Leadership Through Following – A Twitter Strategy

This post was originally written in 2014 and, at the end of 2020, not much has changed. What has changed is clients wanting magic tricks to become instant thought leaders. It doesn’t work that way.

“Leadership is a choice not a rank.”  Simon Sinek 

To follow or not to follow, that is the question and a highly debated topic.

Twitter is, in my opinion, the most public of all of the social networks. Though you can make your account private, unless you do, I feel that you should fully consider why I believe you should follow everyone* back.

It is in your following behavior that you demonstrate true leadership and, dare I say, the best way to grow your following.


Yes, there are #TeamFollowBack, #BirthdayClub, and #BuyMoreFollowers spam along with porn sites. Don’t follow them unless that is your industry.


Yes. It is your Twitter feed. You are able to run it the way you choose. However, if you plan on tweeting for a business or for your professional life, I’d ask you to consider it fully. But if you want to be that guy who has 50,000+ followers and only follows 78, be my guest. If that’s you, you probably won’t like the rest of this article.


Yes, it is way easier to manage tweets from under a hundred people. Did you really think you’d read every single tweet? Just the thought of it makes me stressed out.

One of my favorite parts of Twitter is that reading the tweets is a low-commitment, easy-to-handle task. When I’m waiting at the doctor, or waiting for my boss to sign checks, or have a few moments to spare, I can read Twitter. It’s easy to start and easy to stop.


Generosity is a key attribute of leadership. We all respond well to those who give more than they take. And when they ask for favors (retweets, links, store purchases) many of us are happy to oblige. We’re your biggest fans, so why not follow back?

Another form of generosity is spending 5-10 minutes a day in your home feed and responding to those people. Sage advice from Scott Stratten I saw years ago. I do it daily. Guess what? I meet new people. (Imagine that!)

Perception (aka Branding)

Do you want to be viewed as a jerk? I’ve had conversations with people who have hurt feelings (literally) because they were not followed back. Heck, I’ve been that person. We talk about you behind your back. If you’re using Twitter to boost your celebrity, get consulting gigs, or anything even remotely revolved around building your street cred, then following back is a must.


Because we irrationally adore celebrities, we tolerate their jerky behavior (read any tabloids lately?). Verified accounts allow people to skip Twitter’s ratios (see a few sections down). However, most of us are not celebrities but we act as if we do when we don’t return a follow.

Is one of your fans quoting you frequently? Quoting is promoting. Maybe you could follow that person, thank them, and even put them on a list called “frequent quoters,” “big fans,” or “appreciated.” I bet you’d encourage those people to keep promoting you. You’ll make a fan for life.

Personal Growth

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” ~ Aristotle

Keeping an open mind and allowing yourself to empathize, if not agree, with other people’s experiences, opinions, and perceptions is what makes you grow as a person.

When you’re notified that a person follows you on Twitter, you decide within 10-60 seconds if  you believe they have anything of value to offer you. What does that say about you?

Following Ratios*

*Excerpt from my post “Organize Your Twitter Stream: Use Lists.”

Like your cholesterol’s HDL versus LDL ratio, it’s important to shoot for a “good ratio.”  Carol Stephen

It sucks when you don’t realize you can only follow 2000 people and then you hit a following wall, literally. You can’t follow anyone else unless more people follow you. If you followed no one back and are following 2000, you’ve got a lot of work to do, my friend, both to follow and unfollow.

There are additional glass ceilings that you hit. I have experienced this over the last 13 years of managing accounts. You will hit another wall at 5,000, 9,000, 14,000, and 19,000.  It seems to me that the sweet spot is about 1.1 but Twitter says it depends on the individual account.

This is why I had to start unfollowing people who don’t follow back.  I really like who.unfollowed.me for this.

This is why I follow people back. The few exceptions are porn, how to get more users people, how to make money on the internet people, #TeamFollowBack (spammy, in my opinion), and eggs.

Only verfied accounts get to be non-follow-back-ers. This behavior can be viewed as arrogant, so proceed with caution.  You get back what you give.

As Twitter says,

Once you’ve followed 2000 users, there are limits to the number of additional users you can follow: this limit is different for every user and is based on your ratio of followers to following.

More Info: Twitter Help Center: FAQ about Following

The Secret

No one reads every tweet. It’s impossible. This is why lists are crucial.

Whether you want to be able to promote your clients, keep up on a group of people with common interests, or read about the goings on in Portland, lists are the key.

Do you remember the Twitter handle or name of that painter you wanted to get a bid from? Oh my! This was one of my problems. Putting people on lists by category (changes depending upon your account) really helps if you ever have to find someone. Lord love ya if you ever have to use Twitter’s search, the most frustrating experience next to removing red nail polish, but I digress.


I’m no celebrity yet I have over 16,000 followers. Why? I follow people back. I list them. I read tweets. I respond. I make connections. Whether you spend five minutes twice a day or several hours on Twitter, this strategy works. Why? We are all human and are wired for connection. There is also a dopamine reaction from a notification but that is another blog post.

9 responses to “Leadership Through Following – A Twitter Strategy”

  1. This: “When I’m waiting at the doctor, or waiting for my boss to sign checks, or have a few moments to spare, I can read Twitter.” That’s what makes Twitter accessible. I also love your advice about following back–especially people who quote you, retweet you, or converse with you.

    Another great post, my friend!

  2. Thanks for sharing another great post. I totally enjoyed it. I don’t understand why someone would leave the “egg head” look on a profile.

    I’m kind of surprised at a few of the folks who don’t follow me back as I do interact with them but my feelings aren’t hurt. LOL

  3. 100% agree about lists. If you’re not on a list of mine, I’m not actually reading what you post. I even go so far as to enable tweet push notifications for the people I never want to miss a beat from.

    What I would also add (since I’m totally guilty of this!) is to make sure you engage with as wide of an audience as possible if you want to grow your following. I am bad about only tweeting to the same 10 or so people each week, and need to spend more time looking at all my lists when on twitter.

  4. I’m weird with my following. I like people who are going to be at events I’m at, people on Battle Of The Network Stars and some political folks who are criss crossing Iowa. But, I now check on who now follows back. Thanks for the tips!!!

  5. It’s cool.

    Honestly, it would be easier for us all if the ratio mandate would go away.

    But I’m happy to know my peeps.

    I list about 95% and try to spend 5 minutes in the home feed a day.