The Psychology Behind Twitter Following

Recently, a very well-known Internet marketer published a blog post about his so-called Twitter Unfollow experiment. Chris Brogan claimed the reason that he was unfollowing his 130,000 followers was because he was getting way too many spammy auto DMs. Whatever his reasoning may be, it’s ultimately his choice. But, that didn’t stop a massive amount of backlash and haters coming out to question his audacity to unfollow everyone.

If anything, following the social media and blog backlash from the outside proved to be an interesting look at human psychology and behavior.  I observed four main types of people through just by perusing the 370+ comments of his blog post. (Talk about comment section gold!)

The Majority Who Didn’t Notice Or Really Care  

There were a good chunk of people, like myself, who could care less and may or may not have even noticed that he unfollowed us. That’s probably because most of us do the same thing, just not so publicly. I do it all the time. For me, it’s too keep myself sane, engaged and my stream spam-free. I even unfriended people on Facebook, and I even wrote a post about it a little over a year ago. It’s natural to organize and declutter from time to time.

Team #FollowBack 

Then, there were the #TeamFollowBack people. The ones, who want reciprocity, and believe that if they follow someone, the other person should be entitled to follow them back.

That’s simply never the case. Nobody should ever feel entitled to follow someone back. People should follow people based on the value of the content they share and/or engagement not out of entitlement. These are also the ones, who tie their number of Twitter followers to their inherent self worth. That’s just sad, if you ask me.

The “Anti-Social Claim” 

Others weren’t really looking for validation or a boost to their numbers, like Team #FollowBack. They viewed the mass unfollowing as an “anti-social” media practice. They view having a close following-to-follower ratio as good social media protocol. It gives the illusion that the person is engaged and paying attention to their followers.

But, here’s the thing. It’s just an illusion. Many spambots do the same thing, and they are certainly anti-social media. The only real way to know how “social” a Twitter user is by going through their stream. Just because they only follow 1/20th of their followers isn’t an automatic excuse to rule them as unsocial. For them, it could be the most they can follow and process.

The Know-It-Alls 

The last crowd was the most vocal, but definitely the smallest. They thought they were right, and he just broke all the “social media rules.”

Here’s the thing there really aren’t any rules on Twitter. There is certain etiquette and protocols that we want people to follow, but it’s just that a suggested guideline not a hard rule. This is exactly what Chris wrote in his post, “There are norms that are amplified in the digital space where there are fewer signals to follow. But the rules are all an imaginary set that you can test for yourself all you want.”

How do you decide who to follow and unfollow? Do you follow any suggested guidelines from other Twitter users? Please share in the comment section below. 

 

 

About Jessica Malnik

I build online communities. I create content. I make digital magic. Mizzou alum. Closet Gator fan. @SocialSanta2012 & @onmyblockfilms champion. Hopelessly addicted to Instagram and college sports.
18 comments
carlmann023
carlmann023

These are things that we can't deny. Whenever we twit something it surely means something more to us owner than to those who just happen to read your twit.

 

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TheSalesBuilder
TheSalesBuilder like.author.displayName 1 Like

Hi Jessica,

 

I agree with you - law of attraction.  If a reader thinks tweets are interesting enough to follow I think that should be the only criteria.

Thom Holland
Thom Holland

Like him or hate him...he generates buzz.

Evieblink182
Evieblink182

As long as they're not an egg, are reasonably attractive and have a witty/interesting bio, they definitely get a follow.

Matt LaCasse
Matt LaCasse

Such a great post Jess. While I haven't unfollowed everyone I follow, I do a little "spring cleaning" every few months. It keeps my list manageable and cleans out those who aren't providing the most value. I only follow those people who provide me some kind of value. That may be professional, personal, humor, sports-related, whatever defines value in my mind. I would probably fall into the category of people who don't care if you follow/unfollow me or not. My self-worth isn't defined by "big name" people who follow or RT me.

Mark Frisk
Mark Frisk

Nice breakdown.

Re "Nobody should ever feel entitled to follow someone back" ...
I think you mean "obligated" rather than "entitled."

Spence Smith
Spence Smith

great post... i wish i could have put this into words once i went through this with my twitter account. thanks again.

Chris Brogan
Chris Brogan

I think your analysis was better than mine. : ) 

Chris Brogan
Chris Brogan

So is pretending to see you better? I think that's what following is at 131K. Only, you'd have to have been in my shoes. 

Heulceris
Heulceris

I agree with Misha Lyuve.  My thoughts? This world/life is full of baloney that nobody ever really understands, why have we got to pretend that we understand what isn't clear.  If we are true to ourselves ~ we are true to others and should have no problems with misunderstandings. This article shows a person obssessed with himself, and followers that he can't cope with!

