Follow You, Follow Me

One of the first things you learn about Twitter is how to negotiate the delicate issue of “followership.”

For those who don’t know, Twitter is a form of social media where individuals create accounts and post 140-character messages to the world. Individuals have the option of following people whose messages they want appearing in their “feed,” which gives the “followee” the ability to send Direct Messages, or DMs, to the follower. DMs are confidential posts that (we are told) are private between the individuals in question.

If the followee decides to “follow back,” then this enables both parties to send confidential messages to one another in addition to posting public conversations. In addition, every user has a profile, on which the number of people you follow and who follow you are posted.

One thing that I learned very quickly on Twitter is the kind of social status attached to the follower number. The more followers, ostensibly, the more people want to read what you have to say, and thus the more “popular” (I think Twitter exerts a strong regressive undertow back to high and grade school, but that a post for another time).

The other thing I discovered very quickly was the number of different views (I hesitate to call them “philosophies”) of followership people have. Some expect you to follow them back if they follow you first – and will tell you so. Or they may just unfollow you if you don’t follow back. Others just follow and don’t seem particularly bothered if you follow back.

Different expectations come into play here as well. Depending on the individual, some are less inclined to demand reciprocal followership if the person of interest is famous and/or has a lot of followers. But here I’ve heard the thinking go two ways: one is that they follow so many people they can’t be expected to follow everyone who expresses an interest in their stream; the other is that given how many people they follow what’s the harm in adding just one more (i.e., me)?

Then there is the “unfollow,” where you stop following someone after a longer or shorter period of time. Once again, depending on the person and twitter relationship, unfollows varyingly raise concern, hurt deeply, are met with indifference, never come to the followee’s attention at all, or are even met with relief.

Here’s where it gets most interesting for me: how people react to being unfollowed.

Most people I unfollow either unfollow back or keep on following silently, which is far more often than not, for me, the best situation. Once in a blue moon I (or twitter) may have unfollowed someone by accident; if that’s experienced as deliberate (and reacted to in silence) that certainly has the potential to be a problem.

Far and away the best outcome to an unfollow began with the person I unfollowed simply replying back asking why. Keep in mind all this is on the public timeline, which means anyone can see this conversation.

I replied by giving my reasons for unfollowing (see below), at which point she replied with her perspective, in an unusually frank and non-defensive manner. It was both what she said and how she said it that convinced me I had misunderstood her earlier behavior. So I followed back and am quite glad I did, as our conversations have become all the richer since.

Most of all, I’m glad she replied as quickly and maturely as she did, otherwise none of this would have happened and I would have missed out on a fine twitter pal.

For me, one of the least pleasant parts of twitter are those folks who, in their response to being unfollowed, remove any doubt in your mind that this was a good idea. Interestingly, each and every one I’ve had thus far comes from the ranks of a particular political group.

One person I unfollowed replied back (in public, because you can no longer DM one another) expressing outrage that I had done so. She demanded that I remedy the situation at once or face her further wrath.

Needless to say, I was insufficiently charmed to do as she asked.

My favorite, though, is the person who tweeted me back just moments after I’d unfollowed, expressing his pleasure that I had fallen for his “trap.” Huh?

He had been deliberately agitating people of my political persuasion, he told me, with provocative attacks on a figure of some prominence. My unfollowing, he said, was proof of my “utter uselessness” to the movement of which he was (of course) a very, very important leader.

After suppressing my initial reaction to this news, I informed him that I was unwilling to engage in an exchange of insults with him, and wished him the very best in his endeavors (we’re ostensibly members of the same political party). He wished me well in return, which was nice, and I haven’t heard from him since.

Anyway, all this (and more) has forced me to think about why I follow the people I do and why I unfollow those I do. To be clear, these are my reasons; they may or may not be yours, and that’s fine. Hopefully they’ll at least give you something to react to and form your own ideas about, in which case I’d love to hear what you think!

I’ve crystallized them into the following (no pun intended) form, based on what I take to be the three key decisions Twitters have to make on a daily basis – whether or not to follow, keep following, or unfollow:

Bad Reasons to Follow Someone on Twitter
Their avi is very attractive.

Because they followed you.

Because other people you follow (or like) do.

To get them to follow you back.

You want others to know you care about a particular person or cause.

You think this might help increase your follower count.

They’re famous.

Someone else told you to (and you didn’t first read some of their tweets to see if you would have followed them absent the recommendation).

You want to get someone’s attention.

Good Reasons to Follow Someone on Twitter
You like what they have to say and want to hear more.

They provide important information that’s useful to you.

They’re important to you.

You both follow some people of mutual interest already.

They’re so different from you in so many key ways you’re certain to learn a lot about yourself and each other in the process.

Bad Reasons to Avoid Following Someone on Twitter
You don’t find their avi attractive.

They’re not a member of a group with which you strongly identify as a member (e.g., political party, nationality, religion, race, gender, sexuality, social class).

Their tweets force you to think or feel things it is not unhealthy for you to think or feel.

Good Reasons to Avoid Following Someone on Twitter
A representative sample of their tweets does not interest you in the least.

You can easily imagine scrolling past or ignoring their tweets if you did follow them.

You can easily imagine getting very anxious, depressed, or enraged if you read their tweets on a regular basis.

They repeatedly engage in twitter behavior that’s distasteful or repugnant to you.

Bad Reasons to Keep Following Someone on Twitter
They’re part of an important social circle you want to be a part of.

You want to unfollow them, but are afraid of upsetting them if you do.

You want to unfollow them, but are afraid of what others will say or think if you do.

Good Reasons to Keep Following Someone on Twitter
The thought of unfollowing them just never occurs to you.

They keep providing the information, perspective, relief, or good cheer you’ve come to expect from Twitter.

They engage you in good conversation.

They make you laugh, smile, or feel good about yourself.

They make you think or feel things agreeable to you.

They provoke you in ways that feel comfortable and respectful of you as a listener or conversation partner.

Bad Reasons to Unfollow Someone on Twitter
They didn’t follow you back.

Their tweets start making you think or feel things it is not unhealthy for you to think or feel.

You discover they’re a member of a group about which you have very strong negative feelings.

You’re angry at them and want to send them a message.

Good Reasons to Unfollow Someone on Twitter
They begin to engage in twitter behavior that’s distasteful or repugnant to you.

They post the same message over and over.

They use Twitter primarily to proselytize a religious, scientific, medical or other point of view.

They seem unwilling or unable to criticize positions rather than persons.

You’ve been filtering out their tweets for some time in the effort to avoid unfollowing them.

You discover they’ve lied about themselves or done something that undermines your trust in them.

Their tweets constantly make you unhappy or bring you down in a way you did not expect and/or do not like.

You try to engage them in conversation, feeling confident there’s a reasonable expectation that they do so, and they don’t reciprocate.

Their tweets, having captured your interest once, no longer do so.

So that’s my short list. As with anything I post, expect emendations and alterations. 🙂