How Twitter Works Today…And How I’m Using It Now

How Twitter Works Today and How I Use It Now - Brass Tack ThinkingI’m far from the first person to do this. Google “Twitter Unfollow” and you’ll find a bunch of posts from people more interesting and high-profile than I am.

But quietly and without fanfare this weekend, I unfollowed all 34K people I was following (using SocialOomph if you’re interested) so that I could reset and start over.

I was actually hoping I wouldn’t have to write this post, and for most of you, you probably a) didn’t notice, b) didn’t care much if you did notice and c) have probably thought about doing something similar once or twice yourself.

But I’m getting just enough blowback and misunderstanding that I want to explain a few things about how Twitter works, why I bothered with this, and why it doesn’t really make much difference at all in the grand scheme of things.

(If you’re one of the ones who doesn’t much care, skip this. I mean, it’s a post about Twitter. Not exactly groundbreaking stuff here.)

Lists Are The Solution

You don’t have to follow someone to see their posts. Most people don’t realize this. You can put them on a list and see their posts just like always, and the lists help keep them at least contextual or topical.

I have *many* private lists I’ve created for my own use, from professional contacts to clients to interesting industry discussions and hashtags, along with personal interests like mental health and animal rescue.

THAT is how I see lots of people and conversations, discover new people, and shift my focus around as my needs change. I can turn the lists on and off, add new ones, and still pay attention to a diverse array of people and conversations all across Twitter. It’s like a volume knob that I can turn up or down.

So why not just follow those people that I have on the lists?

Following = DM Access

The only reason to follow someone on Twitter is if you specifically need or want to communicate with them via Direct Message.

The people that DM me are mostly my closest circle of personal and professional acquaintances and then, on the other end of the spectrum, lots and lots and lots of people who fall for phishing scams or are pitching me their latest ebook.

We can talk to each other via @ reply until the cows come home and (gasp) we don’t even have to follow each other. So it doesn’t stifle public conversation in the least, which is where most of the Twitter action happens, at least for me. Want to connect with me? Start a conversation anytime. If you’re conversational and we share mutual interests, I’ll probably find you somewhere myself, even.

I don’t feel like I’m obligated to provide DM access to others as part of my Twitter experience, and I don’t believe it’s a “courtesy” to just follow someone back. Especially if you’re talking about someone who follows a lot of people, getting followed back means absolutely nothing. They’re likely not keeping track of you in their main timeline anyway and instead using a few well-curated lists to effectively whittle their follow list down to a manageable number while avoiding pissing people off by unfollowing them (more on that in a minute).

If someone I’m not following needs to reach me privately, they simply send me a quick “hey would you mind following so I can send you a DM?” note or ask for my email, and I’m happy to oblige. 99% of the world has zero problem with this.

Then There Are the Butthurts…

I’m fascinated by the odd social dynamic of reciprocation on the web, and how sharply it’s tied to some people’s sense of self-worth.

If you care about your Klout score, it might matter to you that someone with a lot of followers is following you back. Then again, if you care about your Klout score, we probably have some pretty fundamental philosophical differences anyway and won’t miss each other much.

I had one gentleman tweet publicly that I had unfollowed him, then he promptly blocked me. Cool by me, but that’s quite a visceral reaction to such a tiny thing.

Let me explain this very clearly: a Twitter follow is not a validation of your worth as a human, nor is it a stamp of approval from someone online that you’re awesome or not. If you even slightly see it that way, you might need reset some priorities.

Twitter is simply a tool, a mechanism. Everyone uses it differently, and heavy users like me need to rejig the system once in a while so it continues to work and stay manageable. In short, the system of follows and lists and DM access and what is useful to me to pay attention to is not about you. In this case, it’s about me and what makes Twitter valuable for me personally.

You get to say the same thing about your experience, and you get to shape it according to your own needs. Hell, unfollow me and put me on a list (or don’t) if you want. Your Twitter is yours to shape, and you don’t owe me anything either. I’d wager that a good portion of the people I’m most interested in at a professional level don’t follow me back. And who cares?

You don’t owe anyone anything.

