This topic has come up a few times from different users within the Twitter stream over the past couple of days and the responses have been quite interesting.
Why do you unfollow somebody on Twitter? Why would you want to? And are you doing anything that might increase the chances of getting unfollowed yourself?
I have my reasons which I’ll list below, mixed with the opinions of other (anonymous) folk which I’ve observed. As said some of these seem to be fairly standard amongst all users, but there are one or two that are fairly controversial and certainly require some personal thought and weighing of the pros and cons.
You’re A Spammer
These are the easiest users to unfollow.
Most of the time it’s very obvious when an account is a spammer. First and foremost, they nearly always have a very skewed ratio of those they are following to those they are being followed by. Most of the time they don’t even have a profile avatar, and if they do it’s usually an attractive female.
They will also often have a username such as ‘5Gbpk3′. I mean, how do you even pronounce that?
Finally, there just aren’t that many free Macbook Airs to give away in the world, so making the decision to get rid of these people from your follow list doesn’t require a lot of thought. Most of these accounts are bots, anyway. They won’t even notice, or mind.
It’s not just the bots, though. For me personally, if I get a direct message pushing a product seconds after following somebody, more often than not I will immediately unfollow, and then block them.
Tip: Always block spammers. Don’t just unfollow them. If an account gets enough blocks, it raises a red flag within Twitter and they will get removed pretty soon afterwards.
You Only Talk About Yourself Or Your Product
I’ve mentioned before that the majority of successful users on Twitter (assuming you measure success by popularity) are gifted in the art of self-promotion. It’s not a bad thing; these people aren’t spammers (not all of them, anyway). But they excel in marketing themselves, as well as – and this is the key part – others within their niche, and the niche itself.
However, some folks you follow on Twitter will do nothing but market themselves. It’ll be endless links back to their blog, re-tweets of the same thing, open questions about their products, carefully crafted remarks about how ‘only their Twitter followers can get these discounts’, and so on.
And they don’t even have to be selling anything, either. If all you do is talk about yourself, that amounts to basically the same thing. The key part here is ratio. It’s okay to promote yourself or your product, but if that’s all you do, you have to expect it will irritate or bore a lot of people.
You Use Too Many Hashtags
Hashtags are fairly useful, certainly if used infrequently. Why? Because the more you use them for every little thing, the more redundant they become. I mean, there’s even a fairly popular #twitter hashtag now. What? We’re on Twitter. What next,Â #tweet?Â #life? #reality?
What irks me a little is there are some users who include about four or five hashtags with every tweet, often tagging words that are pretty generic. It can become a little tiresome.
You Take ‘What Are You Doing?’ Far Too Literally
Yes, I’m sitting on a chair typing on my computer while using Twitter, too.
There’s absolutely a place within Twitter for the inane and the trite. I like to share the odd tweet about what and where I’m eating, what I’m buying and where I’m going out tonight, but it again comes back down to ratio. If that’s all I was tweeting about, I’d absolutely expect people to be utterly bored of me within a couple of days.
You Never Reply
This is a personal bugaboo of mine. It’s one thing if you’re very, very famous and busy indeed, have 250,000+ followers and can’t possibly keep up with all the questions and comments you receive, especially as many of them are the same ones each and every day. I can understand that to a point.
But, then I look at users like @Agent_M and @Wossy who are amongst the most-followed people on Twitter and they go out of their way to engage with the community. Conversely, there are some people on the network with maybe a couple of thousand followers who seem to believe they’re just far too important to take five seconds of their time to respond to your question.
I’ve seen this enough for it to be a niggle. I can understand that for many power-users on Twitter they get the same stuff each and every day. But if I ask a genuine, intelligent question about an item or product of which you are considered an expert in your field, and you ignore it, what does that tell me about you and your organisation?
I say we should, where at all possible, treat tweets like SMS text messages. If it’s open-ended or a joke, then a reply is welcome but certainly not essential. If it’s a reasonable question and you have a moment, do reply, or if you’re busy, favourite the tweet and reply later. It takes seconds to do this. Are you that important?
If somebody is rude or obnoxious towards me, certainly more than once – and this includes ‘real-life’ friends and contacts, I find myself torn between ignoring or actually unfollowing them. Or maybe even a block is called for, as otherwise they can still receive and @reply to your submissions.
And it’s not just rudeness sent my way. If I’m following the stream and see somebody going out of their way to belittle another user, they’ll be very quick on to my chopping block. It doesn’t matter how influential they are.
We’ll all have our own limits and expectations as to what constitutes civility, but there’s a line for everybody. If you cross it, expect to be unfollowed.
We Don’t Share Common Interests
This is going to happen from time to time. You’ll follow somebody whose interests and opinions are wildly different or even polar opposites to your own. Sometimes this is a good thing – there’s rarely an absolute ‘right and wrong’ in most discussions – but on occasion it’ll just irritate you and/or them.
You’re Tweeting In A Language We Don’t Understand
I’ve written about this before. It’s still fairly rare on Twitter to be followed by somebody who never tweets in English, but it does happen and will of course become very common as Twitter goes global. Right now, I’m torn between being seen as rude or ignorant, but there really isn’t much point in following somebody who doesn’t tweet anything that I can actually read.
You Tweet Too Much
This is a bit hypocritical as I tweet a fair bit myself, and I’m sure it bugs some people. Certainly for my followers who follow less than fifty or so people it must seem like on some days that I am Twitter.
