Follow Friday; Too Much of a Good Thing?

by Neal Wiser. Follow him @nealwiser

FollowFriday is a wonderful way to get introduced to new people. Unfortunately, its benefits are being undermined. If you’ve experienced problems on FollowFridays, read on…

followfridays-1st-tweet_smFollow Friday (#followfriday) was started by Micah Baldwin (@micah) in January 2009 as a way for Twitter users to recommend people who they enjoy following to their own followers. As is typical of good Social Media memes, FollowFriday immediately went “viral” and became a global phenomenon.

I personally love the idea of FollowFriday. It is a testament to the true spirit of Social Media; people using its various tools to connect with (or in this case, to recommend) other people. Unfortunately, through naiveté, simple ignorance and/or intentional abuse, FollowFriday may be on the verge of becoming more of a nuisance then a benefit.

“The best-laid Tweets of mice and men often go awry”*

From humble beginnings in a single tweet by Micah, FollowFriday has become a surprising phenomenon. “All I did was send the first tweet,” said Micah in an interview with this author, “It was from there that things took on a life of their own.”

Today, FollowFriday is the longest lived hash tag on Twitter to date; and it shows no signs of abating. On Friday, April 17 (the last Friday before I wrote this post), approximately 140,000 tweets carried the FollowFriday hash tag.

But, as the FollowFriday meme continues to spread, there have been some unintended side effects. This should come as no surprise. Both the Internet and Twitter are young and in a constant state of change as people find new things to do and new ways to do them. Unfortunately, not all of these changes are positive and FollowFriday is no exception.

mobydick_sm“Aye! It was that accursed white whale that razed me”*

To be sure, the luster of FollowFriday is showing some tarnish along the edges, and in some ways it’s being outright abused. Complaints and frustration with the meme have risen significantly in recent weeks. While many of the complaints are due to people being placed in an awkward position for not recommending followers, others consider it a growing nuisance (a TwitterSearch for the phrase “hate followfriday” is informative). Meanwhile, others such as Grant McDonald (@chichiri) and Kay Ballard (@KayBallard) have been more reflective and have published The Follow Friday Manifesto.

Regardless of cause, the unifying theme for a growing number of people is that FollowFriday no longer works as intended. While the causes are varied, I have identified the following characteristics of FollowFriday that are symptomatic of the growing problem.

  • Blind Recommendations
    Tweets with recommendations, but with no other information provided to help users decide whether or not to follow. Blind Recommendations are actually a disservice to both those being recommended and those to whom the recommendation are intended because no effort is made to explain why this person is worth following. The merit of the recommendation is based solely on the reputation of the tweeter.
  • Packed Recommendations
    Tweets filled with strings of usernames and little or no accompanying information. Packed recommendations are a disservice because they are usually “Blind” and are often randomly grouped with other followers with whom there is no mutual affiliation.
  • Clustered Recommendations
    Large groups of recommendation tweets sent in very close proximity to each other. They are a disservice for two reasons:
  1. The recommendations are usually both “Blind” and “Packed” and are randomly thrown together with little or no thought or pattern, thus a recommended user can get lost among the flood of other names.
  2. These tweets can fill and overwhelm a user’s tweet-stream to the point that other, often more important tweets, are quickly bumped from the user’s screen, thus essentially eliminating them.
  • Pretender Recommendationsbeached-whale_sm
    A combination of the preceding tweet forms, but one where a user tries to gain new followers by making as many “recommendations” as possible. How it works:
  1. The Pretender builds or obtains a list of often random users whom they are not following (hence “pretending” to follow) or who is not following them back.
  2. The Pretender then tweet the names of those users in the hope that those people will see their names, assume that the Pretender is following them, then reciprocate and follow back.

It works because the Pretender takes advantage of the fact that there is no easy mechanism for users to check to see if those who recommend them are actually following. It’s a disservice not only for all of the above reasons, but because the Pretenders are dishonest, interested only in inflating their own follower numbers by “gaming” the system and not about making legitimate recommendations or building relationships.

