On Following… and Un-Following

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. 



Rachel Fox said...

Man, it sounds like a lot of admin...


Beakboo said...

Two questions spring to mind, how do you manage to follow that many people? I follow less than 200 and sometimes I feel it's too much. And how do you know who's unfollowed you? I only have 60 odd but I can never tell. Is there a website that tells you?

Pam Nash said...

A very good post, Ken. I have seen people, on a regular basis, tweeting 'X number of people unfollowed me and I know who they are'. I fail to see the point of that, if they've unfollowed they won't see that tweet anyway; or is it a warning to those who may be contemplating unfollowing?

Whatever - if someone unfollows me, so be it. I don't automatically unfollow them in retaliation, but if they're not of particular interest to me I might unfollow. What I never am is hurt - but that may be down to my advanced age & pragmatism ;)

The thing I've never understood is the auto follow back principle - if someone follows me but never engages why would I automatically follow back?

You're right, Twitter should be fun - and I try to keep it that way :)

Gerry Mulvenna said...

Nice one, Ken. To cope with that stinging sensation, I decided to jettison my interest in who was following or unfollowing me. Who am I kidding? It doesn't make me totally immune from the sudden blow to the ego that cannot be denied, but it helps.

There definitely comes a point, when you have be realistically selective about how many you can follow.

Ken Armstrong said...

Rachel: I find it's worth it but I'm glad you never got bitten by the. I like you 'immune' 'above all this'. :)

Beakboo: I certainly can't follow any more without it hurting me. I like the constant buzz of my timeline which, like New York, never sleeps. There's always something going on and I can jump in or stay out as I choose. There are many ways to see who is not following you. I use one called 'friendorfollow' but, be warned, a visit to that website can sting, it really can.

Pam: Thanks. You are, as we know, an exemplary Twitter person who gets all my tragic jokes. :)

Gerry: Like you, I have not very much interest in who leaves anymore except for the cohort of people who seem to have become real genuine friends. There's probably another post called Twitter - The Reality and Illusion of Friendship. Hmmm :)

Rachel Fox said...

I'm not above it... just out of it! I know sometimes when everything else online seems quiet (blogs, FB) that Twitter is probably where the busy stuff is happening... and for about a millisecond I think "hm - might I be missing something?" but then I read a book or walk the dog or bake or something... and realise that if I did do Twitter too then I probably would do less of all those other things (and I'm probably online enough already...). And that's before you even think about other writing... You still write too amongst all this?

Ken Armstrong said...

Sorry Rachel, it was meant as a compliment. Honest. :) I actually find that Twitter helps my writing. I never tweet except sitting at my computer and usually while I'm doing something else. So I'm in the 'zone' to write instead of slouched in front of the telly. This stream of 1,000 people's lives, built up over a good few years, is also a fuel for inspiration and writing. I've done quite a few lyrics which have sprung directly from tweets that flashed by.

But do stay out of it... not above it, never that. x

Jim Murdoch said...

I follow 8 people on Twitter. It used to be 9 but I unfollowed—Christ, that is no newspeak—this guy who posted—every ten minutes no less (he must have some automated program)—links to articles he had written some of which were interesting (it was the ones on Larkin that made me curious) but as they were so diverse—and so many!—I couldn’t be jugged wading through them to see if he had anything interesting to say. I felt bad about it because he had sent me a tweet when I first started following him and we had a short—is there any other?—exchange of views. I aim not to follow anyone who I’m friends with on Facebook or whose blogs I follow but somehow I’ve ended up following Marion McCready; her days may well be numbered. People balk when I tell them I’m subscribed to just over 250 blogs; almost 1000 Twitter feeds feels far more burdensome. If I tweeted you a bit of news how the hell would you be able to identify it in the daily morass? 21 people follow me. I wonder if they even notice my rare post. It’s an odd environment I have to say and I’m flabbergasted that it’s proven popular in the ways it has. I never use instant messaging though and I panic if anyone messages me on Facebook, I’ve used chat once when Carrie was in the States and hated it, I’ve only sent maybe a half dozen texts in my life and one telegram which was the precursor to all of this. I just don’t do well with brevity. Strange since I have quite a few poems that aren’t any longer than 140 characters.

