Friday, April 03, 2009

Why I Block Followers

Hubspot is an Internet Marketing company that provides website analysis and other kinds of useful marketing data to internet businesses. I know it primarily for the webinars they hold plus their Twitter Grader which is Hubspot's own system of ranking people's authority and reach on the Twitter social network.

This past week, they had an interesting entry on their blog, The Best Way to Build a Twitter Account? Step by Step. The graphs & information, collected through people submitting their usernames to Twitter Grader, was fascinating to me as a sociologist. But I had problems with the underlying assumption which is bigger is always better and that people on Twitter want their social networks to grow as big as possible. It's an interesting blog post (and the comments are interesting, too) and here is my slightly rewritten response:

This is very interesting data but your argument assumes that most people want to have lots of followers which is not always the case.

I know a Twitterer who went from a small network of followers to over 1000 and she discovered that some earlier followers (considered "friends") unfollowed her once her account took off...a fact that no one ever mentions but which happens more often than you'd think.

Many people use Twitter to form their personal online social network and it is easier to maintain a close network of 150 or 200 people than 2,000 much less 20,000. Then it just becomes a collection of strangers.

I think as Twitter gets more and more popular, there will be those business people in the numbers race but the bulk of regular users might even downsize their accounts to have a smaller network of closer associates. A similar phenomena is happening on Facebook where I know some people who are reducing their number of "friends" to only people they actually encounter in the lives (family and new & old friends).

In the past month, I've done something I never thought I'd do...block followers who I don't want following me. I'd rather have a lower follower number than have some MLMs following my account. And I know I m not the only one who has started blocking not only spammers but people who are only trying to game the system to boost their social profile.

I never thought I'd be a blocking type of person but there are some people I'd just rather not have in my life. I realize that blocking only prevents them from following me or sending me messages, they can still read my Tweets although I don't think reading content is very important to them. But until Twitter creates a Do Not Follow list where users can opt-out of being followed by overly zealous entrepreneurs, salesmen, and marketers, blocking will have to do.

Quality or quantity? There is no contest in my mind which is more important in social networking nor the difficulty of having them both.

So, my questions for those on Twitter is has your account gotten too big? Could it reach a number that would be too high for you? What are disadvantages of having a large account? Do you ever block annoying followers or just ones you don't want in your life?

I'm also interested in whether readers would like more posts on Twitter. There are plenty of blog entries that have been written about Twitter but if people are interesting in discussing the network as it evolves, I think this blog could make the transition. Let me know!


AppleInvestor said...

I immediately block spammers, and they're not too difficult to spot. The tell-tale signs are an avatar of a well endowed pretty girl, with a huge number following compared to followers, and only a few tweets. Block!

To your main question, regarding losing the connection with early followers; I guess that depends upon how you've managed the growth. For example, I make it a point to try and engage as many new followers as possible, then periodically I'll use a service like Twitrand which select a random follower, and I'll tweet them. Some followers maintain periodic conversations, and vis a versa. Occasionally you get a new follower that dominates your time, and that can be good for a period of time, especially if it develops into a valuable relationship (biz and/or personal), but it can also stagnate your progress if you become cornered at the virtual water cooler.

The true friends will always stay connected, and they'll understand your growing pains, and stick it out. I guess if your worried that someone better will come along and you'll be in danger of losing your high flying friend, then maybe you should either reevaluate the value of that friendship or fight for it. Same in non-twitlife.

Buck said...

New-ish to Twitter, so no real opinion there. I do however feel that a blog is a definite asset to someone who can write well. It's a lot of work to try to condense one's thoughts into a sequence of 140 character snips. The blog allows for much more.

Graham said...

I'm not sure why this posts disturbs me a little. Maybe it's because it seems as if I frequently notice tweets from you on this subject and related ones. It seems that you might be a little obsessed with people following large numbers and who seem to be "gaming the system." I don't mean this to be a personal attack, I really don't.

You also talk about small numbers being manageable, and how you're blocking people. Yet you follow and are followed by about 4000.

Like Appleinvestor, I immediately block those accounts that are obviously set up for spam purposes (hundreds of follows, few followers, 1 update, usually about how they got a computer for free.), but I follow back most other followers. I don't seem to get spammed, and I fail to see (apart from perhaps some perceived credibility through large numbers) what these people gain from me following them.

I do often follow people who are recommended by those I trust on #followfriday. Otherwise, I follow people who have come up in conversations on subjects I'm interested in.

I think that quality is generally better than quantity, but I think a fairly large quantity of quality followers is a pretty good thing, unless you just want to use Twitter to chat with a small group of friends.

GeekMommy said...

You know, I block spammers, stalkers, people who @ me hostilely just so they can show up in searches on my ID, and the occasional person that I just don't want to show up on their page.

Can your account get too big? Yes. I didn't used to think so - but I find that I have to spend a lot more time visiting the individual streams of those I want to keep up with amidst the general chatter. I have no idea how anyone following more than about 10k does it.

patricia said...

Thanks for this post, it surprised me. I haven't been twittering long, but I blocked followers from the very beginning, probably 5 out of my first 10. (Clearly I didn't read enough twitter tutorials)
It was just a reflex action, like marking an item "spam" in my email inbox - the first one I blocked was a xxx twitterer. To be honest, I'm not sure how long I can keep doing that (or how you manage at all) since it is a time-waster. A Twitter-Do-Not-Follow list would be great.

christine said...

The thing is that really as much as we have our opinions on how the service will be used, the fact is there are millions of people. Some do want to just follow celebs and have a totally vapid view on Twitter, and that's their right.

We just have to use it to best suit our needs and I have been building up a network of folks who contribute and share resources.

I just have to ignore the other issues and hopefully teach my students that there's more to Twitter then Celebs. there is conversation.

Michelle said...

I've worked this both ways -- I went protected for awhile and now I'm public but I block anyone who looks like a corporation (unless it's a group I'm following). The SEM and MLM people get blocked right away because I just have no interest in being "farmed" for their purposes.

Vics said...

I rarely bother blocking anyone on twitter, it's a wasted keystroke.

If people want to eavesdrop on my life fair play to 'em, after all; I do the same to other people - it's part of what twitter is about.