I have been struggling with this question since I joined the Twitter parade some time ago. It is a question I avoided asking as I do not want to be labeled a whiner or social miscreant. However, I consider myself an intermediate with Twitter at this point and have spoken with others who have asked themselves the same questions. Where does cross-pollination of ideas and information stop on Twiiter and self or other promotion begin? Is Twitter just another portal to track one’s popularity and status in the digital universe or is it about expanding ideas and meeting new thinkers and individuals?
Like many newbies to Twitter I remember being vexed by how you get followers and how someone can amass thousands. And so I began simply tweeting and following folks who I wanted to read and thought I could learn something from. I found that for the most part they would follow me back but sometimes someone would follow me, I would then reciprocate and follow them and low and behold they would unfollow me later on. Twitter itself is not proficient at tracking “unfollows” so I went to a third party application to use (http://twitapps.com/) that emails me when I have new followers and when people unfollow me . It is quite helpful to at least see who has decided I am not worth following. It is also great to learn which people I have followed that have yet to follow me back. Unfollows or a lack of follow vexes me in many ways and I struggle to figure out if perhaps they simply get too many followers and never weed through them to follow back or if they simply do not care to follow me.
I am a lawyer and there are thousands of lawyers and legal professionals on Twitter. Just go to Lextweet to see this. Often the folks I will follow have something to do with the law or technology – a fairly broad scope. There is no expectation that everyone I follow will in turn follow me – I am fairly certain that the CTO for Cisco, Padmasree Warrior (@padmasree) would know me or really care to know what I tweet (though I would like to think so). Nevertheless, I was not surprised to learn that she does not follow me as I do her. What does surprise me is that many of my peers that I follow simply do not follow back. I began to watch them on Twitter – to notice their tweeting habits and what I learned was interesting. There are definitely defined networks of individuals who read, retweet, direct message and otherwise communicate with one another. This is not necessarily bad and is even one of the benefits of this platform. What is troubling is that these networks appear after a time to actually be cliques – self-selected groups who promote one another at the exclusion of all others. Again I want to avoid appearing to whine about this – in fact I am fine with it – but it does illustrate a point. That twitter though it may be a new vehicle for social communication carries with it the same human behavior as others social tools – whether personally or technologically based.
It would be untruthful to suggest here that I am not irked to some degree when I choose to follow someone that chooses not to follow me (and no I was not always the last picked in gym class). This is not because I am trying to amass followers to up my count. Disclaimer: early on I did use one of those “build your Twitter followers” services not knowing exactly how that worked. After one day I ceased it as I was being followed by incredibly random people who I knew would not care what I wrote and I was fairly sure I would not care what they wrote (my apologies to the person who kept tweeting about “Best Mattress Ever – Discount prices” – but that was not useful to me in the slightest). I committed the cardinal sin of Twitter – and any social media really – I put quantity above quality. I am not alone in this realization. Both Kevin O'Keefe (@kevinokeefe) and Scott Greenfield (@ScottGreenfield) have recently written about this very issue – quality over quantity. Mr. O’Keefe has been on a multi-day mission to go through each of the folks he follows and unfollow all who he does not care to read or get to know. A useful endeavor to be sure.
I enjoy following some people who I know would not necessarily follow me back and that is fine. This what I love about Twitter - that I can follow someone who I respect and want to get to know - it is a scope into their mind and thoughts – an extremely valuable thing for me as I am always seeking to build on my ideas and learn something new. What I have learned using Twitter has been amazing and it is almost like a real-time Google or a river of information constantly flowing. For some this can be overwhelming – for others stimulating. The quantity and quality of information available is unmatched in many ways by any other tool. There is Twitter-pollution to be sure as I mentioned to Cordell Parvin (@cordellparvin) last week. Folks who tweet that they are watching Real Housewives eating ice cream are not useful to me (collateral damage from my foray into followers building). These people I tend to unfollow and I am sure they do not care except that I am one less follower on their count. So I respect the effort O’Keefe is putting into his Twitter rolodex by cleaning it up. It has motivated me to do so as well. For those though that remain to not follow me even though I follow you . . . your loss and my gain I guess.
So the lesson for me has been, follow who you choose, make sure that what you tweet about is interesting to at least one other person and hopefully more and let the others who follow you enjoy and learn. Those who not for whatever reason will miss out and who knows perhaps they will re-discover me and click on “follow” sometime in the future. As for Kevin O’Keefe, I just hope that when he gets to my name he chooses to follow me as I think I have something to share (pick me, pick me).