Brands that Lead and Don’t Follow

Are you a follow-back brand?

Imagine this scenario, if you can…You love a product so much that you’d drive across town just to be lucky enough to buy it, hold it in your hands, Skyy Vodka, for example. And as you’re paying for your purchase, you find it on Twitter. Suddenly you hear angels singing, the clouds part and a warm and welcoming ray of light shines on you. You whip out your smart phone and follow and chat and share your brand love with the Twitterverse…

But then days go by and that brand doesn’t acknowledge you or follow you back. You’re bereft and lonely. Why aren’t you good enough to follow? Why don’t they love you too? Why Skyy Vodka, why?

Why Skyy Vodka, Why dont you follow back?

Sadly, brands that don’t follow haven’t figured out the difference between an audience and a community – and they’ve missed the whole point of social media.

  • An audience listens to radio and TV commercials or reads newspapers and websites. Information is pushed out according to a set of guidelines. The brand controls the output.
  • A community shares messages, person to person. It’s unique every time it’s told because it’s a conversation. The message lives in the hearts of the people who hear it because it comes from a real person. If the brand is lucky, that message will be shared again and again and again, person to person, heart to heart.

How to build a brandAs a brand, which scenario do you think will gain you more loyal followers? Which do you think has the potential to go viral (whether things go really right or really wrong)? Which one do you think will grow faster and reach more people?

If you’re a brand on Twitter and your social media strategy is not to follow everyone who follows you, you’re missing the point. More importantly, you’re sending a strong message to those you don’t follow: I’m important because I’m a brand and you’re not…

When things go wrong (as they always do at one time or another) those people whom you don’t follow have no way of privately asking for help. Everything they say to you is public facing. And if they’re angry, the whole world is now privy to that anger. Think of how much grief you could have saved yourself just being a little more friendly in the first place and being a follow-back brand.

By the way, I’m not a vodka drinker and don’t follow Skyy Vodka on Twitter – but I’d love to hear from you if you follow them – especially if you’re one of the chosen few they follow.

I asked a few of my friends on Twitter how they feel about brands that follow (or don’t follow) them back. The discussion ranged from disappointment about not being followed back to putting brands on pedestals and not expecting them to follow back.

Brand loyaltyI personally believe that the beauty and magic of social media is the humanization of brands. It equalizes us all, removes the gatekeepers and opens up opportunities for conversations. I left high school a long time ago and have no desire to enter a popularity contest with a brand. If I’m not cool enough to be followed, I’ll go find my community somewhere else – and likely spend my money there too.

Read through our conversation and share your thoughts below. I would love to hear what YOU think.


@JennAnnis ~ [If they don’t follow me] they’re more concerned with numbers than with connecting. I’m way less likely to try to engage, why should I care if they don’t? Other Brands make the effort – reward them. I expect more out of the big guys. They can afford dedicated social media people. If they respond to mentions that’s fine. I was thinking big companies like CNN etc. I love it when companies like @ShaftesburyTV interact with me.

@sarahcasm ~ I don’t expect them to follow back. it’s not about importance. I guess I just don’t feel like they need to read my tweets for me to benefit from following them.

@print3chick ~ They just don’t get it, and that they don’t want a relationship with the customer. .

@Sherriemae23 ~ Dear Brand – don’t be elitist and only follow SOME people. You will lose me as a customer. And Brands make sure you know who is tweeting for you. They are a representation of YOU! Be careful

@CarolAuCourant ~ It really depends. How often are you connecting w/them? If I do often & they don’t, I’d be a tad offended.

@EmmaSeries ~  In my experience as a brand manager, people get freaked out when a brand follows back. They like to be talked to. I’m asking because I’m building my own following now. I don’t expect well-known authors to follow me back.

@auwai_inc ~ I think they should make an effort… Great opp to engage but we’re all accustomed to follow snobbery. That being said, if I’m in a situation where I need to unfollow, those brands who don’t engage directly are 1st. It’s a little harsh but without followers, twitter is a little useless for a brand. Put a little effort.

Ann Douglas ~The Mother of All ... brands@savvari ~ If you follow a brand and interact with them often, it would be nice to be followed back.

@anndouglas ~ I follow a huge number of media brands. They rarely follow back. I’m pleasantly surprised when/if they do. What surprises me is the number of authors who join Twitter and then don’t appear to want to engage with readers. Some media accounts on Twitter only follow their own subaccounts. They limit their opportunities to learn/connect. Perhaps media management at such organizations issues an edict about not following “the competition” or some such thing. I hear from a lot of readers who tell me they’ve connected w authors on Twitter but weren’t followed back. I noticed today that @torontostar has started retweeting its readers. Happy to see that.

So what do you think? Do you want brands to follow you back?

Connect with us here or follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook or connect with me on LinkedIn – I’m always on.

