The #SMsceptic: Why #FF / #FollowFriday is (mostly) pointless…

Whether a veteran or a casual user, many of those on Twitter will be familiar with the concept of #FollowFriday, which is often abbreviated to just #FF.

The concept is simple. Tell your followers – on a Friday – why they should follow another Twitter user and tag the tweet with #FollowFriday or #FF.

The concept, which was supposedly born in January 2009, has grown from one man’s tweet to a weekly phenomenon and tradition on Twitter. But the concept is flawed… or at least it is for the most part.

The right & wrong ways to #FF

I’ve talked before about how people get #FF “wrong” (see no. 8 of my first #SMsceptic post), in terms of not utilising it properly. After all, listing a ton of names is not going to benefit anyone, while mentioning one or two people and filling the rest of the tweet-space with a reason why they should be followed is much more beneficial to someone. “#FF [this person] because they blog about Cardiff” is likely to pique one’s curiosity more than “#FF [name] [name] [name] [name] [name]…”

However, a recent tweet by @miametro hit the nail on the head:

Just think about it for a moment…

Last Friday, when the people you follow all unleashed their #FF’s in near-unison, did you take the time to actually click on and look at any of the @mentions that were recommended to you, let alone follow anyone new as a result of them?

In this respect, #FollowFriday is flawed. The purpose is to follow someone’s recommendations, but we’re all too busy – and there are often so many – to actually invest the time to look at them all. If one’s curiosity is piqued (as previously mentioned) then it’s a possibility, as they might realise that they should be following a particular user recommended to them – especially if they have something in common, for example. But when someone simply lists a few dozen names in half a dozen tweets? Fat chance.

The psychology of #FF

So if very few people are actually paying attention to anyone’s #FollowFriday suggestions, then a) what is the point, and b) why does it continue to be a popular weekly activity on Twitter? I can think of a few reasons:

Stroking egos: #FollowFriday won’t go away for as long as the human race has egos. I don’t mean that in a negative, arrogant sense, but more that people love to feel loved and appreciated. I’d argue that the #FF is the online equivalent of the pat on the back more than it is a shout-out. Therefore, #FF won’t go away any time soon because people love to receive them. And when people receive, people feel inclined to give: I bet many #FF’s are a result of someone being included in someone else’s #FF and then thinking “oh yeah, maybe I should do one.” A bit like the chain emails of yesteryear – people passing on their #FF recommendations after they’ve been the subject of one.

Grabbing attention: #FollowFriday is a good way to get someone’s attention, particularly if it’s targeted someone the tweeter wants to be followed and/or noticed by. For example, a job candidate may #FF companies he/she wants to work for. They’ll appear in each company’s @mentions stream as a notification that the candidate has mentioned them. They may or may not follow the candidate, but the point is that they might not have seen him/her otherwise…

Following tradition & joining in: At the end of the day, let’s face it: Twitter is all just a little bit of fun. It’s very easy to get carried away with tradition and to join in with something because everybody else is involved. By doing a #FF yourself, you’re effectively joining in with the online “community,” if you will – “playing along” with one of Twitter’s many quirks and traditions. It may have grown out of proportion from its original and intended purpose (i.e. “follow someone because…”), but for as long as people enjoy giving/receiving them, the concept will continue to reign.

[“Cygnet file” image credit: Glenn Brown – also, kudos to Sarah (@miametro) for being ok with me referencing her tweet]


  • Ben

    August 4, 2011 at 10:30 pm Reply

    I’d be inclined to disagree. Yes, most people do miss use the hashtag, but if people did not find it useful then they would have stopped using it, even if it is more of a “tradition”.

    I agree completely that it’s all about stroking ego’s, but it’s nice to have recognised way of giving someone kudos.
    When you’re just starting out on twitter; when some one influential to you posts their #FF they can be extremely influential to who you start following.

    Although, YOU might not have time to go through #FF some people do and they find it useful.

