tell you this, I even read it out to my cousin.

    Lovely following you.

  • Jamiann Turner

    This was awesome! I’m new to twitter and well this was beautifully articulated.

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  • How are you with the other social networking sites, @TedCoine:disqus ? Are you like @JessicaNorthey who has a similar Twitter policy as you — but follows far fewer on Facebook, Instagram, and Google+ compared to the number who follow her? Are you the same? Or, do you replicate your Twitter following tactic across social media?

  • Laurie Stark

    I disagreed with your follow back policy post but then I read this post and now I get it and I think it makes sense. Good explanation! And congrats on changing at least one stranger’s mind – that’s a hard thing to do. :)

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