The Hashtag That’s Killing Twitter

Last updated on October 9th, 2023 at 10:21 pm

Lots of businesses make this mistake from the start, and it can be difficult to recover from.

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I’ve written before about how Twitter seemed to be falling by the wayside when it came to relevant social media activity. Heck, if it weren’t for politics Twitter may have gone down the drain a long time ago. But there’s something amiss in the way people use Twitter and how it affects their goals on the platform. And it can all be boiled down to a single hashtag: #FollowBack.

For those of you who don’t know what it means, the FollowBack hashtag indicates an account will follow you simply because you followed them first. While lots of users employ the hashtag to quickly grow their list of followers, there are numerous problems with it that ultimately hurt those users and the Twitter platform.

Let’s talk about some of those points and hopefully if you’re using FollowBack hashtags or blindly following anyone who follows you, you’ll reconsider and save your Twitter account from irrelevance.

#FollowBack: The Temptation

Gaining followers on Twitter is a primary goal of most users, if not all of them. What’s the point in tweeting if nobody is gonna read them? This is true especially with new users. People want to get a bunch of new followers right away so it feels like their tweets have a chance at engagement.

For many users, they search out the FollowBack hashtag and follow all the accounts they can find using it, hoping those accounts will follow them back.

For the record, it can actually get your follower count up quickly, but these followers may do more harm than good. It all comes down to how Twitter determines who to deliver a tweet to.

How Does a Tweet Make it to Someone’s Timeline?

If you think every tweet you send lands in the feed of every one of your followers, you’re very mistaken. That’s simply not how Twitter works anymore, especially since they moved to a feed that defaults to ‘Top Tweets’ instead of in chronological order.

When you send a tweet, it’s only initially presented to a fraction of your followers. If those followers interact with the tweet, Twitter assumes the tweet is of high-quality engaging content and begins delivering it to more of your followers. However, if that initial ‘test group’ ignores your tweet, it gets buried and never delivered to the rest of your followers.

This is very similar to how Facebook and other social networks now determine how content reaches user feeds. It helps to battle spam accounts and save resources by eliminating poor content from having to be processed & delivered. There’s also money to be made here because they’re encouraging you to purchase advertising in order to reach those people you can’t reach organically. It’s a good reason why you should never buy Facebook likes or Twitter followers.

Casino roulette wheel with sector zero and white ball. Closeup.

Following Back Carries No Value

By incorporating a #FollowBack growth strategy on Twitter, you’re actually lessening the value of your Twitter account.

If a large chunk of your followers are simply folks who followed you back and don’t care about the same things you care about, there’s much larger chance that a tweet you send out doesn’t get interacted with by the initial ‘test group’ and tossed in the Twitter trash as a result. People who might love your content may never even know you tweeted.

The bottom line is: you do not want followers who won’t engage with your tweets. An inactive follower is worse than having no follower at all.

Following Back Destroys Your Feed

It might seem like the obvious one, but if you really actually want to use your Twitter feed, following back everyone who follows you regardless of whether you actually like them or not will make your feed a huge pile of garbage.

Not only will it contain things you don’t care about, but the things you do care about will be lost in the pile. Adapting a #followback strategy will quickly turn your feed into a useless stream of nonsense.

Following Back Devalues Other Users

Because you end up following users you don’t care about, whenever you happen fall into their ‘test group’ and don’t interact with their tweets, you become part of the reason why their tweet gets buried in the trash and never makes it to those who do care about it.

When someone follows you, there’s no reason to feel obliged to follow them back. In fact, if you have no intention of interacting with them, you’re doing them a favor by not following them.

Female Computer Scientist Checking server

#FollowBack Makes Twitter’s Bot Problem Worse

Bots are one of the biggest abusers of the followback hashtag. Not only do they use it to gain followers for their accounts, they also don’t interact with anybody they follow. I’ve seen accounts spamming #followback that had 125,000 followers and followed back all of them.

Once you follow these bots, you become part of their army of accounts that they sell. You know those ‘marketers’ who promise to 100,000 followers for $100? They’re essentially going to get those followers from bot accounts and other accounts they know follow back.

Twitter Could Fix This Easily

A good solution for Twitter to implement would be to institute lower follow limits. It’s surprisingly simple, but once you remove an account’s ability to follow thousands of people right out of the gate, you make follows much more valuable and people will think twice before blindly following someone back.

A brand new Twitter user can follow up to 5000 people from the start. Honestly, I can’t think of a valid reason to be following that many people anyway, especially right at account creation. I’ve had my personal Twitter account for almost 7 years and I follow 199 people.

But do you know who does follow 5000 people right from the start of a new account? Bots, scammers, and #FollowBack accounts. Real human Twitter uses don’t do this, so why even allow it in the first place?

Why Hasn’t Twitter Fixed it? Because Money!

Let’s say you created an account for your business and you followed everyone back who followed you. Because your followers only followed you for the FollowBack, there will be practically zero engagement with any of your tweets.

As a result, they’d be buried by Twitter and the only way to ensure your tweets can reach real potential customers would be by purchasing advertising from Twitter. Pretty good setup isn’t it?

Sharif Jameel is a business owner, IT professional, runner, & musician. His professional certifications include CASP, Sec+, Net+, MCSA, & ITIL and others. He’s also the guitar player for the Baltimore-based cover bands, Liquifaction and Minority Report.

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