Why I un-followed 47,000 people on Twitter

Remember when the band members from Metallica all got short haircuts? I remember hearing people say, “those sell-outs” and “it just isn’t the same seeing them with short hair.” Did anybody consider that after having long greasy hair for almost two decades, they were ready for a change? Long hair can be hard to manage, and so can a huge Twitter following.

When I first joined Twitter I was trying to get a book published. I still have a few good friends from the old days when I was using a blogspot blog – http://adriandayton.blogspot.com. For those of you that knew me back then I had one goal- to get my first book published. It was a book about virtues, so I figured a bigger following was better. So I grew… and grew.. and grew my following.

Somewhere along the way I switched gears and started talking to other lawyers about social media. This was a far more narrow niche and required a very tight focus. For this very specific group a big following wasn’t nearly as helpful or attractive. Worse still, I was following so many people that my Twitter stream was filled with content that was at best irrelevant and at worse distracting. The biggest challenge for me was that I could no longer focus on new followers or qualified prospects because they were lost in the noise. It was time to get a hair cut.

Months ago I noticed that Alexis Neely had trimmed down the list of people she followed- so I asked her how that went for her. She responded, “I have no regrets.” Than I noticed that one of the nicest people I know on Twitter, Del Williams had done the same. She told me how great it was to no longer have so many auto-DM’s and the SPAM coming her way all the time. She told me about a program called http://unfollowall.com that let’s you un-follow everyone with a click of a button. If you have a larger following it takes about 15 clicks- but it sure beats going through them all manually.

Do I regret it?

Actually no, you see the people that CARE have sent me a message and I have followed them back immediately, the people that don’t care- well, why were we following each other in the first place? Seth Godin says the magic number is 10. I have written about this before, but 10 raving fans will make any business successful. By following 50,000 it was making it hard to focus on the 10- or 100 people that I really care about.

If you were un-followed in what I refer to as “The Great Cleanse,” please shoot me a message and let me know so that I can follow you back. And this time, my following you back will mean more. Please don’t be upset with me though, I would hate to have to “sleep with one eye open.” (that’s a Metallica reference if you didn’t catch it.)

Comments

21 Responses to “Why I un-followed 47,000 people on Twitter”

  1. LNLawSchool says:

    Adrian,

    Been following you on my personal Twitter account for quite a while (@mhollowell) and really enjoy what you bring to the virtual Twitter-table; no reason for you to follow me there, as that account tends to ramble and lacks focus (as all great personal Twitter feeds do!).

    However, I now run the @LNLawSchool feed and would love to have you follow me there. The focus is on information (legal, social, news, tips, etc.) that law students/emerging lawyers would find helpful. You might find some value in the stream. Just a plug there.

    Cheers,
    Matt Hollowell
    (@LNLawSchool)

  2. Adrian –

    Interesting article, as I am trying to determine the best way to focus my own social media reach and experience. I’m also an attorney exploring the social media space, particularly as it applies to IP.

    By the way, I noticed that your post links to an “Alexis Neeley” instead of THE Alexis Neely!

  3. LNLawSchool says:

    As I mentioned on Twitter, this is a very important post. Allowing those newer to the channel to see the evolution and changing thoughts of those who have been around for a while, and who have been successful, is vital to the next-generation of adopters. Kudos for the insight! And congrats for surviving the purging process.

  4. Perhaps we should all be following and be followed by 150. This is ‘Dunbar’s Number’ which “is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person. Proponents assert that numbers larger than this generally require more restrictive rules, laws, and enforced norms to maintain a stable, cohesive group. No precise value has been proposed for Dunbar’s number, but a commonly cited approximation is 150.

    Dunbar’s number was first proposed by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who theorized that “this limit is a direct function of relative neocortex size, and that this in turn limits group size … the limit imposed by neocortical processing capacity is simply on the number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained.” On the periphery, the number also includes past colleagues such as high school friends with whom a person would want to reacquaint themselves if they met again.”

    [Above section in quotes taken directly from Wikipedia]

    If you Google “Dunbar’s number and Twitter” you will find numerous blog posts looking at this issue in connection with Social Media use.

    Also see ‘Number of Twitter followers is the most overrated metric in social media’ by Mack Collier:

    http://mackcollier.com/number-of-twitter-followers-is-the-most-overrated-metric-in-social-media-2/

    Perhaps someone will develop a Dunbar App so that we can all automatically create our ‘Dunbar List’ of 150 from the existing group of who we are following on Twitter. You still need to trim your following by 4,368 based on your current following number of 4,158!

    Do you think 150 is about right?

    • Brian,

      Great points! I have spoken about Dunbar’s number before in presentations I have given to clients- really important points.

      I still need to trim down the 4,000 people I am following, but I may only trim it down to 3,000. I use my Twitter lists for the rest. If you notice I have my “A-list” that contains about 80 people and then I have a list of engagers that is much smaller. I almost never read my general Twitter stream because there is way too much information there. With 50,000- forget it! Now that I am following just 4,000 I actually recognize the majority of the people in my stream. I still have some clean-up to do, but I have no plans of only following 150 at this point.

      Instead of an App Brian, perhaps we could all start creating a Twitter List of our top 150. It would mean a lot more than the big mass of people we are following.

  5. Mike Whelan says:

    Okay, I’m a student at UTexas planning on opening my own firm, and I just joined Twitter today. Seriously. So I feel pretty overwhelmed by all of the information out there (maybe I should get your book so I can get some bearings!). But what do you mean in this post? Did you stop following other people or purge the number of people able to follow you? Is Twitter like FB in that you can unfriend people? Or are you telling me you used to receive “I’m taking a shower” posts from 47,000 people every day? That would be tough to sift through!