  • Automated Recommendations
    I have heard rumors (unconfirmed) that that there are scripts available that will automate the Pretender process. These scripts determine who you are following but who is not following you back and automatically sends tweets packed with those user names. Within a few days, the scripts may also unfollow to keep their user’s following numbers down (if you know of this practice, please @ me. I’d be interested in getting confirmation).
  • Recommendation Rings
    Micah has reported seeing “Rings,” groups of people who all recommend each other to their respective follower-base in an attempt to share the combined base among the entire group, thus building up the group member’s follower numbers.
  • Tweet Spam & Tweet Phishing
    As we all (should) know, Spammers have entered the Twitterverse and are testing the waters trying to figure out ways to attract users. Their goal is obvious; to get money by either selling you their products, driving you to websites to drive ad revenue, steal your identity or to infect your computer with malware. While Twitter is doing a better job these days of combating these parasites, it’s an uphill battle. If you suspect a spammer or want to report suspicious behavior, send a DM to @spam.

“I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of peeps suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced”*

At this point, the genie’s out of the bottle and FollowFriday may be so engrained into the fabric of Twitter that it has effectively become Twitter’s first true tradition. In fact, the only thing that could probably put a stop to it would most likely destroy Twitter itself.

That’s not to say that as permanent a feature as FollowFriday may seem to be, that it still cannot self destruct. At the current rate, abuses such as the recent Wily worm outbreak suggest that something might just be ready to break anyway. But until then, we at least have a chance to get some solutions in place that will help users gain a little more control over how FollowFriday affects their tweeting.

While there are several sites that analyze various FollowFriday statistics, such as Micah’s own followfridays.com, topfollowfriday.com and boxuk.com’s FollowFriday tool, I’ve only found one site dedicated solution that that can actually help users manage their FollowFriday tweets. That site, The Twitter Tag Project, offers a tool that will scan your last 200 tweets and list your most active friends for you to recommend. Unfortunately, this tool publishes tweets using the “Packed” format which, as previously mentioned, is the source of at least some of FollowFriday’s problems.

back-to-the-future_doc-brown“We could channel lightning into the flux capacitor and send you Back To The Future!”*

So where does this leave us? Twitter could, and should, add a few new tools to their arsenal to help us manage these and other problems. However, it will most likely fall to one of the third party developers, maybe even The Twitter Task Project. Whoever does take on this task can start with the following features:

  • A mechanism not unlike Favorites to select candidates for recommendation.
  • A tool to rank, organize and select candidates for recommendation and to build useful tweets.
  • Tracking and other metrics to evaluate both the success of a recommendation you make and for recommendations made by others.
  • An easy to use interface that allows you to manage all of the above.

However, until such tools become available, there are still a few things you can do to make your Fridays more pleasurable for everyone. Remember, this is a community-wide effort (if you have an idea on how to manage FollowFriday, please let me know in Comments):

  • Ignore FollowFriday altogether (yeah, didn’t think so).
  • Unfollow those who abuse FollowFridays.
  • Limit your recommendations to only the absolute best people.
  • Explain why you recommend someone.
  • Spread your tweets throughout the day using a scheduling service like Tweetlater, Futuretweet or Hootsuite.
  • If making multiple recommendations, groups them into logical categories.
  • If making multiple tweets, only send them in small groups.

war-games-quote“Let’s play Global Thermonuclear War”*

If you absolutely cannot deal with the sheer numbers of FollowFriday recommendations, then short of not tweeting on Friday, I can only suggest the Nuclear Option. This will remove all FollowFriday recommendations from your tweet-stream while allowing you to still see people recommending you. Just follow these easy steps:

  1. Install Tweetdeck (I have not tried this on other clients, but it will work on Tweetdeck).
  2. Every Friday, set a filter in your primary tweet column to exclude the “#followfriday” hash tag (be sure to use the full hash tag phrase as shown or all mentions of FollowFriday, such as this post, which do not use hash tag will also be filtered from your stream).
  3. Set up another Search column to search for your twitter name. This way if someone does recommend you, you will see it.

Conclusions

As Micah told me, “I think it’s important to note that a vast majority of people still use it correctly,” and this is a good thing.