    I wouldn’t go quite as far as calling twitter a bit of fun, it’s produced some incredible changes around the world!

    • Steve

      August 5, 2011 at 1:00 pm Reply

      Hi Ben, thanks for your comment.

      I agree that a very influencial person giving an #FF to someone (e.g. an industry leader or a celebrity) could inundate that person with followers. I meant to – and therefore should’ve – mentioned that in the post. I should’ve been clearer, but I meant #FF’s from your average users, more than those who are more socially influencial and have followers in the tens/hundreds of thousands or millions.

      It’s also true that some people may be able to keep on top of #FF’s better than me! Suppose it depends on who they are and how they use Twitter. E.g. if they follow 50 people, all of whom are friends, then they are much more likely to keep on top of – and be interested in – the #FF’s presented to them compared to someone who follows £1k+, including people they follow who they may not know personally.

      Lastly, my “bit of fun” comment was not meant to sound patronising and I fear it has been misinterpreted. What I meant is that I’ve probably looked into #FF far too seriously, when for many – especially personal, non-business/commercial users – it really is just a bit of fun. I understand Twitter’s global influence and I wasn’t trying to belittle it, so apologies if that’s the way it came across.

      • Ben (@Nonentity)

        August 21, 2011 at 9:09 pm Reply

        Hi Steve,

        Thanks for your reply, I agree with pretty much everything you said. I saw this yesterday and thought of this thread: 68% of twitter users find new people to follow through friend recommendations. I wonder how many can be attributed to FF’s?

        The rest of the stats probably do make Twitter look like just a bit of fun: celebrity stalking, discounts and contests!

        Sorry for the late reply.

        • Steve

          August 25, 2011 at 11:16 am Reply

          Hi Ben. Thanks for the link. An interesting statistic, although it’d be good to know what they mean exactly by a ‘friend suggestion.’ As they’ve not been specific, a ‘suggestion’ could be almost anything friend- or profile-related: someone being @mentioned (but not #FF’ed); someone looking through their friend’s Following/Followers lists; a friend’s retweets, etc. – not necessarily via an #FF. Although I agree that #FF will make up a part of that percentage, I don’t think it will be very high. I wonder too 🙂

  • Koozai

    August 5, 2011 at 11:16 am Reply

    When i first joined Twitter I found Follow Friday essential in helping me find new people, now it’s just a relic. However I find if someone does a #ff for just one person I tend to take notice as that person must clearly be worth following. As for big long lists of ten names they just look like clutter on a feed.

    • Steve

      August 5, 2011 at 1:04 pm Reply

      Hi Koozai! (Is that Mike or Ben by any chance?) Glad that others in the industry agree that the ‘list of names’ approach can look cluttered. Also, good point about helping out in the early days, like Ben said (above). Thanks!

  • Francesca

    August 5, 2011 at 11:19 am Reply

    Nice post Steve, agree with most of what you say, most #FF’s go over my head and I barely give them a moment of my time however I do take the time to actually look out for the #folllowfriday ‘s from certain people, thought leaders & people who know and associate with people I want to follow and know to advance my career.

    PS – Twitter is not all just a little bit of fun – controversial Steve! 🙂 Agree with Ben and for me personally, it’s provided a wealth of job/interview/editorial opportunities.

    PS Ben – Long time no see/speak – what’s your twitter handle? 🙂

    • Steve

      August 5, 2011 at 1:07 pm Reply

      Hi Fran. I tend to do that – pay attention to a #FF more depending on who it’s come from.

      Sorry, again I think my “bit of fun” comment has been misinterpreted! Please refer to my reply to Ben to see my explanation of what I actually meant. Apologies if it came out (disastrously) wrong!

  • Dan

    August 5, 2011 at 1:35 pm Reply

    Hi, personally I like #FFs I always at least check them out, but only where there’s a brief description as opposed to a list of names, as you suggest above.

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