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You’re Unfollowed, Get Over It! (Why Twitter Works – Part 1) January 15, 2009

Posted by Brian Link in Uncategorized.
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gearsSo Twitter is an amazing tool for those that are into it. It seeds my own daily ambient awareness of what every single one of my online friends are doing, what they’re reading, where they’re going, what’s going on in their world that day and all kinds of things.  I explicitly chose to follow each and every one of them – something like 450 or so people these days.  When I started I didn’t think I could keep up with more than 200 people, but it’s not hard to alter your usage pattern to keep up and… well… selectively ignore.  But I digress, my point is this – Twitter is opt in.  As a user you blurt out whatever you think is interesting.  As a consumer, you decide who you want to listen to by “following” them.  And here’s the fun part, if you don’t like it you can stop listening to them by doing the unthinkable: unfollow them.

Ever have that awkward moment at a cocktail party where you feel you’ve talked to someone long enough and you’re eager to move on and talk to someone else but you don’t want to be rude so you just sort of let your conversation dwindle with longer pauses?  It’s human nature.  No one wants to say “I’m done talking to you now” or “We’ve talked long enough and I’d like to move on to a new more interesting conversation”.  And the same thing is true on Twitter, it’s reeeal easy to start treating these conversations just like live conversations.  It’s quick and real-time and just like a noisy cocktail party (except if you’re good on Twitter you can actually listen to every conversation going on at the party).

But it’s different. And it needs to be.  The reason it all works is because you opt in and decide who you follow. Online relationships are different (good ones are ones that you integrate and blend in with your offline “IRL” relationships though – but that’s a whole different blog post). So we all need to get used to it. You need to be able to experiment with who you follow. I personally like a mix of work and nonwork, but it’s mostly about me learning something from people I admire. I always enjoy the fun banter between people I know (@MichaelBowers, @NickSeguin and @Figliuolo send some zingers each day that crack me up). But just like in real life, the less you know someone the less you might be interested in all their “personal” stuff. However, for example, I’m happy to weed through these personal things (slowly getting to know someone, their true personal brand, their quirks, what they think is funny and everything else) in order to get to the good stuff which, for me, is the links to great reads on the Internet I might not have found myself. So if you produce good content, I’ll keep reading about what you had for lunch today as well. And the more I follow some of these folks the more I do in fact feel like I know them. But they need to produce for me. My time is valuable. And isn’t that true in your offline relationships as well?

If you hang out with someone that you don’t really get along with, aren’t entertained by, or don’t learn much from you’ll start hanging out less and less until maybe you’re not even friends anymore. Well that lifecycle of friendship can happen and be proven or disproved very quickly on Twitter.  I find in just a few days (sometimes in just a few tweets) whether or not I’m going to want to keep following someone.

So here’s the hard part. You *can’t* be offended if someone unfollows you. You don’t really know how that person is using Twitter. They might only be looking for good recipes or something. And if you’re not talking about your favorite butterscotch chip maple brownie recipe then dammit, they *should* stop following you. Some people are purely socializing (you can usually tell who these people are pretty easily, right?) and some are all business. Some tell jokes. Some philosophize. Some just like to mess with people and say weird shit to see what people will say. And yes, some people (ahem, Fig) manage to do all these things in the same day.

So, remember, it’s not about you. Twitter works because it’s all about who you follow. It’s a self managing system. And to be a good Twittizen you should ease up and not freak out when people unfollow you. In fact, why don’t you go take a look at your network right now and see if you’re getting out of it what you want. You’re time is valuable! (Now… if only you could get a free Whopper for trimming your Twitter friend list often!)

How do you use Twitter?

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Comments»

1. Jeanne O'Keefe - January 16, 2009

Thanks for your insight…I plan to share this with some cohorts to help explain the wonderful world of twitter. Communication, in all forms, reveal who we are and how we do business. Twitter lets us get to the heart of it quickly if one is tuned in…with an added dash of humor, always a great idea! tweet tweet:)

2. Sandy Blanquera - January 16, 2009

I agree with you that why care if someone unfollows if there is no real connection with the person. But, if there is a valid relationship and you unfollow your friend you are either an emotionally reactive person or a twitter snob. How can someone act one way in the real world and then snob a friend on twitter? Perhaps this matters more when the unfollowed person values relationships highly. Use a tweet application to manage the white noise. It defines the value of the relationship and in some cases can be offensive…perhaps a roadblock to some future success.

3. Mike Figliuolo - January 17, 2009

I think your view is a little narrow Sandy. As Brian mentions, sometimes you really don’t know why someone unfollows even if they’re a close friend. That doesn’t by default make them a “twitter snob” as you assert.