I couldn’t just jump in or out. I read everything that comes in from the outside world. I may not read to the end but I give it the attention I feel it deserves. If I didn’t I’d be terrified I was missing something important. There is so much crap to wade through anyway. Why make it worse? Most of the times with tweets I find I can’t make head nor tail out of them without clicking on the link at the end and seeing what they’re really talking about in some blog post. I should really unfollow them on Twitter and just follow their blogs shoulnd't I?

Jason Arnopp said...

Something that people have REALLY got to stop doing on Twitter is publicly announcing "Oh! [username] has unfollowed me. Wonder what I did to upset them". Jesus, that's just properly neurotic.

Ken Armstrong said...

Jason: It *is*. And those programmes that Pam referred to above. "I caught you unfollowing me with 'BastardCatcher' and now I am coming for you... :)

hope said...

I will continue to quietly sit in the corner with Rachel Fox on this.

I commute...therefore I have no time left for Twitter because I do like to sleep occasionally. ;)

You can handle it for all of us. :)

Ben said...

Hi Ken,

I know what you mean. I particularly relate to the feeling that a Twitter friendship has run its course.

I'm currently following 675 people on my @quickblogtips account, and 1157 on my @benbarden account. I don't find the volume of tweets overwhelming on either account. I tend to use Twitter in bursts: periods of 15-30 mins ish where I tweet a bit, read a bit, reply and share. Then I go and do something else. I don't feel flooded with tweets as I'm not on Twitter all that often.

I don't often unfollow people unless they unfollow me and I decide I want to unfollow them too; sometimes I'll keep following them anyway.

Another reason for unfollowing is if I notice someone who I reply to but they never reply to me; or if I start finding their tweets are less and less relevant to me. Sometimes people move on - sometimes our interests do, too.

Twunfollow is a good place to check for people who unfollow you. Hootsuite is a good web-based Twitter client, and especially useful for me as I can use multiple accounts on it. I used to use TweetDeck until recently, but find Hootsuite better.

As you say, this is just my experience :)

Ken Armstrong said...

Ben: Thanks, nice to see you there. :) I, too, have my twitter times although they are more extended than yours. You'll really only find me there on weekday evenings (perhaps a lunchtime look-in). Weekends, I'm sitting here a lot, writing, so I do keep an eye on things. I think it's good to keep 'the hedge trimmed' as I have called it elsewhere. The tighter the feed, the more fun it is.
Thanks mate.

Jim: You slipped in up there and I missed you, which might seem to prove your point about twitter-blindness. In fairness, I don't think I miss much of what is directed at me. There are ways and means and I'm a dab-hand at it at this stage.

Hope: Don't worry, I've got your back mate. :)

Michael. said...


Just kidding. Good piece, Mr Armstrong.

Geraldine Banks said...

Eh Twitter is a great way of communicating with like minded people. Don't like too much negativity or swearing. Hell but I don't take it that seriously. I would say that it has short circuited my boredom factor, and I always find something of interest. But it is not the Real World to me.

Tig said...

Unfollowing can be a hard thing to do, especially if that person is following you back, seems quite nice and responds to your posts... I often feel guitly as my pointer hovers over the "unfollow" button. Twitter can be quite traumatic at times!

Ken Armstrong said...

Michael: Damn fine Wedding pics, M, Damn fine. :)

crpitt said...

Oh you have summed it up rather nicely Ken!

On reading the comments I laughed at 'Bastard Catcher'!

My following policy (how pretentious does that sound?), if the person has lots of similar interests and doesn't tweet a load of shite or RT a load of shite, then I will probably follow back, especially if they have made the effort to interact with me first.

Unfollowing - Lots of retweeting, bad jokes etc gets them the boot! The odd moment when jokes let on that they are rather racist gets them a swift unfollow. I swear like a drunken sailor a lot, but some people are quite disgusting, one fella kept tweeting about his bowel movements (nice way of putting it).

Happy Twittering - folks like yourself, that provide some humour, something to read every now and then and wee glimpses into their life.

I know some folks use twitter as a business tool, but there is a way of balancing that.

