I’m a pretty active user of the micro-blogging social networking site Twitter. The web-site TweetStats tells me I send an average of 8.2 Tweets per day, typically a mixture of IT and business related Tweets during the UK working day (7am-6pm), and more personal interest Tweets outside working hours.
Over the years I’ve been using Twitter, I’ve noticed a recurring and interesting phenomenon. It happens when somebody who follows me on Twitter suddenly realises that I’ve unfollowed them or never followed them — and that hurts them!
You Unfollowed me!
As my Twitter following has grown, I’ve had a few people — including friends — reach out to me to ask “I follow you on Twitter, why don’t you follow me?”. What’s more, a few other people (again, including friends who I know “off-line”) unfollowed me on Twitter – if I had to guess, because they suddenly realised that I don’t follow them back too and they’d be dashed if they were putting up with that unfair situation!
I say “If I had to guess” because the first time somebody I was friends with “off-line”, somebody where we also both followed one another on Twitter, suddenly un-followed me personally, I had a sense of “What have I done to deserve this!”. I’m a sensitive soul, you see, so I wondered what caused that individual to unfollow me!
His answer was simple – he had a strategy of following only a very few people people on his main Twitter stream, because if he followed any more, he found it overwhelming.
My friend went on to add that he still read all my Tweets because he used the Twitter “list” functions. Lists are Twitters function where you can group together the Tweets of as many people as you like, typically within a certain interest group such as IT or Marketing. My friend explained that I was on one of his lists. What’s more, he added, we’re also friends on Facebook and I read your blog – so we’re very well connected. That explains that then!
Joking aside, if I felt a twinge of hurt when somebody I liked and respected un-followed me on Twitter – it’s probably likely that at least some other people feel the same when somebody they like or respect un-follows them.
For myself, I “consume” Twitter by following less than 200 people. I’ve found that any more than 200 and I end up feeling overwhelmed with information, and that I tend to miss certain people’s updates.
This magic number of a network of 150-200 would seem to be borne out by other people’s research. In Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent book “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference” he observed that when company business units were kept below 200 people, innovation happened and work went a lot more smoothly. Over 200 people in a unit, and noticeable lack of communication occurred and things slowed right down or began to fail.
Scientist Robin Dunbar observed that for the average human brain, it’s only possible to maintain active connections with 150 people. “These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person.” This research has since been termed “Dunbar’s Number”.
For me, the 200 followers in my network are the people whose Tweets I graze on when I’m travelling, or waiting in a queue. They are the Tweets glance at and read in between meetings. Those 200 are a mixture of friends, professional contacts and industry experts. The common theme they share is that they are typically consistently active on Twitter, tweet frequently (but not TOO frequently) and with interesting Tweets that I enjoy reading.
What about the rest?
But that does leave hundreds of other people who I *want* to keep up to date with, but they maybe fit into one of the following categories:-
- They don’t Tweet very often. Once a day, or less.
- Conversely, they Tweet very often – and so I hear from them too much for my tastes! If you’re a Facebook user, you’ll know what I mean. The difference being that on Facebook you can “hide” their updates whilst still being a friend.
- They Tweet about a specific subject, and so I need to be in a certain mood to read their Tweets.
For those people, I use Twitter Groups. I have groups named
- SMB IT Community
- Marketing Guru’s
- Comic Book Fans
… and many others that allow me to dip in and out throughout the day and see updates dependant upon the mood I’m in. This way I keep up to date on various groups. You can check out my Twitter lists for more.
There is a fourth category and they are people who don’t post often, and when they do, cross post their Tweets to LinkedIn or Facebook. I read their updates on those other Social Networking platforms, so I don’t need to read them again on Twitter.
What is your Twitter strategy?
You might have your own Twitter strategy, or you might have none and suspect you need one because you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed with all that info. All I can say is, the above works for me.
But back to my original situation, and where does that leave me with those dozens of people who are wounded wondering why I don’t “follow” them on Twitter. For those who reached out and asked me directly, I explained the above scenario to them, that I *do* still read their Twitter feed, but I simply don’t register as a traditional “follower” who will boost their follower number up by one. Hopefully they get that I still care what they have to say. I guess some might, some might not – but the old adage that you can’t please all of the people all of the time probably fits here.
If you’re a friend who has been feeling slighted because I don’t follow you on Twitter and have just read this post, hopefully now you know that I do still love you man! If Twitter is the only way we’ve kept in touch recently, then maybe it’s time we caught up in person anyway – call me!
I’m genuinely interested in people’s thoughts on this topic, as Social Networking is now a part of pretty much everyone’s lives. In my opinion we need to think less about the technology involved in it, and more about the humans who are using it. Thoughts? Reach out to me via Twitter, leave a comment below or drop me an e-mail – I promise to respond!