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. 🙂


15 thoughts on “Follow You, Follow Me

  1. Great post. It is a subject that requires some thought, I think I may be following some people for “bad” reasons, may need to think on this…
    Thankfully though it appears that all of the good reasons to follow someone apply to why I follow you 😉 Though you did leave out:
    “If you have a Twitter crush on them” and
    “If they make you #swoon from time to time” or the most important:
    “If they are a #Geeketeer”
    lol. 🙂 Again, nice post and food for thought. (ps – I am working on making my tweets more interesting, in case you were thinking of unfollowing) 😉

    1. Thank you thank you! Now I’m realizing I forgot to add “one may always follow individuals of unusually high perspicacity, good taste, and strong tolerance for vanity.” 😉 And no tweet adjustments required or desired 🙂

  2. Fab post.

    This will be a “must-read” that I will send to friends and colleagues when they first join Twitter.

    You’ve prompted me to attempt to do a little “Spring cleaning” of my followees list.


    -The Well-Versed Mom

  3. This is a long overdue conversation. It does seem that there are tweeps out there who collect followers like collecting “friends” on Facebook–the more they have the more popular they feel, I suppose. It makes no difference that they couldn’t possibly read all the tweets in their timeline, or that a large number of them are spam. I turned off my follow notifications when it became apparent that at least half of them were spamfollows. I could block and report each one, but life is short. I also recently cut way back on follows, from over a hundred to near 50. It’s about all I can comfortably handle and still have a life. There has been some awkwardness, but the people in my orbit tend to be mature and sensible about it. People come and go, in Twitter as in life.

    1. Thank you, and you said it!

      You also got me thinking that a lot of us have very different expectations of the follower relationship, and that this often becomes clear only when we unfollow. The longer I’m on Twitter, the more I want to be clear about why I follow and unfollow, and I think this post was part of my attempt to do so.

  4. Well, I showed up to read this because someone I follow referred me! Find it reassuring to see it was an excellent recommendation, and you really did a sweet job of putting this together. I’m new to twitter, and my list of people to follow has grown a lot more than I expected ~ who knew all you intelligent, lovable, perverse, diverse people were going to be showing up? Not me. Nice to find someone using the same guidelines I’ve been using, and I will pass them on, whenever it seems to be a good idea. Hope you don’t mind my following you for a while… and thanks for doing this. (Also fun to get to say more than 140 characters)

    1. Wow that is so nice, and thanks! Honored for the follow.

      I think a big part of the reason I’ve stayed on Twitter as long as I have (two years now) is because I’ve been as pleasantly bewildered by it as you are. Who knew, indeed! More than once I’ve tweeted about how differently I’d have turned out had Twitter been around when I was in high school.

      And yes, blogging after tweeting is a lot like stretching your legs after a long flight. *Yawn* That feels good! 🙂

  5. Wittily written guidelines … they sound like universal truths. I particularly noticed one of the good reasons for following: “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.” That is true – we tend to surround ourselves with people who are (or who we perceive to be) similar to us. But everyone can teach us something new … and as we get to know each other we may find we are similar after all.

    1. Thanks! You managed to highlight the advice I have the hardest time adhering to myself; maybe this is my cue to seek out more challenging conversations! 🙂

  6. Oops, I wish I could figure out how to delete goofs like that one…. 🙂
    I’ve noticed that you like to tweet a wide range of songs (I’m following @rascality using another account – like many people, I like to use different accounts for different purposes). I use @amocanturio to simply tweet (or chirp, if you translate the name!) different non-MSM songs – mostly love songs from different eras, but whatever has moved my mood. You might be interested in my TL “playlist” (she said modestly…).

  7. this is well done. personally i never ask someone to follow me. and i never unfollow someone because they don’t follow me. and i don’t check to see if someone has unfollowed me although it may become apparent by and by. i follow largely for reasons you delve into with some variations on the theme. (I do slip up on occasion, when my guard is down.) what i have long found intriguing, and while I may have missed it, don’t think you address above: there are people I may follow or who may follow me with whom i occasionally engage in discussion or exchange of two, maybe three or four remarks on multiple occasions and the exchanges are, at least from my point of view, interesting, diverting, thought provoking or just fun – but that does not necessarily cause me to follow them, or vice versa. nor should it in either direction, bt i find it a little odd. some will RT someone more than once yet not follow them. i may do it. and it’s no great mystery either. but these are interesting categories or subcategories, I think. and here’s another aspect of the esteem issue – just as a large number of followers seems to confer it on the one being so multiply followed, it appears to be even more status-engendering to follow fewer than follow you; and it works in inverse proportion. it is a higher classification to have many followers and to follow fewer in return, than to simply have many followers and to follow either more, the same or relatively fewer. the fewer you follow in proportion to those following you, by this rule, the greater the prestige. curious and amusing….

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