Okay, so this is probably another one of those 'Twitter posts'. But, if you’re not a Twitterer, please don’t go. The points I make here may well serve as a lesson to take forward into your life in general… (they won’t but, still, don’t go, eh?)
Twitter, as many of you know, involves following people and people following you. You choose whether you would like the public tweets of an individual served up into your personal twitter experience and they make similar decisions about you.
As with most things, there is also a converse in effect. Those people who choose to follow, may also choose to unfollow at any given time. As the ‘followee’, you will eventually become aware that they have unfollowed you and you may or may not develop certain feelings as a result of that knowledge.
That’s the general gist of the situation and it sounds straightforward enough, I think.
There is a lot of ‘stuff’ attached to this. Not so much the ‘following’ part, that’s generally pretty positive. No, it’s the ‘un-following’ that tends to bring down the rain for many people. When someone un-follows someone on twitter, it can cause pain and angst and not-a-little beating-of-breasts. Not all the time, of course, but certainly more often than the uninitiated might expect.
It’s pretty much impossible to generalise effectively about Twitter, although people try to do it all the time. It’s too big, too wide and too diverse to conform to any single set of expectations. So it’s difficult to speak generally about such matters as ‘following’ and ‘un-following. It’s more realistic for me to talk about my own practices, with as much honesty as I can muster. Perhaps, in that exercise, the person seeking a more general truth may find at least some form of insight and, as a side-effect, that person I unfollowed the other day might have less of a hump about it.
So… what is it that I do?
I’ve been messing about on Twitter for quite a number of years now. As a result, I’ve collected a few followers. It’s not hard, if you hang around for a while and engage with it then some people will tend to stick. At first, I followed everybody back… well, everybody who seemed ‘real’. You get lots of ‘unreal’ twitter followers; ironing board manufacturers, fast food outlets, sheep, clocks, you know the type of thing. Eventually, I was following over a thousand people and I found I had reached a sort of a personal critical-mass, where twitter had become an unwieldy chore and wasn’t any fun any more. I tried cutting back on followers a little and it became fun again. From this, I deduced that my personal well-being, on Twitter, related directly to staying below the ‘following one thousand’ mark. So that’s what I now do.
At this moment I am following (checks) 993. I am lucky enough to pick up a few new followers on most days. I often lose a few as well but the current trend is generally upwards. Unfortunately I can’t follow all these good folk back so, what I do is, I follow some and I put the others on a list called ‘not followed’ and I check in on it fairly regularly to see who’s standing out. Those people who I end up talking to quite a bit, I usually follow over time.
Of course, if I’m regularly adding new followers in, and I need to stay below 1,000, then, obviously, I need to be taking some people out too. Un-following (dun dun dunnnnnn). I have culled my virtual 1,000 pretty ruthlessly over the years so there are no bots or commercial accounts in there. These are all real, breathing, feeling, people and I am about to cut some of them loose. How can I?
Well first, I look to see which of them has already un-followed me. These are not an automatic unfollow but, if you’re gone and I didn’t really know you that well… well… see ya! Then I look and see who hasn’t been on Twitter in several months. This is a rich source of people to unfollow. Every month, out of my thousand, there are six or seven who seem to have given up on Twitter. I un-follow them, to keep my number down and make room for new blood. Sometimes they reappear and I follow them again. More often they don’t.
But still, after all this, there are still some twitterers who are following me, twittering away, who I just let go. These are the hardest ones. Here are some reasons why I have chosen to unfollow people in the past: tweeting in huge bursts of tweets, filling up my screen with their stuff, constantly telling me where they are - via third party applications such as Foursquare, not really engaging with people, becoming over-enamoured with selling whatever they have suddenly decided to sell, over self-promotion, being over-argumentative., too many so-called hashtag games, too many bad jokes. Interestingly, I myself have been guilty of many of these sins, at some time or another.
Sometimes I just start to feel that my following of somebody has run its course. They’re nice, they do nothing wrong, I’d just like to read somebody else’s stuff for a while. It’s not a marriage we engage upon, on this twitter thing. It works better if we allow ourselves to be like those proverbial ships that pass in the night. It would be better if we didn’t have to be so damned sensitive about it.
Can I also say that I am not speaking about being hurt by an ‘un-following’ without some experience of it myself. I have looked and found valued people have up-and-gone. Make no mistake, it does sting. But I’m pragmatic about it. I have my own serious twitter failings. I tweet a lot so, if you have a couple of hundred followers, you may see my mug in your timeline much more that you might wish to. I also swear and complain about things. I am a fine candidate for un-following and I know it so, when it happens these days, it doesn’t sting as much as it used to.
One final thing I’ve learned. I’ve found that it’s important that I don’t sterilise my twitter feed too much. If it’s all chocolates and flowers, then it wouldn’t half get boring pretty quickly. I need to keep some annoying people around, some argumentative, contentious types, even some of you Foursquare goons too. I need to keep the feed enjoyable but not bland or ‘same’ey. I think I do it quite well. My ‘thousand’ are a great thousand. Together, every day, they show me the world.
So if I’ve unfollowed you, I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings. I’ve been hurt myself so I know how it feels.
It wasn’t really you.
It was me.