Twitter etiquette

My general practice in twitter is to follow someone if they follow me, although not if they appear to be a bot, spammer, non-poster or nutter.  So I have around 140 people following me, and I follow 136. There may come a time when I have to revisit this policy – I couldn’t follow 1000 people say, or rather if I did, the value of Twitter would start to diminish for me because I would miss too much from the people I like.


But people use Twitter differently, and I noticed one person I follow has over 1,000 followers but only follows around 35. So, I asked the question, is this a misuse of twitter, or doesn’t it matter? The general consensus was that it doesn’t matter. I think this is right, and misuse was probably the wrong term. After all those 1000+ followers are getting something from following that person. But it does illustrate how people think of Twitter differently – for me it’s a dialogue, but this is using it more as a broadcast tool, rather like blogging.

Laura picks up on this, saying:

I’m at a a stage of my Twitter life where I am wondering how many
people I can follow. It’s not quite a mid-life crisis but at 30
something (following) it’s already a struggle to keep up with all the
good leads.

Which again gets at how people perceive Twitter. I don’t feel that I need to read the tweets of everyone I follow. It’s a dip-in, take a scoop from the passing river kind of experience. So in that sense it’s not like dialogue – I don’t interact with everything, and can dip out for long periods.

Erm, that’s it, no real conclusion, just interesting to observe how something as simple as Twitter can have so many different uses and interpretations placed upon it.


  • Sue Waters

    There are a few individuals who manage well following 1000+ people; still able to interact and maintain conversations but they must spend a lot of time on the computer. There are quite a few top edubloggers that have 1000+ but only follow a few – I do feel for them because it must be hard in their situation however if they limit the number they follow to 30 they don’t achieve the true potential of twitter.
    My best twitter days were when I was following between 150-200; after this number it became less manageable. I think Alan Levine’s method of using TweetScan for replies and limiting the number he follows is the best balance. He lets everyone knows that is how he is doing it and then chooses if he wants to answer.

  • gill

    I tend to only follow people I actually know. If somebody follows me, I may follow them for a bit, but I’ll probably stop. But then, I’m not sure I’m really into twitter. I enjoyed using it for the Handheld Learning conference, where there was a contingent of twittering delegates and you could really get a feel for what was going on in the sessions you weren’t attending, but since then I’ve sort of cooled off it.

  • martin whinnery

    I only know a couple of the 30 poeple I follow. I tend to follow people who are saying interesting stuff. I check the blog posts they tweet. I sorta use it as a way to find interesting folks. And the track feature helps spot people I might be interested in. Some might describe this as stalking. Hmmm.

  • Scott Leslie

    So I think the idea of “misusing” twitter is wrongheaded here – use it how you want, that’s the whole point. But this phenomena you point to (1000 followers but not following many) is certainly one of the criteria *I* use for NOT following someone. As is simply following/having more than say 300 other twitter users. there are few people on my list who do this and that I will still follow but very few.

  • Sarah Stewart

    I am not into twitter and don’t really want to get into it. But I feel I need to have a ‘presence’ on twitter. So I post once a day and try to make it something that may be interesting. I also have a daily scan of people’s posts but I am not using it for ongoing dialogue – my blog does that. cheers Sarah

  • Linda George

    I have recently begun using Twitter and I hope I have not committed any egregious errors! It’s hard to know what is considered ok and what is considered annoying to others. Some post when they get up, when they get coffee, etc., and others post URLs for new 2.0 tools.
    I am having a hard time deciding why anyone would want to follow me at all! Every time I get a new follower, I think, “What am I supposed to do now?”
    Oh well! As long as there’s no judge and jury, it’s all good!

  • Laura

    Did you see this?
    Says: “Calculate your Twitter Score
    The Twitter network, like most natural networks, has nodes of different weight. Most people have a handful of followers, but follow a lot of other people. Because a lot of people follow Jack Dorsey, Fred Wilson, Tim O’Reilly and other web celebrities, the network is far from being symmetric. Mathematically speaking, there is a power law at play here, more commonly known as 80-20 rule – that is, 80% of the people follow the other 20% of the people.
    So it is interesting to calculate where exactly you fall on that curve. One simple way to do this is to take a ratio of people who follow you to the number of people you follow. Currently my score is 156/16 which is 9.75, Jack Dorsey’s score is 8.02, Fred Wilson’s score is 14.7 and Tim O’Reilly gets 42.6! Tell us your Twitter number in the comments.”

  • Alan Levine

    I am extremely wary of the concept of “rules” like this, as if suggesting there are right and wrong ways to use a tool like twitter. The power of the net is that in many places we make our own rules or patterns of behavior that suit interests and ways we go about things.
    How does one know of all the possible modes and ways people can use twitter? it seems to be always an extension of one person’s experience to the whole of the net, and that is a fallacy.
    So I think anyone suggestion a 1000/30 “rule” is silly.
    I have 855 followers but follow 122, so I talk with my mouth open or eat with the wrong fork?
    I reject most follow requests, especially if I cannot tell who they are. I get sometime 3, 5, 10 a day, and dont have time to go check ’em out.
    I drop people who tweet things I dont need to hear, or overstuff with successive tweets. I periodically drop people who have not tweeted in months. I periodically follow someone a person in my 122 mentions, if they look interesting.
    And I have a different approach- I monitor tweets directed my way in Tweetscan, follow as RSS, and can provide direct feedback then to someone who tweets my way that I dont follow.
    I do it my way and doing five a flying hoot about so called etiquette. Save it for the formal dining rooms.

  • Martin

    Laura – yes, I saw that and the next item is relevant here: whether you are a talker, listener or node.
    Alan – I agree, there shouldn’t be any formal rules, but as you set out, we all develop our own modes of behaviour, or personal rules. So the term ‘misuse’ was wrong, but it did make me realise people use Twitter differently. My ‘follow anyone who follows me’ approach will soon break down, and I’ll probably have to adopt your approach. What’s fascinating about Twitter is the way a simple tool can be used in so many different ways. We could never have predicted these.

  • Chris L

    Having been guilty of saying something along these lines, I will chime in and agree with Scott Leslie. Someone having thousands of followers doesn’t bother me, but someone who follows thousands is someone that I’m not likely to be interested in. The fact is that it just isn’t possible that a person following 1000s of people is giving any of those followers any significant amount of attention.
    I don’t follow many of those who follow me simply because it would quickly become too overwhelming. The sweet spot for me is around 100, though I am edging upward of that and may need to trim back on a few.
    And then there are those that I “follow” only via their RSS feed…

  • Chris L

    I’m also fascinated by the psychology behind dealing with followers and protecting one’s tweets. As a matter of principle, I refuse to privatize my Twitters. That being said, I also never block (and would never reject) a follower, even if I don’t know them. The fact is, I *don’t* know a lot of my followers, though in many cases that has changed as a result of their following me! That’s another dynamic I don’t want to give up…

  • Sarah Stewart

    For some reason I have ended back at this post and re-read the comment I made about not being into Twitter. What a difference a year has made – now I am totally hooked and would not be without it 🙂

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