Why I’ve Stopped Using The Word “Follower” on Social Media

The people with whom you are connected on a social network go by many a name. Though Twitter is my favorite social network, it’s actually the one that to me uses the worst possible word (at least in my opinion).


Let’s start with the definition of the word follower (as dictionary.com defines it at least)

Definition of a "follower"

There’s something missing in the definitions above. There’s nothing about engaging. Nothing about conversation. This is a major problem because at the heart of it, social media IS conversation!

So, Is Follower Really The Wrong Term?

To be fair, the term itself is accurate in many cases. My issue comes in when you consider the intent of social media. As noted, social media, specifically Twitter, thrives on the back and forth. It thrives on the actual building of relationships. Followers may be interested in what you have to say — but are they actually engaging with you and sharing your content?

It’s important to clarify that I define three types of connections.

  • – Followers
  • – Lurkers
  • – Engagers (or Connections)

What’s the difference?

Followers: They don’t engage. They don’t comment. They follow (and sometimes, even forget). Often, someone in this category uses the follow and hopes for a follow back approach. I don’t disagree in the building of relationships, but these folks also don’t always provide content.

NOTE: It should be made clear that much of the inspiration behind this post comes from the fact that I’ve actually stopped using this word. I now greet new “followers” with phrases like “thanks for connecting”.

Lurkers: Now, lurkers to me are a bit different than followers. They’re there in the shadows. They’re interested. They might even retweet or favorite you. The only thing they aren’t doing is actually having conversation with you.

That’s where you come in. Engaging with those who you find lurking opens the door to build a relationship and create a new connection.

Engagers (or Connections): This is what you want. You want to have people who connect with you. They go the steps beyond sharing. They ask questions. They tell you they enjoyed what you shared. They open the doors to building a real connection.

So what happens when we actually engage?

First off, actually engaging is the the answer to the individual referenced in definition #5 above. Secondly, we find ourselves building actual human to human relationships.

Twitter growth for @CBarrows

When you focus on engaging with your audience and building relationships, you’ll see a growth in connections. (Source: @CBarrows Twitter Analytics)

To be fair, it’s only right I point out I’ve experienced this myself. As I’ve increased my own engagement level, I’ve had the result as shared above. It’s an action that may take a bit of extra work. Here’s some of the steps I’d suggest.

1. Interact with as many new followers as possible. Introduce yourself and make it personal. Show them you’ve taken an interest.

2. Look at new connections and if they’re a real account, follow back. (Note: I do not personally follow back things such as “Motivational Quotes”)

3. Use lists (list.ly, Twitter lists, Facebook lists, ect). Perhaps create one such a “People I’m Getting To Know” or “People to Respond To”. These will help you organize whom you want to engage with or get to know better.

4. Take part in Twitterchats — they’ll open up amazing opportunities to engage and build new connections.

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