Rules of Twitter: Are you following me?

A friend from the blogging world, Tim (aka @anotherguy) brought up an interesting topic related to Twitter this week. He tweeted “If I unfollowed everyone and instead put the people I follow into lists, how many of you would hate me forever?” 

I was surprised by this. I’ve had chats with Tim before online and he always seemed like such a genuine and relationship driven person. I seek out liked-minded people on Twitter to follow and enjoy it for that reason. I wondered why he had this outlook.

Unfollowing everyone on my list would worry me for a few key reasons:

1. Perception. Unfortunately people do notice when you unfollow them or if you follow no one. While I can have an intelligent conversation about why I’m doing this on my personal Twitter account with closer contacts and a certain circle of friends, I probably can’t have that same conversation with all 2,000 of my followers. That’s not even counting the people I have yet to meet online. As someone who builds online communities and works in social media I feel that I should be following others. Yes, sometimes I do care what others think.

2. New contacts. It’s a big online world out there, just waiting to be discovered. I want to continue following new people, so they will follow back and learn more about me as well. I’m interested in meeting new people in my industry, people local to me, those with similar interests etc.

3. Opportunities to connect. If I were unfollow everyone on my list I wouldn’t be able to receive direct messages (DMs). I know that I’m still very reachable by other forms of communication (which might even be preferred) but I would hate to miss even one “hello” from someone who is attending the same conference as me, sitting across the room.

Tim, being the smart guy he is, has been conducting a bit of social experiment to see what type of reactions he got from creating lists instead of following people on Twitter. I’ve asked him if he would share his thoughts on here.

Tim’s Thoughts

As Hannah put very clearly, that question I asked nearly a week ago has a lot of potential to backfire on the person who was trying to execute and experience that answer. “What will happen if I unfollow nearly 1000 people on Twitter and put them into lists?” Well, that question has changed a bit for me. Now I can ask, “What has happened since I unfollowed nearly 1000 people?”

Am I trying to be antisocial? Absolutely not. In fact, as my recent blog post about this explains, I am doing this to build my relationships with these people beyond what is possible on Twitter. These short 140 character messages are great, but just like Hannah has said before, they aren’t conducive for long conversations, they limit you on getting to know someone on more than just a shallow level, and there is almost no place for private conversations. Even the DM system is limited in this way.

So I’ve moved everyone over into Twitter Lists and said goodbye to my twitter-stream. I no longer follow anyone but the companies I am directly involved with each day, and my co-workers. At the same time, though, I’ve added many more people to the lists that I follow than I would have followed directly. In my mind, at least, my social network on twitter has actually grown, not diminished. I still reply to every tweet that mentions me, and I check those lists as often as I need to (which are organized quite well, if I may say so myself).

Where I now lack DM’s, I ask people to send me emails, or even give me a call. My address is available for anyone to contact me through, and if you ask nicely I’ll even give you my direct phone number. I want to get to know you as a human being, not you as a twitter handle. When I recently went to a meetup of webOS developers in San Francisco, everyone introduced themselves by name. While a few of those names were familiar, it was only after we re-introduced ourselves by twitter-handles that we recognized everyone around the table. Have we lost even that basic fundamental human way of identifying other people?

Plus, after that’s all said and done, I just need more time to get to my work, and Twitter takes away a lot of that time. I am a writer, a developer and a community aggregator. I am not a Twitter-Guru (is there such a thing?), and being one will not make me a better writer (it may, in fact, work against me). By refocusing my time spent on Twitter to being engaged with people who are engaged in topics that I am interested in reading about at any moment (and that I’m viewing through those lists), I am cutting out the clutter and freeing myself from wasted time reading topics that do not matter for the task at hand. If I want to read about webOS, I pull up the webOS Community list. And if I have some time to laugh it up, I grab my Just For Fun list.

