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Why I Unfollowed Everyone on Twitter

December 3rd, 2010

Posted by to Small Business Marketing, Social Media Marketing, Twitter Marketing

twitter marketing Yes. I recently unfollowed 16,100 people on Twitter. Here is my story.

Once upon a time there was a land named Twitterville. It was inhabited by 2000 wonderful, loving, geeky people. They shared stories, laughed at RTs, and wore t-shirts with blue birds on it.  I was a citizen of Twitterville. And, then, things changed.

Oprah and Ashton Kutcher found Twitterville. All of a sudden, Twitterville was overrun by people. 65 million people to be exact. The little town grew up to be a honking country of its own. I accepted that. I followed back anyone who followed me.

But, as time went on, crime increased in the Twitterverse. I received more and more spam; robots would greet me in the guise of friends, and pretty soon, I didn’t connect with people like I used to. Something was lost.

Social Media is About Finding What Works For You

Time and time again, I tell clients that they need to find their own sweet spot with social media. That they have to find what works for them and then follow through with it.

For me, it wasn’t working to follow tens of thousands of people anymore. I found that I was only conversing with the people who replied to me or mentioned me in a tweet. And, I really enjoyed connecting with them! I wondered, where are these people hiding? How come I never actually see them in my twitter feed? But, that’s what happens when your Twitter stream updates 60 times a minute. You miss things.

I’ve already received a few “what the heck is Shama thinking?”  tweets. Some took it personally and attacked me for unfollowing them.  I get it, and I apologize to those whom I may have hurt with my unfollowing. It wasn’t personal.  When I speak, I often tell people that Twitter is a global human search engine. You get to create the network you want to pull information from. My current network was akin to subscribing to 2000 channels, when I truly just watch 2 or 3, and TiVo the rest.

Are there tools that allow you to manage a huge following? Yes! I have been using Tweetdeck for the past year. And, while some of my colleagues can manage and juggle that beautifully, I find that it isn’t for me. I needed to create some space in order to truly use Twitter effectively.

What’s next?

In a recent interview I gave to Texas CEO Magazine, I was asked to describe my job. What role did I play in my company? And, I shared the answer which had dawned on me a few weeks prior, it is to create value.

My job, is simply, to create value for my clients, for my readers, for my audience, and yes… for my Twitter followers. Anything that gets in the way of adding value is keeping me from doing my job.

I will follow people again. In fact, I’ve already started. If you @Shama me on Twitter, I will respond. If you mention something that I find interesting,  I’ll @ you.

But, this time, it is going to be much more purposeful. In a small town where everyone knows each other, you can keep your doors unlocked and welcome all. As the town grows into its own universe, with heroes and villains alike, you have to be more conscious of who you invite in.

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rosauraochoa/3939487692/
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  • This post resonates for me as I have recently been thinking of doing the same thing. I support you in recognizing that that your main purpose is to add value and that culling the Twitterstream was/is an important part of that process.

    Thanks for this post, Shama.

  • I always find it suspicious when people have 18,000 followers and are also following 18,000 people…it seems like a popularity contest at that point…and could you really catch anything that’s tweeted if you have streams from that many people?

    Although I don’t have your 20,000 followers. I have 4,000 and I’m only following 500 people–all hand picked.

  • Congrats to you Shama on making this move for yourself in order to provide value to others.

    If some people think it’s a selfish move you’ve made then that’s only because Social Networks have grown to be about popularity stakes for many.

    I’m sure they’re sad on losing out being followed by you – oh shock one less follower – when really they should delight in the joy of having real conversations with you – which they can still do if that’s important to them.

    I personally have found Twitter to be my favourite social media tool because of the connections I have made. Yes the spambots have increased and the noise but you can cut through that with the appropriate strategies and tools.

    I personally love Hootsuite because I choose to interact with the great people I admire and have personally built relationships with, as well as using keywords to find more quality people interested in the same things as me, and also outside my normal realm too.

