Companies blocking competitors from following a Twitter feed in the hopes of gaining a commercial edge are kidding themselves. And it’s clear that the company doesn’t really ‘get; the whole ethos of social networks, so one might wonder why it bothers at all.

Let me explain. In terms of Twitter’s site features and functions, blocking an individual follower does very little to stop him from seeing your updates. From Twitter’s FAQs:

Blocked users are unable to add your Twitter account to their lists, and we will not deliver any of their @replies or mentions to your mentions tab (although these Tweets may still appear in search)… Your profile picture will not appear on the blocked user’s profile page or in their timeline. Please note that if your account is public (i.e., not protected), your Tweets will still be visible on your public profile page.

So, the individual blocked cannot follow directly and any @mentions made by him will not be seen by the blocker. However, these mentions will be viewable to others in search. If the individual is curious about the blocking company’s tweets he can still visit the public profile page, subscribe to someone else’s list that the company’s Twitter feed is included on or subscribe to it’s Twitter RSS and see everything that’s been tweeted. So why bother?

But even more important is the need to understand the ethos of social networks, online communities and how they fit into your communications and marketing. Twitter is not a broadcast medium; it’s particatory. The whole point of getting involved with Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and the like is to become part of the community, and if you’re not disingenuous about this, it means the whole community.

One priority of social media marketing is to gain insight and collect information from the community and use the data to inform product and service development, corporate policy, business processes….any part of the business can be improved. Blocking individuals means not listening to the whole community. The risk is that the blocker will hear only what it wants to hear, not the whole truth. Judgement could be impacted and flawed decisions made when made on partial or skewed information.

I am in the business of providing social media and public relations consultancy. I’ve got hundreds, if not thousands, of competitors in my Twitter community. Each and every day I learn from their tweets and this alone makes it worthwhile. But, I’ve also made lots of friends and business connections. I’ve had business referrals. In short, I enjoy being part of such an active, vibrant community of like-minded professionals. It’s all good!

That said, there are some very valid cases for protecting a Twitter stream and the service provides a way to this. This function closes the environment and individuals must request permission to follow. It could be useful for smaller collaborative communities or for streams with premium or sensitive content. There is, however, the risk of losing out on the other benefits of Twitter including seo, awareness, reputation management, promotion and more.

So if a company wants to protect a Twitter stream from competitors they can do so. But blocking individuals from following will not acheive this and is a pointless waste of time.

  1.  Be aware…Twitter’s new ‘Who to follow’ function will surface a stream to individuals that have been blocked. Then the person is only a click away from realising he is blocked.