The change has come with very few consequences. I’ve lost no followers due to the change, and the followers that recognized the change actually encouraged me to do so. I’m still connecting with those same people regularly through the lists that I follow, and even through other communications channels now. No one has spoken out against my decision in any way, unless they were questioning why I had made the decision. In the end, everything is actually going much better than I had originally planned. Heck I even get to write an article with Hannah over here! 😉

Now, maybe this won’t work for everyone. And with only spending a week with no “twitter friends”, I may not have seen some of the problems that might show up later on. For right now, it’s working great, and I plan on keeping it up for the foreseeable future. After all, it took me four days to get through the whole process of transitioning everyone over. Call me lazy, but I think I’ve forced myself to stay here for a while longer. Hey, testing never hurt anyone.

You can connect with Tim on any of his social profiles here and be sure to check out what he’s sharing on his blog, AnotherGuy’s Weblog. You could also follow him on Twitter but don’t do it because you want a follow back.

How do you feel about following others back on Twitter? Please share your thoughts.


9 thoughts on “Rules of Twitter: Are you following me?

  1. Great Post Hannah!

    Being the co-creator of a game that helps people decide “Who” to unfollow, and dropping off nearly 2000 people from my list, I do not think it has hurt me one bit. I went from following nearly 4000 people to 1900, and back up to around 2500. I am getting ready to do another trim here soon.

    I think some of the reasons there was no negative reprocussions is due to the fact those I unfollowed had stopped tweeting, turned out to be link pushers, or I just flat out lost interest in what the tweeted about.

    Those that I kept obviously provided content, information, and most importantly friendship!

    A couple of the biggest reasons we found for people being unfollowed on Twitter through the ChumpDump game was for lack of Tweets, and no interaction.

  2. I follow a lot of people on Twitter. But I really don’t have the time to actively manage followers. Instead of working with lists, I use clients like Hootsuite or TweetDeck to help me filter and find the conversations that I am interested in.

    I follow Clay Shirky’s line – it’s not information overload, it’s filter failure. Reframing your Twitter use in this way takes a lot of the anxiety and stress away and allows you to focus on what’s important.

    1. Hi Gavin, good point. I definitely try to do the same with my lists. I also don’t mind unfollowing someone if they’re being “too noisy” in my feed without being valuable or interesting. The control is with you.

  3. Really enjoyed this post–I’m an avid Twitter user and have made a majority of my professional connections through it, but I agree that it does take away from other work I could be doing and doesn’t offer the same satisfaction of an unlimited character email or a phone call or, the best of all, face time.

    Hannah–your points are spot-on. Whether we like it or not, people who don’t know us at all will judge us based on our social media appearance, and for better or worse we have to accept that in some ways.

    Tim–good luck with your experiment! Seems like it’s going well so far!

  4. I think Tim has taken it to the extreme. There’s following too many people, and following too few… You have to find the happy medium.

    I follow those who often tweet things that interest me. If I unfollowed those folk, I would definitely miss out on some key, breaking news and other interesting information. A search on a term, following of several lists or just looking for my mentions doesn’t make up for an empty livestream, in my opinion.

    That, and, while DMs on Twitter can be rather impersonal, they also have great benefit. Why do I want to take the time to launch an email client when I just want to ask you a simple question?

    Twitter, IMO, should be used in conjunction with that personal interaction, as well as a gateway to build that personal relationship. For some, you have to earn their trust on the network before delving into a real relationship.

    I didn’t freak when Tim did this, because I DO have his number… I can text him whenever I want… It’s just more work for me…

  5. I have been through this scenario in my head many times, from as long ago as 18 months ago.

    I created the lists and even recently asked a friend who has a Twitter organiser platform to create a function to unfollow all those who aren’t on a list – a function that is being added.

    In fact it’s Twitter that created this mass-follow culture.

    I remember when Oprah used to follow everyone and then she culled it to 30-odd. While we’re all not Oprah, if someone unfollows you because you unfollow them, that’s their loss.

    It does, however, take guts to unfollow many people as perception is everything…..even if that perception is a little wrong.

  6. I’m a very minor player. There, I’ve said it.

    I also recently dropped over half of those I followed for either producing nothing of interest or for blabbering night and day, about nothing.

    I learn something new every day from those I still follow and am more than a bit curious why some folks have chosen to follow me.

    Loved your blog and today’s piece. G’day mate!

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