Communication comes in many forms, not all of them verbal and many of them under-valued… If eBay has taught us anything, it is that what one person considers waste can be another person’s prized possession.
At the weekend, another contact on Twitter announced plans to unfollow everyone and adopt the ‘lists only’ method of Twitter engagement. I tweeted my thoughts and a bit of a reaction ensued. People told me I was wrong. It proved impossible to clarify the original thought in 140 chars, hence this post.
First up, this was not a comment about using lists to filter the Twitterverse. If you are prolific user of Twitter and follow the tweets of thousands of accounts, it’s probably the only way to have any level of engagement beyond responding to tweets that you are mentioned in. Lists can be a useful way of filtering your Twitter timeline. Personally, I still prefer the serendipity of periodically scanning my timeline as a single stream. But I am not a prolific user of social media.
The comment above was not about the effectiveness of lists.
The comment was about the decision to go to ‘Following = 0’. Whilst choosing to use the word ‘selfish’ may seem harsh, it was in terms of the true meaning of the word and not meant as a personal slight. Selfish simply means putting your own interests ahead of all others. We are all (and should be) selfish to some degree. It’s a necessary survival trait.
Deciding to unfollow everyone on Twitter is selfish because it assumes there is no value to others in your original decision to follow them. Or that you choose to dismiss any value it might have to others because it no longer holds any value for you. That’s being selfish. If you have a negative reaction to that last sentence, it’s the feeling of your ego being bruised. Happens to me too.
If people didn’t appreciate being followed, we wouldn’t have so many of those automated tweets telling you how many follows and unfollows they received during the past week. Personally, I find all automated tweet services irritating and cannot abide influencer ranks but they must offer some value to those who use them so it would be selfish of me to dismiss them. (Now a list that automatically filters out all automatic tweets… that’s a list I may create…)
Imagine if overnight every account changed to:
Following = 0 | Followers = 0 | Listed = NNN
where NNN = some number between zero and a lot
What does Twitter become? A list-based messaging channel. It risks losing the dynamic of a network.
For the majority of real accounts on Twitter – i.e. those with an individual human being behind them – the act of being followed has two benefits
1) It is a signal that what you are saying or sharing is being noticed by somebody somewhere in our vast global online world.
2) If you follow back, it signals that you may share a mutual interest and/or respect. Not always, but definitely sometimes
Being added to a list just means that you have been categorised into a silo. It’s a very different signal.
When somebody doesn’t follow me but adds me to their ‘Internet of Things’ list, it tells me that they are interested in tweets about the Internet of Things (IoT). They have no interest in anything else I say or what I do – I am a non-entity, just an account that occasionally ends tweets with #IoT.
That’s not to say it’s a bad thing. There’s no right or wrong here. I was just trying to highlight that choosing to not follow anyone and adopt a ‘list-only’ policy changes the dynamic of the network because it is not the default behaviour of the platform and gives out different signals.
I’ve been lucky to have met some great people through Twitter. I’m not sure that would have happened without the Follower/Following dynamic. Yes it has flaws. Yes it can be borked. Yes maybe it is time to move on to a different mechanism. Yes it’s great that people are experimenting with new ways to use Twitter and sharing their experiences. Yes, I might even try lists again myself for managing the consumption of Tweets.
What was slightly disappointing trying to share this feeling on Twitter was that there was virtually no conversation, just reaction. Most responses were to tell me how wrong I was, how ‘unfollowing’ led to better, deeper, more engaged dialogues. Some focused on the wonders of lists for improving their ability to manage the Twitterverse, which was missing the point entirely (or, rather, proving it). Fans weighed in to defend the unfollowers. Few people queried whether or not the act of unfollowing was a selfish act that could have a negative effect on those being unfollowed. Q.E.D.
There’s an old saying in the horse world:
Horses can’t talk but that doesn’t stop them from communicating
So many of the signals we give out are non-verbal and their effects unaccounted for. When we decide to change a behaviour, it doesn’t hurt to consider the effect that change may have on others as well as ourselves.