One of my more recent posts on Twitter was “Show me a politician who hasn’t flip-flopped, and I’ll show you a politician who’s still wrong.” Yes, the easiest way to ensure that you’re not always right is to always insist that you’re right. To really be right, you’ve got to be willing to admit that you were wrong and change your mind sometimes.

In politics, your opponents will call it flip-flopping. But I’d rather vote for someone who has flip-flopped from wrong to right often than someone who’s still wrong.

But let’s talk Twitter.

As you well know, if you’ve ever read what I’ve written on the topic, I’ve been an outspoken opponent of “fauxlowing” — following people on Twitter whose tweets you don’t actually want to read. I’ve called it dishonest. I’ve called it a waste of Twitter’s resources for your own selfish gain.

And now I’m going to flip-flop. I’m going to become a fauxlower. And I’m going to tell you why.

Because a follow is an invitation to engage. Even a fauxlow can be an invitation to engage, if it’s sincere.

If you don’t intend to engage those you fauxlow, I still think it’s wrong. If you’re just doing it for follower count bragging rights, it’s still a waste of Twitter’s resources. But if your intent is to engage in conversation with anyone who takes you up on your invitation, then you’re using Twitter as intended. Or at least, you’re close enough. Maybe you’re not reading all of the person’s tweets, but when their tweets or DMs are directed to you, you’re participating in the conversation.

If that were all there was to it — follow somebody and see if they’ll @mention or DM you — I’d say it’s a pretty lame strategy. Almost zero chance of success. A waste of time and resources. You’ve got to be more proactive — be the one to initiate the conversation.

But if you’re embracing the strategy of following many to find the few who will engage, initiating each of those conversations can be a monumental task. The ROI may not be worth it. That’s where automation comes in — partial automation, at least.

And so we return to the dreaded auto-DM.

I agree that most auto-DMs are annoying. But I’ve come up with an approach that’s not. Or at least, I certainly wouldn’t be annoyed by it. Not if it’s sincere. Not if it’s an honest invitation to engage.

First, a few things NOT to do in your auto-DM:

  • Don’t just say “thanks for following me” and nothing else. Sure, it’s a nice sentiment. But it consumes your follower’s time without delivering any value. Since it’s easily recognized as an automated message, even if it’s sincere, it comes across as a fake — or at least lazy — attempt at sincerity.
  • Don’t promote your product. You don’t spam your friends. If you spam your followers, you’re just proving that you’re not their friend.
  • Don’t send a coupon code for a special offer on your product. Sure, you’re doing your follower a favor. Just like all the other spammers in the world who are doing them favors. It doesn’t matter if it’s a special offer. It’s still spam.
  • Don’t send them an affiliate link. More spam.
  • Don’t tell them about your blog or website. More self-serving spam. “But what if it’s a great blog or website?” Sorry. Still spam. I’m sure lots of spammers think the products they’re peddling are great.

In short, your auto-DM should not be about you, your website, your products, your income, etc. It should be all about your new follower.

But how do you craft an auto-DM about your follower that isn’t just a questionably sincere “thanks for following me”, and that jump starts your engagement with people you want to connect with? Here’s my formula:

Ask a question that someone in your target market would love to answer!

Now you’re not just saying that you appreciate them. You’re inviting them to interact. And it’s not about you. (I didn’t say that yet, did I? The question shouldn’t be about you.) It’s about them.

I’m not going to tell you the question that I’m asking, because I’d hate for everyone to lazily use the same question and make it too common — especially if it isn’t the right question for them to be asking. But it’s targeted directly at the kind of person that I’m most interested in engaging with — the kind of person who I could have a mutually beneficial relationship with.

The question you ask should be one that implies (and be honest about this!) that if they answer it, you’ll take some action that they want you to take. That’s why they’ll want to answer it — because there’s a clear benefit to them for responding.

Once they’ve answered, it’s your job to take the next step — to act on their answer, and then tweet or DM them to let them know what you’ve done. If they’re the kind of person who’s willing to engage, they’ll respond again. And now you’ve started a real relationship.

There are more steps required to build the relationship and for both of you to enjoy the mutual benefit of it. But if you pick the right question to start things off, it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out how to make that follow naturally. I’ll have more to say about that later.

For now, that’s my explanation of why I’ve flip-flopped and become a fauxlower. Yes, it’s still fauxlowing if I don’t intend to read all of somebody’s tweets. But it’s also a sincere invitation to engage for mutual benefit.

Here’s a video of a tool I’m building to take the grunt work out of the process: