Startup Blog

What Happens if You Unfollow 16,000 People on Twitter?

Posted by Mike Volpe on 9/11/12 10:14 AM

I hit the point where I was really sick of Twitter.  I got hundreds of spammy direct messages.  My feed was useless.  I was spending tons of time managing lists to filter out crap I did not want.  Twitter was no longer enjoyable to me, and it meant a lot of my posting was becoming automated and my personal engagement was getting lower and lower.

I got into this mess because like a lot of folks who started with Twitter early, I followed the emerging social norms, one of which was that it was "nice" to follow someone back (i.e. if they follow you, you should follow them).  The norms have changed, and I also no longer care what the norms are.  I am going to use Twitter how I want to, and you can either follow me or not.  Once I started unfollowing thousands of people, other folks told me this is possibly a new trend, with people like Chris Brogan doing similar things.  I am not doing this because anyone else is doing it.  I am doing it because it is right for me.

So, I unfollowed 16,000 people.  I got to the point I was following 0 people.  It felt awesome.  Then I found about 100 people that I really, really wanted to follow and I followed them.

mvolpe twitter follows resized 600

What happened when I unfollowed all these people?

I expected to lose some followers, probably thousands I thought.  There are a lot of "social media gurus" using gray hat techniques to grow their followers, one of which is following people automatically and then hoping they will follow you back (which gains them a follower).  There are dozens of software tools to do this type of stuff for you, even though the practice is frowned upon by Twitter.  They often will use software to unfollow you if you stop following them in the future.

I did lose some followers, but not nearly as many as I thought - only a few hundred.  And I recovered to the same number of followers within a few weeks and now have more than ever.

mvolpe twitter followers resized 600

I don't have really hard scientific data, but it does seem and feel like I am gaining followers even more rapidly than before.  This could be either because my account looks more like I am more important (because I have 40,000 followers and only follow ~100 people and no longer look like an robotic or spammy account), or it could be because I am more engaging now and more personal on Twitter.  Or both.

Anyway, sorry if I unfollowed you.  But my life is better for it, and the tweets you get from me are better too.  I do read ALL of my @ mentions, so I still see you if you talk about me.  Say hi to me on Twitter and let me know what you think.  I most likely won't follow you.  But I will likely reply!  And if you want to know more on my thoughts on "social media automation", I am speaking on this topic at Social Fresh West later this month in San Diego.

Mike Volpe

Written by Mike Volpe

Mike Volpe is a startup advisor and angel investor based in Boston.

Topics: social media, Twitter, strategy, marketing

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