My System

If it helps, here’s a glance at how I’ve set up Twitter to work for me (and you can probably see why this wouldn’t work if I was still following 34K people).

Timeline: These are the people I actually follow. They’re people I correspond with in Direct Message and mostly my main circles of personal and professional contacts. I’m still rebuilding this, obviously. It’ll stay small.

Current: A private list I’ve created that allows me to follow interesting people more closely that aren’t directly related to any of my professional or personal interests. Perhaps it’s someone I had an interesting conversation with, or that I found in a chat, or that a friend retweeted. This is one of my discovery mechanisms and how I ensure that I always have the chance to meet someone new. I rotate people on and off this list all the time.

Professional Lists: I have lists of social business professionals and practitioners, agency leaders, smart people, and hashtags like #socbiz or other searches that are pertinent to my work. This is how I keep tabs on what’s happening in social business on Twitter and find great resources and articles and such.

Personal Lists: I follow animal rescue groups, mental health organizations, book groups, etc. It changes often and I build and dismantle searches regularly. I have several lists separated out that I can turn off or on as I see fit.

Clients: Self-explanatory.

In all but the first list, I don’t have to be following those people to see them.

A Closing Word about “Followers”

Twitter is full of fake accounts, spam accounts, idle and dead accounts, and various forms of flotsam and jetsam. The real, human-powered accounts that have any vested interest in anything other than blasting out their latest blog post are few and far between.

That means that the 53+K accounts that are following me look a lot more impressive on paper than they probably are in actuality. It’s not a measure of my influence, it’s a measure of how many times someone clicked the “follow” button. My potential reach is a section of that, and my actual reach is some subsection of that. My true influence – my ability to make those people take an action other than simply a retweet of a clever quip – is much smaller than that, and has to do with a lot more factors than my Twitter activity.

See where I’m going with this?

You have to take this stuff with a grain of salt.

Twitter is great, and it’s probably my favorite social network. I’ve met a number of wonderful people that way (including my co-author Jay and my business partner Matt), and I’m sure I’ll meet even more.

But if you’re freaking out about follow reciprocation and all that jazz, I’d like to suggest you step back and think about why this really matters so much to you, and what significance you’re hanging on electronic connections that take only a click of the finger to make or undo.

Everything changes. Twitter will too. And I promise that someday you’ll wonder why anyone cared so much about who followed whom.

  • Rosy

    As always,you share truth.

  • http://twitter.com/YukariP Yukari Peerless

    I’m no “high profile” person, but yes, I’ve experienced very similar things through Twitter unfollow and FB unfriending. Many people take it so personally. Mention one “unfollow” in Twitter and I get tons of replies “I hope you don’t unfollow me!” “Phew, I’m safe!” etc. I understand nobody likes to be deleted, but people are funny. :)

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      I think a lot of people truly don’t understand that unfollowing you on Twitter doesn’t mean disconnecting with you in life, nor does it even mean I can’t keep up with your updates through other means (like lists). My assumption is that a lot of people take it as a reflection on their value and contributions (I wasn’t worth following, that person doesn’t like what I post, maybe I’m not doing this “right” if they don’t enjoy paying attention to me).

      In my case, it’s some of that and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t. There’s a lot of garbage in my stream. But it’s also simply a way of adjusting my system, and not a personal statement. I can see why it’s hard for some people to see it that way but it frustrates me.

  • http://twitter.com/megtripp Meg Fowler Tripp

    It seems so odd to me that anyone has to justify who they follow / friend, or why they do it. Life is complicated, and we all have family, friends, and work relationships that we interact with in different ways and in different spaces. I have dear friends who I never email — we communicate just via text message. I have freelance contacts I only email — no phone, nothing else. I’ll DM my husband, but not 90% of my friends (even if we both follow one another.) None of that says anything about how much any of those people matter to me.

    From the beginning of my time on Twitter, I haven’t done the “auto-followback.” And I’ve been told that I’m “anti-community” or “anti-social” or a “snob” as a result, as though people couldn’t talk to me all day long via @s if they wanted — and as though a “follow” were a validation of someone’s character or worth. I have my own reasons for doing it, namely that I can’t follow a stream greater than 300 and actually notice anything anyone is doing… so I don’t and won’t.