Clearly Micah, and most people who participate in FollowFriday, have good intensions. I myself enjoy making recommendations and have met many amazing people through the process. While I may not be the most active recommender, I do feel more than a little guilty when a Friday passes and I have not recommended anyone. But regardless of my own participation, I believe that we are all better off for Micah’s contribution and owe him our gratitude. Hopefully, the tools to make the most of all our FollowFridays will soon become available.

Resources

*Source of Quotes (in order)

  • Apologies to Robert Burns
  • Herman Melville, Moby Dick
  • Apologies to Obi-wan Kenobi
  • Dr. Brown, Back to the Future, Universal Pictures (1985)

variants-on-followfriday_sm

Comments

  • May 1, 2009

    I myself thought Follow Friday was getting a little obnoxious but found a solution I love. I do a few recommendations every Friday with a single sentence articulating precisely why I choose to follow that person. That sentence gives the recommendation validity and weight. In essence, it makes it mean something. I’ll continue to do Follow Friday, but only on those terms.

  • May 1, 2009

    Hi Neal – I couldn’t agree more. This is a great post. I’ve virtually stopped doing followfriday because of many of the reasons you mention and I’m glad someone has finally put into words a lot of what I was feeling. I feel SUPER guilty when someone else recommends me and I haven’t recommended anyone.

    I hate seeing lists and lists of folks’ names with no reason for their recommendation. I usually ignore those. @gracesmith has taken to only recommending 3 people and will always give a reason. She also sends them in 3 separate tweets. I find this much easier to manage and almost always check out her recommendations.

    Oh and PS – Monday – there’s meowmonday and you mistakenly thought Saturday was unclaimed. Not so. It’s Caturday. The critters are taking over Twitter (have you met my dog @sadieshihtzu)?

  • May 1, 2009

    I was introduced to #FollowFriday as soon as I got in Twitter, yet never too crazy about it until I see the value in it.
    This post is descriptive enough to analyze each and every motive that hides behind FF: whether or not to get noticed, or simply to acknowledge a twitter friend or somebody who’s valued to the network, it’s always great to see people are showing appreciations to each other. However, the best FF recommendations that I normally attracted to, is the one with simple descriptions or a useful tweet embeded. Although I do at times, do the mass-grouping FF thingy, yet it’s always good to try and be creative once in a while. ^^ Happy #FollowFriday & labour day, everyone!

    @wchingya
    Social Media/Blogging

  • May 1, 2009

    Here’s a novel idea. Instead of spamming twitter names to everyone, why not just say have a look at my follower list and let people pick and choose who they want to follow.

    Follow friday was a nifty idea for a week or two. Now, it’s beyond the point of being annoying.

  • May 1, 2009

    I thought follow Friday was a wonderful idea when it started, but for the reasons you state Neal, it’s lost it’s shine for me.

    I took a decision last Friday that I wouldn’t participate any more. I simply recommend people on a one off basis as and when it’s useful or appropriate, and I’ve noticed other people doing the same. It works much better when you get something like “Follow @mikecj if you want to keep up with formula 1 stuff”

  • May 1, 2009

    Here is another idea about #followfriday especially upcoming fridau may 1
    Kind regards Dr Shock

  • May 1, 2009

    Long post, but a good one. Many people, myself included have thought this for a while. And while i continue to meet great people through followfriday I have never once clicked on someone with no description. I generally do one tweet, recommending 2 people with a quick bio :)

  • May 1, 2009

    Sean Platt has a great point – that single sentence articulating the ‘why’, an apparently innocuous action that requires more thinking than doing a blind #FF.

    PS: Good timing for the post though. I never did spread the meme and felt a tad curmudgeonly as people mentioned me on the meme. And I was just about to my first ever #FollowFriday recommendation today :-( Now wondering if I should bother.

  • May 1, 2009

    I agree that the follow friday can get out of hand. I prefer the folks that just select a few people that they recommend you to follow, and with reasons why. It feels much more legitimate then.

