odd time signatures

Why I may not follow you on Twitter, and why you shouldn’t care

It’s not personal. Really, it’s not. But I cannot tell you the number of times I have seen people rather petulantly say they are unfollowing those who do not immediately follow back. This post is my explanation for anyone who may be feeling hurt that I did not immediately follow them back today, or yesterday, or last week.

Twitter, unlike Facebook, is a flexible creature with lots of different ways to communicate and touch base with people. The basic rules are this: Short messages which are one to many; that is, from you out to the universe of people who follow you; conversations initiated and held via the @mention convention; and no requirement for reciprocal follows.

There are different ways to follow people. You can follow someone’s list but not follow the individuals on the list. You can follow them and add them to your own list. You can simply follow them. To engage, one simply replies to a tweet with the reply feature (@mention) and that tweet will appear in their timeline under the mentions tab (assuming Twitter works properly).

There are so many ways to engage without forcing a symmetrical relationship that it boggles my mind every time someone asks me specifically to follow them.

Conversely, there are lots of reasons not to automatically follow someone back. I have two compelling reasons: Direct messages and time.

The only people who can send direct messages are people who follow you and who you follow; e.g., the facebook model. I cannot tell you how many times I have followed someone back, only to receive a direct message with PR or marketing requests. Or worse, constant requests for me to retweet their links. It didn’t take me long to learn that a Twitter email wasn’t enough information to know whether I should follow or not.

And then there’s the whole time thing. I get buried in email from Twitter daily cheerily telling me that I’ve been followed by Diana8973 with the low cut dress avatar and the mysterious link off to her veryvery special blog. Wedged in there are a few emails letting me know I’ve been followed by someone with a private account, which is great if you’re into gambling. And then there are the real people, the ones I probably do want to follow. Sorting through a bunch of email is not efficient. So I ignore it.

If you follow me and talk to me, and you’re respectful (a BFD to me on both sides of the political spectrum) I follow back eventually, when I’m confident that you’re not going to hammer me with direct messages or spam my timeline. This is how I manage to avoid the email time suck but still catch most of those people I want to follow, list, or engage.

I am a firm believer that the value of Twitter comes from who YOU follow and not who follows YOU (or me). This nonsense about people getting excited and competitive over climbing to a new follower plateau ignores the obvious: who you follow shapes how you interact on twitter. I follow some for information and others for conversation. I follow artists, musicians, moms, dads, writers, editors, and everyday people like me. I tend to shy away from following celebrities unless they actually engage (some do!). I follow news and poets and techies and pols.

When they write or post something I think those of you following me will like, I share it. And if you like it, YOU share it. We might even talk about it some. Or write on it.

None of those things require a closed-loop relationship with each other. If I don’t follow you, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to. It means we should engage, have a conversation, get to know one another a little. I will promise this: I am sincere in my wish to populate my timeline with names and people I know. I am noisy. It doesn’t crush me if you stop following me because I eat up too much of your timeline real estate. But not following you is simply a function of not knowing you.

So engage. Talk to me. Leave a comment here introducing yourself and leaving your Twitter ID if you want. I’ll pay attention. But don’t just pop up in my timeline and ask me to follow you because you followed me. That’s not how I roll.

(ps…as much as I appreciate all the #FF recommendations each week, they’re also spam invitations….and I can’t do it back without including all 2500 people I follow. So it’s ok if you want to leave me off those, too. If you want to include me, I thank you for the warm thoughts sent with each one)