    However — and here’s the key for me — I reserve the right to do something else when something else works better for me. I wish that’s how we approached most of this stuff, and how we let others do their own thing, too.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      For a lot of people, this is some kind of means to an end, and they don’t look at it the way we do. It’s incredibly easy to judge others’ behavior and rationale online because so much of it is on display. But often we lack context, and most certainly we lack the most important thing: living in their shoes.

      I’m guilty of waving my hands around telling people how they should do things. But every time I get irritated that someone else is trying to make the rules for me I’m reminded that I should probably just shut up and let them do their thing.

  • http://ernohannink.com ernohannink

    Thank you for explaining Amber. It will help me to do Twitter in a better way. Just removed 1000 non-active followers with http://manageflitter.com/

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Hope it helps! We’ve all got to find the system that works for us, but cleaning up the inactive stuff will certainly be a help.

  • Allen MacCannell

    Yes, what you said was true but there is still the matter of the Twitter follow limit of 2000 people unless 1700 are following you back. Once someone follows more than 2000 people, it becomes mathematically necessary to unfollow those who don’t follow back or else that person is blocked by Twitter from following anyone new.

    What happens is that you lose all the followers who care about this issue unless you are among the 200 people they’re allowed to follow in a one-sided way. With us, those 200 people would be some customers of ours whom we won’t unfollow even though they don’t follow us back. Meanwhile, Bing but not Google cares about the follow/follower statistics etc.

    The bottom line is that your 50,000 Twitter followers will eventually consist of mostly a combination of your closest friends, your most important suppliers (people you spend money on) and a bunch of people who don’t follow more than 2000 themselves.

    Google+ is far more important to be connected with people both for SEO purposes and because there’s less noise there. More people are professional there as opposed to spamming or announcing what they had for breakfast. People actually read their streams.on G+.

    Also, on Google+ the follow statistics aren’t published. But, when some of us reach the follow limit of 5000 on G+, non-followers will have to be purged there as well.

    The worst of all places to disconnect with people would be LinkedIn.

    All that being said, no company producing a branded product should unfollow anyone on any social media platform if they want those people to continue buying their products.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      “no company producing a branded product should unfollow anyone on any social media platform if they want those people to continue buying their products.”

      I couldn’t disagree more with this. But Allen, perhaps you noted the several times in this post where I explained that this is the system that works for me. You’re perfectly entitled to use the system that you think is best for you. I don’t believe there are absolute dos and don’ts in all of this. Your opinion, sure, but rules? Nope.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Oh, and I disconnect with people on LinkedIn regularly. I get spammed, pitched, begged for jobs, and that is an intrusion on MY time. So you bet your butt I’m disconnecting with people. This is not a numbers game for me.

  • Matthew Doig

    A very informative and honest tract from which I learnt much and for which am grateful.

  • Whitney

    This is actually why I love Path- a private, small circle of people I want to talk to, leaving twitter to be, well, twitter

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Path was yet another network for me to maintain with yet the same inner circle that I had everywhere else, and I (personally) didn’t feel any “safer” there than I do anywhere else. I know lots of folks feel differently, just wasn’t something that met a need for me.

  • http://twitter.com/cloudspark jr schmitt

    hi amber,
    truth-be-told, if your relationship with someone is so tenuous that it relies on a single strand of connection, well then, it’s not really a relationship. if the relationship matters, perhaps folks ought to work to develop it beyond a “follow” or “fan.”
    my two cents, worth just as much. jr

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      There’s an interesting point here that I’ve thought of a few times but haven’t really had the words for, but thanks for reminding me. Several of the messages I got from people regarding my following them (or unfollowing them, as it were) were from people that I never remember having a conversation with, ever. Part of that means I’ve never engaged them in discussion, but the other part means they’ve never tried to have a conversation with ME either, yet they care that I’m following them.

      It was easy to start filling the smaller list back in from memory, mostly because top-of-mind are the people I talk to often. That has value, and ultimately, I’m not changing the ability for that to happen if others care to initiate it. I *am* improving my chances of being able to begin those conversations myself again like I did once upon a time.