  • May 1, 2009

    I thought packed followfriday lists were the most annoying thing ever, until I started reading the “thanks for the followfriday recommendation” tweets. Lists and lists of names not even being recommended, just thanked, in the public timeline. I wish people on Twitter would learn to use DM a bit more.

  • May 1, 2009

    pretty cool to ‘found’ something :-)

    maybe we should do the #follow&RT_Monday – follow these people and RT everything they tweet, ha ha ha.

    anyway, I enjoy recommending people for follow friday and I try to say why and therefore categorize the people e.g. social media or film or church production people.

    but I can’t say that the follow Fridays cause any major change to my following when my name comes up.

    everyone just seems to enjoy using it as apposed to implementing it

    Phill

  • May 1, 2009

    I have follow Friday anxiety so I just tend to thank the people that recommended me, even though I don’t know who half of them are (thanks for explaining that!)

    It always seemed to me that most of the people I’d recommend are already following each other anyway and that the best way for me to recommend people is to RT them, joke around with them, etc through out the week. That’s how I usually find new people to follow, I see who my friends are talking to and jump in the conversation!

  • May 1, 2009

    I love this post! Not just someone unhappy with the possibilities of spam and bad intentions, but someone who actually broke it down. There is such a thing as too much of a goodie, we see it everyday in social media (thanks to unscrupulous marketers/spammers), and we’ll likely see it over and over with Twitter as people seek to have opportunities of “massive visibility” — because that’s likely 90% of what they’re learning from so-called “experts.”

    Great stuff!
    Maria Reyes-McDavis

  • May 1, 2009

    i love follow friday… it’s a good way of showing how much the community really loves eachother… i must admit it’s a little crazy how into it people are.

    though… i do get anxiety over whether or not to FF them back or to keep saying thank you… i

  • May 1, 2009

    Decent post. Still not a believer we should tell other Twitter users what to do and how to use the service but the suggestion about using TweetDeck to filter is a great one. That advice should be applied to other Twitter memes or discussions as well if people don’t like to see them (such as #Tcot or #journchat).

  • May 1, 2009

    I’m glad you posted this article. This is something that has been bothering me for awhile. I’ve come to dread #FollowFriday because I know my tweet feed will just be full of them. Plus, I’ve started not participating in #FollowFriday anymore, because of the obnoxious situation it has turned into. The retweets of #FollowFriday from people who do not follow you are just plain weird & is not honorable. But I do pay attention to those that actually give you a reason as to why you should follow someone – it gives it validity to the #FollowFriday tradition (If I can catch them through stream of #FollowFriday tweets). And I have done this myself, before I stopped participating.

    Like Liz Hover, I also feel terribly guilty when I don’t return the #FollowFriday. I just give a thank you.

    Thank you for posting this, hopefully it will bring some attention to those you abuse this tradition – give ‘em a guilty conscience, maybe?

  • May 1, 2009

    Great informative post. I definitely agree that the clustered #FollowFriday recommendations are especially annoying…

    Found a mistake:
    “As is typical of good Social Media memes, FollowFriday immediately when “viral” and became a global phenomenon.” –> “when” should be “went,” most likely…

  • May 1, 2009

    Great topic and THANK YOU for telling us about @spam ! More than once I wished I could report someone but it felt like too much work to find out how.

    I have mixed feelings about followfriday. I met some great people, but I saw it really abused a few times, read @KayBallard ’s manifesto and cooled it for awhile. Then a few weeks passed and I missed the camaraderie I feel from making sincere recommendations. I now participate again, but I am very selective with who I recommend.

  • May 1, 2009

    Why not make something like -> #IRecommend @nealwiser,@ProBlogger,… because they write great post.
    Tag: #IRecommend and the motive why I recommending them.
    I thing that is better way of suggesting someone, you can recommend someone any day and you are explaining why are you doing it.
    Just like Recommendation Letter but this time on twitter.
    What do you think?

  • May 1, 2009

    First, I agree with you. #FF is cute and a good way to give props to those twits you’ve come to appreciate, but it has become absolutely over-saturated.

    Second, this is a really well written post, with lots of good information! Very compelling.

    Thanks!

