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Businesses and industry professionals often have the misconception that a high follower count on social media will instantly drive more traffic and engagement for their posts. Some accounts earn their follower counts organically and through paid advertising, while others purchase fake or spam follow thousands of accounts in the hopes that they follow back. Whatever the case may be, having a high following to follower ratio penalizes accounts on most social media ranking systems, resulting in lower engagement and posts becoming buried in newsfeeds.
There is a lot of conjecture amongst marketers regarding the precise golden rule for the following to follower ratio, but accounts should always strive to have a positive ratio rather than a negative one. A positive ratio is when an account has a higher number of followers compared to the number of users an account follows, whereas a negative ratio involves an account following more users than it has users following them. Some accounts will have tens of thousands of followers while only following a handful of users and others will keep those numbers relatively close. There doesn’t seem to be any outstanding penalties for either method as long as an account has more followers compared to followed accounts.
Despite Twitter being founded on a one-sided follower culture, in 2009 the two-way symmetrical communication model would eventually result in most people engaging in follow backs to form an interactive, online community. Brands and marketers took advantage of this behavior by unfollowing people after they followed back to stay at a high positive ratio. As more people were burned by marketers and brands unfollowing them, they started to not follow back as freely as before and many accounts utilized apps to track unfollowers.
To combat marketers from using these techniques, Twitter implemented a policy against aggressive following and follower churn by sanctioning accounts if they follow and unfollow others too rapidly. There are also mechanical limits that have been imposed on newly made accounts: users are unable to follow more than 5,000 people until they reach a following of the same number.
I’ve made this point before, but brands and professionals shouldn’t strive to only have thousands of followers. If audience engagement is lacking, the number of followers an account has is worthless. Emphasis should be placed on creating quality content, interacting with other users and growing a community of interested people instead of an often inflated and artificial follower count.