Update to the Unfollow Experiment

Bird on a Wire

As you might know, I chose to unfollow the 131,000 or so folks I was following on my Twitter account. I did this primarily because I was getting crushed by direct message spam. I chose to follow that many people in the first place, because I felt that reciprocal following was polite. However, I came to realize that I wasn’t actually seeing anything that anyone was posting. In fact, because I followed so many people, the various software I use to view Twitter couldn’t even be served enough data.

What I’ve Learned

First, I learned that people put a lot of emotions into their social network subscriptions, and they put a lot of value into the concept of “friending” online. They feel an emotional response to whether someone chooses to connect with them via a social network or not. Responses in the comments and in my contact form and via other means of communication ranged from indignation that I would dare to unfollow them after “all these years” to hurt (I just can’t understand what I did wrong!) to some kind of, I don’t know, reverence: “I’m truly honored to have been followed by you for as long as you did.” All of these emotions were interesting. None of them are something I’m judging. They’re just all interesting for what they are.

Second, I found that by following a lot fewer people (I’m currently following around 370), I see a lot of conversations that were missing to me before, plus I’m seeing more of my @ mentions and more information in general. This is interesting to me because Twitter had become fairly crippled by me when I was following so many people. The software couldn’t even send me the messages intended for me in the @ replies.

Currently, I’m wondering what I want to do about following. The 370 I follow are all wonderful people. I’m still missing some good friends that I’m sure I’ll find via @mention and add back, but I don’t want to add everyone back again. I said that was my intention in the original post, but I don’t think that would be very beneficial. Instead, I think I’ll keep it quieter like I have it now. But what I might do is cycle in and out some number of followers, like drop 30 and add a different 30 from time to time, to see a new set of conversations from time to time.

These Are My Observations For Me

One point to make to you, especially the “you” who has to deal with clients who say, “Well Brogan did this,” and “Brogan unfollowed everyone,” please realize that a lot of what I do with each social media tool set is experiment. I work hard to understand what will work well, what won’t, what will serve my needs or my clients’ needs, and what will happen if I do this or don’t do that. To follow along with what I do too closely would be to fall in some of the same ditches I’ll discover by making mistakes and learning from them. Experiments are just that, and sometimes, things shake out in ways that aren’t as intended.

What I Know For YOU

Twitter is what you want to make of it. I know that the most important element of using your Twitter account, if I had to pick just one, would be to reply as often as you can, if engagement and community matter to you. If they don’t, use it however you want. But to me, replying when you can and as often as you can seems to be what people value most.

What’s Next for Me and Twitter?

I’m thinking of Twitter more and more as an “in the moment” tool. For instance, it works really well at events like PodCamp and other conferences, because people can easily follow a stream of information flowing out of hashtags. Twitter does serve well as a “feeding network,” sharing information into an ecosystem of people who are looking for new and interesting things to share. So, with that in mind, though I’m spending more and more time on Google+, I will still use Twitter to keep information flowing. I will reply as often as I can there, though I will likely go a lot deeper into conversations on G+. Why? Personal preference, plus I believe there’s more value to be had at Google+ in the longer game. It lets me “see” people better.

Do What You Like

There are so many ways to decide how you want to use Twitter. Find the one that works for you, especially as an individual. I prefer accounts that are a mix of informative and also diverse. You might see your needs differently and want to keep things very homogenized. Do what works for you.

And no matter whether I’m following you or not, you’re still important and doing good work. My following is not a seal of approval. It’s a choice. Like all things in life.

Make sense?

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  • http://www.daddymojo.net/ Trey Burley

    Lots of thin skinned folks out there.  Grand experiment and reminds everybody of what twitter is actually useful for. 

  • http://twitter.com/KellyTirman Kelly Tirman

    Re: “I believe there’s more value to be had at Google+ in the longer game. It lets me “see” people better.”
    Why do you think that is? I am not really having that same experience. I like it but I am not “seeing” people any better. I would love to hear more about what you mean.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      Comments and streams and threads and posts being relegated to circles. 

  • Robgbrown

    Hi Chris,
    First time commenter, long time reader.