  • May 1, 2009

    Excellent post Neal, and thanks to Darren for sharing! Our startup was actually based on these same challenges. Here’s an article we wrote last week (The problem with #FollowFriday) http://bit.ly/DO7Pu

    Anyway – as everyone has agreed, there is no context or individuality to (most) #followfriday posts. A better way (we think) is:

    @twindexx @username #topic and then some notes about why I should follow that person.

    Sending a tweet with this context will add the user to the Twindexx directory and allow them to be discovered by others. It’s also a great way for others to discover YOU based on similar interests!

    However it turns out, we hope that users will migrate to a more personable way to make recommendations!

    Justyn
    Co-Founder
    Twindexx.com

  • May 1, 2009

    Heh, Neal. I can’t help but chuckle.

    For months, I’ve considered the #followfriday parade to be yet another example of meaninglessness among 95% of its practitioners.

    Example: @blah @blah2 @blah3 @blah4 @blah5 @blah6 @blah7 @blah8 @blah9 @ariherzog #followfriday

    Uhh, what?

    When I see something like that, I issue a reply, thank the tweeter and ask WHY he or she recommended me, if for no other reason than that person’s followers can see the follow-up explanation.

    It bugs me to no end seeing clumped users. Where’s the value? Who follows everyone, my past actions excluded?

    Per my new way of using Twitter (summarized at this post about my twitter train), I will suggest one tweep per week with ~100 characters explaining why. Anyone and everyone is more than welcome to recommend me, but if you clump me, I’m going to ask why….not unlike you’re requesting to be my LinkedIn connection without an explanation beyond the default.

    Great post, Neal.

  • May 1, 2009

    Awesome post, and *Micah* is awesome. I totally agree with all the garbage that has come along with FF, but at it’s core, it’s such a lovely idea, I hope it hangs around. I may say a bunch of people in my Follow Fridays, but I always say why, and it always means something to me.

  • May 1, 2009

    Great article. I knew something was fishy when even I noticed these things from the rock that I live under.

  • May 1, 2009

    I agree with everyone that a #followfriday recommendation without an explanation is useless. Maybe there should be a rule that you can only do one tweet and only those you can fit in minus the characters taken up by #followfriday make the cut!

  • May 1, 2009

    Good well writen article with some interesting points.

  • May 2, 2009

    While I agree that the #followfriday meme can be taken too far, and you certainly wrote a long/well-developed post, I feel that the overall tenor of it is a bit too prescriptive. In the end, people are going to use Followfriday however they see fit, and some uses may not appear logical/useful to you but do to others (same as everything else related to Twitter one might say…).

    E.g. I don’t see that much of an issue with reasonably clustered recommendations, provided that there is at a minimum 1 good keyword attached. So if you send a tweet “#followfriday: great #wordpress peeps @name @name @name [asf.]” what’s the harm?

    The fact that I went to the trouble of following/interacting with them, and then recommending them related to a keyword, should be plenty for anyone with an interest in Wordpress. And yes, for those who happen to look for that keyword, finding that tweet can be very valuable. They’ll get a handful of new contacts to consider.

    It’s not necessary to write a full elegy in honor of the Followfriday “recommendee” every time, and then I’ve seen a ton of people do it already anyway. In fact, whatever you write should contain at least 1 COMMON interest keyword, else the tweet is mostly useless for later search discovery by others (I recommend searching for “#followfriday [keyword, e.g. wordpress]” to put Followfriday to good use for yourself).

  • May 2, 2009

    I’m not normally a “click my junk” type of person, so forgive me here but I wrote a nice rant a couple months ago about why I’m not playing #FollowFriday anymore. In a nutshell, somebody actually got upset with me because I didn’t promote them back, and I said cry me a river, because if your sense of self-worth is correlated with how many followers you have on Twitter, you have much bigger problems.

  • May 2, 2009

    “FollowFriday may be so engrained into the fabric of Twitter that it has effectively become Twitter’s first true tradition.” Um, what about the tradition of addressing comments to or about people by placing an @ in front of their names, which is so ingrained it’s been built into the system but began as a simple convention by users, not the programmers.

