Follow Friday Yes, #FF No

Twitter By Post-It

Photo by Colm McMullan (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

A few weeks back I changed how I approach Follow Friday on Twitter. I still try* to pass on a few good recommendations, but I’ve never been a fan of #FF posts that feel more like noise than signal. So I’ve tried to follow the advice implied by this comic at The Oatmeal and highlight one or two people per week and reasons why those who enjoy my tweets might enjoy theirs.

But the other thing I’ve done—and it’s something I haven’t seen anybody else suggesting out there—is ditch the #FF hashtag.

If you really get hashtags, then skip this paragraph and the next one. I don’t mean to condescend, but it’s also clear to me that many of my friends and acquaintances don’t get what hashtags are really about. A lot of us use hashtags as a form of ironic metacomment on our own post, and there’s nothing wrong with that. A lot of people on twitter also use hashtags to tell the world what they’re doing (eg, #amwriting and #amreading) without an awareness of the fact that there are actual online communities that follow these hashtags. But the real point of hashtags—and I say this is the real point, or else why would hashtags be clickable?—is to allow us to cross-pollinate our twitter experience. Hashtags allow us to talk with people who aren’t already our followers, and possibly meet cool new people. If you’re a writer, click on the #amwriting hashtag sometime, and you’ll see a bunch of people all tweeting about their writing experience. Some of them will actually be cool and worth interacting with.** Instead of automatically following back every spammer who follows you with no intention of ever actually interacting with you, you can use hashtags to find the people who are genuinely using twitter as part of a giant conversation.

You can find an excellent breakdown of how to use hashtags well in this terrific post from Kristin Lamb. Among other things, you’ll learn why you should use a client like TweetDeck to get the most out of Twitter, and why you should strip the hashtags off of tweets when you retweet them dagnabbit! ::breathes::

Anyway, since hashtags are so wonderful, why am I so down on #FF?

As I see it, the purpose of Follow Friday is to let my friends know who else I like, and thus, by extension, who else they might like. What purpose, then, does the hashtag serve? My friends will see the post either way, because they follow me. People who don’t follow me aren’t interested in who I think is cool.

But let’s suppose for argument’s sake that I’m wrong about that, and that #FF isn’t just about telling my friends who they might like, but literally about telling the world who to follow. Let’s try a little experiment then. This Friday—and this works best if you use Tweetdeck or something similar—click on the #ff hashtag the next time you see it pop up. Don’t come back to this post until after you’ve done it. 😉

I’m sorry; that was a dirty trick to play wasn’t it? How long did it take you to delete that column on Tweetdeck? Or have you still not succeeded in deleting it? If so, here’s the trick: grab Tweetdeck by the bar at the top of the window and drag it down on your screen until the little X to close the column is no longer covered by the constant stream of little popups in the upper right corner of your screen. Or you could just wait until it’s Saturday for most of the world.

The point? Even if we grant that Follow Friday can be used to tell strangers who to follow, it’s clearly broken by the fire-hose-like stream of tweets, most of which actually say nothing about the people listed.

Who can read that fast?

Other than spambots, that is.

When you stick the #FF hashtag on your Friday recommendations, you’re not really increasing the likelihood of gaining legitimate followers for your friends. I don’t know for sure that it increases the likelihood of your friends being spambait, but I do know that I can’t tweet the word “iPad” without immediately attracting spambots, so it doesn’t seem at all unreasonable to suppose.

In any case, I can’t see any possible upside. so why bother?

* “Try” because I’m not always on on Fridays.
** Alas, at least 50% of the people on Twitter are at the toddler stage of mental development, and thus not actually interested in communicating with anybody else, but just in promoting themselves. They don’t play “with” others so much as “in parallel to” others. But that’s a different post.
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6 Responses to Follow Friday Yes, #FF No

  1. Julia Lizz says:

    Interesting post. I also follow The Oatmeal’s suggestion, but I hadn’t thought of getting rid of the hashtag. I do understand what hashtags are for, and I’ve watched the #FF stream before, though I’ve sometimes wondered if anyone else has ever bothered. Right now I can’t remember if I ever followed anyone because they were suggested (with a description, of course, not as one name listed in six) in the #FF column though. Probably not. Might have to consider following your lead.

  2. Joe Iriarte says:

    Yeah, I’ve followed cool people my friends like, but not people strangers like.

    Thanks for popping in!

  3. laird sapir says:

    I think the only purpose it really serves well is as shorthand. After all, with only 140 characters, every one counts! lol. But I agree with you – I’ve never clicked on the #FF link…because that would be random and unhelpful information from people I don’t know.
    Perhaps an amended hashtag would be in order. Perhaps something like #wanaFF (for mywana-ers who want recommendations on who to follow). Perhaps it is just time for #FF to get some subgroups, become more specific…reclaim (or claim for the first time) true usefulness…
    Good post, Joe! Got me thinking!

    PS – STILL waiting on the pony. I think at this point you owe me at least two. My backyard is (mostly) prepared for them. I’ve bought a few giant boxes of Lucky Charms because I read somewhere thats what they eat. Can I get a tracking number?

  4. TheTick says:

    I came to the same conclusion – I did a blog post version of Follow Friday once that actually highlighted things that might make one click the button. Like a particularly good tweet, or blog post, or an article they wrote, or a song they made, things like that. Some random dip saying “hey, follow these people” isn’t going to get much of a look.

  5. Hi Jose!
    This is a really great post. I’m really knew to the Twitter, blogging social media scene (4 months in). I’m the type of person that only has her closest friends on Facebook (not my 3rd grade school teacher and the girl that sat in front of me with the freckles in 11th grade). So leaping into Twitter, I was a bit resistant (perhaps my old age played a slight role..LOL!)
    But because I wanted to connect with other creatives, writers alike I jumped in. First learning about the hashtags etc.. then #FF. With the first 10, 20 followers it was easy. Fast forward to 200 and some odd people I couldn’t keep up. I then asked myself why am I even doing this… people can’t be possibly be reading these?

    Unless its being posted by a ‘close’ Twitter friend (because I trust their judgement) I hardly ever look at all the posts of #FF’s. Its just one list after another. Now my approach has changed dramatically. Everyone I meet, follow or follows me I take a moment throughout the week to visit their website, read their posts and if they are really someone I enjoy or would enjoy reading I recommend them.
    So instead of #FF @soandso I include the:
    #FF the twitter name and their blog. I try to briefly say why I like them and why they are worth the follow or to at least to check out their site. It takes a bit longer but we all put so much work into our sites and if its great I love to share.

    This Friday I’m eliminating the grouping of 50 FF’s for the sake of FF.
    Sorry… so long, its just nice to hear someone talking about this issue.

  6. Joe Iriarte says:

    Thanks for stopping by, Natasha! I have the same thing with Facebook–I don’t see it as a promoting platform, because mostly it’s just my friends on it. But Twitter is a lot of fun for me. 🙂

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