Roger Dooley
Roger Dooley

I'm not ready to try Chris Brogan's nuclear annihilation approach, but after using a "follow reciprocity" philosophy for a while, I've begun paring my followers manually a few at a time.  I watch my "everyone" timeline and when I see someone who looks more like a news feed than a real person, or who tweets mostly stuff of zero interest, I unfollow.  On new follows, I usually follow back when someone interacts.  It's a slow process, but over time it is improving the quality of my timeline.

Jviola79
Jviola79

I am very new to twitter & will readily admit it. I have been learning over the months that there definitely was a "psychology" behind it all that I was unaware of. I follow those that I want 1) relationship with or 2) am learning from. I never thought about them following me or that they "should" follow me back or 3) what gain there could be from it all. I just wanted relationship with my friends & family & to learn from those that I, under any other means, would never have heard of or read their blogs or learned from.
So sure, Michael Hyatt, now unfollowed me. But honestly, so what? He never would have been following me if I had not stumbled upon his blog from another source & decided that I wanted to learn from him. Am I going to stop following him today? NO! I still have much I can learn from him. Am I offended by it? NO! He doesn't even know I exist. So who cares?
Perhaps the bottom line of all this truly is....twitter is not the basis of my identity nor my worth. I think we need to gain a healthier perspective on it all. Perhaps the reason from twitter is not so much what can I gain for myself but what am I going to learn today?
Anyway, maybe I have it all wrong. But I for one am glad that I have learned much through the tool of twitter & others.

Julia D. Alexander
Julia D. Alexander

Terrific analysis @jessicamalnik:disqus . Reactions obviously say more about the 'reactor' than the person/situation they react to. Too often ppl assume 'ownership' of public personalities, forgetting the very real private individual behind them. Agreed, someone building their self-esteem off high profile connections is... sad.@JuliaDAlexander
with only 32, very meticulously developed 'followers'.

Liam
Liam

in this case it is obvious he is doing a mass unfollow, and the above psychology applies...

there is atleast one more psychology, that most likely does not apply in this case since it was a mass unfollow... and that is the "What did I do wrong" - they may continue to follow the person, but the loss of a "high profile" or just "popular" follower may lead this psychology...

not... that... I have ever experienced it ;)

Chris Glennie
Chris Glennie

I'm really enjoying this debate as a relative twitter newbie (3 months in, 125 followers!) and the bit I just don't get is how following over 100,000 people ever makes sense. If anyone can put the logic into that position, that'd be great.

Ed
Ed

You're both wrong, and you should include a 5th type: 
Those can't take what people say at face value, and have to go conspiracy theory. It's not a PR stunt. Sheesh, talk about paranoid. It is as it is.And if you actually researched you'd see:1) He's been hammered from both sides. You're being dramatic for PR.2) What's he doing? I didn't hear about this! I'm offended!He can't win. 
Perhaps because you don't know what 130,000 accounts look like,
when infantile adults don't read, and keep clicking dm spam?

He's *REFOLLOWING* everyone except the spam bots. 
My comments from his blog:

Day 1: WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?
 Chris made clear on Twitter and elsewhere (many times), 
that he was cleaning up spam on a platform to make it usable.

 Some of you are crying like toddlers in the comments, on Twitter, and elsewhere. 
He announced that he was TEMPORARILY unfollowing EVERYONE.
 If YOU read his tweets the way you demand he read yours, you'd know that.
If YOU weren't so narcissistic, you'd WANT a friend to have a better experience. 
Step back and look at yourselves.
Day 2:"Life's too short for social media drama"-Ed Shahzade (me)

Michael, handle being wrong. It's not catastrophic. A few [perpetual, jealous] Chris Brogan haters out there have poisoned the discussion around one person's rehab of his platform use. This is the kind of juvenile, paranoid, conspiracy theory drama and cynicism that drives normal mainstream businesses and individuals from adopting social platforms. If he warns people what he's doing and why, he gets accused of guerrilla marketing and attention whoring. If he doesn't do so enough, he gets slammed for unfollowing people, by a bunch of insecure crybabies. 
Things change. Four and five years ago, when Chris *refused* the titles "guru" "expert" "A-Lister", and embraced his community thus; "We're eye to eye, chairs in a circle", he was sincere. 
He could not foresee following back 140,000 people to NOT be snob, nor foresee Twitter's otherwise superb   Team, fighting an extraordinary number of dm spammers, or this many adults clueless enough to keep clicking them. A senior member of  confirmed to me that Chris has received an intolerable amount of dm spam, understandably making half the platform useless for him.

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