      As I know you’d agree, that’s where the gold is, anyway.

  • http://twitter.com/emoontx Elizabeth Moon

    Excellent post.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Thanks, Elizabeth. Appreciate it.

  • http://twitter.com/cksyme Chris Syme

    Thanks for giving cred to those of us that don’t follow people back. I’ve maintained an extensive collection of lists for years and it helps me stay on top of all the great info I need. I apologize to those that are relying on me to boost their visibility with a follow back. I’d rather promote people by retweeting good links and info I find. I think Klout and Kred (and others) have really skewed the honest definition of influence. I’d much rather be on someone’s list than be followed, but that might be just me.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Hey Chris, you bet. I’ve always looked at Twitter as a “to each their own” kind of thing but there are definitely strong opinions about the “rules”. The trick with my lists is that they’re private, so I’m not really doing much for anyone’s visibility. BUT, what it *does* let me do is digest things in pieces which I think makes it more likely that I’ll find and be able to share the good stuff (and people) when it comes along.

  • http://www.reply-mc.com Luc Galoppin

    Love the clarity you have built around untying reciprocation on the web and people’s sense of self-worth. Nice post!
    Luc

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Thanks, Luc. We sure do tie those things together a lot online.

  • http://twitter.com/kevinpalmer Kevin Palmer

    I did the same thing to start out last year. Twitter at that point wasn’t enjoyable or useful to use. I didn’t want it to be work to manage it, making it so sucked the fun out of it and my desire to consistently use it began to go away.

    Almost a year later I can that it was one of the best moves I made this year.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      It gets that way, doesn’t it? And you got it exactly right with the “Work to manage it” thing. For me, it became all noise and I had to really leverage search and filters and all that stuff to find what I wanted, and THAT was becoming a pain in the butt. So, this was drastic, but I’m also already really glad I did it.

  • http://www.steigmancommunications.com Daria Steigman

    I once had someone I know @ me that I needed to follow them or they would have to unfollow me. (Yeah, that worked. Not.) I ran into the same person a few months later, and the first thing she said to me was, “You need to follow me on Twitter.” Seriously?

    What I think many people don’t understand is that a follow is not an engagement (let alone a relationship).I rely on lists to keep front and center those people who I most want to hear from, learn from, and talk to. There are a lot more people whose tweets are sitting only in the big stream; therefore I see only occasionally what they have to say.

    I periodically go through all my Twitter followers and unfollow those that I don’t know — which means I have either not engaged with them since the initial connection or find what they are tweeting not to be of value TO ME.

    BTW, Amber, on my last “cull through” I discovered that you were the first person I followed on Twitter. Probably because we’d just talked and I decided it was time to dip my toes in…

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      I had someone tell me that in person too, and I seriously laughed because I thought she was kidding. Then I saw that she wasn’t. Awkward.

  • trishnet

    I couldn’t agree more with your post. I was on Twitter for months before I started utilizing lists and began to actually get value out of the platform. I haven’t gone back and cleaned up whom I follow, however I don’t really pay attention to my Twitter stream anyway. I only keep an eye on my lists. Thanks for bringing up this topic. For those new to Twitter, list are the best way I’ve found value in Twitter.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Even my lists needed maintenance so this was a super helpful restart! Glad you have a system that works for you too.

  • don

    I don’t really care what you do. But I found the mass unfollow amusing. After all, it was you who originally followed me. And even though I’m a small business when I saw the mass unfollow, I promptly unfollowed you.

    Brogan did it last year, too. It really makes people come off as being big d-bags. Then again most people are on FB or Instragram. Twitter has hardly any sort of impact anymore.

    Good luck! How cool you even have the little verified check lol

    • http://www.sonnygill.com Sonny Gill

      ‘don’/someone who doesn’t care – not sure how changing up the way someone takes in content and connects with people makes them a d-bag. Twitter has been a long-lasting platform, which also has provided us with the ability to change the way we consume (followers/lists/etc.). That’s the beauty of the platform, but apparently has become a double-edge sword for some when people become bitter when they see someone they follow isn’t following them back.

      It’s about what YOU do with the platform and how YOU engage with it and the people that make it up, which makes it valuable.

