12/27/2012 05:27 pm ET Updated Feb 26, 2013

The Decision to Follow You on Twitter Takes Less Than 10 Seconds

In my last Huffington Post blog I named the top 100 business, leadership and technology Twitter accounts that you must follow; I crowdsourced the list by asking my Twitter network for their recommendations. I am humbled and delighted by the wonderful responses that I received regarding my list. Upon reflection, I asked myself: What can people do so that these amazing people on the list would follow them back?

The decision to follow you on Twitter is likely to take less than 10 seconds. I remember reading a Fast Company article that most job recruiters spend less than six seconds evaluating resumes. I believe this is about the time it takes for most people to decide to connect via social media. To validate my point, I asked my Twitter network of 11,000 to fill in the blank: "I don't follow people on Twitter if ___." Based on their suggestions and my own experience, I have listed the top eight reasons why people might immediately choose not to follow you on Twitter.

  1. The egghead avatar -- a picture is worth a thousand words and a missing picture is a thousand words that say you don't really care enough to connect. Equally bad is an inappropriate avatar of a professional who thinks a beach photo is a good idea. My advice to business professionals is simple: Use a self-portrait and smile.
  2. No biography -- It is easier to follow, when we know who you are. We trust you more, when we know you more. We connect to people whom we trust. Equally bad is a bio that is trying to sell us something. Please avoid ninja, guru, diva and expert in your bio description. Also, please do not solicit followers in your bio. If you are interesting enough, you don't need to ask.
  3. The 140-character secret society -- Your Twitter account is locked and followers must be approved by you -- really? Think less command-and-control and more collaboration and co-creation.
  4. You bought your network -- A savvy social networker will notice that you have tens of thousands of followers but you are listed seven times. It turns out there is a correlation and expected ratio between the number of 'true' followers and the number of times you are on a Twitter list. In most cases, if the number of tweets is low, the list number is low, but your follower count is exceptionally high, then you are trying to game the system. In relationships, authenticity matters.
  5. Relationships cannot be automated -- Auto 'thank you' directed message, auto follow back, and scheduled tweets is how you 'engage' your network. Please remember, clever is not smart.
  6. Megaphone instead of telephone -- Your Twitter stream is uni-directional with you acknowledgments or gratitude. Leadership is conversations so think telephone and converse with your network. Learn people's names and show gratitude. Stop selling and start listening.
  7. The glass is empty -- Your views are negative and extreme and your goal is to be controversial. Extreme negativity is generally not welcomed. Unfortunately some confuse critical thinking and cynicism to be the same.
  8. Excessive profanity -- Enough said.

I asked my Twitter network for their input by asking "I don't follow people on Twitter if ____," and below are some of the wonderful answers: [Twitter alias in brackets]

  • Sangeetha [@SangitaSri] don't follow people who diminish your positivity and clutter your views with word smithy skepticism
  • Syamant Sandhir [@syamant] 1. Your stream is negative 2. All you care about is you and your news. 3. There is nothing to learn
  • Aaron Kilby [@kilby76] I don't follow people on Twitter if they have #FollowBack in their profile?
  • Azara Stone [@AzaraStone] If they are half naked in their profile pic
  • Jane Boyd [@boydjane] if they are not generous in how they treat others -in life and business.
  • [@preciouslv] I don't follow people on Twitter if they don't interact with their followers. Twitter is about engaging, not just advertising.
  • Kristin Lubben [@KristinLubben] I check their Twitter feed and there are NO replies / conversations! Kristen also tweeted: if you auto-DM me right after I follow you w/'Thank you, how can I help you?'
  • Marie Roker-Jones [RaisingGreatMen] They only tweet their stuff and don't interact with or engage followers
  • Laura Serrano [@LauraSerrano10] if someone is snarky or mean spirited I will not follow.
  • Ching Ya [@wchingya] I don't follow people if 99% of their tweets are about themselves or from third party auto-broadcasting tool.
  • Dave Birchhead [@DaveBirckhead] I don't follow those on Twitter who don't interact with respect for others.
  • Jason Averbook [@jasonaverbook] - the tweets and retweets are biased and put for personal interest instead of the best interest of our globe
  • Jay Lebo [@GetGravitas] Egghead, doesn't follow anyone, uses racial/misogynist slurs, calls me their best friend, tweets ten at a time, preaches gospel.
  • Fred Kirsch [@meDNA] if they do little more than offer rants or musings.
  • Randy Macon [@randymacon] if the tweets are mostly negative in nature. I prefer to use #Twitter to bolster the good not bash the bad.
  • Patrick Reade [@preade65] they are obviously 'not there', churning out repetitive automated messages;why bother ? No effort = no connection.
  • Duane Grove [@connect2action] if most Tweets are self-advertising. Twitter is a dialog which means most Tweets should welcome discussion
  • Jamie Rondeau [@jamierondeau] they self-promote especially at inappropriate times (eg following Newtown, Sandy)
  • Maria Lasprilla [@marialasprilla] I don't follow people on Twitter if they do nothing but complain.
  • Rich Rogers [@RichRogersHDS] I don't follow people on Twitter if they're not interested in contributing as much or more than what they take out.
  • Amy Alexander [@IambicAmy] I don't follow people on Twitter if their mission in life is to enrage their audience. Enough rage. Inform warmly.
  • Kymberlaine Banks [@kymberlaine] I don't follow people on twitter if they speak hate - the world has enough of that going on already

In summary, please don't do social. Be S.O.C.I.A.L. -- sincere, open, collaborative, interested, authentic, and likeable. And remember, excellence is in the details and effort matters. Now go replace the egghead avatar with your handsome/beautiful photo and let's connect.

This post is part of a series co-produced by The Huffington Post and Blogworld, in conjunction with the latter's BusinessNext Social 2013. That event will feature some of the world's leading social-business luminaries and influencers, each of whom will be speaking at the event to provide an up-close look at how the world's most successful businesses harness the power of social.