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.