Who to Follow on Twitter for Newbies

April 30, 2009

Who to follow on Twitter?

A world of people… who to follow on Twitter?

How many Twitter users are out there? Since one celebrity alone has 1.5 million followers (and I’m not one of them), I’d say it’s a safe bet that there are at least 10 million. Out of all these people, how do you find who to follow on Twitter? Obviously you will want to follow any close friends who tweet, but what about beyond that?

An important thought-barrier to overcome is the idea that following someone on Twitter means listening to them tell you about their day. As you will see below, in addition to normal people, there are services, organizations, robots and jokesters occupying Twitterspace.

For anyone who is just getting started, here are my recommendations for who to follow on Twitter:

Who to follow on Twitter: Twitter Services


Twitter itself is an important one to follow. When things are really slow, or you can’t update your profile image, you will ask yourself, “Is my connection bad? Is it something I’m doing wrong? Or is it Twitter?” The official Twitter tweets explain what is slow or broken—and when these problems are fixed.


Sooner or later, you’ll be followed by a spammer. The thing to do with spammers is block them (so they’re not included in your followers list) and report them to Spam Watch. The best way to report them is to send a direct message to Spam Watch because direct messages are private, so you will avoid attracting further attention to the spammer. But you can only send direct messages to people who are following you. So how do you get Spam Watch to follow you? It’s easy: just follow them, and they will automatically follow you back. Then you’re ready to report any spammers.
Update: That’s the way we used to handle spam. Now Twitter provides a simple “report for spam” action. But it’s still useful to follow @spam for their warnings of fraudulent activity.


Unlike the above two, Mr. Tweet is not supplied by Twitter, but is one of many third-party services. Mr. Tweet is actually designed to help you with the question of who to follow on Twitter! Simply follow Mr. Tweet and it will start its machinery and send you a link to the recommendations it selected for you.

Are there other Twitter-related services that are helpful to follow? I’m looking for anything that is triggered by following it, not by logging in to a website.

Who to follow on Twitter: News


Catch important news headlines from CNN Breaking News.

(What’s curious about this is that until very recently, CNN was not directly involved with this account! Somebody else apparently wanted to read breaking news on his phone, so he took their news feed and created a Twitter account for it. This hints at the power of Twitter.)


I follow this San Jose A.M. radio news station 1590 KLIV for traffic alerts and local news updates (often delivered with wry humor, no mean feat in 140 characters). Obviously this won’t be of much help unless you live around San Jose, but I offer it as an example. Check with your local radio news station to see if they are posting news to Twitter.


One of the great things about Twitter is its immediacy. Is CNN Breaking News too slow for you? Try BNO News, which posts breaking news headlines while other news agencies are busy doing research and writing. This makes it pretty raw, and I have seen an occasional retraction, but unless there are people tweeting directly from a specific event, you’ll see it here first.

In addition to world and local news, you can get topic-specific news from niche magazines such as Macworld. What news do you follow on Twitter?

Who to follow on Twitter: Jokesters


Darth Vader needs little introduction. It turns out the Sith Lord is actually quite funny; who knew?


No, this is not the real Chuck Norris. This is the Chuck Norris who once shot a German plane down with his finger, by yelling, “Bang!”

…Got any other good ones you like?

Who to follow on Twitter: Thought-leaders

Whatever your fields of interest, there are people you look up to. Call them influencers, call them thought-leaders; some of them are bound to be on Twitter. Because this is so dependent on the field, I won’t call them out with pretty pictures, but let me give you some examples:

In the area of software development, I’m interested in extreme programming, refactoring, and test-driven development, so I follow people like Kent Beck and Michael Feathers.

In the area of Christian mission, I’m interested in seeing Jesus through the eyes of new cultures and reaching those cultures effectively, so I follow people like Leonard Sweet and Ed Stetzer.

