Reciprocal Behavior in Social Networks

Deleting Circles in Google Plus

I realize that I’ve been talking nonstop about Google+ lately. The thing is, when you’re at the BEGINNING of a new social network, you can learn some things that you’ve forgotten from your experiences with other networks. Google Plus is shiny and new, and it’s Google, so there are lots of things to consider ( as you saw in my Google+ 50). We’ll talk about non-Google-Plus stuff shortly, I promise.

Follow Me and I’ll Follow You?

I asked a question in Google+ that you might also consider:

Several people are mentioning they think reciprocal follows (if you follow me, I should follow you) SHOULDN’T be the norm on Google+ . What do YOU think?

Should You Reciprocate Following Behavior on a Social Network?

On Twitter, I follow everyone back who follows me, and I delete the spammers. I do this because I think of it as a courtesy. But the truth is, I don’t READ your posts all that often. How could I? I follow almost 200,000 people. If I followed one post from each person, and it took me a few seconds to read, each, that would be over 6700 HOURS of reading right there. My choice to follow back was a choice of courtesy. It also allows you to send me a direct message, which I think of as a nice courtesy (do you?)

But here’s what people said to the above question inside of Google+ (just a sampling of the almost 100 comments I got in the first few hours of posting it):

  • C.C. Chapman – I agree. Circles allow you to filter what you see. The power of Google+ lies in ME being in control of what I see.
  • Blake Sabatinelli – They shouldn’t be the norm. This will cut down on the noise…
  • Josh Fisher – I think, sure. Fresh chance to build your stream based solely on the CONTENT you find worthwhile, not based on expected social behavior.
  • Steven Hodson – I agree .. we have a chance to build a network of people that actually mean something to us.
  • Sthitaprajna Jena – It shouldn’t be reciprocal at all. If they like what you post, they follow you. Doesn’t have to mean you need to follow them
  • Christiaan Conover – Agreed. We need to stop thinking of it as a parallel to Facebook. The automatic two-way connection on Facebook is part of the problem.
  • Zack Hanebrink – That’s the beauty of circles, you can filter it how you like, so really doesn’t matter at the end of the day.
  • Ryan Speed – I think it’s a personal preference and just like other social networking sites, it’s not really something that a “best practices/expected use” policy should apply to.
  • Jen Reeves – I’m torn with this. I started out with reciprocal follows with Twitter an met so many new people that way. I haven’t been as reciprocal in G+ land.
  • Pedro Dias – If you want to make the most of any social service you follow people that interest you the most, not based on reciprocity.
  • Melissa Reyes – It should NOT be the norm. Follow people who will inspire you, teach you or make you laugh. Follow people you like!
  • Alana Joy – Initially, that was my strategy, however as more and more people began to follow it became more of a chore than anything and diluted even the “Following” circles stream. For brands, the circles will be ideal and the ability to show that kind of reciprocity will do well, but for individuals… keep it simple.
  • Shannon Clark – I’m not going to reciprocate. My circles will be limited to folks whom I want to send content out to (with the small exception of my “following” circle where I’ll add folks I want to be able to monitor easily w/o reciprocation expected. I’ll leave the 100′s of folks who follow me whom I don’t know in the “incoming” stream for now
  • Daniel Foster – Reciprocation is unsustainable. But it was cool to see that +Chris Brogan added me to a circle even though I’m a nobody. I’ll just imagine the name of that circle to be something nicer than “Nobodies Who Followed Me”
  • Jay Baer – Agreed. The notion of reciprocity is what killed Twitter as a true conversation venue.

It’s Obviously Your Choice

You can do what you want, obviously. Do what makes you feel comfortable. It’s your network.

The reason I reciprocated on Twitter was exactly related to what Daniel Foster said above:

Daniel Foster – Reciprocation is unsustainable. But it was cool to see that +Chris Brogan added me to a circle even though I’m a nobody. I’ll just imagine the name of that circle to be something nicer than “Nobodies Who Followed Me”

I never wanted to be perceived to be some kind of jerk who thinks he’s amazing and who doesn’t relate to other people well. Daniel represents the minds/moods of a LOT of people I come across in the social media world, and you might be ready to tell me that “that’s their problem” and that if their self-esteem hinges on whether you follow them back or not, then they’re maladjusted, but it’s just not true. We ALL like to feel like we’re on the inside of something. I dare you to disagree with that.

The other reason to reciprocate is that it builds a longer/larger broadcasting network capability. You can reach more people because their reciprocity puts your words in front of their eyes, in the pure marketing sense of things. That’s up to you how you use that power, and people who spam with it get unfollowed pretty quickly. But in my mind, that’s something to consider as well.

How Do You Build Your Social Networks?

How have YOU built your social networks? What value do you get from them? And how has that worked for you in the social networks where you play right now? runs on the Genesis Framework

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  • Susan (5 Minutes For Mom)

    I don’t automatically follow back on Twitter, but I do often feel a little guilty about it. I also don’t want people to think I’m rude for not returning the follow, but it is just unmanageable.