    I find it’s always good to be open to new ideas, topics and people from different fields and Twitter as a real time information highway is perfect for that.

    I think there’s no harm in `spring cleaning’ your personal and professional relationships from time to time too – so that you’re sure you’re left with the right relationships that will help you move you forward and continue to deliver the best that you can.

    Natalie

    • Thank you, Natalie. I appreciate your kind words. Its been disappointing to see how people have reacted. This wasn’t personal. I even unfollowed my assistant because it was the only way to clean house! lol. Now, I am slowly re-adding people consciously.

  • Thanks for the explanation. I always wondered how people felt about following everyone who follows them. I do not have 20,000 followers [as you do]. However, I find Twitter lists and searches on either HootSuite or TweetDeck to be extremely helpful. Culling the crowd to small groups seems to work.

    I could never imagine looking at a Twitter Stream that updates 100’s of times a minute. Exhausting!!

    I have appreciated the fact that larger known folks in the Twitterverse follow me back. Reaching them via private messages has been valuable. However, had those people not been following me, the conversation would have either been public or not at all.

    Again, thanks for the post.

    • Ramona – Yes, there are certainly pros and cons to both. I am not just following any specific group now. I am connecting with anyone who I feel I’ve had a real conversation with on Twitter. Its much more freeing.

  • Wonderful post, Shama! I agree with just about every word, too. I especially like your view of creating value in everything we do, especially on Twitter. And that the TwitterSphere is flexible, which allows each of us to use it in our own way, no “right” or “wrong” way to tweet. Its nice meeting you, I’m now following! :)

  • No big deal, I just unfollowed you too.

  • Shama,

    I want to thank you for writing this post because it’s all about quality not quantity with me. I’m shocked that people would take offense to you unfollowing them when there are so many other things out there in the world that should be capturing their attention. People need to realize and accept that people need to do what is best for them and not push their approach onto others. Kudos to you for cleaning up your Twitter stream. Enjoy! :)

  • Shama,

    Excellent topic and discussion.

  • Shama this was just FABULOUS!!!!! Go girl for taking a stand, I’m sure that it wasn’t an easy decision especially when people have expectations from you. I have never understood following people because they follow me and have been going back and forth with this myself. Being relatively new to social media, I’ve been taught to follow everyone. But WHY? I don’t care what most of them have to say nor have we ever connected beyond the initial meeting. I am heading over right now to disconnect my automatic follow. I want to actually build relationships. Thanks again.

    Golda

  • Hey Shama! My only question is – what’s taking people so long :) Good on you for taking the plunge and doing what feels right to YOU. Rules are for the birds. Intentional Social Media is where it’s at.

    I never followed back without checking out their streams and websites or use auto follow scripts and that means my following has grown slowly but solidly in the past 2 years.

    I’d rather have 6,000 followers than 60,000 who I never connect with. I follow about 1300 and cull a few every day and follow new people once a week. So much more manageable.

    And those connections, I take offline – connect via blogs, tweets, fone, skype. We’ve got tools, now we’ve got to make them work for us.

    I’m tired of seeing twitter be treated as a popularity game, it’s time to get intentional, people. Put those egos aside, you don’t need validation from anyone following you or not. Validate yourselves & connect with others :)

  • Bad karma. You may be a very good person in general, Shama, but I don’t respect the ethic that you would not follow someone kind enough to follow you – or even worse, that you’d haphazardly dump many loyal followers, throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    Do whatever you like, of course. But personally? When I see a person with a fair number of followers who him/herself follows few of them back, I don’t have much respect for that person. It smacks me as arrogant.