    I un followed a few people a while ago as well.  It was for a lot of the same reasons.  I just wasn’t keeping up with some of the conversations.  And truthfully, I un followed a few people that had tweeted maybe 3-4 times this year…there was no value there.
    And I was almost immediatly un follwed as well by some of the same people.  I certainly didn’t mean it as an insult.  There was just no value-added to their Tweets. 
    I have long since stopped worrying about the number of my followers.  I just keep my mind on saying things that I think are important, informative, and/or funny.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      It’s tricky. People haev to figure out what’s going to work for them. You know? 

  • http://bluetwothree.blogspot.com cybergabi

    For me Twitter (unlike Facebook) is more designed as a one-way street, like G+. I only follow people who I really want to get regular updates from. Following back is not a requirement, neither for people who I follow, nor for people who follow me.

  • http://twitter.com/markshaw Mark Shaw

    Heh Chris the other thing that you will notice is that growing a following when yo dont auto follow back is way way much harder.. its the right approach but way much harder… many will follow you.. and then wait for you to follow them..you wont.. so they unfollow…. so your target of getting to 200k followers by end Sept… very doubtful that this will happen….


    Mark Shaw

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      Definitely won’t. Was worth thinking about. : ) 

  • Moondustwriter

    I applaud you act (even tho I was one of the people pulled off your follow list). you are getting rid of the junk mail so you can actually read what you need to.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      It’s not even that others are junk mail. It’s that I can only read so much. 

  • Amani Channel

    Though my Twitter network was hardly as big as yours, I’ve struggled with my account as well.  At one point, I was following everyone who followed me, which as you’ve noted makes it hard to both build relationships and keep up with the true friends. Though this post is about Twitter, I’ve also struggled with a similar situation on G+.  It feels like social sprawl.. lol.

    Take care!  I’ve enjoyed our recent interactions!


  • http://AbundanceUnlimited.com Christopher Sherrod

    What tool did you use to unfollow so many people at once?

  • http://AbundanceUnlimited.com Christopher Sherrod

    What tool did you use to unfollow so many people at once?

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      It’s in the original post: script by @jesse:twitter 

  • http://virtuousgiant.com Nathan Hangen

    I did something similar (switched accounts and started over) and found that Twitter finally became relatively interesting again, though still a time suck.

    I guess my reaction to being un-followed would be immediate frustration, followed by a more level-headed realization that it’s probably my fault for not making being followed a priority, and in reality, that would be a ridiculous priority.  

    So in short, if you un-followed me, it meant I didn’t make enough effort to be important to you, and that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

  • http://www.responderx.com ChrisDonaldson

    Breadth versus depth. Engagement isn’t about being on someone’s list – it’s about a dialogue. Sharing. Connection. Which certainly is difficult with 100,000+ people. Politicians pretend at it and skim the surface, but very few engage in actual discussion. Discuss actual merit. Move the needle in our personal lives.

    The internet has created this very real expectation of something for nothing. I see it all the time in an odd race to the bottom. So that when someone as generous as Brogan decides to change a bit, a select group of people get up in arms – because they want more. Always more.

    That’s tough to keep up with.

  • Bruce Conway

    Makes perfect sense Chris. Good post.  I’m having the same trouble and wondering what to do about it.

    Good point about it being an “in the moment” tool. I wonder if it’s actually more useful for portable devices than laptops and their ilk.

  • Tim Payne

    I think people view someone “famous” following them as the Twitter version of an autograph (Twittograph?) So maybe to them, you unfollowing them feels the same as if they had met you once, got your autograph, and then you came back one day and erased it.

    Or, they just place way too much importance on something that ultimately doesn’t really matter as much as they think it does. I like Twitter, but nothing about Twitter is worth flipping out about.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      Interesting perspective. 