  • Brandon Yanofsky

    Im not on Google+ yet, but for twitter and Facebook, I only follow people back who interact with me in some way. I used to follow everyone back, but so Many are spammers. Or they share things I dont have any interest in.

    I feel though if someone takes the time to interact with me, they actually make an effort to be involved in the socio network. And I follow back.

    • Josh Chandler

      Brandon, that’s interesting. So, how do you define level of interaction for a follow back? Should they have sent you a few @replies, RT’ed a few links from your Twitter stream?

      • Brandon Yanofsky

        There’s no hard rules. But if someone sends me a couple @replies and we get a good conversation going, I’ll definitely follow them back.

        • Jack Lynady

          Great point. I find myself going to my “mention” stream all the time and then linking back to those individuals “time lines”. From there I will look for stuff to respond to or RT. Is that a “circle” or whatever in Google+? Most likely.

  • littlewarrior

    i follow most back, but have decided to follow all back, and use private lists to control the stream of people who actually interest me

  • Peter St. Onge

    I suppose it depends on what you’re using Twitter for.

    Every new person you follow reduces the attention you can pay to all the others – it is a zero sum game limited by the amount of time you’re spending on Twitter.

    So for me, personally, I prefer to focus on following people who create value I can pass along to my followers.

    • Josh Chandler

      Peter, agreed. Our perception of how to filter who we follow and who we don’t becomes blurred the moment we follow more then a few hundred.

      As a social media user, as you say, it’s all about defining why you use it. For instance, I use it as a communication and information network, so I follow a ton of people, but divide them into filtered down Twitter lists.

      On the other hand, others will simply follow for news and celebrity gossip and therefore won’t be looking to build a community on Twitter.

      I agree on your final point about passing on value to your followers, because you really will benefit most from social media when you create a network of loyal, engaged followers.

  • Meredith Laskow

    I started following on Twitter as part of Facebook’s Link Love initiative, where independent artists and crafters fanned/followed everyone who fanned/followed them, as a way to raise our visibility and SEO.

    I still believe in that spirit of reciprocity, and follow back almost everyone who follows me.

    Note the “almost.”  Not spammers, not jerks, and not people whom I fundamentally disagree with. (Although not everyone I follow posts in English, so I’m not sure whether I disagree with them or not.)  Once a month I Tweepi to flush the players who un-follow the moment you follow them back.

    Several months ago, I broke down and created a bunch of lists, to keep track of the people whom I actually care about and/or offer interesting information.  Since I’m interested in a huge variety of topics, that’s what I RT and that’s how I choose my lists/friends.

    When someone follows me (even when I know it’s an auto-follow) I go to their page to follow. If I like what I see, I’ll RT or shoot out an @ as my way of saying hello.  If they can’t be bothered to even say “TY” — they don’t make it to a list no matter how great their posts might be, and I’ll probably never read their words again.

    I have ~5 exceptions to the above paragraph, people with seminal content which is RT’d by so many people I can’t reasonably expect a personal reply.

    I follow back 99% of the time.  I interact with less than 10%, those people who are also willing to interact with me.

  • Chris Reimer

    On Twitter, following back just feels like the right thing to do. You like it when someone follows you. You cannot lie about this. Therefore, would it not feel good to someone if you followed them?

    Now, the reason I don’t follow anyone back is that not every Twitter account that follows me ACTUALLY WANTS a relationship with me. You can tell…. do they want your follow merely to boost their numbers? Or are they really looking for new people to talk with and get to know? If the answer is the latter…. if they look like they actually engage in conversation, stand for something, and aren’t just tweeting about Viagra or making money online…. then I’ll give them a follow.

    Señor Brogan is right – I feel the same way – I don’t want to be perceived as a jerkface, so I try to follow you back. But a spammer won’t perceive you as a jerk, as you’re just a number to them. Therefore, failing to follow back is not gonna hurt your “social Q rating.” 

  •!/MichaelCantone MichaelCantone

    I aint no spammer you don’t follow me!

  • Dorian Speed

    I always seem to make at least half of the mistakes from those “11 Signs You’re Doing Twitter Wrong” columns that go around, and I haven’t bothered to create lists yet to manage my Twitter stream, so…my comment is super-valuable already. But to me, the non-reciprocal aspect of Twitter is part of its appeal.

    I will unfollow anyone who posts creepy “I know who unfollowed me” tweets, even though the implied message thereof is “AND I’M WATCHING YOU.” (I actually got called out by someone after unfolllowing them, which was very bizarre.)

  • TheHamptons

    …could you please just give us a g+ invite?!?!  : )

  • Trelawney

    I agree that it feels good to be followed. But, I’m also aware that a lot of people tweet about things that aren’t relevant to the areas I’m most interested in. I tweet haiku because I love writing haiku. But, my business is marketing, social media, technical writing, etc. So, the content that I send out and RT is along those lines. Some of the folks who follow me just like my haiku, and I love that. But if what they tweet about doesn’t align with my work life at all, then I don’t follow back. Sometimes I follow from my personal account, but it’s rare. I’m nowhere near the numbers you are Chris, so I’m still trying to actually read a decent percentage of what comes in every day.