      If you’re that caught up with where ‘most people’ are or admiring who is following you or if someone has a little verified check thingy, then maybe everyone’s better off.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Ladies and gentlemen, Exhibit A.

      • http://www.erikanapoletano.com/ Erika Napoletano

        Dontcha love it when the perfect comment comes along to prove your point?

    • http://khurtwilliams.com/ Khürt L. Williams

      Amber Naslund is too nice to say it so I will — using what she wrote above:

      “”a Twitter follow is not a validation of your worth as a human, nor is it a stamp of approval from someone online that you’re awesome or not”

      @AmberNaslund:disqus loved the article.

  • http://www.erikanapoletano.com/ Erika Napoletano

    I love that you brought up the follow vs. seeing posts issue — this is exactly why I use lists. I’m going through some unfollowing now (started on the weekend) and you’ve inspired be to dig a bit deeper. If anyone’s interested, I use free tools like ManageFlitter.com to pare down the followers quickly. And for anyone who doesn’t like it, they can lump it. :)

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Hope it helps. It’s definitely been a refreshing (and interesting) exercise and I’m feeling a renewed interest in Twitter again, which has been hard to find for a while.

  • http://occamsrazr.com Ike Pigott

    I want to do this. I really do.

    But I can’t seem to find the time to go through and make the lists. Twitter makes it SO tedious.

    If there were an interface that allowed me to select and move a bunch of people at once, I would not hesitate. And if that interface had a “Move AND Unfollow” feature, that would be ideal.

    But I don’t think Twitter wants that, because Big Followings look busier.

    (ASIDE: Are Lists still capped at 500? And you can have just 25? Has this been a limiting factor for your workflow?)

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      I’m fortunate that I had the lists built a long time ago for the most part, so this exercise was a matter of adjustment rather than building. But I agree, it can be an arduous process.

      I dunno about the list limits, as I haven’t hit them and I’m quite sure I’ll never get close to 25.

  • daverowley

    I wasn’t bothered at all, and it’s great to read about your experience. Your point about the DM’s is a really good one, I hadn’t really considered that angle before.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Dave, it’s funny. I keep thinking “everyone must do it the same way I do and know all these things”, which is not only totally contradictory to my own advice, but is apparently totally wrong. :)

      I’m glad it was helpful, and thanks for understanding!

  • http://twitter.com/WilliamCMurray William Murray

    I can see a time in a very near future where SM tools are more valued for the content & connections they provide than metrics and measures such as volume of followers. I’ve been using lists now for a while to organize the flows and manage the volume. Best advice I was given was to have your list of “left-hand people” – the list in your left-most column [tweetdeck or, if your @anitahovey, hootsuite =)] of the 15-20 people who’s tweets can’t be missed. After that, build lists that suit your needs, whether by subject, geography, etc.. Obviously, the need to measure will never go away, but too many people mistake follower counts with a quality community. Good on you Amber for shaking things up.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      The trouble, William, is that the value of a network is subjective and so much harder to quantify. Counting things is easy. So long as we have easy metrics, people will use them as benchmarks. It’s always been that way, unfortunately, but technology makes it that much easier to rely upon them.

      I have my main timeline on the left, but I have a good deal more than 15-20 people in it. So again, it’s all personal preference. You have to find what works for you.

  • http://alidavies.com/ Ali Davies

    Amber, if you had presented this blog post at an in-person presentation/conference, I would have been on my feet giving you a standing ovation. Love it. Great points. Well said.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Ha, thank you. I’m sure I also would have had some proverbial rotten tomatoes thrown at me! Glad it was useful to you, though. Appreciate the comment.

  • http://b2bdigital.net/ Eric Wittlake

    Amber, one thing I’ve seen you reference on Twitter but you didn’t mention in your system here is filters. Personally, I’ve found filters to be nearly as important as lists, I would love to learn more about how you use them.

    I filter sources (twitterfeed, other autopost sources, location services, music services, etc), hashtags that drive my crazy (#sytycd and #glee were early additions) and sometimes keywords that just represent social abuse and attention mongering IMO (+K).

    Would love to hear your thoughts.

