This week it emerged that David Cameron's Twitter account had followed an escort agency, something which you can read more about on the BBC website. Whilst most will regard the news as a minor embarassment and nothing much to get upset about, this kind of gaffe provides fuel for a media feeding frenzy and can be damaging.
Politics aside, people who may have objections to, or hold strong moral views about, escort services will have their perception skewed by such news, encouraging a negative and sleazy view of David Cameron.
There is a stark lesson to be learned here for all businesses active on Twitter - you need to be aware of whom you are following and you need to be selective about whom you follow.
So how and why did the Prime Minister end up following an escort agency? Easy. In the pursuit of popularity, new followers on Twitter are often automatically followed back with complete disregard to their relevance. The belief is often that following our followers back will ensure they continue to follow us and a follow back is our way of saying thanks for following us.
Why Who You Follow On Twitter Matters
Like it or not, when we follow someone on Twitter, it indicates a positive association. For example, that we like what they have to say, that we share their values and so on. Following someone on Twitter is like giving them 'like' on Facebook - it's generally regarded as an endorsement.
Audit your Twitter 'following' list and do it now. Thousands of spam Twitter accounts are set up every day and following these kind of followers back offers you and your own followers zero value.
As well as being on the look out for spam accounts, you also need to look carefully at relevance. For most businesses, following controversial people or causes should only be done after careful consideration. It goes without saying that escort services my be seen by many as morally questionable, so before you follow back, make sure the Tweeter is relevant.
Getting Who To Follow On Twitter Right
Make sure the account is authentic - no profile picture, a keyword stuffed description, zero followers and duplicated posts all scream of spam accounts, and are best avoided and blocked.
Make sure those you follow are relevant or have value for your business - those you follow on Twitter should be related to your niche, reflect your brand values or are potential customers. Of course you can have some wild-cards in there, for example that reflect your interests or are topical, but as a general rule, try and keep who you follow on-brand.
Check for recent Twitter activity - another common mistake that is easily made is to hit the follow button before looking at a profile in detail. I will often look for new people to follow and routinely come across accounts that look great until I dig a little deeper and browse their time line only to find they've not posted since February 2011. If they've not posted in at least the last month, I don't follow.
...And The Moral Is?
Don't blindly follow back everyone that follows you and absolutely make sure that you are not using auto follow-back Twitter apps or plugins. Always make sure you take a few seconds to verify the authenticity of a Tweeter and to make an objective call to determine if they are worth following. If you do follow them, you need to be satisfied that you don't stand to alienate your followers and customers as a direct result or otherwise adversely affect the reputation of your business.