Yesterday, my Twitter-stream turned nasty. What happened was that a bug in a Twitter-client prevented one Tweep to send a direct message to another Tweep – something which would usually mean that Tweep 2 had unfollowed Tweep 1. In the end, we had to call in the psychiatrists and tranquilizeres were prescribed.
Well, perhaps it didn’t go that far but we were reminded that social media contacts are in fact not just purely instrumental but that they also carry emotional attachments with them. At this point, negotiating the social webs gets complicated – perhaps not quite as complicated as handling real world contacts, but still complicated.
So, in case you wonder: What are my policies for following people on platforms like Twitter and Facebook?
First of all: There is no Grand Design. My contact lists are to a large degree the result of what researchers call snowballing – following one contact leads to interactions which in turn leads to new contacts. So, on Twitter interacting can – but do not automatically – lead to following. Things are a bit more complicated on Facebook, but most, if not all of my Facebook contacts are people I have interacted with one way or the other, even if I may not have met them IRL.
Another way of making me follow you on Twitter is to post interesting tweets which get re-tweeted, but I do not seek out Tweeps on any systematic basis.
Following me on Twitter won’t make me follow you back – Twitter is not symmetrical – but if you make mentions that demand some kind of answer, I will be happy to comment back.
And now for the nasty part: What will make me unfollow you?
I think relevance (to me) and activity are the two main parameters. I check my Twitter feed regularly (as in: Every other month) for abandoned accounts or accounts with very little activity – basically following an abandoned account is like having a dead phone number in your list of contacts. If you haven’t announced a Twitter holiday and go missing for one or two months, you in all likelihood have abandoned the platform. Even people that I have followed for a long time have been struck from my list of followers.
Relevance is trickier but some topics hold very little of interest to me (Advice: Do not tweet every date you are on, including detailed comments about the guy’s hopeless behaviour – the only good thing about such tweets is that they make me even more determined to never EVER entering the dating scene. There are some female Tweeps I haven’t unfollowed despite their breaking the dating rule but generally the details of your love life and sarcastic comments about failed partners are better left off the internet). Besides that, the internet is like life itself: Occasionally, you have contacts which just fade away after some time.
Finally, I don’t check if people unfollow me. In most cases it doesn’t matter that much, in other cases I have to accept that people make other priorities. I could name some people who would make me very sad if they unfollowed me, and in this case the social web is like life itself. I wouldn’t unfollow anybody to deliverately hurt them – but on the other hand, I wouldn’t keep people on my Twitter stream for fear of hurting or offending them.
Oh, and please note that I talk about contacts or followers, not friends. Yes, there are some Tweeps and Facebook contacts I for one reason or the other hold dearer than others but I think we should remember that most social web contacts are “thin” rather than “thick”. They can still be positive and useful in many ways but we should be very careful in overestimating our emotional value for or role in the lives of those on the other end of the line.