    Best,
    Eric

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Eric, I do use filters, though not as heavily.

      I filter out a lot of chat hashtags that don’t interest me. I also temporarily filter out keywords and topics, like I did when the Instragram TOS kerfuffle happened, since it was doing nothing but adding noise to my stream. I confess that I also filter out (and mute, thank you Tweetbot) some individuals specifically who I just don’t have any interest in hearing from but who crop up on hashtags or topical searches once in a while. I also filter out automated sources, especially Triberr. I can’t stand that damned thing. I also like that I can turn filters on and off at will without disrupting the lists and searches I’ve set up.

      Filters to me are fine tuning. Narrow down the big groups with lists and searches, and tweak things with the filters. It’s worked well for me so far.

  • http://ariherzog.com/ Ari Herzog

    Three years ago I unfollowed the 7K+ people I had followed at the time. I also received a lot of negative response. Similarly when I unfriended people on Facebook.

    Fast forward and I’m comfortable with the 800 I follow on Twitter and my 300 or so FB friends.

    Lists are a godsend on both platforms; and kudos to you Amber for joining the tribe of people who take a stand.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Lists help a ton, for sure. And I don’t know that I’m taking a “stand” – I don’t profess any kind of master solution here. Just an explanation of what I’ve done in hopes that it can help someone else, but I know a bunch of people who do it totally differently and love it their way, too. To each their own.

  • http://twitter.com/IAEPUB IAEPUB

    You could substitute Facebook, Google+ or any other number of social media platforms for each time the word Twitter appears in this article. The stuff about fake follows, influence, etc. applies to all of them.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      That’s true enough, definitely a more universal concept. Some of the mechanisms in here are unique to Twitter, but the philosophy is very much the same.

  • http://www.zu1.ru/ Zuzlan

    Actually i’m never understood Twitter and people who use it

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Then I’m not sure this post will be much use to you. ;)

  • http://heptagrama.com/ Tedel

    Beautiful post from tip to toe. I can’t agree with you more. Further, I did something very similar about 4 months ago with my own twitter account, and i even erased all my tweets to start from scratch. It was relieving to follow just who you care, and not get your timeline literally flooded with things that you won’t even read. Now I get about 20 updates every hour. It’s great, something I can really keep up with.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      It’s definitely different for everyone, and some people would prefer to follow a zillion people and focus from there, but I wanted my main timeline back under my control and it was way too unruly the way it was. Glad your cleanup worked well for you!

  • http://www.heatherphysioc.com/ Heather Physioc SEO

    I’ve taken a similar “scrap it and start over” approach to Facebook, but I hadn’t thought about carrying over a similar policy to my Twitter page. I’ve kind of let my Twitter account get out of control because every time I log on I feel like I’m getting blasted in the face with a fire hose. May I ask what tool you used to unfollow those 34K people in one fell swoop, or how you did it so efficiently? I really need to carefully curate some lists, it’s one tool I haven’t taken full advantage of on my own accounts but have executed beautifully on some client accounts. Time to take my own (and your) advice already.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      I used SocialOomph (link is up in the beginning of the post). It took several hours since I was following so many, but it was far more efficient than doing it by hand!

      • http://www.heatherphysioc.com/ Heather Physioc SEO

        Oh duh… I lose at reading. :) Thanks Amber.

  • http://www.carloborja.com/ Carlo Borja

    “a Twitter follow is not a validation of your worth as a human, nor is it a stamp of approval from someone online that you’re awesome or not.”

    This is worth tweeting. Love this article/guide! I should go clean up my timeline now.

    • http://dayngrzone.blogspot.com/ Dayngr

      Regrettably, it is how some are measured though. Whether we like it or not.

  • http://twitter.com/seosmarty Ann Smarty

    One thing that I still didn’t get: So you don’t care about following much and you have other ways to follow people and topics, *why* unfollow then? Just curious. Were you spammed with DMs? I follow about 3K people and though I really don’t have a good system to keep up with all of them, I see no reason to unfollow them?

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      I *do* care about seeing and connecting with people I care about, it’s the overinflated significance many people place on the *gesture* I object to. I don’t personally mind whether someone chooses to follow me or not. It’s as much their choice to shape their own Twitter community as it is mine.

