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Why I'm not going to follow you back (It's not personal)

Friday, February 18, 2011

[A little off topic, but this is something that's been on my mind lately.]

I'm an avid Twitter user. As such, I know that many people follow folk on Twitter in the hope - sometimes the expectation - that the followee will follow back; it's a fast and easy way to boost your follower count (for whatever reasons that makes these people happy).

Sometimes, said people will then unfollow in a huff a little later, as if the recipient of their follow has been somehow unspeakably rude by not returning their compliment by following back.

I don't get it.

Perhaps it's just me. Perhaps I am unspeakably rude (I'm sure I am, on occasion. Probably accidentally. Probably :-) ).

But I won't follow you back just because you are now following me.

Don't get me wrong. I am thrilled, thrilled, that you seem to want to listen to some of the things I write about. You're more than welcome; I hope I continue to keep thing interesting enough for you to stick around. I have an ego and I am flattered, believe me.

But following me is not a social contract. As far as I'm concerned, there is no moral imperative to follow back (again, perhaps that's my innate rudeness; you tell me). Twitter is not LinkedIn or Facebook, where relationships are reciprocal. Twitter is much more like a blog: the followed write; the followers read. We have conversations. Your subscribing to my blog doesn't create an obligation for me to subscribe to yours; that would be silly. I don't see why some people think Twitter should be different.

I do use Twitter as a conversational medium - it's fabulous for that. It's what I use it for most. But we don't have to be follower and followee for that.

The thing is, my attention is limited. I need to focus it on clients, prospects, industry news and the non-work stuff that floats my boat. So I am very, very discriminatory (in that, I make informed choices) about whom I follow, just as I choose carefully which blogs to subscribe to. There's more than enough noise in my Twitter stream as it is with the few people I do give my attention to; I am therefore very careful about whom I add. I also don't unfollow very much, precisely because I take care about the people I add in the first place. I'm not saying I'm a guru or super special and that if I follow your Twitter stream then somehow you are extra blessed; I'm just saying that when I do follow it's interesting enough for me to keep up with. That's it. Nothing more.

Now, this may come across as arrogant, conceited or pompous (I've been called worse!). But it really reflects on there being only 24 hours in the day and if I'm following you I want to give you my attention - else why bother?

So it isn't personal. It's pragmatic. But if you're following me in the hope I'll follow back, please don't. Go follow Lady Gaga or a politician or your favorite nationally-ranked sports club, they seem to follow back more than most. Grow your follower count that way, not that I understand why that's important or necessary.

But that's my 2c. Comment below if you auto-follow back; I'd welcome your perspective. Heck, I'll even give a guest post slot to someone with the opposite point of view.

What do you think? Chime in!

Update: Read the counterpoint in this guest post by successful online community-builder, Debba Haupert.

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25 Comments:

Blogger TimsStrategy said...

Hey Phil - Wish I could argue with you here. But I can't. You and I have the same view. I follow back people who are seemingly relevant to my life and work. Or just seem like fun people. But there are so many others following me who couldn't be further from a direct hit. A local dog groomer in Pennsylvania (I'm in California). A forex sales person (I don't do Forex, not even sure what it is). And don't get me started on those without a real name, photo or bio. A follow just ain't going to happen.

No surprise that a nice rise in followers is balanced a few days later by a drop in followers (the recent followers who un-followed). I'm no lady gaga. :-)

1:15 PM, February 18, 2011  
Blogger Phil Hollows said...

I have an offer for a countervailing guest post already - we'll see!

And I'm no Lady Gaga either. Although clad in 50 pounds of raw meat and from the right angle...

1:21 PM, February 18, 2011  
Anonymous Scott Howard (ScLoHo) said...

Phil, I was following your philosophy for awhile and just this week decided to change it for awhile and see what happens.

I started using the List feature for Twitter last year and everyone I "follow" goes on one or more lists. And there is a "Secret list" I have "RF" which stands for Really Follow.

I use Tweetdeck and instead of trying to follow everyone, I only pay attention to my RF list which is less than 500, which is manageable. So why follow the others? It allows them to Direct Message me.

Now about the change I just started... I created another list called ee which stands for everyone else. I'm planning on ramping up the number of people I follow by putting them on the ee list and see what happens.

2:29 PM, February 18, 2011  
Blogger Phil Hollows said...

