Twitter’s friend strategy is not a popularity contest

One of the cooler things about Twitter is that friends are not necessarily mutual. You can listen to whomever you want and anyone can listen to you, and those lists aren't the same.

But I'm amazed at how many people want to keep it a mutual friends game. A game of tit for tat. And for me, that detracts from the power of Twitter. It's much more powerful when it's like blogs. I get to "listen" to people I think are interesting and pass on those things that I think are most interesting without a whole bunch of noise. I especially find Twitter useful at conferences.

Until recently, if someone followed me on twitter, I followed them back. (After making sure they weren't a spammer.)  However, I realized that following over 900 people meant that I didn't really hear anyone. So I created a quick policy.

If I know you (in person or online) or if I'd had interactions with you on twitter, I kept following you.

But if I didn't know the person, had never heard of them except through twitter and:

They follow more than a 1,000 people. (They obviously can't follow/talk to all of them. I know from personal experience.)


They only talked, never replied. (To me twitter is about a conversation and passing on good ideas, not about reading someone's timeline.)


They only talked about their product. (Surely life is more interesting than just that?)


They talked way, way too much. (Then it hides what everyone else is saying.)

Then I unfollowed them. (I made a few exceptions and I'm sure I made a few mistakes, but that was my general process.)

The surprising thing to me was the people that unfollowed me immediately. (It was actually a small percentage of the number of people I unfollowed.) However, it meant to me that they were only following me because I was following them. So obviously they weren't really interested in what I had to say.

So why were they following me in the first place? So they could look like a large number of people were following them? So that huge numbers of people would hear what they have to say? I don't know. It doesn't make sense to me.

Follow people you find interesting. Pass on interesting thoughts. Don't worry about how many people follow you back. It doesn't mean they don't like you! (Unless no one follows you. Then you might stop and consider how
interesting or useful you are being … but that's a different topic.) In the real world we can't have meaningful conversations with 1000+ people every day. The online world is no different. That doesn't mean you shouldn't listen to those you find interesting.

Twitter is an extremely useful tool. But it's not a good popularity contest!

Photo by fofurasfelinas.

10 Replies to “Twitter’s friend strategy is not a popularity contest”

  1. “But if I didn’t know the person, had never heard of them except through twitter and:
    They had more than 1,000 followers. (They obviously can’t follow/talk to all of them. I know from personal experience.)”
    having > 1000 followers is something one doesn’t have control over, why unfollow someone just because he’s popular? Perhaps you meant following > 1000?

  2. I follow 1,000+ people and am certainly not a spammer or product marketer. I utilize TweetDeck as a means to filter those I follow into groups and topics.

  3. Isn’t this just like any popularity contest? You try to have as many friends as you can, because having many friends means you’re famous? It’s the same thing as the amount of friends in real life or “How many emails do you get every day?” / “How many sex partners did you have in your life?” type questions. It’s a bit more dangerous, because it’s on the Internet and everyone can see when you’re a loser.

  4. It can be a popularity contest. But I don’t think it’s a very good one and it’s not one I try to compete in.
    I also don’t compete with how many friends I have or how much email I have and certainly not how many sex partners!
    I certainly wouldn’t consider someone a loser because they had fewer twitter followers than me. I’d just assume they use twitter differently than I do. For example, if I only twittered about my kids, I’d have far fewer followers, but that’d be ok.

  5. Interesting list of rules. Do you really consciously work through that checklist? I had started filtering my followbacks a while ago, though I haven’t got such detailed criteria. I do use one test you don’t mention: I don’t bother to follow-back people who *only* reply, and only with comments inscrutable to anyone not already in the conversation. If all they’ve got to say is “@whoever yeah, me too” and “@mssilly you said it,” then it doesn’t seem like I’m likely to get much out of the “conversation.”
    So I guess my informal rules boil down to two:
    1. Looking at their recent tweet stream, does it catch my interest?
    2. Looking at their recent tweet stream, does it threaten to overwhelm my?

  6. I actually agree with you completly.
    – Twitter, Blogger, Gogle whatever or Youtube…. You get to them, or they try to spam you ( there are few real followers, readers, etc….) still,

    I like your rules.
    cheers from France

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