    • Mike,

      Great questions, and sorry – this post really only makes sense to power users on Twitter (people like myself that spend WAY too much time on here).

      To explain a little better, on Twitter you don’t ask for friend- you can simply follow anybody. If you follow me, you receive my updates. I don’t receive ANYTHING from you though, unless I follow you back. So these 50,000 people were all sharing their updates with me, and I followed them all back so I was receiving their updates.

      When you click “HOME” on the Twitter.com it shows you the tweets of EVERYBODY you are following. So literally I was getting updates from 50,000 Twitter users each day. The problem was, there were tons of Twitter profiles that weren’t real people- they were just computer programs spitting out tweets on a regular basis. It was prohibitively time consuming for me to figure out which was which one-by-one so I simply un-followed all of them.

      Does that make sense?

      To get started, you don’t need to buy my book- but watch the Twitter videos on my homepage and grab the first section of my book for free. If you still want more, shoot me a message and I can’t point you in the direction of some other great resources.

      Thanks for the great questions!

  6. Brian Nash says:

    Adrian
    Whew – I was wondering what the heck I had done to warrant a ‘toss.’ Man, I love your stuff and was following you religiously. Then – notification – Adrian is unfollowing you! Ok. Then voila – you’re back again the other day. So – I’m figuring that you just hit a ‘wrong button’ – then I read this post. Your usual good stuff.

    Maybe b/c I’m a relative newbie I’m just having a tough time doing what you had the guts to do. Wonder how it felt when you DID hit the button – cathartic? panic? regret? probably empowered and saner.

    Hopefully some day I’ll be in a position to make that decision. It is – as you note – virtually impossible to follow the feeds of my paltry 1254 followers. I can’t even imagine 4,000, 10,000 – 47,000 – That’s why I’ve been using lists like a madman. I had to find some way to segregate the content and followers that I WANTED to follow from all the other – (let’s call it) “stuff.”

    Really glad you posted this piece. Got to admit – I WAS wondering. I’m usually a bit more secure but now – phew – feeling more loved. ::-)

    Stay well and stay with me – I’ll miss you too much otherwise.

  7. Del Williams says:

    I have zero regrets about unfollowing as I did. I am able to engage more and have conversations as opposed to feeling like I am talking to myself. People will question, but I found that the main ones who had the attitude were people I did not know existed in the first place. They are under the illusion it is about ego, and I am finding that for the people who have unfollowed in bulk, it is nothing about the ego. In fact, it is the one’s who autofollow everyone just to have numbers that is about ego.

  8. Lisa DiMonte says:

    Thanks for the great advice, Adrian. Quality beats quantity every time. I only have a few hundred followers and am finding it difficult to engage. I can’t imagine having thousands. I love the idea of creating a Top 150 list. Thanks to all lfor the tips.

  9. Rgue4U says:

    Good point, Adrian. I started the trimming as well some time ago. I found out that so many people on my lists were inactive or had not tweeted/responded to anything I sent so…I deleted the account @amds007 and am now the new and slightly improved @Rgue4U! Yes, I did say slight improvement because I have finally started a blog…

    Cheers!

  10. Tim Baran says:

    All part of the journey, eh, Adrian? I wrote about this last year (Mass Unfollow: Trending on Twitter?) when Alexis and others did a similar cleanse. And wrote another today (Happy to Lose Thousands of Twitter Followers by Not Auto-Following). Following (and following-back) throngs of users is still the most effective way to build up a follower count, but at what cost? A less than vibrant and relevant account.

    For me, what’s really meaningful about your (and the others) experience is that we get to learn from it. Early adopters of this new medium didn’t have a blueprint or others to guide them. So, I appreciate the chronicling of your experience and lessons learned along the way.

    • Those are good points Tim, and you are absolutely right that we are still figuring this out. I’m learning things all the time- it is a constant evolution in terms of the ways people are using these tools, as well as the tools themselves changing. Part of what makes this so much fun.

      Could you share the link to your article from last year? I’d love to read it.

  11. From the beginning (a year ago) I discovered that about 150 is the right number for me to follow. My sole rule for following is whether I enjoy your tweets. Those are the people I am talking with when I post anything – plus awareness of my public image, of course. Though I am a lawyer, I certainly want other interesting info, so I mix it up a bit.

  12. I recently unfollowed a large number of people as well (just over 1000 or so), pruning back to about 950 or so. What I have found most useful is to keep an eye out for additional opportunities to unfollow strategically throughout the day. When I see people in my stream that are wasting my time and attention with foursquare updates, or other inane babble, I simply unfollow them.

    The interesting thing about my follower graph is that a pattern has developed throughout my life where I join a group, aggressively aggregate followers or connections and then prune back to a more manageable size as I realize the utility of the service. Over time an equilibrium is reached. I did the same thing many years ago with LinkedIn when I had over 10,000 and pruned WAY back (unfortunately there was no unfollowall for LinkedIn – in fact the page for breaking connection remains pretty hard to find even now).

    For me at least, this is the natural pattern:

    Join
    Dip the toe in the water
    Start to understand the possibilities
    Connect at an unnatural (maybe even unhealthy pace)
    Realize you’ve overdone it
    Prune back the group
    Use effectively

    One day I hope to find a way to shorten that cycle, so it doesn’t take a few years to reach the final stage.

    • 10,000 on LinkedIN? Wow. That is pretty huge.

      It would be nice if there were an easier way to learn this lesson, but that is part of the fun.

      Thanks for your comment.

  13. Tim Baran says:

    Adrian, here’s the link you requested re: Mass Unfollowing on Twitter http://www.umcle.com/2009/07/mass-unfollow-trending-on-twitter/

    @uMCLE

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