Sunday, January 18, 2009

If you're unfollowed on Twitter, you probably shouldn't take it personally!

First, it's been 2 months since my last blog entry: Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!* I felt like I had to have something worthwhile to say or something I felt strong about and lately, I've been reading more and writing less.

Second, this post is about Twitter. Since you're reading this, I'm 99.9% certain that you got here through my Twitter bio. If not, well, welcome & I hope you'll get something out of this blog entry anyway.

I'm writing this morning because I am feeling disillusioned. I'm a heavy user of Twitter and thought I "got" it. You post updates & share links, you start following people who post interesting things or who are friends of your friends, some of them follow you back, some don't. No big deal.

There are those people who intentionally keep their circle of conversation small & intimate and don't actively seek to make it larger. But most people who use Twitter see a slow but steady growth in followers as the number of individuals who use the network increases over time.

Early on, I learned about spammers, those annoying people & bots that are trying to get you to buy things from them. They mass follow people, hoping you follow them back and they can then deluge you with pitches for their products or services. They really are no problem unless you automatically follow users back. If you add followers one by one, well, you can ignore them & never get their messages so I didn't see the harm in their presence.

Over the summer & fall, however, many users got annoyed at spammers so the Twitter powers that be started enforcing Following limits to discourage spammers from following tens of thousands of people. There is now a 2,000 person following limit and, as I've been told, over 2K, you can only add up to 110% of the number who follow, for example, if you had 10,000 followers you could be following up to 11,000 people.

I didn't pay much attention to all of this because while my account has grown faster than I expected, its growth has been fairly organic. I keep finding interesting people to follow and, somehow, people find me. I thought this is how most users on Twitter approached their participation on this social network. Oh, but I so naive!

I recently was clued in that there were users with thousands, no tens of thousands of followers who've only been on Twitter for a couple of months. What's up? Do they have special wisdom & insight? Stock tips? A hotline to tech heaven? The address book of The_Real_Shaq? Reading over the content of what they've contributed to the larger conversation on the network, it's been baffling to me. Who are these people & why are they so popular?

Well, apparently, not only spammers but real, live, flesh & blood users are mass following fellow Twitterers, apparently randomly, often taking names from the public timeline and unfollowing users if they don't automatically follow them back so that they stay under the 110% limit.

This seems so purposeless--why just collect random followers?--that it never occurred to me that it would be to any one's advantage to do this. It was growing your connection purely for the sake of growth.

Apparently this is quite common behavior, people expending what I can only imagine is a great deal of time & energy to get on the "top" users lists not based on the value or entertainment they provide to others but instead based on their strategy of accumulating a lot of followers in a very short period of time.

So why do I feel moved to write about this? This behavior doesn't violate any rules, doesn't hurt anyone and only affects the status lists of who are the most followed people on Twitter. Most people might refer to "A-list celebrities" but they actually have very little day-to-day contact with this elite circle of users. So who cares who's on or off of these lists?

Well, I frequently see Twitterers posting a plaintive message about why something they said caused them to lose a follower or two. Most likely though, it was nothing you said, it was just someone unfollowing you because you didn't follow them back within 24 hours. They weren't after actually connecting with you but gaining a few new people to add to their follower lists. Truthfully, that is no real loss to you!

So, to put a twist on the words of George Costanza, "It's not you, it's them. It's really, REALLY them!"

*Latin: My fault, my own fault, my most grievous fault.


Danacea said...

Of course you should never take it personally - learning this is essential to twitter survival! You can't please all of the people, all of the time - and it's what makes twitter work.

Everyone finds their own level, your stream streamlines itself :)

We all have occasions when we're unfollowed by someone - perhaps unexpectedly - and it stings... but that's just human. Accept it, get over it, move on.

Nice post!

Lindsay Davies said...

Just as I was reading your tweet linking to this article, I had lost a follower. Just one. So, relevance for clicking through for a read was right there. Plus I like what you write. Really interesting post. I didn't know that following and unfollowing to get numbers up was a strategy that some people employ.

I don't use Twitter win popularity stakes or follow heaps of people randomly. I think that approach hinders the true experience. For me, taking the time to link to like-minded people, engage and share interesting bits of information and insight is more useful and provides a better experience.

And you're absolutely right, when I lost my follow just now, I was thinking to myself I wonder why, I wonder if I wrote something that somebody didn't like, I wonder if an account was deactivated. Questions questions questions that I thought I'd probably not know the answer to. Being naturally sensitive, I do tend to take things personally but being educated differently I have learnt not to. But that doesn't stop the initial wondering.

Friday said...

I signed up with Twitter to communicate with a small group of women bloggers. I'm older than most followers, I'm not a tech of this or an expert of that. I'm not the founder of anything and have no initials behind my name. I'm actually surprised that people follow me at all.

According to some "guidelines" I've read on the correct way to use Twitter, etc. I'm doing it wrong. This doesn't get to me nor does it upset me when people unfollow. The emotional side of Twitter amuses me. Sometimes it seems like people are trying to wiggle into the "in crowd".

I follow who interests me. If they don't follow me back, and plenty don't, I'm okay with that.

