CONFESSION: I recently had an emotional reaction over an “unfollow” incident on Twitter. In simple terms, I degenerated into an immature state I’ve since named – Big Fat Twitter Crybaby Syndrome (BFTCS).
Admittedly I don’t have many followers on the Big Twitter Machine right now and at the time of the incident I had fewer still. Yet the negative impact of this particular unfollow was not so much over the percent-reduction in number of followers as it was over the fact that the departing party was highly prized for their stature in the world of social media marketing. At the time my subjective mind was losing not a real person per se but rather a Twitter trophy-follower complete with bragging rights. As in “So-n-So is one of my followers.” This was embarrassingly selfish of me and exposed a surprising child-like weakness which I’ve since put in check. Honestly.
As I’ve mentioned, the loss triggered a “reaction”. Specifically a direct email to the outbound dignitary who promptly responded and, in an act of pure charity, refollowed me. For an hour after the refollow I was bathed in reassurance – the prized Twitter follower had returned. Shortly thereafter though a strange sense of shame set in and has been an unwelcome companion to this day.
Twitter Unfollow Rationale
Within their email of response to my bold protest over the unfollow, the unfollower offered that they had unfollowed based on a blog post written by Chris Brogan (The Great Twitter Unfollow Experiment of 2011) who had recently unfollowed his entire 130,000+ Twitter “following”. Very ballsy indeed. I read that post, and as a brand new Twitter user, was thunderstruck. Then I went to the profile of the person who had unfollowed me and found that their “following” number had dropped from tens-of-thousands to a stunning 127. I clicked. And there I was among the 127 prized “Worth Following” like some kind of Twitter stowaway interloper. Shame.
I should also mention that I recently heard Chris Brogan speak and make reference to Dunbar’s number. “Suggested to be a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships” (Great video of Dunbar explaining the whole concept.)
Thus, you (and I) can see why following thousands, even millions of people on social media is just, well, silly. But, I don’t really have a good cure for it and I still obsess over ways to accumulate more followers. Strange.
Twitter Reality Check
The evolution of humankind has not yet caught up with the emotional implications associated with social media tools. And there has been a fair amount of unspeakable wreckage while we adjust. What’s more, some of us are more tolerant of, and less susceptible to, the social media siren call than others. (I for one have had an awakening and am now lashed to the mast.)
The psychological phenomenon of tools like Twitter also force us to consider the notion of getting along famously with someone online while perhaps having little in common with them in real life. And too to consider the power they have over us via their online presence – amazing, scary, and something we should keep in check. As humans we are just beginning to reconcile this strange and unanticipated non-tangible yet emotionally high-impact dimension. Who knew?
Rules of Engagement
Well, at this point the rules of engagement are still not clear. However, there are incidents that will help guide us.
For instance it’s interesting to note that the two mass unfollowings I’ve seen, Chris Brogan and the person who unfollowed me, are one-sided. That is, they stopped following, not being followed, by thousands and thousands mind you. What does that say about them vs. us? Not sure.
However, in both cases these people seem to be slowly accumulating new people in their “following” stream. The person who unfollowed me was at 127 a few weeks ago and is currently at 308. Chris Brogan is currently at 373. In fact I should mention that my unfollower hinted at this idea by saying it was time to start over and follow new followers and implied there was something therapeutic in the act of purging and rebuilding. Something I may understand one day. For now though, I’m not shedding anyone (save spammers) and I’m definitely acquiring. In fact I welcome you @joekyle1.
Lastly, to all of my followers, particularly the great unfollower/refollower, should you decide to unfollow, I truly, truly accept that. And thank you, this entire incident has helped me get my head screwed on straight when it comes to the rough-and-tumble of social media. Go in peace, you’ve made me stronger.
The conversation is open.
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