Ask for Fairtrade

Make sure your choice of coffee makes a difference

Should we Twollo/auto-follow people talking about coffee on Twitter?

To help get @askforfairtrade started I’ve done a few manual searches on Twitter and have started following people talking about Fairtrade.

But part of the goal of @askforfairtrade (alongside checking who is and who isn’t sticking to their promises to offer Fairtrade coffee) is to encourage people who may not have instinctively thought about choosing a Fairtrade option to ask for it.

So seeing Zarah’s mention of Twollo, a Twitter service which will auto-follow people with particular interests on Twitter, I’m wondering whether @askforfairtrade should be set up to auto-follow people talking about tea or coffee? Or is auto-following by the @askforfairtrade campaigning twitter account too invasive?

If we were to use auto-following, then what key phrases or interests should we auto-follow? A search for Coffee on twitter turns up far to many results… so we might want to narrow down to phrases that might indicate someone is heading out to buy coffee.


  • Do you think auto-following has a place in the @askforfairtrade campaigning experiment?
  • If so, what phrases could we / should we use to determine who gets auto-followed?

I’ll look at any responses here in the next week or so and will look at whether or not to try an auto-follow…



  Dave Briggs wrote @

Tim – I think the autofollow in this instance would be too annoying for people. The last thing you want is to create any ill will amongst potentially sympathetic folk.

Better (but more time consuming) would be to monitor twitter through RSS for mentions of the keywords, then send people @replies mentioning the campaign, to see if you can get them interested that way. It’s possible that this could even be automated using one of the many services out there!

  timgdavies wrote @

Thanks for the reply Dave.

In thinking about it – it’s interesting how an @reply would seem to carry a different (and lesser) level of intrusiveness than the auto-follow…

Any ideas why that would be?

  Michael Grimes wrote @

I think auto-following is always a bad idea: it irritates people and defeats the object of creating meaningful connections.

I agree with Dave about using RSS. And if you want to target people who are not likely to use Fair Trade could you try monitoring discussions of shopping, or cheap goods, credit crunch, etc?

  Dave Briggs wrote @

I think it is because the @reply leaves it up to the individual whether they choose to follow the campaign – which can then be seen as tacit approval of the campaign following in return.

I think the @reply method is a friendy: Hi! You might be interested in this… type of thing, where the follow is slightly more creepy.

I wonder how much of this come down to vocabulary – if it wasn’t called following, would there be such an issue about it?

  Nick Booth wrote @

Both Dave and Michael are giving you good advice here. The reason why the @reply is better is because the person receiving it knows that a human being is behind it. Twitter is essentially a social tool. If you mechanise it then folks perceive you as being anti-social. Also if you randomly follow folk you can damage your cause:

Imagine yourself on the receiving end of auto following – it would have to be something you are enormously grateful for for it not to rile you a little. Try not to chase numbers here, go for good quality relationships. 200 appreciative followers will tap you into 200 other networks. 2,000 irritated folk will cut you out of there’s.

  timgdavies wrote @

Thanks for the input @michael, @davebriggs, @nickbooth

This chimes with my initial thoughts – but was keen to explore whether my intuition was wrong…

I think I will explore more efficient ways of @ messaging over using the twitter search and far-to-many-open-tabs approach I’ve been going for so far…

  Michael Grimes wrote @

The problem with @replies is that they don’t always behave as you’d expect them to, and seem to be treated differently by different clients.

I don’t have much of a problem with following people (after all that’s what Twitter is about), provided the follower is genuinely interested in the person they’re following.

  Dogsbody wrote @

Sorry to disagree with the above but I am all up for following people instead of @ replies to try and gain followers. My reasoning in no particular order is as follows…

Some messages above talk about @ replies being more personal and then talk about ways of automating it… well it’s not personal then. If you do this you will have a twitter account full of @ messages saying exactly the same thing (you may be interested in me) which means anyone following you with the “all @ replies” setting set will unfollow you very quickly even if they like you.

Following people is what twitter is all about. I would agree that is is on the spamy side of twitter (mainly due to the e-mail it generates) but that is configurable and it’s just how twitter works. I have had amazing feedback to a completely manual experiment I did (albeit with small numbers) on @12DaysChristmas. I manually searched for people twittering the phrase “12 days of Christmas” and manually followed them. Of the 75 people I followed I picked up 20 followers.

I know it’s not mega but it’s enough to convince me that people are interested enough to follow (they don’t have to, nothing is forcing them) and have now set this up on @twollo

Each to their own, just wanted to explain my reasoning’s 🙂


  timgdavies wrote @

@dogsbody @michael

Useful input – just as I though I was coming to the conclusion to avoid following as a strategy for building the campaign.

I guess there are two things I’m aiming for:

1) To build up a community of people who are tweeting at @askforfairtrade with reports of coffee shops providing FT or not

2) To send a gentle and non-invasive message to twitter-using coffee drinkers to remind them to ask for a Fairtrade option

Nick’s point about 200 engaged followers vs. 2000 narked twitterers perhaps suggests these might be mutually exclusive goals for a single Twitter account. And I hadn’t thought that using @ replies would swamp the twitter page for @askforfairtrade with similar @ messages as @dogsbody notes – so perhaps that isn’t such a good option.

One option for good organic growth seems to be to encourage people to tweet with @askforfairtrade not at the start of their message, but a little way into it, so that their followers see the link to @askforfairtrade (or to introduce @askforfairtrade as a hashtag for gathering reports, rather than an ‘@’) but I was conscious that I would need to pick up these tweets via and this only works for people who have their account public and their updates in the public timeline.

Perhaps instead of auto-following I should set up a script that invites twitters to suggest coffee drinkers they know who could then get a message from @askforfairtrade?

How would you meet aims 1 & 2 given all the points in discussions so far?

  Zarah wrote @

I sniffed around some more after finding out about Twollo and found out about Just type in a phrase and it will populate the people who recently tweeted about it. It’s pretty handy. I have it up for Fair Trade and it doesn’t auto-follow, which I’m not a big fan of.

Check it out if you haven’t already. It seems like it could be a real useful tool for the experiment.


  Glenn wrote @

200 interested followers is infinitely better than 2000 peed off punters.

Strangely not everyone in FairTrade World shares your enthusiasm about spreading the message – in the UK there has been a poor response to requests for the FT message to be put to the industry…

  Dogsbody wrote @

The idea of a hashtag seems a good one.

IMHO, don’t try and use twitter as a replacement for all internet tools. Use it as the communication medium to get them discussing the issues in this blog.

If you want to use twitter to “send a gentle and non-invasive message to twitter-using coffee drinkers” then auto-follow and @replies are your only options.

Still getting a 25% “follow back” rate on my auto-follow trial which isn’t bad at all I think. They are obviously following back because they are interested.

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