I read one tweet that really tickled me and that I agree with, "You are not your follower or your update count."

Great post. I had no idea about all those Twitnanigans. Thanks.

Michael Schaffner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Schaffner said...

Twitter is like a party. People float in and out of conversations. We don't take is personally in real life, Twitter shouldn't be any different

Damien Basile said...

You bring up some very valid points in your article. Why does anyone do anything really? I wholeheartedly agree with you that an unfollow is not a slight necessarily. As I have been realizing lately, Twitter has many many limitations built in that can go away with the proper tool implementation as I am now utilizing with Twitter in tandem. I'll speak more on my experience concerning all of the events I have encountered. Thanks for looking to shed some light on the unemotional aspect of the unfollow as caused by limitations.

Jenny, the Bloggess said...

People unfollow me all the time or only follow me so their twitter grade will be higher. What people do with a high twitter grade I will never understand.

Liz said...

Thanks for all of the comments! I think it exceeds all of the comments left on this blog since I started it in 2006 (hey, I've been busy!).

Of course, I realize that Twitter is only Twitter and people shouldn't take these things personally. But some people do and that's part of what prompted this post. That and the discovery that there actually was a way to "game" Twitter to accumulate tens of thousands of followers in a few weeks.

Who knew? It's such a crazy idea that this would be a method to build a solid foundation for a social network. But it seems to work for some people and, to them the numbers seem to matter a lot.

It'll be interesting to see how long they can keep up the massive follow/unfollow rinse & repeat. It sounds exhausting and time-consuming to me.

Again, thanks for taking the time to read & comment.

PB said...

Funny, I just unfollowed you yesterday. Too many tweets in a row. Nothing personal.

One thing I DO worry about is that when I unfollow someone, they never stop unfollowing me. I'm afraid people will think I'M trying to collect followers.

MeandtheBoss said...

Well said, and I agree.

Thank God we are all different,and it takes all kinds, but why do the extremist always want to dance on my space??


I'm O.K., your O.K., it is the rest of the world that is social.

Laugh loud, Love hard.

Iris and ME

Pras Sarkar said...

The answer to your question as to why an increasingly large number of people auto-follow and try to grow their network instead of have meaningful conversations is simple - money.

The larger your network is (more followers), by simple law of numbers, the more people view your messages. Those messages can be meaningful, or they can be links to buy things on Amazon, or promote a blog or another site. This equates to cash - affiliate money when someone adds the product to their shopping cart on Amazon, when someone shows an ad on the blog you just visited.

They're not doing it for the popularity of reaching the Top 10 list, they're just doing it for the cold hard cash.

M.M.D said...

Hey Liz,

I think it's harder to understand a behavior once you have opposite goals that relate to it.
I agree with all that you said, and I know spammers will be spammers and ppl interested in truly connecting will still be making Twitter quite interesting.
But I have to tell you what I notice around:
I notice that there's a pressure for Twitter to be "mainstream" and therefore, many of its users tend to simply ignore you if you don't have a certain amount of followers. They judge you to be worth following by numbers, and not by what you have to say. It's been quite a talk a while ago, if I'm not mistaken, they called "Twitter Authority" or something like it.
Another reality:
I've been recently laid off and I've been focusing in my passion: trying to work with the mix: Music+Internet+Marketing. While going through a few websites, one of the companies I feel more interested to work for, in their "letter" of who they're looking for, they make it VERY explicit that it matters the number of people you're connected to online, in general. - maybe in an attempt to measure you power of persuasion, I can only guess that.
So it got me a bit lost: not only you'll be ignored by people who just listen to you once you become a certain number, but now, you also only get job if fulfilling the same requirement!
Well, it gets me to question if it's in the end so naive to stick around for the talk.
I hope not!

Great Post!

Anne said...

I am of the school of you follow me and I will most likely follow you. If while following you I feel you more a nuisance than worthy then I will unfollow (I haven't done this yet). I have started blocking people who follow me then unfollow in a short period of time. And these are people I have followed back. Oh well. Their loss. Hey, it's been a while since your last post. =)

Real Estate Investor Mom said...

What's your twitter name? Someone else (@jamesrivers) posted a link to your blog, which is how I found you. I like the views you express and how you express them. Thanks for sharing! (@catttaylor)

CathyLarkinWebSavvyPR said...

Hi Liz,
1st, I like your writing style, so don't make it too long between posts, ok?

2nd, Growing your following organically is what makes sense to me. The more followers you have, the harder it is to connect. & connection and engagement are what makes twitter work, at least for me. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

3rd, I just heard this week, that Twitter is finally cracking down on the follow/unfollow folks who try and amass a huge following fast. See link here:

4th, it was nice to meet you in real life at Podcamp Philly this past fall!

Bud said...

I have to confess to being a bit irritated by these people with mass follow strategies and have become much more selective in who I follow back. I'm happy enough to follow people I don't know. I've gained some really good contacts that way. But, this notion of just doing twitter to get followers is stupid.

Getting connections is a worthy goal, and I'm trying to figure out how to keep that up while reducing some of the trash follows.

PinkLittleApple said...

Haha , i came here with google :) !


藍心湄Blue said...