When you follow a leader in your field, you can discover other good finds by noticing:

  • who they follow (check their lists)
  • who they talk to (click the @-links they use)
  • who they retweet (anything with “RT” or “via”)

You’ll soon find other thought-leaders of varying degrees of influence, including many you’ve never heard of but find interesting.

Your turn!

OK, now it’s your turn: what are your recommendations for who to follow on Twitter? This is especially for people who are just getting started on Twitter, or are looking to expand beyond their immediate circle of friends. And don’t be limited by my categories; are there particular celebrities you enjoy? Share who you like and why in the comments below.

Twitter Practical How-to’s series:

  1. Twitter Symbols: What Do @, d, RT, # Mean?
  2. Use a Twitter Client
  3. What to Tweet (and What Not To)
  4. Who to Follow on Twitter
  5. I’m Being Followed on Twitter!

More Twitter resources:

Photo by Kevin Krejci (license)

Jon Reid

Posts Twitter Google+

As an American missionary kid who grew up in Japan, I'm a child of two cultures, while not fully belonging to either. This gives me a sightly different view of the world.

21 responses to Who to Follow on Twitter for Newbies

  1. Hmmm, I follow a bunch of people on Heroes, star trek, and lost, but that seems mundane. The people I really enjoy?
    @dipnote – Dept of the secretary of state (that’s Hillary, in case you wondered)
    @zappos – hysterical
    @nprpolitics – that’s what it sounds like
    @neilhimself – Neil Gaiman – if you don’t know who that is, you need to call me right now and I will come do a rescue book drop.
    @thinkgeek – often amusing
    @GavinNewsom – what’s up with SF?
    @TheOnion – Makes my day every day
    @NASA – space
    @Astronautics – the final frontier
    @scifri – science Friday – NPR
    @stephenfry – man is a genius. Literally.
    @wilw – he’s just silly
    If you really want my celeb list, I’ll happily hand it over, but it might be boring… I read a lot of twitter and skip over a lot. I find that i am interested in different things on different days so i just follow a lot to keep thing spiced up, but I rarely read everything, just the key people of the day and my friends. It’s not nearly as hard as I thought it would be just to let the other stuff go and not get overwhelmed, but some people have a hard time with that.
    Anyway, yay twitter! It keeps me occupied while I am in those places in life that you have too short of a time to do anything else, but you are bored. Like the DMV.

    • Noelle, that’s perfect—thank you! People can just scan down your descriptions for something that jumps out.
      You mention a couple of celebrities that people might not recognize by their usernames alone, @stephenfry and @wilw. Can you elaborate on them: who are they, and why are they interesting to follow?

      • Jon, you asked about @stephenfry and @wilw. Stephen Fry is a very famous actor -was in V for Vendetta and is really huge in Brittan – he also hosts the show IQ over there which is the smartest game show I have ever seen. He is widely regarded as a genius and is *really* funny to boot. Highly recommended.
        Wil Wheaton is Wesley Crusher, dude. Duh. Also of “stand by me” fame. He has an awesome blog, is hysterical, and seriously has his pulse on the nerd-world.
        I also recommend his books/audiobooks highly – he gets me through my gym workouts.

  2. Always enjoy your Twitter posts.
    Here are a few Christian authors I enjoy following:
    @JesusNeedsNewPR – Matthew Paul Turner
    @angryconvos – Susan Isaacs
    @flowerdust – Anne Jackson
    @donmilleris – Don Miller
    @edcyzewski – Ed Cyzewski
    @PeterRollins – Peter Rollins