      I unfollowed everyone 1) to take back ownership of my main timeline and allow it to be a functional, small group of people I want to see and talk with, 2) to reduce the number of people that have free rein to DM me (because yes spam was a problem but that’s my choice anyway even if it weren’t).

      It’s that simple. And it’s a personal choice, so if the system you have works for you, great!

      • http://twitter.com/seosmarty Ann Smarty

        You sound like I was arguing with you while I was not. I don’t understand the tone of contradiction here. It’s your Twitter account and your choice; whether I agree or not is my own business as well. All I did was just a simple question :)

  • Matt

    How the heck did you get to be following 34,000 people in the first place? I’ve just never understood people following that amount of people. It’s no use to anyone.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      I was once of the misguided perception that it was “courteous” to be reciprocal. And people do still occasionally find it a personal slight if you don’t follow them back, or think you’re being “antisocial” (which in retrospect is silly, because a follow doesn’t hinder my ability to hold conversation whatsoever).

      So at the time, I wanted to leave the door open for lots of spontaneous connection, for one. Two, from 2008 until last year I led social strategy for Radian6, so I proactively allowed easy ability for people to DM me for professional reasons as well, which did prove useful to both me and to clients. So it *was* useful, but it was absolutely unruly and difficult to manage without significant time and effort, both of which I spent.

      Once upon a time lists didn’t exist, either. Once they appeared and evolved to their current functionality, I stopped actively following people back and realized (duh) people could just ask to DM me if they needed to. I also stopped worrying about those that took it all so personally.

  • http://www.resg.info/ Anton Stetner

    LOL. This is awesome because I feel like my twitter has become almost unusable with to many followers and I wanted to do this but did not have the guts. Love it.

  • http://blog.wcgworld.com/author/gmatthewswcgworld-com Greg Matthews

    I know I’m late to this game, but felt like leaving a comment anyway (I’m being lazy and self-indulgent on New Year’s Day!). I totally agree that there aren’t any “rules” for how you use twitter – and that if people are worried about their klout score or have some kind of self-worth tied up in their twitter followers, that’s kind of misguided and sad.

    But I also like it when people I follow take the time to check me out and make a value judgement as to whether they’d like to follow me or not. So that’s what I do for everyone who follows me. Because something as small as a twitter follow can lead to a relationship of sorts. Is it likely? Not really. But you never know … And you never WILL know unless you open the door by following people whom you don’t know.

    The only reason I can really see for the mass-unfollow is if you’re getting massive amounts of DM-spam … Because the cost of following people otherwise is essentially zero. I might change my tune if I ever had a whole lot of followers … But for now I’m cool being a pretty liberal follow-backer. Just my $.02.  After having a few weeks to get comfortable with the new plan, what’s your assessment of how it’s going?

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      My DMs had become unusable, for one. Too much abuse, too much spam, and I was missing messages from people I actually wanted to get them from.

      The scale I’m working at just doesn’t allow me to do it the way you’re describing anymore. I don’t think I’m eliminating spontaneous connections; I still have lots of conversations with people I don’t know because I discover them through lists and searches. So I *pay attention* to lots of people I don’t know even if I don’t click the “follow” button.

      So far, I’m *so* much happier with Twitter and how it’s working for me. Everyone needs to find their own system.

      • http://blog.wcgworld.com/author/gmatthewswcgworld-com Greg Matthews

        Glad to hear it, Amber! And, as always, I appreciate your responsiveness and your willingness to provoke thoughtful and constructive conversations. That’s what it’s all about!

  • http://twitter.com/Stanm Stanm

    Interesting way of using Twitter: it almost seems like you’ve twisted your Twitter account into working like Google+ Circles. Perhaps shifting to Google+ entirely would have been a bigger reset ;-)

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      I’m on Google+ but just don’t care for it the same way. I wasn’t trying to win any contests.

      • http://dayngrzone.blogspot.com/ Dayngr

        I love Twitter lists and find them much more useful than Google+ circles.

  • http://dayngrzone.blogspot.com/ Dayngr

    Rock on sista!