Example – my sister is on twitter. She followed me. Shortly after that (a few months) she unfollowed me. I asked her why. Turns out she really uses facebook. I have my twitter feed attached to my facebook. I tweet… a lot. The issue was my tweets were so frequent and having the feed tied to facebook drowned out some of the less frequent facebook updates she wanted to see. I don’t think this makes her a snob. It hasn’t hurt the relationship. She’s just choosing to consume the media in a different manner that’s right for her.

Overall I think if people get bent over whether a friend unfollows them or not, there are a lot deeper issues with the “real world” friendship if a stooopid 140 character website can screw it up. On top of that, just because a person chooses to consume/not consume media a certain way I don’t think you can make a blanket assertion as to whether they’re a snob or not. I’m pretty sure if someone gets bent over getting unfollowed, they’re the “emotionally reactive person” in the relationship, no? My 0.02.

And if anyone unfollows me after this, I don’t think you’re a twitter snob. I just think you’re not willing to engage in good logical intellectual debate…

4. aaronz - January 18, 2009

Agree that you can’t (well, shouldn’t) be offended, but it’s human nature to want to know why. Guy Kawasaki posted a link to this tool that may help to provide some insights on when/why people follow or unfollow you. Might help learn what works and doesn’t.

There will be an evolution here too. Just like when you get your first Tivo and felt like you had to watch everything that was recorded. You have to get past that and realize that it’s not that kind of tool.

http://tweeteffect.com/?user=guykawasaki

5. Marc Hemeon - January 18, 2009

Im new to twitter and already have confused a few facebook friends from linking my tweets to facebook status, but luckily no death threats yet.

I am still processing all the dos and donts of twitter and trying to best understand the culture. I love to twitter stalk, so I rarely unfollow, however recently I was following someone who started posting rapid fire lame jokes for a few hours and it just annoyed me so I unfollowed for the night and then refollowed the next day – kind of like when you are talking to a real chatty drunk at a party and you just kind of ignore them for the evening. An unfollow doesn’t have to permanent 😉

*is unfollow even a word?

7. Sandy Blanquera - January 23, 2009

Mike,

Maybe your sister just doesn’t like you 🙂 You are snarky afterall.

Sandy

8. Mike Figliuolo - January 24, 2009

@Sandy – maybe, but I’m pretty sure that’s not the case. I just don’t want this lesson to be lost on why folks unfollow folks and that it’s not always personal or a translation into the real world relationship. I think folks are starting to miss the point on twitter. For some it has become less about the conversation and sharing of ideas, content, inspiration, opportunities, etc. and more about “look how awesome my twittergrader score is!” or “look how many followers I have.” Hmmm… last I checked, I’ve never been hired to do real work for nor have I had a conversation with a twittergrader score… it’s about finding relationships that work for you on twitter and consuming information and conversation there in a manner YOU deem most appropriate. Sometimes this means you unfollow someone (like if their tweets aren’t useful or they clog up your tweetstream because you’re only following a few folks and one individual tweets so frequently that your stream is overcome with their info). My 0.02. And FYI – I got the comment response alert before I had ANY coffee hence a semi-edgy response…

9. So You Were Unfollowed, Relax! | Digital Ink on Paper - April 12, 2009

[…] Get over it!   my point is this – Twitter is opt in.  As a user you blurt out whatever you think is interesting.  As a consumer, you decide who you want to listen to by “following” them.  And here’s the fun part, if you don’t like it you can stop listening to them by doing the unthinkable: unfollow them… Online relationships are different (good ones are ones that you integrate and blend in with your offline “IRL” relationships though – but that’s a whole different blog post). So we all need to get used to it… You *can’t* be offended if someone unfollows you. You don’t really know how that person is using Twitter. They might only be looking for good recipes or something. And if you’re not talking about your favorite butterscotch chip maple brownie recipe then dammit, they *should* stop following you… So, remember, it’s not about you. Twitter works because it’s all about who you follow. It’s a self managing system. And to be a good Twittizen you should ease up and not freak out when people unfollow you. In fact, why don’t you go take a look at your network right now and see if you’re getting out of it what you want. You’re time is valuable! […]

10. Elijah - January 19, 2010

I just want to see who unfollows me so that i can ask them why or see if its mail or female. I have an advice column tied with my twitter account and its crucial to know what my audience is, and if one unfollows me, then its not a good sign.

11. hermes kelly bag - July 6, 2010

just want to see who unfollows me so that i can ask them why or see if its mail or female. I have an advice column tied with my twitter account and its crucial to know what my audience is, and if one unfollows me, then its not a good sign.


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