    But I quibble. Good post and I couldn’t agree more. I agree with @alexschebler though, all it takes is one meaningful keyword to make even a list of recommendations useful, eg. “wordpress” or “non-profit tech” etc.

  • May 2, 2009

    I’m guilty of it. Actually, reading this piece gives me more of a history and the reason behind it.

    What happened with me is, although I’ve been on Twitter since May 2007, I didn’t really use it in earnest until this March. I was abroad until then and then it just seemed easier to use Facebook.

    Anyway, I got on Twitter and I start firing off tweets. Then the next Friday I’m on some list with a tag that says #FolllowFriday. Huh? I run a Google search and I see that a lot of people are doing this. I thank the people who asked others to follow me and then decide to imitate this practice. I’ve been doing it consistently since then. Today, the one I did had a reason for two, but everyone else was just a list.

    In my defense, however, last week, my FollowFriday was a CNN themed one. I’m a bit of a news junkie, so I listed all the CNN Twitterers I followed and announced that was the theme. I had that moment of Follow Friday lucidity only once though, so I’ll mend my ways.

    So, I’m sorry, please forgive me ;)

  • May 2, 2009

    Here’s what a bunch of us are doing to improve the meme: http://ow.ly/4wL8

  • May 2, 2009

    Well, thanks for detailed article! If you are like me (I like to personally greet, thank &/or comment to all replies & followers), then this whole #FollowFriday will get the better of you and involve quite some time. So, it becomes a question of managing and being able to genuinely engage with others. …this morning, had to seriously step away from Twitter for a while. And I also caught myself being pulled into it. …recommending left & right. Now, as we know there is no controlling the #FollowFriday, yet I think it is a fad and will soon fade out… Hopefully!!!

  • May 2, 2009

    I’m curious if there are any SEO advantages anybody sees in participating in Follow Friday?

    Are we, in fact, thumbing up the people we’re suggesting others should follow? Creating more links to that Twitterer? Interesting thought as there has been talk of Twitter becoming a Search Engine.

    Thoughts anyone?

  • May 4, 2009

    When I do a #followfriday, I usually post why I recommend this person with maybe a link to their blog or website to top it off.

    Great topic!

  • May 5, 2009

    Great article.

    I completely ignore #followfriday lists. However, if you are looking for someone who uses this hashtag the right way, check out @LiveYourBrand who includes a detailed explanation with every #followfriday recommendation. She actually knows the people she recommends or at least checks their profiles and past tweets to be able to give a meaningful recommendation. Hers are the best I have seen.

  • May 6, 2009

    I take a try of it and its the firt time i heard about it, well i dont know how it funtion and wist to be abble to know soon.

    than you for the post.

  • May 8, 2009

    Some of us already realize that #followfriday is only as useful as the Tweeple you recommend and WHY you recommend them so we already conform to these tips:

    # Limit your recommendations to only the absolute best people.
    # Explain why you recommend someone.
    # If making multiple recommendations, groups them into logical categories.

    From the start it never made sense to just recommend following people for no reason and where those receiving the Tweets have no way of knowing if they’d be interested or not.

    Here’s an example of my #followfriday format (in case others are interested):

    #followfriday Friendliest blog communities: @dereksemmler @Dennis_Edell @BSwafford @lizstrauss @thinkmaya @AussieSire

    #followfriday Must Follows For Serious Bloggers: @problogger @copyblogger @doshdosh @peterleehc @AussieSire @kikolani

    #followfriday Must Follows For Social Media: @louisgray @fruchter @adamsinger @doshdosh @chrisbrogan @ariherzog @PRsarahevans

    Since my writing spans across all of these various subjects and my followers may not be interested in all of them, it is more helpful if they know which of these Twitter users and bloggers posts about what so they’ll know who they will be most interested in following.

  • July 3, 2009

    Another ‘day’ is #TeacherTuesday. Obviously of limited use beyond certain circles, but would be interesting to see how it rated on your scale.

  • February 19, 2010

    interesting to read that the original follow friday was just ONE follower – is quantity overwhelming quality?

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.