The Fallacy of Social Media Reciprocation

You are not entitled to attention.

You are not entitled to a follow-back on Twitter simply because you follow someone. You are not entitled to blog subscribers or comments simply because you publish stuff. You are not entitled to clicks to your junk or signups for your newsletter or any thing of the sort.

In fact, you are not entitled to anything.

The web is not a democracy, nor is this an egalitarian society. Giving of attention when it’s such a precious commodity is not something to be done in some empty gesture of validation, and as the attention giver, I and only I will decide how I’ll approach my connections online. My reasons aren’t yours, nor should they be. You don’t decide the value in paying attention to you, I do. This black-white, good-bad, hard-and-fast-rules of engagement stuff is ridiculous at best, and pathetic at worst.

If you honestly need someone to follow you or friend you on a social network to find self worth or acceptance, it’s really time to re-evaluate your priorities.

Moreover, if the precedent we’re setting is that blanket reciprocity should be the standard, aren’t we bound to inundate ourselves with countless connections that have no enduring meaning, purpose, or substance to us other than some initial handshake gesture? That’s a plainly ridiculous way to set etiquette standards for communities that, by their very nature, are adaptable to the needs and methods of many different types of participants.

There is no inherent value in a superficial connection, but only in how that relationship becomes substantive later. That means too, my friends, that the follow you have so self-righteously given and for which you are demanding reciprocation  has no value either until someone recognizes it for themselves.

Some are very stingy with their attention, and for perfectly valid reasons. Some, like me, are more liberal with their connections for equally valid reasons. I am so utterly sick and tired of the whining and complaining of unreturned follows, of self-righteous criticism of those who do the opposite, of the “wrong” people getting attention when there’s *clearly* someone more deserving (ahem), of someone not replying to a comment or a tweet or a Facebook wall post. Enough already.

If you find something interesting, useful, entertaining, or valuable, give it your attention. If you don’t, don’t. If someone makes that choice for themselves and their assessment doesn’t agree with yours, tough. Discuss and learn to understand their reasons if you like, offer them yours and make your case, consider both sides…but get over it already.

Attention, friendship, and all of the bits in between are earned. And they are in the eye of the giver. So as you navigate the social networks and communities on the web, realize that the value exchange does not hinge on some ridiculous idea of reciprocation. Instead, it’s in the interactions and the contributions and the discussions, many of which can happen without explicit gestures of connection whatsoever.

Perhaps instead of griping about others’ refusal to pay you attention you should instead evaluate the insipid nature of your pandering, your disagreeable personality, or your lack of contributions to your communities in the first place.

Because if your motives are sincere and your participation worthwhile, the rest somehow takes care of itself.

  • http://twitter.com/Schnicka Schnicka

    I agree – but a lot more do unto others and credit where credit is due – wouldn’t go astray. Online society should not be immune to the basic politeness and common decencies of offline society.

  • http://twitter.com/Schnicka Schnicka

    I agree – but a lot more do unto others and credit where credit is due – wouldn’t go astray. Online society should not be immune to the basic politeness and common decencies of offline society.

  • http://www.honeybeeconsulting.com startabuzz

    This whole issue is one with which I’ve taken, well, ISSUE for some time. There is a certain sect of people in the business industry with which I deal (and I suppose this is true for all verticals) that get all bent out of shape if they’re not followed back (ACH! The horror!) They will go so far as to say publicly, “So-and-so isn’t following me back! Can you BELIEVE that?!?” That’s just nonsense. Childish, schoolyard, bullying NONSENSE. If someone chooses to follow me on Twitter, I think that’s great. Generally, if I have some sort of exchange with a person, I’ll follow back and continue to do so until I’m given a reason not to. Otherwise, it’s one of those personal things. I follow the people who add something for ME. Friends, sure, but people who enrich me in some way. ME. Not you. Or … that other guy. Or whatever. Want a biscuit?

  • http://www.loubarba.blogspot.com Lou Barba

    Hi Amber,

    I suppose that if you really feel like you are sharing something good, something worthwhile of others time, it is surprising when many people ignore it or put it down. Sadly, after that happens over and over, you get used to it. I guess it’s like bringing home the superdeluxe pizza, and when you get there, everybody just ate. What a letdown! Oh well, I love to share, but I guess I’ll have to eat the whole thing! :) )

    Lou Barba

  • Me

    fantastic, fantastic article. tired of people who throw temper tantrums on the web because they hide behind a username and can’t be held accountable for their insipid behavior. three cheers for you!

