I asked people via Twitter: “Does following=attention? If someone follows you,do you think they’re paying attention to you?”
And yet, lots and lots of people got upset when they learned that I’m no longer following them on Twitter.
Following Is What You Make Of It
If no one is following you on Twitter, then that means that people have to visit your Twitter page directly to see your tweets. It doesn’t mean you’re not interesting. That’s your worry. That’s an emotional fear. (Now, it might be right, but it’s not guaranteed to be true.)
If someone is following you on Twitter, it doesn’t mean they’ll see your tweets. It means they’ve given you the permission to send them a direct message, and that they might see your tweets.
If someone is following you on Twitter, that’s not an endorsement. It’s a mechanical acceptance of data that may or may not also mean that the person who decided to follow you wants to pay more attention.
If someone is not following you on Twitter, it doesn’t mean they don’t like you. Not following means that the person has made other choices with what they want to focus on with that social network. You can be friends with someone and not follow them.
Friends and Social Networks
Thanks to social networks, we tend to use the word “friend” a lot. We say “friend” when we mean “people we know some things about, that we like a bit (at least), and that we may or may not have met.” But as we are all coming to learn, “friend” really means something different. There are many people we feel we’ve come to know via social media, but that we don’t know very well, when we stop and think about it.
This is a tricky blend of thoughts to navigate. We can learn about people and feel emotions and connections with people from a distance. It’s what social media lets us do. But where it gets complicated is to confuse “connection” with “friend” and confuse the digital landscape with the physical. I’ve been friends with Jon Swanson for years now (since 2005 or so?), but Twitter has rarely let us stay connected as friends for more than a handful of days before it unfollows us again. That doesn’t change our relationship. It means that a certain tool doesn’t seem to like us connecting.
Following is Not Loyalty
Someone tweeted to me that I should reciprocate follows with people because they’ve been loyal to me over the years. First, I’m grateful for anyone who chooses to follow my information stream. Thank you. Second, I’m not sure how loyalty is equal to whether or not you follow someone on a social network. To me, loyalty comes from supporting and interacting positively with someone/something over time. Loyalty is participating when you can. Loyalty is supporting common causes and seeking to advance those causes.
But whether someone pushes follow or not shouldn’t equal one’s sense of loyalty.
Following Is Not Attention
Attention is useful. It means that someone sees or hears what you say or do. It’s a great thing to have. Following is a potential onramp to attention, obviously, but it’s not equal to attention. After following back 131,000 people over the last several years in an attempt to be polite and reciprocate the kindness shown by others for following my posts, I destroyed my Twitter. I couldn’t use it well. I couldn’t see enough information in any kind of useful format, and I essentially ruined the experience for myself.
The way I intend to pay attention (and obviously, I can’t pay attention to tens of thousands of people a day) is by responding as often as I can, by hearing what the few people I’ve started following back are sharing (because they retweet and share your posts too, you know), and by responding whenever I can via my various contact channels. That’s what attention means to me, and I’ll do my best to share as much of it as I can muster.
Shake Off Some Of Your Fears And Frustrations
The best way to use Twitter is to find interesting people and follow them, and to share interesting and useful ideas and information with whoever chooses to follow you. Beyond that, do it your own way. Do what you like. Life will go on. People will recover from the additional emotions they’ve overlaid onto the technology. And in time, people will settle into whatever methods they feel works best for them.
It’s your world. Own it.