11 Responses to “Brands that Lead and Don’t Follow”

  1. Trina says:

    This boggles my mind at times. For example, I think if you look back at my feed, I have been promoting TIFF since 2008. I am also a HUGE advocate of Blackberry. This weekend Blackberry asked me to write about TIFF from my perspective with a brand new 4G Playbook. I was floored and welcomed the opportunity.

    In regards to SKYY Vodka, no they don’t follow me, BUT I have made reference to them in regards to their involvement with TIFF over the course of the last few weeks. Nothing! Nadda!

    To add fuel to my despair, I was invited to two gifting suites where I was a filler! A FILLER! I wasted a whole afternoon with people who gave blue bands and exclusive product tours to chosen individuals while leaving the rest drink and eat. I immediately left the second one. I’m not a filler. I’ve been writing about TIFF for 5 years for a reason. To get opportunities to support something that I truly believe in full circle. So next year, the question will be when a brand patronizes me to attend their product event is “Will I be a filler or a brand promoter?” If it’s a filler, thanks but I’ll continue what I have been doing the past 5 years because it is what I love doing.

    I know this happens around the world daily, but for myself, I know I’m worth a follow, or an invite, or a blue band just as much or more than some of these people brands cater to.

    • Julia Rosien says:

      Brilliant, Trina, simply brilliant. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences on my blog. There’s no excuse for anyone (or any brand) to be downright disrespectful and not make their intentions clear.

      I appreciate you and the sharing we do for each other – thank you (again) for being you!

  2. Sandy says:

    Excellent article! I absolutely love this and couldn’t agree more with what you have said. My other complaint lies with companies who do not respond to your complaints or enquiries when you write to them. Leaves me wondering why they have a “contact us” section on their website, or why they are actually following me on Twitter if they don’t wish to communicate with me when I ask a question or comment on a concern I have. I lose any respect for a company who doesn’t take a few moments to respond to me. Even if they cannot help me out, it’s common courtesy to at least send a reply and acknowledge my concern/enquiry.

    • Julia Rosien says:

      Thanks for stopping by Sandy and for commmenting with such great points. I used to work for a company that never responded to customer complaints…they went bankrupt. Shocking.

  3. Melissa Y says:

    Invite all your favourite brands to a party. Who sits in the corner with their banner and prays people will come talk to them and who mingles like a pro throughout the room, often not even making mention of their brand name, just adding useful engagement to the conversation?

    This is exactly why I follow few brands on social media. I don’t expect to be followed but if I engage you and receive no response, our relationship could be over before it begins.

    • Julia Rosien says:

      Beautifully put, Melissa. Thank you! The real magic of social media happens when brands start showing their human face and being part of the conversation. Sadly many have not learned this lesson yet.

  4. James Howe says:

    Great post Julia! i couldn’t agree more. What you’ve described applies to more than just corporate brands. It also applies to the public sector and the social profit sector. A month ago, I made a fuss about the number of accounts the City of Waterloo followed (see I was surprised by the number of people who didn’t agree with the importance of following and so I explained why I made a fuss (see Thanks for reinforcing that social media needs to be social in order for the organization using it to experience the maximum benefit from using it. I especially like that you’ve shared reasons that I didn’t such as the ability for those you follow on Twitter to send you private direct messages when they have concerns rather than being forced to talk to you publicly. Sometimes it’s better to deal with issues outside of the glare of public attention.

    • Julia Rosien says:

      Thank you, James. It’s sad to see cities making mistakes like this. The opportunities are so very big and it saddens me when they miss something so easy to own – I’m betting there’s a whole host of volunteers who’d be happy to help them out!

  5. I appreciate the point of view in this article, but I caution against assuming that a brand is being elitist just because they don’t follow back.

    What many brands are ill-equipped for is the customer service that comes with connecting in a one-to-one way. Engagement is the happy part of social media. Customer service, in particular angry customers, is the yucky bits.

    Some brands don’t “get it” for a few reasons:

    1 – Some brands assign social media tasks to the most junior person in the company just because they “know their way around Facebook.”

    2 – Or, the company hires the wrong social media consultant who tells them just to treat social media as an extension of their advertising campaigns, thus only focusing on the numbers.

    JetBlue comes to mind as a company that handles customer service issues that come through Twitter very well. They must have a social media monitoring tool because I sent out a tweet about 3-years ago about their crappy service, then got a reply the next day inviting me to share my angst by email to their customer service team. I can happily say that they were not only responsive, but also resolved my issue – all because of one tweet.

    For those of us who are well versed with social media – not just how to set up a profile and get followers – but how to handle engagement AND customer service issues through social media, we have alot of work ahead. Most brands **think** they have it all figured out and even if we were to tell them they could improve by doing this and this, they’ll feel that junior in accounting or their agency has a good handle on it.

    What I will encourage us to do is have more compassion for brands and personalities who just don’t seem to “get it.” They may not get it because they’re getting the wrong advice.

    • Julia Rosien says:

      Thank you, Leesa for a very thoughtful response. You make some very good point and I love the point about compassion – very good advice!

      Appreciate the visit and the opportunity to look at this from another viewpoint.


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