By Neil Patrick
I discovered something this week which initially caused me a jolt. With over 19,000 followers on Twitter, apparently I am in the top 1% most followed people on that social media platform.
I am not trying to brag about this. It’s nothing to brag about anyway when I also mention that since Twitter has 302 million active accounts, this means the top 1% comprise over 3 million people!
So that fact immediately stopped me getting an over-inflated sense of my own importance. If I needed any more reminder of my insignificance on the internet, I will just mention that just about everyone who has any sort of fame or mainstream media profile has at least a million or so Twitter followers and Katy Perry has over 66 million. Yikes - that must take some managing everyday...
Nonetheless if you follow me on Twitter, I would like to express my unreserved appreciation, especially since there are millions of more exciting people you could be following instead of me. You wonderful people enrich and educate me, inspire and intrigue me and motivate and moderate me - all in your own unique way.
Anyway, since we are on the topic of Twitter, I wanted to share my thoughts on following and follow backs. There seems to be an unwritten rule on Twitter that if we follow someone and they don't follow us back, then after a while we should unfollow them or withdraw our offer of online friendship.
I feel that this idea misses the point. I follow plenty of people on Twitter who I am pretty sure will never follow me back. But I keep on following them because I want to hear what they have to say.
Yet I often find that if I chime in with my thoughts on something they have posted, THEN they will follow me back. When you think about it in this way, theirs is a shrewd attitude. Having zillions of followers isn't (or shouldn't be) the goal of being on Twitter. Having real connections and a real and active network of like minded people with whom we have all sorts of relationships seems like a healthier and much more valuable goal to me.
Which leads me to try and explain why I don’t follow back everyone that follows me.
You can easily find plenty of viewpoints on this question. First there is the camp which argues that if someone follows you on Twitter and since this is SOCIAL media, it's anti-social not to reciprocate. That viewpoint makes sense ONLY if everyone that follows you shares your interests and values. And plenty of people with a few hundred connections on Twitter do exactly this.
But the Twitter experience changes if our account grows to many thousands. Everyday I get new followers where I can see absolutely no reason why they would follow me or be in anyway interested in what I do. Some new followers see I am a man and seem to work on the rather disrespectful assumption that therefore I must be interested in following pornographic accounts. Sorry but I will block you.
Then there are millions of promotional twitter accounts offering free followers and a ton of other spammy stuff. You guys will never be followed back!
But if you are just a normal Twitter user who kindly follows me I also may not follow you back. I do actually feel rather bad about this, but there's a simple reason for this decision. Once we are following more than a couple of thousand people on Twitter, our Twitter streams get very, VERY busy. I just watched mine for one minute. In that time, 50 new tweets landed in my Twitter feed.
That’s one every second give or take – and even if I spent every waking minute looking at them, I could never keep up.
So I have to apply some rules about who I follow back. The essence of these rules is I follow back people who have even the slightest overlapping interest with the things I am interested in. And that's quite broad. It includes business, economics, government, HR, jobs, education, leadership, media, tech, recruitment, coaching, and rock music (for a bit of variety and flavour).
It doesn't matter to me if someone has 10 followers or 10,000. If our interests co-incide and they are engaged members of the Twittersphere, I follow back.
If you are mostly sharing your favourite photos and music on Twitter and chatting about entertainment, that’s fine and it's none of my business, but generally speaking, I won’t follow you back. In order to do what I do, I need to see tweets about jobs, careers, the economy etc. If these are drowned in a sea of other things, I can’t see what I need to see.
In essence, my approach is not to follow more and more people endlessly chasing some vanity number of followers like a mirage, but fewer people so I can actually hear more of what I want to hear above the noise.
And this is why I hope I never have a tweet which goes viral. Like old newspapers, today's fad is tomorrow's trash. Going viral might be great for some people. But for me it's a distracting illusion. Personally, I'd rather be more like the moon than a shooting star.
All that said, if you send me a personal tweet on Twitter I will always try and get back to you. Better still communicate with me via LinkedIn in and you will always get my attention.
You may have an entirely different set of principles you apply. But for whatever it's worth, these are mine and I hope that my thoughts are at least helpful when you think about what yours should be.