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12 Most Compelling Reasons I Do Not Follow Everyone Back

Posted on the 06 July 2011 by Alizasherman @alizasherman

IStock_000015432594XSmall A good blog post gets a conversation going or really gets you thinking about something, often in a different way than you might usually think of it.

Such was the case with @tedcoine's post 12 Most Compelling Reasons I Follow Everyone Back which I just finished reading. I completely disagree with most of his post - not to say that the reasons Ted gives for following everyone are not valid. Of course they are! For Ted, that is.

I've always maintained, we each use Twitter in a way that best suits our needs. We don't have to use it like our neighbor, friend, colleague or any other person uses it. I think from reading Ted's post, he does agree his way isn't for everyone.

So I'm not disagreeing with Ted's personal choices in terms of following everyone back. I am, however, taking exception with some of the premises upon which some of his choices are based and in general have my own take on following/not following. I share them below to simply give a different perspective on following people back on Twitter. Perhaps none of this resonates with you either, and that's okay. 

1. Limits

"Any time you don’t follow someone back, you’re limiting who else they can follow. That’s not nice. Be nice."

If Twitter has arbitrary rules about how many people you can follow compared to how many follow you back, I think that's an issue people should take up with Twitter. This isn't a good reason why anyone should follow everyone back. I don't consider following someone back "so they can follow as many people as they want to follow arbitrarily" a nice thing for me to do. I think a nicer thing for me to do is to provide some kind of value so if people follow me on Twitter, they are glad they did. We shouldn't have to worry about other people's follow quotas but rather devote our time and energy concentrating on a more thoughtful use of Twitter.

2. Ethic of the Medium

The friend who introduced me to Twitter explained that automatically following back is the ethic of the medium.

Hmmm. That was one person's personal opinion (which may be shared by others, of course) that they imparted to a new user and held it up as the "Twitter Ethic." Poppycock. The ethic of the medium - if there really is one - might be "don't spam." Many of us choose to take the stance that we want to provide value on Twitter. That isn't the "Ethic of Twitter" but rather our own personal style or personal ethic in terms of how we want to communicate online. It is nice to have your own set of "rules" or "ethics" around using Twitter if you so choose, but there isn't any blanket set of rules or ethics that apply to following people back. 

3. Be a Lab

I’m friendly in real life – I’m like a Labrador Retriever – and Twitter lets me be friendly online as well.

I love the idea of being a Lab although at first I thought Ted meant be an "experimental lab" versus the dog. I still do experiment with Twitter but not by following everyone back. Not following someone back is not unfriendly unless the person who hasn't been followed back chooses to take it that way. Even then, it is a personal decision to take the lack of a follow as a personal affront. Not everyone in the world is a Lab, and they don't have to be. I haven't ever tried to compare myself to a dog, but if I had to, maybe I'm more of a Schnauzer. Still, even if I do not follow someone back, if they @ me, I do my darndest to take a moment to respond. I think THAT is being nice - responding when addressed on Twitter, and giving that response some genuine thought and attention.

4. Get Over Yourself

Much more importantly (to me), here’s why I follow everyone back: I’m not more important than my followers

I actually think it is kind of impolite to propagate the notion that not following someone back implies that a person feels they are more important than that follower. Again, this is someone reading into an action a specific sentiment that is simply not there. Okay, maybe there are some people on Twitter who are full of themselves, but for the most part, most people on Twitter are just nice and decent people.

When I don't follow someone back, it is mostly because what they tweet about isn't of interest to me. I curate my Twitter stream to contain diverse voices from people who I know and respect or who tweet about things that I'm interested in, new people who seem interesting (including people who are vastly different from me), and a few I may follow purely out of curiosity.

I don't use lists - out of sight, out of mind with me. I just am not in the habit of clicking over to a more finely-tuned curated Twitter list although I do think it is a good idea in theory. Sometimes, I don't follow someone back because I don't know they are following me. I struggle to keep up with the emails from Twitter regarding followers. I struggle keeping up with emails in general. Every once in a while I find a notice someone followed me, and I'm so excited to follow them back to see them in my stream. I love those moments.

5. Be Consistent

How on earth can I tell people to provide Five-Star Customer Service, which is based entirely on manners, when I am impolite myself? So for me, it’s an easy decision.

Again, this implies that not following someone back is impolite which is completely untrue. But I totally agree with Ted that you need to be consistent - and not to please or placate others but really for your own sanity and effectiveness. If you develop your own "rules and rituals" for using Twitter, you spend less time waffling about what to do with Twitter and how to do it. I'm very consistent with how I use Twitter: from the heart. So this means that if I don't post for hours or a day or two, that's okay because when I do, it comes from the heart, I'm sharing a thought or post or tweet that I really, truly want to share. I'm not just tweeting to stay in your stream.