  • Trelawney

    I agree that it feels good to be followed. But, I’m also aware that a lot of people tweet about things that aren’t relevant to the areas I’m most interested in. I tweet haiku because I love writing haiku. But, my business is marketing, social media, technical writing, etc. So, the content that I send out and RT is along those lines. Some of the folks who follow me just like my haiku, and I love that. But if what they tweet about doesn’t align with my work life at all, then I don’t follow back. Sometimes I follow from my personal account, but it’s rare. I’m nowhere near the numbers you are Chris, so I’m still trying to actually read a decent percentage of what comes in every day.

  • Ellie

    Funny. This topic has been on my mind all week. I fall on the side of following people who interest me or who I can learn from but was intrigued when Ken Blanchard followed me first and blogged about the probable connections in my network that led to that follow. (I did follow him back, BTW ;-} and he dm’d that he loved my post. Then today I wrote this curmudgeonly post from an Emily Post etiquette perspective about a stranger who used a LinkedIn invitation to pitch herself as a potential employee. That made me feel protective of my LinkedIn network. I didn’t want to let someone into my circle who might spam my peeps. I did try to communicate with that person though to explain my thinking. Social media is a mixed emotion thing for many of us judging by the comments I’ve read here. We love the idea of community, conversation, and inclusion and are also tempted by the possibility of scaling it all for marketing purposes. Sounds like real life to me!

  • Kim

    I am fairly stingy in my follows in all of my networks.  I don’t automatically follow back on Twitter if you have an egg for an avatar & only have 1 tweet.  I have to know you before I add you to my Facebook ‘friends’.  I only connect with you on LinkedIn if we have actually worked together. 

    So far my Google+ account is the same but I love that I can segment my network into different circles in 1 system rather than posting different, yet similar, things on a variety of networks.  I am hopeful that Google+ will allow me to streamline my content posting and network management. 

    As far as Daniel Foster’s comment – I can relate.  It’s not that you are perceived to be snooty or a jerk, or that my self-esteem hinges on whether someone follows me.  It does feel good when someone with more credentials than I decides I am worth even a trial follow back.  It does boost the confidence level and encourages me to step up my game to make your time worthwhile.

    Your last paragraph has given me something to think about.  I may have to adjust my follow back strategy because it does make sense to get my content in front of more people.  I will just have to diligently manage the spammers.  Hmm, lots to consider.

  • Tom Martin


    I’d have to quibble a tad here. You don’t actually autofollow anyone on Twitter. What you DO do, and a great many others do the same — whether they auto or manual follow — is grant access to everyone that follows you. That access, as you note is to the DM column of Twitter account. That DM column let’s them talk to you (or try to) in a private forum.

    That’s a cool thing to do and many do the same (I’d count myself in that number) but the question becomes are you really granting them anything other than the notion of a special connection?  As you say, you’re following over 200K and I’ve got to think your DM column is louder and more active than most folks (at) column — so are you really granting anything special to them or just the illusion? Not attacking you — just prodding the discussion a bit.

    At the end of the day, you’re either creating relationships or just connections. Which to the genesis of this post — is the coolest thing about Google +… (IMO) because so many of the beta users are talking about “how” to use the platform to increase their real realtionships without sacrificing the benefit of a large network of connections… and that’s probably the coolest part of the platform (thus far) for me. Those have been the most interesting conversations to watch and participate in… because they are real folks trying to solve a real but important issue in a still young space.

    Thanks for the honesty in the post — good to see you’re still one of the little guys ;)


    • Chris Brogan

      That’s true, Tom. You’re totally right. 

      I also agree with your second point there. : ) 

      Sorry it took me a bit to respond. 

  • Eric Wittke

    It seems that Twitter’s one-way “follow” capability has created a relationship level thinner than that of the two-way “acquaintance,” your question concerns ways of handling and approaching this new level.

    With the exception of public figures or celebrities, one would naturally be forced to reciprocate any new relationship at least in some form. We meet someone new–in person–by engaging in a dialogue. Thus, for most people, reciprocation hasn’t even been a question. Every relationship, by its very nature, was reciprocated.

    But Twitter doesn’t require a dialogue. Thus, it allows us all to become public figures who can enjoy one-way communication with our fans. I appreciate how you’ve laid out the different reasons people have given for why they would reciprocate or not. From one perspective, it could be seen that those who reciprocate, such as yourself, are trying to thicken the quality of the relationships that Twitter allows, moving it away from “public figure” and closer to a real-life “acquaintance.”

    Thanks for the post!

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  • Paul Jun

    I had this issue as well.

    I follow people back who aren’t bots, of course.

    I also put use to creating separate group categories to place people in such as Friends, Bloggers, Work, News, etc.

    That way I can filter out what I want to see, and still follow people who will probably unfollow me if I unfollowed them. 

    Creating the list, organizing it so you can view what you want specifically, and still having your followers — win-win.

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