  3. Well, @jonmreid would be a good one 🙂
    Otherwise, a great list.

  4. I would like to say, for a list of who to follow, just look at who I follow, but that is where the lists break down. Why would you want to use my list as a basis of who you follow, unless you have the same interests as me.
    I have to admit, I don’t know how someone can follow 800 accounts and get any benefit. Please fill my water glass with your firehose. I have followed a couple bots (twitter users that are automated posters for a news service for example). I find that they are not very compelling. How can this be a social network when half of the social interaction is a computer. Open the pod bay door Hal.
    Even users I follow that are not representing an individual person benefits from having an actual person have the job of interacting on Twitter. An excellent example is Science Friday. A weekly Science based radio show. They could have just taken the weekly guest/topic list and put it on a timer to send it out at the top of the hour, but instead, they have a live person, not only sending it out as the show starts, but tweets highlights as the show progresses. And, they use it as a mechanism to take real time feedback about the show or guest. Many times, feeding the comments and questions back to the host.
    It all comes back to the fact that it is a SOCIAL networking service. And, I have to restate an earlier commenter’s recommendation: Following @jonmreid is very worthwile.

    • Tim, you gave me a lot of helpful tips when I first started out. And now I rip you off and turn those tips into a series of blog posts!
      I like your description of how a radio call-in show has integrated Twitter into their show. It makes me think there are more opportunities like this where it’s not just about Twitter by itself, but about using Twitter to extend interactions elsewhere. Time Magazine has an article about churches beginning to integrate Twitter into their worship gatherings.
      One thing I have found about following more people on Twitter is that I can’t read everything anymore. I don’t know where the crossover happened: at 50? 80? It probably also depends on how prolific the people you follow are, because it’s not so much a matter of how many people you follow as how much volume you have in your stream. I have had to learn to take sips, and recognize that if I leave the room, conversations will happen without me and that’s OK.

  5. Hey, Mr. Twitter expert, is there a way to see only Tweets without the @ sign (i.e. only original tweets about the author themselves, rather than whatever they are responding to other people we don’t know and have no idea what they’re talking about)? In the RSS feed particularly, since that’s all I see anyway.
    In other Twitter interesting facts, my username includes the word “twitter” since way back when, and now when I try to fix other account info (like what country I live in), they say I have to change my username because “twitter” is not allowed in the username. Huh. I kind of want to keep it just to be rebellious…even though it’s horribly nondescript and unhelpful.

    • Katherine,
      If I understand your question correctly, you want to see a person’s tweets but without their replies to other people. Yes, there is an easy way to do that.
      Make sure you’re logged in to Twitter, then go to the Notices tab in Settings. Your @ Replies is probably currently set to “all @ replies” which means you see every single reply someone sends. You can change that to either “@ replies to the people I’m following” to see conversations between people you know, or “no @ replies” to quiet them completely.
      Then stop reading tweets through RSS feeds, but read them through Twitter. What you’ll see is a timeline filtered according to your settings.
      As far as username goes, I offer my opinion in How to choose your Twitter name. 🙂

      • Thanks for the tips, Jon. On Twitter I apparently already had it set to “@ replies to the people I’m following” – (although I didn’t know this until I clicked on the link you supplied) but since I practically never visit Twitter, and only use the RSS feeds, this doesn’t help. What I’d really like is the same setting choice for the RSS feed.
        I know my username’s bad. It was designed to be anonymous, like my blog, my real identity known only by my friends. On Facebook I have my real name, though! 🙂

        • Katherine, I’m guessing you want tweets as an RSS feed so you can have everything in a single news reader? At this point I have to say: Sorry!
          (Getting it to what you want is actually a pretty need idea.)

  6. http://www.blacktwitters.com is another good resource for finding people to follow on twitter.

  7. I’d love to see which celebs you follow.

    • Christina, I guess I don’t follow any “celebs” in the usual sense. My celebrities are the folks I listed under “Thought Leaders” and others I have followed since: Leaders in areas I care about. (For me, that’s software development and Christian mission.)
      Do you follow any celebrities? Is it fun? Do they ever reply to you? (I figure the sheer numbers makes that a slim possibility.)

  8. Thanks – I’m new to Twitter and the article has helped a lot.

  9. Thanks, John. I’m a Twitter virgin, so I need all the help I can get. Your advice on Twitter names was most helpful.