  • Joe Slaughter

    People seem to choose their purpose for Social Media. Some want to keep a closed community with the people they have known for years (they could just text or email each other) or who are in their specific profession & others want to have an open community — understanding that there will be people in their Twitter stream they may not agree with on every point. I follow back easily (unless I recognize that it’s a bot).

    not engage. Ot

  • Suzanne Kranitz

    The way I see it is that if someone has crossed my path (for whatever reason) they are there for a reason. Yes, I “friend” people I’ve never met because they expand my view. Why keep our mind closed to new people and experiences? I don’t demand they follow me back, but I don’t like being teased for “collecting arbitrary friendships”. I give the friendship a chance to grow. If it does – great. If not..no harm. Thanks for the candid piece.

  • Suzanne Kranitz

    The way I see it is that if someone has crossed my path (for whatever reason) they are there for a reason. Yes, I “friend” people I’ve never met because they expand my view. Why keep our mind closed to new people and experiences? I don’t demand they follow me back, but I don’t like being teased for “collecting arbitrary friendships”. I give the friendship a chance to grow. If it does – great. If not..no harm. Thanks for the candid piece.

  • Suzanne Kranitz

    The way I see it is that if someone has crossed my path (for whatever reason) they are there for a reason. Yes, I “friend” people I’ve never met because they expand my view. Why keep our mind closed to new people and experiences? I don’t demand they follow me back, but I don’t like being teased for “collecting arbitrary friendships”. I give the friendship a chance to grow. If it does – great. If not..no harm. Thanks for the candid piece.

  • Anonymous

    Interesting post. Why not just choose to be indifferent of them? In the end, they harm no one but themselves and will congregate with others like them where that behavior is accepted. We reap what we sow.
    I honestly don’t see it much at all and that may be because I decided to accept that some people are like this just as i ask people to accept the person I am or not for that matter.

  • Sherman Rockwell

    Yes! Yes! Yes! I love this article! I hope you get a bazillion tweets!!

  • http://rockcurvatude.blogspot.com Curvatude

    this post is 100%.

  • Anonymous

    The focus should be shifted from the number of followers or likes to the quality of the audience engaged in the communication offered by the brand. Also, the level of reciprocation should not be the sole yardstick of measuring the likely impact of an online activity.

  • Joel Bouckaert

    Nice post, Amber.

  • http://www.slingshotseo.com Drew Steuer

    I could not agree more that connecting with a person does not automatically create value, however would you agree that replying to a otherwise meaningless comment may create positive results. I have more than once been able to induce quite a bit of valuable information be responding to a person I may not have known who just popped in to say hello. I guess what I am trying to say is that I agree with your call for people to value their time wisely, but I do not think that just because a connection shows no obvious sum of value that it should be written off.

  • Anonymous

    Oh, I’m sorry it’s taken me this long to get over here and read this link that I’ve had bookmarked forever. Suffice it to say, my only comments are YES and THANK YOU.

  • http://www.seibways.com Christine Seib

    This is a challenge for a medium where you put something out there and don’t get an immediate response like you do in person. The impact, for the most part, is completely invisible to you. You don’t see what’s going on at the other end and create these false expectations for how it *should* be. It’s then that you need to remind yourself that sharing in social media is about giving something of value.

  • http://fathermuskrat.com/ muskrat

    With all the spammers, pornbots, and desperate small businesses who are on Twitter because a weekend seminar speaker told them to be, I figure if your followERS number is smaller than your followING number, you’re not worth following (if I haven’t met you in person and decided otherwise). But that’s just me.

  • http://fredmcclimans.com Fred McClimans

    Nice, to the point and dead on post. In the end, it comes down to what you expect to get out of being part of a community, be it social media or IRL. If you follow to be followed back, or if you blog to get comments, you are (IMO) missing the point.

    You follow because you are interested. You blog because you want to share. While many may disagree, my perspective is that if you are not trying to add value (and yes, there are times when we all try but don’t quite make it), then you are better off moving into a different arena – otherwise the frustration will drive you mad.

  • http://www.facebook.com/philintheup Phil Watson

    So the rules of the game are not, in fact, he/she with the most followers wins. That is encouraging in and of itself.

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  • http://twitter.com/muminawe Wendy

    This is a brilliant article. Well done for saying what I think.

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  • Sue Baxter

    We’ve always made it our policy for over 27 years, to post other people’s information for free, including not-for-profit, ALL theatre, All festivals, events, auditions, All fundraisers, without asking for anything in return. It’s been our policy for 27 years – posting not according to who has paid and who has not, not according to who we’re friends with and who we know. Now, with the new dynamics of the internet and According this article, we don’t have to post everyone for free? What a relief, We don’t owe anyone anything. Next time someone asks (complains) why we didn’t include them, I can just tell them, well the web is not a democracy according to Brass Tack thinking and link them to this page!