When I follow someone, I really, truly am interested and will do my best to pay attention when I can. I do the best I can, and that is really all anyone should expect of anyone else. Also, not everyone uses Twitter for customer service and that is okay although I do think it is excellent as a customer service tool. I use Twitter for community. And that's okay, too.

6. Sorry: No Exceptions

When I follow a new person, I typically give them a week, maybe two, to follow me back. If they don’t choose to, that’s perfectly fine. But at that point I unfollow them.

Wow, that would have struck me as harsh, but then I remembered that I shouldn't judge another person's personal policy for Twitter. But the other thought that came to mind was "who has the time to pay attention to giving someone a week to follow back." I can't see watching my numbers like a hawk - it just isn't where I focus my energy.

I appreciate it when someone follows and do my best to put things into my stream that inform, inspire and occasionally entertain. But I do occasionally "spring clean" my account and use Manage Flitter to see who isn't following me. I think re-examine their stream and see if it is still interesting to me. If so, I keep following them because they feed my imagination or learning in some way. If not, I may unfollow at that point.

7. Columns = Sanity

 I basically ignore my “All Friends” feed. Instead I set up columns on Tweetdeck that search for key words, hashtags I enjoy, or for lists of special people – my core friends.

Love this recommendation, and it might work for some of you but not for me. I've tried them all. Tweetdeck, Seesmic, Refyner, way too many to list here to zero in on keywords or particular people to refine my stream. Nothing sticks. It just isn't how my brain works. Not everyone loves columns or can manage content consumption in that way. I get to test out new apps weekly to improve my Twitter management, but I keep going back to (yes, the Web site), and immerse myself into the stream for a few minutes at a time when I can.

9. Finding New Peeps

I regularly check in with Tweepi to manage my list, and to find new people to follow who share my interests.

Hey, a site I didn't know about app! Will check it out for finding new people. I find new people to follow sometimes from Twitter email notifications but more often from references in the stream by people I'm already following, by Twitter recommendations, or by random and serendipitous ways which are always delightful. We find our new followers in many ways. Following back everyone who follows you isn't a very efficient way, but maybe it works for some people.

10. Nut Cases

Do I follow wack-jobs, which to me includes some members of fringe political and/or religious groups that offend me? Hmn. I’m always wrestling with this, but typically yes.

Maybe this is a difference between males and females. As a woman, I tend to err on the side of caution and avoid "trouble" by not following back potential "problem" folks who might become antagonistic and take it to DM. I have connected my DMs to SMS because I've always felt if I'm connected with someone on Twitter as a "friend" i.e. we follow one another, then I want to be able to see their DMs in a more prompt manner so give those messages greater access and attention. Another reason not to follow everyone.

11. Egg Heads

Every so often I’ll use Tweepi to find and unfollow egg-heads, those uncommitted souls who have been tweeting for a few weeks or more yet have somehow still failed to post a picture, or even a cartoon, in their avatar.

I usually don't have to unfollow egg-heads because I didn't follow them in the first place. If they are already a known entity to me, I sometimes give them the benefit of the doubt that Twitter has "egged" them because this happens to me every time I update my Twitter avatar - I'm an egg-head for a few hours or sometimes even a few days until the system updates. But in general, if you display a Twitter egg, you probably aren't ready for prime time anyway so I'm less inclined to follow you. If you don't have a bio, I tend to move on without following as well, but that isn't a hard and fast rule because the content of one's stream is where I put the most importance when deciding who to follow.

12. Spammers?

And I unfollow spammers with impunity. Glee, even. There seem to be more and more every week, and they all suck.

Agreed. Although I usually haven't followed them in the first place. If I am considering following someone, I check their stream. If it has the same tweet over and over only addressed to different people, I just report them as spammers and block them. Spammers do suck.

While I did address each one of Ted's points one by one, I have to summarize in saying I don't give following and followers too much thought although I think that if you are just getting started, there are some helpful tips for following.

Here are some of my old Digital Marketer podcasts with tips (and remember: these are based on my own opinion and experiences using Twitter and advising companies and nonprofits about social media - and also based communicating online and building community online since 1992, just to give you some context):

How to Build Your Twitter Community

How to Avoid 7 Common Twitter Mistakes

And some other thoughts about Twitter I posted on Quora:

Answers About Twitter

So I guess you can sum up my theory on following others on Twitter to be: "I follow people who I find interesting and don't worry so much about following or being followed." 

My main goal? To be informative. If I inspire others with my tweets, I am grateful for being able to do that. If I entertain, that's icing on the cake because I don't put myself out there as an entertainer. If one of my tweets makes someone smile or not feel so alone, wow, you can't get any better than that. 

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