November 22, 2014

Twitter Tips: Finding People to Follow

follow the wrong people on TwitterAssuming you have created your new Twitter account and have been slowly getting a feel for how Twitter works, you are ready to find some interesting people to follow. Twitter is a great way to find other atheists, skeptics, and secular activists who will keep you informed about what is happening and with whom you can interact online. You have undoubtedly found some already.

The question here is how you can improve your experience with Twitter by following the right people and not wasting time on the wrong people. For what should be obvious reasons, deciding who to follow on Twitter will be different for everybody. We will each have different reasons for why we are using Twitter, different preferences, different priorities, and different personalities. In this post, I'll offer some general ideas that you'll need to tailor to fit yourself and your personal goals for how you would like to use Twitter.


If you intend to use Twitter as a source of news, it makes sense to find and follow trusted media outlets and/or blogs that share the sort of information you find interesting. There are many to choose from, but you will find that following just a few in each category of interest will go a long way. If you follow too many, you will be bombarded with links to the same story over and over.

Twitter is an excellent way to get news from a variety of international, national, regional, and local sources as it happens. Add 3-4 of your favorite news media channels for now. Over time, you will get a sense for whether it makes sense to add a couple more or not.

Communication with Real Life Friends

If you are interested in using Twitter to communicate with people you know in real life, it probably makes sense to allow Twitter to access your address book and show you which of your friends have Twitter accounts (under "Discover" select "Find friends" to let Twitter search your contacts). You'll also want to make it easy for your friends to find you (Settings - Security and privacy - check "Let others find me by my email address"). Of course, I wouldn't recommend doing this unless you are using your real name on Twitter and want to connect with your real life friends.

Meeting Others with Similar Interests

If you are using Twitter because you want to connect with others who have similar interests (e.g., atheism), one of the best ways of finding people to follow is through the use of hashtags. Hashtags are those things you will see that begin with the # sign. By searching for hashtags of topics you are interested in (e.g., #atheism), you can find people who are talking about these topics. This should give you some initial ideas about who to follow. As you find people to follow, be sure to take a look at who they are following. Oh, and be careful of impersonator accounts.

Who You Follow Determines Whether You Will Like Twitter

Who you follow on Twitter goes a long way toward determining the kind of experience you will have. This cannot be emphasized enough. If you follow people who provide little more than garbage, your experience is unlikely to be positive. Be selective and thoughtful when it comes to who you follow.

When I identify someone I think I might want to follow, I look at their Twitter profile. I read their bio and ask myself if this sounds like the sort of person I might be interested in following. I skim the tweets in their timeline. I am looking for the sort of content that this person shares on Twitter and any of the red flags that will lead me to decide not to follow someone. We are all looking for somewhat different things on Twitter, and so it makes sense that we will have a different list of what we are looking for.

Some of the reasons I might decide not to follow someone after taking a quick look at their profile and timeline include:
  • No profile picture and/or bio
  • A significant number of the tweets are in a language I don't understand
  • Most of what they tweet are photos
  • Their timeline is full of tweets calling people names
  • They tweet every time they like a video on YouTube or listen to a song on some music streaming service
  • They live tweet sporting events or TV shows
Your list of annoyances will vary.

You will make mistakes and follow people who turn out to be annoying. We all do. Fortunately, it is easy to unfollow those who turn out to be mistakes. Don't think twice about unfollowing someone who turns out to contribute little to your Twitter experience. There are far too many great people to follow to waste time on the rest.

There is one other thing you might want to look out for, depending on how you plan to use Twitter. Some people are reluctant to follow Twitter users who follow far more people than follow them. If I see someone who is following 500 people and only has 20 people following them, I have to wonder why there is such an imbalance. Perhaps it means they are a troll who pesters lots of people and that nobody finds worth following. If you are planning to use Twitter primarily because you want to interact with others, I'd suggest following people slowly rather than adding a bunch at a time. If nothing else, starting slowly will make Twitter more manageable and give you a better idea of what you might want to do with it.

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