I have tweetdeck running in the background throughout the day and sometimes into the wee hours of the night, so it is nice having some company, as I doodle away :)

Unknown said...

Agree 100% Ken, you pointed this out to me when you sent me a link advising how to get the most out of my Twitter experience, thanks for that btw. I follow fewer famous types and more far more interesting 'real' people.And regularly chop and change.
However..riddle me this. RT's?? As an avid follower of your fine self I am aware of your 'feelings' on this issue. Can I just say RT's are good embrace the retweet... Give Back Ken..Share the Wealth..Pass the Blunt haha
Case in point I read a beautiful piece that you wrote a few months back through a link RT'd by a famous type wot I follow. Because of this I now follow you.
I feel a RT is like a pat on the back for a job well done whether it is a link to a Blog, an article, a beautiful photo, an observation or yes dare I say it a JOKE. If I laugh out loud, cry, agree, disagree if a Tweet stirs me in the gut I RT..hands up..guilty.
As a Joe Soap or 'Nobody' or Twitter i search for the Holy Grail the elusive RT that sends my account stratospheric with a couple of hundred new followers..a small ask..sad?? probably but it WOULD validate my presence on Twitter..it is after all about followers right??..truthfully it is right??
Rant over..I am boring myself now..am I way off on this??

Ken Armstrong said...

Geraldine: Well said. When I said Twitter shows me the world, I didn't mean to imply it *was* the world, which it emphatically is not. It is, however, with the right balance, a nice gauge of how the world is at any given moment. I once watched an earthquake track across the states of the USA, solely by watching people tweet about their houses/offices shaking, state-by-state. :)

Tig: Very traumatic... if we let it. :)

Claire: Thank you. Love that you are Doodling.

Sarah Louise: Oh I love the RT facility, me. I use it quite a bit, I think. My bugbear about it is that quite a few people RT what I perceive to be the most useless old dross. Stuff that's no use to me at all. So I do relish the facility to turn off an individual's RT's. I haven't used it half as much as I have pretended to though. Thanks for the rant, it was ever-such-a-nice one. :)

Beakboo said...

I wouldn't dream of having a go at someone who unfollowed me, have these people no dignity? Nor would I think of changing the way I tweet to avoid unfollows, I'm just always curious to know who's gone. I'm fairly ruthless about unfollowing people; if you tweet about football more than three times, off you go. Unless you're Ken Armstrong, who somehow gets away with it.

Adventures of a Middle-aged Matron said...

A fascination examination. Luckily for me I can't tell who has unfollowed me when my tally plunges. Assume, for my own vanity's sake, that it's one of the flurry of lesbian pornbots who flocked unaccountably to me when I first signed up. However, lately, a tweep I had a good cyber relationship with unfollowed and blocked me for no reason that I could fathom. I minded how much I minded and realised that Twitter is an insidious thing which causes one to set far too much store by strangers and is best regarded as a light distraction from deadlines rather than an alternative social life.

keewa said...

You unfollowed me once, I was tweeting along to a TV show you hadn't watched yet, you told me you would unfollow until you'd seen it, it was amiable. Then you came back.
I liked that :)

Kristy said...

I always liken Twitter to chatting to someone on a bus. Some you will see regular as clockwork, some are just a one off and others you may make plans to see off the bus but if your travel plans change you may never make plans to see them again.
I never check who follows me and try to keep people I follow under 1000. Just seems to happen naturally. Great post.

Anonymous said...

Good post. I don't really care how many people I follow - somewhere over 1000 and same who follow me but I am always shocked when someone suddenly unfollows me as I've treated it like a friendship of sorts. Once someone I was quite closed to unfollowed me because I said something a bit offensive and I had to beg him to come back! It can be a bit overwhelming at times but I find the positives outweigh the negative.

Holly Searle said...

Good piece, I enjoyed it and it has armed me with some effective tools for Twitter going forward.

I have an account on Facebook and have found that in comparison to that, Twitter appears to me to be more like a massive city where people may or may not include you in their lives. Whereas Facebook is more like a small town where everyone knows you more intimately. It is quite interesting, the observation of the different processes and reactions obtained.

I quite like it though and shall keep on keeping on.