A tweet earlier by @TheJeffVader got me looking into TwitQuit. It’s an interesting site which allows you to track who follows and unfollows you on Twitter. The feature which caught my eye the most was the ability to automatically follow people who follow you or, perhaps more curiously unfollow people who unfollow you. Even more curiously the guy behind TwitQuit informed me that 80% of people are using this option.
I love Twitter and I try to be pretty active on it but my interest in Twitter is quite specialised. I’m into information security and hackery of various sorts and there is a very large and very vocal infosec community on Twitter which I enjoy being a small part of. I rarely tweet about things which are not related to infosec and I rarely follow people who aren’t tweeting about it. The idea of automatically following any old account which comes my way is therefore a little alien to me to say the least. There’s a whole blog just about that, companies, brand building, marketing, etc. I get that but this post isn’t about that.
The whole thing got me thinking about the etiquette of Twitter so I thought I’d share my thoughts on it.
As a general rule I have historically tended to follow back. As the number of people who follow me has grown I’ve found that my timeline has begun to get a little crowded and not all of the information is zeroed in on stuff I particularly find interesting or have the time to investigate. This starts to become a problem when the stuff you do want to read gets lost in the barrage. I can’t watch Twitter all the time so unless I’m at my timeline when something I might find interesting happens there’s a good chance I’ll miss it. This detracts from my overall purpose of being on Twitter in the first place – to learn and share.
Tonight I went through and culled about 100 from my following list (down to about 540 now) and I intend to cull some more. I reckon around 300-400 is a manageable number. The stupid thing is that I feel bad about this. To offset some of my guilt I have mainly culled people who aren’t following me.
Why do I feel guilty? It’s nonsensical really but a lot of people attach a lot of meaning to social network “friendships” and while I think this is a little strange I try to be aware of it. This is why until the other week I’d never unfollowed anyone. Then I got so pissed off with @Wh1t3Rabbit and his automated pleas to read his HP fucking blog posts that I clicked the red button for the first time. I felt a little liberated actually.
So who am I culling? Well, mainly people whose tweets don’t focus on my core infosec interest areas. These do vary a little as I get into different things but I have a core of stuff which I’m most into and most skilled in. Some people blur the line a little too much between professional and personal for me and that’s cool but as I said earlier, Twitter is fulfilling a specific purpose for me.
Getting back to the etiquette side of things, my view is simple. Social Networks mean different things to different people. Twitter is not Facebook. Facebook is about friendships (though I accept this gets abused), Twitter is about news and information. I “follow” you, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m your friend – though I’ve actually made more decent friends through Twitter in the last two years than probably any other time in my life. If you follow me on Twitter it doesn’t mean we’re friends so I’m not going to be offended if you stop following me.
The number of followers I have is not especially important to me but, as I said in a short exchange with @twitquit earlier, I do understand the value that a large follower base can have in building my professional “brand”. Though I don’t treat my Twitter account as a professional account I’m conscious that anyone can read it, including my employer (my boss follows me), potential future employers and my clients. It therefore works in my favour if I use social media effectively to demonstrate my skills and knowledge.
I hope over time I will build a large and loyal number of followers who follow me because they think the content I produce is useful, valid and worth actually using to improve their company’s or clients’ security. If you build it they will come.
In summary then, Twitter is not real life. There is no etiquette. These connections are representative of different things and not necessarily friendships. If you follow me I am grateful and I hope you like what I put out. If you #FF me I’m very grateful and I take that as extra encouragement to produce more (hopefully) useful content. If you unfollow me or I unfollow you then our interests are not aligned. Neither of us should feel bad about that!