Hi Scott:

Come back and tell us how it goes, please. I see how you can use TweetDeck and lists to keep the noise down, but do you get many DMs? Is it worth it to you? And do you get a lot of DM spam as "EE" has expanded? And, presuming your follower count grows more quickly, are you seeing any benefits?

2:55 PM, February 18, 2011  
Blogger Ryan G said...

Totally with you on this Phil. I only follow people I am interested in learning from and networking with.

3:33 PM, February 18, 2011  
Blogger Phil Hollows said...

@Nate - spam not appreciated. Buh bye.

4:17 PM, February 18, 2011  
Anonymous Gail Gardner said...

Hi Phil,

There are many excellent reasons why some of us follow most everyone back (except spammers) and that is largely driven by Twitter's follower limits. Because Twitter limits the number of people we follow, if someone doesn't follow back they will eventually be unfollowed so we can follow people who are talking to us.

If I'm not following you, I won't see what you're sharing and I can't share it with others.

If Twitter eliminated these artificial limits we would not unfollow people solely because they are not following us. As we hit the limit and need to follow our new followers, we use tools to find non-followers and hire someone else to click unfollow because our time is too valuable to be spent clicking unfollow one at a time for hours.

If I was doing the unfollow clicking myself I would not unfollow you, but since I'm not you'll end up unfollowed. Then I may follow you again. We only unfollow 100 a day or so of the oldest non-followers so people have weeks or even months before they get unfollowed again.

Unless someone has a very low number of people they wish to follow they ARE going to hit those limits and then how they manage their Twitter accounts has to change. For those who use Twitter like celebrities (many followers and not interested in following very many back) and most people are not leaders (only follow celebrities) the limits aren't an issue.

Those of us who collaborate with many and choose to treat others as potential collaborators are better off following most anyone who wishes to follow us and using Twitter lists to interact with many Twitter users and see who is sharing what.

4:19 PM, February 18, 2011  
Blogger Phil Hollows said...

Hi Gail:

Interesting points but I'm going to say it sounds like you're frustrated with Twitter's limits that stop you from following more. My remark about folks unfollowing was secondary to my point (although I see now there may be other reasons than unspeakable rudeness - thanks for that!).

From my perspective, using lists to move people out of the way means that one isn't effectively following them for content anyway, right? Because the list effectively mutes them. My approach is that if I want to collaborate I'll @reply them and follow if I see relevance. Eeveryone may be a potential collaborator but practically speaking, most are not. I'm not making a judgement call about the people or what they have to say, other than they're not relevant to me and the way I work.

I don't (and I should have made this clear in the OP) view people how do follow back as being somehow inferior or anything like that. I just can't see the point myself for the way I work :)

Horses for courses, I suppose!

4:37 PM, February 18, 2011  
Anonymous Gail Gardner said...

Hi Phil,

The only reason people like me who choose to follow many others have to unfollow is because of those limits. The primary reason to use lists is because we have more than one set of interests.

When I need to tune into the latest on search I use an SEO list or the latest on Social Media I use a Social Media list. That shows just tweets from the relevant people so I can see what the latest is for that subject.

You may have far fewer potential collaborators than someone like me or @kikolani or @coachnotesblog who interact with businesses, bloggers, social media influencers, and so on, but if you don't follow any of us and we don't see what you're doing it won't get shared to our followers.

I will have to test and see if I put someone on a list and then unfollow them whether their tweets are still visible in that list.

7:43 PM, February 18, 2011  
OpenID captainjohann said...

Hi Phil,
I agree with you. I used to feel why some of these guys even follow me.Now I know.

12:10 AM, February 19, 2011  
Anonymous Jesús Pérez Serna (@mkpositivo) said...

Gil Gardner: lists and follows are independent. You can read the tweets of everybody in a list, you don't need to follow them (it doesn't work with locked accounts).

Phil: I totally agree with the post, and think we are a good example: I follow you because I use FeedBlitz and I'm interesed in email marketing and other links you publish. But in my Twitter acount I write 90% in spanish and you don't speak spanish... then ¿why are you going to follow me? It has no sense... I will know it's a "false follow"

5:18 AM, February 19, 2011  
Blogger Phil Hollows said...

@Gail: Let's leave unfollow aside for now and assume there are no API limits; the thrust of my post is about following back when followed. I find potential collaborators differently, using targeted search to pull signal from the noise, as explained on my ProBlogger guest post here: http://www.problogger.net/archives/2010/11/30/three-essential-tips-to-growing-sales-and-service-one-tweet-at-a-time/

I don't need to follow anyone to find them, and decide whether or not to interact with them. I guess my disagreement is with the assertion that if I don't follow back I'm missing out. I have many potential collaborators; what I don't have much of is time and attention so I use search to find them at the right time.

