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You Unfollowed me! Don’t you love me anymore?

UnfollowedI’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!

Tweet Overload

Digital OverloadSo I did what most sensible people in that situation probably wouldn’t do, I risked appearing needy and shallow and asked my friend “Why did you un-follow 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.

Dunbar’s Number

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

  • Friends
  • SMB IT Community
  • Marketing Guru’s
  • Business
  • 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! Smile

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Richard Tubb

I help IT companies grow their businesses in a scalable and sustainable way. My clients are business owners of small to medium sized IT firms. at Tubblog
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  1. I think you are handling it as well as can be. I vaguely recall the 200 number, but definitely the 150 “Dunbar Number.’

    Some people are going to be upset…I think you continue to do what you do. Be respectful, explain that you are using Twitter to focus on a specific business objective. Still, some won’t like it and you’ll lose them.

    As long as you are respectful and “social” (which I know you will be), I think that’s the way to go.

    For the others, continue to drive your high quality posts and you’ll grow your Tribe organically.

    It’s tough, but you use Twitter to grow your knowledge…not to grow the egos of others.

    Of course, you can do both at the same time, but if it’s solely for others’ egos AND to your detriment (higher noise:signal ratio), then it’s not worth it.

    I love the authenticity of the question though. That’s why people like you, bro!

    • Jer – thanks for the comment and kind words! As always, your expert insight is on the mark. I’ll look into the “Dunbar Number”, sounds interesting. Appreciate the feedback!

  2. trabasack says:

    Twitter makes accounts randomly unfollow people occasionally. Its a bug and is quite common. If it happens don’t take it personally. There are 300 million others…

    As for not following back…you are a disgrace 😉 No wonder you only have a 1000 followers…

    If you are a business and want to increase your reach you should auto follow every one back, otherwise you are effectively snubbing your potential customers saying “I’m not interested in you!”

    Create a list of your favs if you don’t want to miss your special friends tweets.

    • Duncan – Thanks for the feedback. I’ve long since stopped taking an un-follow personally, but I’m aware of the reaction it can potentially cause in people you’ve got a “real world” relationship with.

      I agree with your statement about auto-following back – but I think this applies predominantly to bigger businesses. For individuals like myself, keeping the “follow” list manageable and as you say, using lists appropriately is a better way of approaching this. In short, quality over quantity. But your statement over my being a disgrace stands for so many other reasons. 😉

      • trabasack says:

        Haha, then good to meet you, I look forward to finding out!

        Personally I think auto-follow is just as important for small business, many people will not continue to follow someone who doesn’t follow them back. You have to be a celeb, funny or very useful for me to continue to follow.

        I know my view is controversial, and one person accused me of being dishonest. Saying that although following back, by using a list of favs, I was only pretending to be listening!

        I can only say it has worked for me. Since I started to autofollowback my followers have increased from about 1000 to nearly 4000 in 6 months. Some are bots but there are a lot of real people there too. I have a klout of 68 and peer index of 62, if you put any credence in those things 🙂

  3. trabasack says:

    Sorry I exaggerated! 3406 followers!

  4. You’ve got to go with what works for you! For me, Twitter is a conversation starter – it’s about a few quality conversations over many others. I have a surprising amount of people read my blog and Twitter feed and then reach out to my directly – we rarely interact on Twitter or the blog itself. I think measuring the number of conversations you have is a good measurement of how effective you’re being with your Social Networking.

    Impressive Klout score! 🙂

  5. Hi Richard, fascinating article with some food for thought. I got down to following just under 600 but it’s getting more difficult the lower the following count gets so I definitely need to come up with a workable strategy. One idea that jumps to mind is for every new person I follow to unfollow two others I have become disconnected with until a reasonable point is reached. I do like to use the Twitter web interface in preference to third party clients but with the recent acquisition of TweetDeck perhaps it’s a moot point.


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