    • Ted –

      I believe in Karma, but I also believe its run by intention. You judge my action as arrogant, but I did it to be honest and kind. What point in “pretending” to follow someone but then just focusing on a mini list of people I truly follow? That felt dishonest to me. I also interact with anyone who @’s me. I have surprised many readers of my book that way when they tweet about it. I still pick up my own phone, and answer comments and emails…

      I am sorry that you have this view of it, but as Shakespeare said – To Thine Ownself Be True. = )

    • I joined Twitter recently, and while looking for people to follow realized that things could quickly get out of hand. I have always read many magazines and blogs. When I follow all of them, all their updates create a gigantic stream. Add in there miscellaneous people following me (however briefly) – housewives, porn stars, who knows who these people are – and there is no way I will follow every person who follows me. I check each one (sometimes it’s obvious from the “cheeks” in their photo what they are after) to see if their content is something I’m interested in. There is no way I will follow any stream, even Steve Jobs’, if it’s just about going to McDonald’s for lunch. People who follow others just hoping they will follow back I consider prowlers. Their stream has to be pertinent to my interests. We need to use technology to meet human needs, not be controlled by it. Shama, I think it is great you set your boundaries. It was maybe a little abrupt, but it’s no different from some of my friends who find their email is periodically filled up with spam…they close it down and get a new one. I don’t totally agree with their approach, because they always miss retaining someone important, but I support their bid for privacy and a manageable life. And Twitter certainly eats time!

  • I understand the ideas behind this post, and have known a few Twitter users who have done the same thing. What I’ve asked them, and what I ask you, is why were you following so many people? Every person I follow on Twitter I’ve hand selected because I genuinely connect with them and the information that they post. You use the analogy of subscribing to 2000 channels, when you only watch 2 or 3; why would you choose to subscribe knowing that you could never watch all those channels? Were you just trying to get your numbers up? I’m not trying to be a smartass or anything, just trying to understand why one would follow so many people with who they may not even interact. Perhaps I treat my social networks differently. For example, on Facebook, I am only friends with people I have personally met, whom I consider real friends; this is much different than some users who have thousands upon thousands of “friends”. On Twitter (and Facebook), it’s easy to see how people may be offended or upset if you unfollowed them, especially if they treat their follower/following lists like i do.

  • Dear Shama,

    Tons of good reasons to follow a manageable amount of people rather than following people on a transactional basis. Clearly your earlier social media tactic was to gain followers through reciprocity and maintaining an engaged persona toward your following. However its not very fashionable to have a high follower count unless your name ends with Fry. People might wonder if you are one of those self anointed social media experts that have gamed the system. Being an expert on social media also means conveying that you look and act the part. You gotta appear that a large group of people hang on to your every word. Follow-to Follower ratio is a heuristic people use to gauge credibility/authority/popularity. Clearly if you are not a ‘rockstar’ and you have a 1:1 ratio, following thousands of people, you are there to accumulate social influence by exploiting a simple dynamic that worked especially well in the early twitter days: the tendency for people to reciprocate.
    You have clearly changed tactics over time and decide to cull your lists. And it is not quite a question of accurately evaluating intent: for the general public who just finds you today it appears you gained a large following by being popular/valuable – not because you exploited the out-of-fashion reciprocity tactic.
    There is a distinct advantage to having such a powerful cue – being perceived as a trustworthy expert. People are not supposed to know how you got there and they don’t care how good your intentions were for you to cull your follow list. They only go by heuristics – and you are benefiting of that heuristic by deliberately wiping your list without starting a new one. Now it amounts to an untrustworthy signal. And hey, loads of people have done similar things, so who cares right.
    If you were confident in your abilities, you could have taken the high road/more credible road and started a brand new twitter account. If people really think you are worth following, they would follow your new account. (Do you think people would refollow if Seth Godin created a new account?) You didn’t do that because you’d lose numbers that you somehow would have to build up again – a little humbling for a social media expert. Maybe that was a little too humbling. It kinda of makes your justification no matter how sensible it sounds a little irrelevant. But thats PR.

  • Shama, I started leaving a comment here in response to your post, but it became so long that it became its own post, too:
    Twitter Controversy! —> bit.ly/eS0Pq7

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