Monday, December 8, 2008

To follow or not to follow? Challenging Twitters social rules

There's an interesting discussion going on at Twitter about the ritual of following your followers. In an ecosystem that seems obsessed with building the highest connection count, it might seem that the obvious answer would be 'of course you should follow those who follow you' and it might even seem rude to some not to do so. But I suggest doing the exact opposite if you really want to make connections and contribute to the overall quality of Twitter.

The purpose of Twitter is to connect and engage. Making random connections with everyone who follows you only fulfills half of that purpose. To finish the balance, we have to have some common ground on which we can build a relationship and deepen the connection. Otherwise, the entire connection boils down to two people talking at each other instead of with each other and no useful interaction takes place.

For example, last week, I was followed by a structural engineer. While I was flattered that someone of his caliber would find my tweets interesting enough to want to consume on a regular basis, I chose not to follow him back. Why? Because he and I had nothing in common.

When I checked out his tweet stream, I saw that most of his tweets were about, you guessed it, engineering; particularly structural engineering, which I know nothing about. Now, I could have followed this gentleman and probably even discussed a few things with him. But the majority of what he was interested in held no interests for me whatsoever. More importantly, I did not have the knowledge of his field that would have allowed me to intelligently discourse with him or even understand a lot of his tweets.

Following this tweeter would have served only one purpose: to give him an ego boost by having another follower because I wouldn't have been following him based on my interest in him but rather some weird sense of duty. It would have been a totally useless and, for both of us I fear, largely uninteresting connection.

The bottom line is this: if you want quantity, follow everyone who follows you and you'll soon find a large and eventful time line. But if you want quality - the kind where you can really engage with the people you follow - be selective in who you follow back. Your stats will grow slower than the 'frenzied followers' out there, but your connections will be of higher quality.

So what about you? Do you automatically follow everyone who follows you? Do you think it's rude if someone you follow doesn't follow you back? Would you even stop following someone who didn't follow you in a reasonable time? Sound off and let me know!


Randall said...

I look at each person that follows me: 1/3 get blocked, 1/3 get followed back, 1/3 I just leave alone. I don't feel bad if someone doesn't follow me back, thats the joy of Twitter. Heck, I don't think you follow me, and It doesn't make me feel bad, I'll leave that to the gurus who are trying to get a job.

Anthony Papillion said...


Good point. I think people have way to thin a skin about the follow/follow thing. They forget that it's entirely possible that I might find YOUR tweets interesting enough to follow but you might not be interested in mine. In that case, I get the value of following you, you get a new follower but don't have the clutter of MY stuff which you might not be interested in.

BTW, what is your Twitter ID?

Jan said...

Hello Cajun techie! We all have different reasons in following people.I think if we limit our connections to people whose interest is similar only to our own wouldn't we in some ways limiting ourselves and our world?
I'd like to share mine why i follow.
It's nice to know and learn from people whose interest is different from our own (if that person interests you.)I follow to care and understand people and get in touch .
I had a friend who had an accident last week and he is somewhere out there in Britain ( not with twitter.) It was good i cared to ask him if he's ok.Honestly he felt good about it and that someone cares.
This world is full of self-centered people and it's nice to know someone cares right?
Must be my nurse's mind huh?
Thank you for enabling me to care and get in touch. God bless you!

dmelanc said...

I tend to be more open to following than you do, but I am also willing to unfollow if I get a bunch of non-engaging or bothersome tweets from a particular user.