It is almost one year since we launched our Twitter experiment, in a bid to get closer to our community.

Now, it is time for a bit of a spring clean, and one of the things we are going to do is to start from scratch with Twitter, in terms of who we’re following. I’ll explain why…

The Econsultancy Twitter experiment

Back in March 2009 we did two things, pretty much on a whim, to openly embrace feedback by displaying tweets on our site. A dangerous move, some said, but it has worked out well, and helps keep us on our toes.

Firstly, we integrated real time mentions of Econsultancy (on Twitter) onto our homepage, by displaying the most recent tweets that were directed at – or talked about – our brand (or the content we produce). You can still see it in action if you check out our homepage.

The second thing we did was to create and insert a small piece of code to seek out retweets of our blog articles. We labelled this ‘Twitter Buzz’ and positioned it in the right sidebar adjacent to our posts. Again, this remains in place and we’ll finesse the code this year to improve what we display.

Both of these things have been widely praised and helped us to shine a light on community feedback, be it good or bad (the nature of social media means it is rarely indifferent, and a retweet is essentially a recommendation of sorts).

The upshot here is that while many of us were using Twitter as individuals, we wanted to do more with it as a company. And in the past year we’ve enjoyed a lot of success, felt the love, have been occasionally slapped down, and have seen first hand what social media can do for a media organisation like ours.

Moving ahead

We try to monitor, measure and review everything we do. This extends to our web platform, our subscription model, our free and paid-for content, our internal processes, our training courses, our events, and a bunch of other areas. Now and again we’ll launch something new, or tweak something old, or kill something altogether. 

In 2010 we’re planning a number of changes to our website. We’re working on lots of new subscriber-access content, to help internet professionals to work smarter, rather than harder. We’ve set up a new consultancy division, to provide bespoke advice to businesses that need guidance with their digital strategy. We’re going to launch Econsultancy Labs, to develop some cool web and mobile projects. 

And we want to get our social house in order too…

Social change

We’re currently working on a new homepage, to try to simplify our subscription / paid-content proposition, and to outline the other things that we do in a clearer way (things like Training and Events). As part of this move to reclaim the prime, above-the-fold page estate for the important messaging, we will reposition our Twitter feed (and other social media content). Econsultancy-related tweets shouldn’t really be the first thing a visitor sees when they land on our homepage for the first time.

At the end of 2009 we also decided to unfollow all of the 19,000 people we have been following on Twitter. If this applies to you please don’t take it personally. We set up an auto-follow rule when we first started out on Twitter, and – frankly – it’s got a little bit out of control.

Seven reasons why we’re starting from scratch with Twitter

  1. It is impractical to follow 19,000 people. Too much noise has rendered our @econsultancy Twitter account unusable.
  2. It looks spammy to have 19,000 followers and to follow 19,000 people, but we don’t use Hummingbird or any pyramid software tools to grow our follower count. Our Twitter presence has grown organically.
  3. It will avoid spam followers who follow just to be followed back. When follower / following numbers are so closely correlated it can attract spammers, who often leave shortly afterwards. Software tools look for these accounts too, which makes the problem even worse.
  4. We are easy to contact. As a media brand we have a contact page and can be individually contacted by email with relative ease. As such following people simply to open up direct messaging isn’t so important. And besides…
  5. Our DM spam is out of control. Seriously. It’s a mess. The amount of bullshit messages sent via automatic DM is just insane. We’re done with it.
  6. We encourage public discussion and continue to monitor and reply to @econsultancy tweets.
  7. It’s an experiment in real time SEO. I wrote about some of the ranking factors for real time SEO, and I think follower-to-following ratios might come into play. We’re not overly concerned about this right now, but real time search may become a much bigger deal in the future, and we’d like to be in line with best practice as and when this happens. In any event, I’m keen to see if this makes any kind of difference to our current real time results.

Ultimately, we simply want to start from scratch. We will be manually – and gradually – re-following media folks, friendly guru types, and various industry people.

Risks

A batch unfollow manoeuvre like this is not without its dangers. In particular, there are two things that might happen:

Account suspension. Twitter’s terms of service suggest that mass-unfollowing is a red flag event. This kind of ‘aggressive follower churn’ means that is is likely that we will be flagged as a spammer, when in fact the opposite is true. We are doing this in part to eliminate spam, and to make our Twitter account usable again.

Mass follower bailout. Some followers may choose to unfollow us, as a result of this decision. We hope our cherished Twitter followers will remain tuned in, to receive our updates and notifications of new blog posts, research, surveys, events, and irregular ‘beer o’clock’ announcements. If people choose to leave then that’s ok too. Like I said, it’s nothing personal, it’s just that you cannot actively ‘follow’ anyone when you’re watching 19,000 other people.

Both are risks we’re prepared to take, if only to see what happens (Econsultancy is essentially an office full of highly curious people). If our account is suspended then we hope Twitter will understand our reasons for doing this, and that we’ll be back with you soon! And we feel that Twitter isn’t about the sheer quantity of followers that you can amass, but about the quality and relevance of those followers. If we continue to create compelling content then – hopefully – we’ll continue to grow our Twitter account organically in the months and years to come. 

In any event, the script is whirring away and within a few hours our ‘following’ count will fall to zero. We’re watching and learning along the way…

Any thoughts?