Auto follow refers to various methods, software programs and incentives used to automatically generate followers for an account on Twitter.
The common characteristic among auto-follow tools is automation. Typically, a bunch of follower connections are made automatically on Twitter by software, rather than manually by the Twitter user.
Auto follow methods usually rely on reciprocal following, which means following the people who follow you. That's a common practice on Twitter, and auto follow tools make it easier to do.
Other auto follow tools do slightly different things. Some, for instance, are designed to help you identify new people to follow on Twitter based on your interests. Still other auto follow systems maintain lists of Twitter accounts that will automatically follow you back if you follow them.
Twitter's Auto Follow Rules
Twitter does not like most forms of auto following other than the basic one of following everyone who follows you. It forbids what it calls "aggressive following," which means following large numbers of people quickly with the goal of getting them to follow them back. Breaking the rules can get your account suspended.
Particularly risky are systems that involve automatically "unfollowing" large numbers of people shortly after they follow you back. Twitter explicitly prohibits such behavior.
What's the Goal of Auto Follow Tools?
The purpose of most auto follow tools is obvious -- to help people get more followers on Twitter. Some premium automation tools also work with other social networks, helping to boost connections on Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace.
While a few auto follow tools are free, most companies that make these tools charge subscription fees. For that reason, the use of auto follow tools on Twitter is sometimes referred to as "buying followers."
In the long run, it's a good idea to manually add your own followers on Twitter and steer clear of auto follow tools, especially if your goal is to build lasting connections and expand your Twitter following in a meaningful way that can help you and your business.
Auto follow tools are an artificial way to build a Twitter following quickly. The connections they generate typically are not nearly as valuable as those you acquire on your own using manual or natural methods. There are some basic strategies to get Twitter followers on your own that are worth learning.
Still, auto follow tools are used by many businesses to jump-start their Twitter community. If done carefully, the tools can help increase anyone's number of followers on Twitter. If your policy is to follow back everyone who follows you on Twitter, automation tools can save time and implement that policy for you.
Attracting Followers with AdvertisingThere are many kinds of auto follow systems and tools. Some use indirect methods that are basically a form of advertising -- you pay to advertise your Twitter account to potential followers.
Twitter itself offers "promoted accounts" in which companies and people pay to have their accounts displayed in Twitter's customized "Who to Follow" recommendation lists.
Twitter's "promoted accounts" follower recommendations aren't auto following, though, because they don't involve anyone automatically following anyone else. They simply show Twitter user names in lists of users for others to consider. It's up to individual users to decide whether to follow a promoted account.
Buying Twitter Followers
Some third-party services offer ways of advertising Twitter accounts and charge based on how many followers result from each promotion. As previously stated, the practice of charging for follower acquisitions is sometimes called "buying followers."
These services are not advertising in the usual sense. Typically, they use tactics designed to increase the number of followers in some automated fashion. They involve a mix of auto following and advertising. Often, they don't disclose details of their methods.
The Tweet Store, for example, overtly touts its service as being one that lets people buy followers. It bases its fee on the number of followers it promises to deliver. Its FAQ states that The Tweet Store will typically deliver 100 to 200 new followers a day once you buy one of its follower "packs."
Its website offers almost no information on how its system works, however, other than to say it is fully automated. And that should be a red flag warning to anyone worried about violating Twitter's terms and conditions, which prohibit mass auto follow systems.
It's hard to predict exactly when using any large-scale auto follow services might get you in hot water with Twitter. But be aware of the risk of suspension if you decide to use automated follower-acquisition tools.
Other auto follow services are based on keyword filtering. You provide the keywords that interest you, and they promise to identify users to follow that match those keywords. InstaFollow is a free version of a keyword autofollow tool.
Twitter's No Auto Follow Rule
It's important to keep in mind that as a rule, Twitter does not like automated following.
One exception is that Twitter allows the simplest form of automated following -- people automatically following back those who are following them. Reciprocal following is not only allowed, it's encouraged as good Twitter etiquette. So automating that process is considered a time-saver for Twitter users.
Reciprocal following, though, is allowed only if people continue to follow those whom they automatically followed, at least for a while. As previously stated, apps that generate large volumes of automatic "unfollow" actions shortly after the "follow" connections start are banned on Twitter.
These apps typically run a numbers game--they generate a ton of follows on Twitter, with the goal of getting some follow-backs. Then they quickly "unfollow" these same people and start the follower acquisition process all over again. This is a major no-no on Twitter
Twitter's rules state, "The only auto-following behavior Twitter allows is auto-follow-back (following a user after they have followed you). Automated un-following is also not permitted." Twitter also says, "If your account automation is causing your account to violate the Twitter Rules (by retweeting spam updates, repeatedly posting duplicate links, etc.), your account may be suspended or terminated. ."
Twitter's Following Rules and Best Practices:
Twitter's Follower Limits
There is no limit on how many people can follow you on Twitter, but there are limits on how many people you can follow.
Anyone can follow up to 2,000 people. After that, different limits on how many additional people you can follow kick in; it all depends on your ratio of followers to those you follow. If you have a ton of followers and don't follow many people, for example, you'll be allowed to follow more people than if you have few followers and follow a lot of people.
Twitter imposed these limits on the number of people users can follow in an attempt to curb the "aggressive following" practice that has become common with spammers.
Do Your Own Following Most of the Time
Auto follow services can be tempting when you're trying to expand your following on Twitter, but it's important to maintain control over your Twitter account and build the kind of connections that will add value to your experience on Twitter.
The real value of Twitter lies in meaningful communication, not numbers of followers. For that reason, it's a good idea to be wary of auto follow services.