That said, I don’t get an enormous amount of unfollows so hopefully I’m doing something right. Some people, however, tweet endlessly about things that you will not find interesting at all. Or they’ll use a service that allows them to schedule their tweets and they’ll come through suddenly in a block of 5-10 at once. I hate that. I nearly always unfollow accounts that do this. It’s supremely irritating.
Tweet as much as you like. There are no hard and fast rules about what is considered acceptable limits. But for everybody’s sake, please, don’t be boring.
You Argue For The Sake Of It
Years back, I was very guilty of this kind of attitude myself, and can still drift into it from time to time if I’m not careful. Some call it playing Devil’s Advocate, others call it being an ass. Your call. Either way, you’ll come across people who will want to argue every little point you make to the nth degree. You’ll exchange a few tweets and it might even move to direct messages, but eventually you’ll get bored and maybe frustrated because this other individual just will not let anything go. If it’s public and you have a lot of cross-followers it can be both irritating to them and potentially embarrassing to you.
It can be a bit harsh but sometimes an unfollow, or even a block, is the only way to go. Otherwise it’s a lifetime of banging your head against a brick wall.
You Openly Discuss Personal Stuff
Twitter is a public place but some folks either forget about this or don’t care, and it can get a bit too much.
You’re A Friend Who Openly Discusses Personal Stuff
This for me is a big no-go area. If I’m friends with you offline as well as on, that’s great. I value that friendship. Don’t then stamp all over it by trying to embarrass me publically or revealing something we’ve discussed or experienced privately.
You’re Too Negative
To quote Fake Steve Jobs, negative people upset me. In part this is psychological. I’ve been guilty of being a ‘hater’ myself in the past, or certainly both cynical and critical, but I’ve worked hard to move beyond it. So if I see this attitude in other people, it rings alarm bells, mostly because it reminds me of how I used to be and how I must have come across to other people. It’s a useless position to be in, winning few friends. Absolutely have an opinion and if you believe in something strongly enough by all means defend it, but don’t just stamp all over things because you can. Comments like ‘Apple sucks’ or ‘chart music is rubbish’ don’t really do much for anybody. Certainly not you.
You’re Too Positive
Not every day is a great day, alright? I overslept, have a bit of a hangover, forgot to finish my project last night and the cat decided to use the kitchen as a bathroom. It’s wonderful that you’re all chipper and want to pay it forward, but sometimes, just sometimes, I’m not in the mood.
You Tweet In Txt Spk
If you’re 13, then it’s kind of a given. If you’re old enough to vote, you’re old enough to use proper words. I mean, you can do what you like, but so can the rest of us: unfollow.
You Don’t Follow Back
This is a bit controversial. For many people Twitter is a game, and they treat it like MySpace, assuming that the person with the most followers wins. This is true to some extent, certainly when it comes to influence and the power to move eyeballs to a website or product, and I’ve written about this subject within this very blog.
Hence, the goal for many is to amass a large number of follows in the hope that by doing so they themselves will be followed back. This is a system that does work (although the value of such a network is very much open to debate).
Conversely, there are other people who will almost always follow somebody back who follows them, including such heavyweights as @guykawasaki and @scobleizer.
So, what to do if you follow somebody but they never follow you back? You have to make a value judgement about what this person brings to your stream. I’m fortunate enough that some of the Twitter elite follow me back, including @copyblogger, @jackschofield, @scobleizer, @shelisrael, @chrisgarratt and @chrisbrogan. I enjoy and look for these folks’ submissions and to be honest whether they read mine or not, it gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside that my tweets have some chance of crossing their path.
And being frank, even if these guys weren’t following me, I’d still follow them. This is the case for a lot of people who don’t follow me on Twitter, too. A few of these are celebrities, and a few are just really excellent bloggers and writers, or specialists in their field. Or just plain old-fashioned interesting. I’m fine with that. Would I like them to follow me? Sure, but I don’t need them to. I get a lot of value from their stuff. That’s good enough for me.
(UPDATE Feb 2010: Back when I wrote this post, I used to follow everybody back. I no longer do this for various reasons. Read more about why this has become an increasingly common practiceÂ here.)
Phew, quite a list. And there is probably a lot of stuff I’ve overlooked or forgotten about.
I don’t want to come across as overly critical or sensitive when it comes to who I unfollow. And I certainly don’t want to appear to be bringing the commandments down from the mountaintop. I’m fairly confident my tweets irritate a lot of people, too. And I fully expect to lose a few folk just by writing this article.
But this isn’t my list. As I said way back at the start, a lot of these reasons are fairly commonplace amongst the Twittersphere. Most people are prepared to let bygones be bygones – I certainly am – but there are limits.
To be honest, the vast majority of people I cut off are spammers. After that it’s probably the uber self-promoters, then rude people and those that never reply. But this isn’t something I find myself doing all the time. I estimate, spammers aside, I probably unfollow 1-2 people per day, maximum.
That said, I do believe that looking at your followers once a week or fortnight, and having a bit of a ‘clean out’ can work wonders for the Twitter experience. If you’re unsure about whether to unfollow somebody, give it 24 hours or so. If they’re still tweeting in a way that you don’t like or have no interest in, that’s more than enough time. Remember: you don’t have to follow anybody. The experience should be a positive one. If an individual is in any way making you miserable, give ‘em the boot.
I’d be interested to hear your own thoughts on this. Why do you unfollow somebody on Twitter?