  • http://twitter.com/NancyCawleyJean Nancy Cawley Jean

    Amen, Amber! I LOVE this post! It’s not only a reality check, but it’s a good reminder that tools only work when you figure out how best to work with them for what you want or need. I LOVE that you posted this. I also use lists – it’s the only sane way to go! I also love @twitter-14718315:disqus comment on relationships.

  • http://mab397.wordpress.com Mandi

    Just catching up on my Reader items and came across this.

    I noticed your unfollow, as I was doing my own clean up. I do remember taking a second to wonder if you had decided I didn’t tweet anything of value, as that’s why I was unfollowing noise in my stream. Then I decided I most definitely was tweeting noise and not much substance so shrugged it off. I know you’ll be back for updates on my latest hair cut or my glib remarks on local, topical events, which are neither local nor topical to you. It’s only a matter of time, Amber.

    P.S. It must be weird to go through your entire standard news feed stream and see *everything*. I remember that feeling years ago, when I’d flick through until I saw tweets I read the night before. Impossible now.

  • http://www.callboxinc.com/ Belinda Summers

    i know everyone of us here are have their own strategy on using twitter. Thanks for sharing yours and thanks also for introducing these twitter list. Haha:) Don’t know it until I read your blog. Gonna use it now.

  • http://www.buraq-technologies.com/ ambreen11

    Twitter is one of the most effective tool in social media marketing. We
    just have to know how to maximize its uses to have an effective
    marketing.

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  • John Bordeaux

    Hi Amber – just seeing this a year late I’m afraid! I don’t argue with your approach necessarily, and of course you should feel free to tailor your tool use to match your needs; but I have a nagging concern that keeps me from following suit. It’s more academic than accusatory, because this is just the internet after all.

    Serendipity.

    I admit I haven’t set up many lists, but it strikes me that they may be a blow for efficiency, but perhaps at the expense of unexpected value. I don’t think people I follow expect me to see all/any of their tweets, but I’ve had rewarding conversations with people I don’t know otherwise – all because a tweet caught my eye when I had the time to notice it. The messy chaos of a fairly open feed is a great source of needed distraction (c.f. productivity studies), and I discover information I did not know I would need or enjoy.

    With the caveat that I’m not a heavy list user: Relying on pre-formed lists, to me, feels like predictive logic. I know what I need to know, I know who is talking about that, and I seek out the list. That’s great and efficient, but:

    * Where is the room to learn something you didn’t realize you wanted to know?

    * Where is a way to capture the multiple facets for humans on Twitter? If my feed only fits on one list in this world, I would lament the monotonic veneer I was sharing.

    * People change: jobs, lifestyles, locations. I’d hate to keep up with lists that were geographic! (Alternatively, I have too many people in their 30s that I follow, and they just refuse to settle down.)

    The need to be adaptive means, for me, the need to pay some attention to “weak signals.” I deliberately allow some chaos in my social feeds to increase the probabilities that I’ll learn something new that challenges my view of the world and how it is arranged.

    So I noticed when you unfollowed me (no tools, just noticed one day recently, long after the purge). No ‘butthurt’ or emotional response, I just wondered if my feed had become too busy with random conversations, or I was becoming boring, etc. A little healthy reflection, frankly. It’s a good thing. But no – I don’t fault anyone for their use of the tools. As you mentioned, this is about your attention, and you get to manage that precious resource.

    In that spirit, I’ll close here with an appreciation for your attention to this comment. Best, jb

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Hi John –

      I get lots of serendipity! My lists aren’t necessarily topical nor geographic. For instance, I have one for “current” people that is just a random smattering of people I talk to, that I’ve seen my friends talk to, that come up in interesting searches. So there are always random conversations, either struck up by me or someone that follows me. I move people on and off lists all the time.

      Don’t mistake “list” for the idea that I see people one-dimensionally. I still have tons of conversations every day with people on Twitter with whom I’ve never spoken before. Lists are just like following people, minus the ability for them to send me direct messages. And I find those people as randomly and chaotically as they often find me.

      Hope that helps?
      Amber

      • John Bordeaux

        Absolutely – now I need to get serious about learning lists. Much obliged!

        jb