If I "hide" someone I follow in a list then what's the point? I won't see their tweets anyway. That's where my train falls off the tracks; if lists are used to manage the twitter stream why bother following in the first place? I always @reply if one of my searches discovers something interesting, which is how I work.

What am I not getting here?

8:02 AM, February 19, 2011  
Blogger Phil Hollows said...

@Jesus - Indeed! And thank you for following; adding my typos to English as a second language must make following me such a chore...

8:04 AM, February 19, 2011  
Blogger Phil Hollows said...

BTW All, guest post coming Tuesday with a counterpoint. But keep the comments coming here, please!

8:09 AM, February 19, 2011  
Anonymous Eric said...

Courtesy is whatever society implicitly agrees it is, same for rudeness. You may not feel you owe a new follower a follow (even if it's just on a trial basis), but you may also feel you don't owe your Aunt Lexy a Thank You card for that toaster she gave you on your wedding/bar mitzvah. If the majority of people agree with you, you're okay, but that doesn't mean Aunt Lexy won't be pissed nonetheless if she feels differently...

As for what, exactly, constitutes common courtesy on twitter these days, I haven't the foggiest.

1:59 PM, February 19, 2011  
Blogger Phil Hollows said...

Well, Eric, I'm going to say a Follow isn't quite the same as a tangible gift. It isn't a gift at all; IMHO it is a statement of interest. They're by no means equivalent. I do believe there are those who view a follow as something that is an online gift taht should be reciprocated (I could be wrong; nobody here has really taken the position yet).

4:26 PM, February 19, 2011  
Anonymous BA said...

not following people back or not being able to focus is pretty much a moot point with the inception of lists, you can easily follow 1000s and 1000s and then create lists to gain focus on certain things/people

however, a very valid point on following is DM spam

just my .02

2:08 AM, February 21, 2011  
Blogger Phil Hollows said...

@BA - so what's the point of following and shoving into a list? What is the value?

8:32 AM, February 21, 2011  
Anonymous BA said...

@Phil

well you get can do the follow back courtesy of "social networking" and then put people in lists to refine the information stream (or focus in on certain things)

I couldn't see any other way of doing it personally...I want software vendors in a software list, I want news organizations in a a news list, etc etc...

2:35 PM, February 21, 2011  
Blogger Phil Hollows said...

Hi Everyone: Debba Haupert has written a guest post from the other side of the fence; please comment! http://blog.feedblitz.com/2011/02/counterpoint-why-i-will-follow-you-back.html

6:09 PM, February 21, 2011  
Blogger ScLoHo (Scott Howard) said...

Hi Phil,

10 days ago, I was limiting my following to people I might have a real interest in. (see my comment on Feb 18th).

Then I decided to take an opposite approach as I mentioned in my previous comment.

I created the ee list, (Everyone Else) and started following back nearly everyone who followed me. There were some obvious ones that were spam bots, and a few others that Tweeted only in a language other than English, that I did not follow.

Results:
Before, I would get about 25 new followers a week, and 20 would leave if I didn't follow back for a net gain of about 5.

Now, I added 50 new followers in the past week who have stayed and they have been RTing some of what I tweet which is reaching more and more.

Because I maintain an RF list (Really Follow) which is 500 or less, I'm not overwhelmed by the number of tweets I see. And while a few of the new Tweeps I have followed have sent a DM, it's usually a Thanks for Following and not constant spam.

8:52 AM, February 27, 2011  
Blogger Phil Hollows said...

Hi Scott:

Those are *very* interesting results, particularly the apparent engagement improvement along with minimal DM noise. Food for thought for sure; thanks!

9:54 AM, February 28, 2011  
Anonymous nikos said...

ok,now i understand why!!anyway,thank you,very nice your topic!

5:19 PM, March 04, 2011  
Anonymous MicroSourcing said...

Whether it's for personal or business purposes, setting appropriate boundaries on social media is a good thing. As a business owner for instance, it's ideal if all your followers convert to revenue, and trim down on the ones that don't.

1:28 AM, March 08, 2011  
Blogger Jeanne said...

Phil, you are my inspirations. Keep on keeping as you are!

2:09 PM, March 14, 2011  

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