I’m a pretty active user of the micro-blogging social networking site Twitter. The web-site http://www.howoftendoyoutweet.com/ 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.
I recently reached a milestone by hitting 1,000 followers on Twitter. I know what you’re thinking, it’s a disturbing thought that they’re are 1,000 people who actively listen to what I say. It worries me too!
Now this blog post isn’t to shout about that milestone, because frankly it doesn’t mean a lot and if it did, there are many of my peers who have many more followers than that, and that’s before you even compare yourself to the Stephen Fry’s and Demi Moore’s of the Twittersphere.
What I was more interested in was something else that happened around that time, and one that had me considering an aspect of Social Networking from a psychological or human nature perspective.
Right around the 1,000 followers milestone I 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”) un-followed 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 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 – 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 un-follow me.
So I did what most sensible people in that situation probably wouldn’t do, I risked appearing needy and shallow and asked him “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 over-whelming.
He went on to add that he still read all my Tweets because he used the Twitter “list” functions – the ability to group together the Tweets of as many people as you like, typically within a certain interest group such as IT or Marketing – and that I was on one of those 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!
Shortly afterwards he un-friended me on Facebook and changed his phone number. I’ve no idea why.
(That last sentence was a joke by the way. He tells me he just forgot to give me his new telephone number.)
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 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.
For me, these 200 followers are the people whose Tweets I read on my iPod Touch and my Windows Mobile. They are the Tweets I graze on, glance at and read in between meetings, whilst travelling, and whilst sitting in the Doctors waiting room. 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.
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 – via Tweetdeck on my PC. 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 from my Desktop.
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 platforms, so I don’t need to read them again on Twitter.
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!
Richard Tubb is an Independent Consultant who works with IT companies to enable them to feel more in control and to grow their business. He is also a Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Partner Area Lead (PAL) and the chair of the CompTIA UK Channel Community. You can e-mail him at email@example.com or connect with him via Twitter and LinkedIn.