  • http://janegoodwin.net Mamacita

    I have never automatically followed anyone just because they’ve added me.  I have to check ‘em out to see whether or not their conversation has anything to do with me.  As for DM’s, there’s a context for those, too, and the time is NEVER right for promotional, linked “look at me, me, me” stuff.  Those mean an instant unfollow.  Twitter is for conversation, not promotion.  I know many people don’t feel that way, but I do.  If Twitter is a party, there are groups and conversations I’m fascinated by, learn from, and contribute to;  there are other groups and conversations I’m bored by, and then there is the endless drone about breastfeeding, diapers, poop, mean teachers who don’t understand how cute Billy’s nosepicking is, please check out my new blogpost, and “buy my stuff.”  To which I have to replay, to myself, “No.”  P.S.  I don’t follow people with consistently bad grammar/spelling, or people who use a lot of cutesy code.  LOL, indeed.  I am also quickly bored by overly sensitive easily offended types, although I do admit to devil’s-advocating with them sometimes because it’s A. easy and B. fun.  And now I must apologize for jacking your post.  (No wonder you unfollowed me – I’m weird.)

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      Good for you. At 600 new followers a day, if I gave each person 1 minute of time to see if they were good people to follow back, that activity alone would be 10 hours a day. 

  • Sheldon Campbell

    Good on ya, Chris! I can’t imagine ever trying to keep track of even a fraction of the number you were following. I used to have around 900, and found even that stretched my ability to interact, so I pruned it by more than half. I was immediately unfollowed by a boatload of over-emotional folks, some of whom got their nose out of joint over it.

    I’ve gotten very picky about who I follow back, both on Twitter and G+. If I know them, or find them interesting, I may give them a try for a bit. But without at least one of those being true, their name never even makes it into the hat.

    Your idea of drop 30, add 30 may work well for you, but of course, it will also fuel the fires of anger, hurt and confusion. Ah… so little time, so many lives to destroy. ;)

    When all is said and done, though, I think you definitely have the right idea. Big numbers mean nothing, great engagement mean everything.

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  • http://silkpurseproductions.wordpress.com/ Michelle Gillies

    Chris, You may or may not remember me following you long before your numbers got so high. Had I been just “discovering” you at the point you had 131,000 people you were following I wouldn’t have bothered. Like many others, I do check out the people I follow. I read some of their tweets to see if they appeal to me and I look at their numbers. If their numbers are over 1,000 I seldom follow them because I know the chances of them actually having any interaction with me are slim to none.  I’m a little fish, in the big pond and keep my numbers pretty low (compared to most I see) because I want to be able to interact with people. See them, listen to them, react and have the same back. I am spending more time on Google+ but I can see that as that builds we could run into the same problem. 
    Thanks for keeping us up to date on this.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      Of course I remember you. Altzheimer’s hasn’t yet set in. : ) 

  • http://twitter.com/glutenfrefoodie Heather Jacobsen

    i think you were following me for some time, and i’m sure you’re not following me now. i don’t check those things. even though i thought it was pretty cool that you were following me, i never would have expected it. you don’t know me…. and the majority of time i’m talking about a very specific niche on Twitter (gluten-free). That’s what I use it for, as a tool, not necessarily a place to talk to friends, although I have met a lot of friends there. But I never even thought twice about being unfollowed by you! In fact, I was wondering how you kept track of everyone! I now follow almost 2000 people, because, like you, i thought it was polite to follow back. But I also started getting the spammers, and the conversations that i really want to see are being convoluted… and so, like you, i think i’m going to start unfollowing, too. 

    i didn’t even know that twitter gave notifications of unfollows (i didn’t get one). they should not notify (like facebook) for those sensitive people who easily get offended.

  • http://www.margieclayman.com Marjorie Clayman

    Ah, God bless the online world, where these types of issues become issues :)

    I keep trying to picture explaining this to kids 30-40 years from now.

    “So then there was this big uproar across the online world because a few people unfollowed lots of people on Twitter.”

    “What was Twitter? Sounds stupid.”

    “It probably was, but at the time it was a way for us to get real-time communication with people from all over the world.”

    “So, were you all kids when you got upset about this stuff?”

    “You’re a good kid. Have a cookie.”

  • Deborah Shane

    One thing that has come out of the recent trend cycle with social media, be it Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or Facebook is having the right tribe and community, not any. I have qualified  every Twitter follower that has added me and that I want to follow. This has led to meeting and truly engaging with some amazing people who really care to be active and supportive connections. I think it’s smart to qualify. It helps save time.

  • Anonymous

    I still see this whole maneuver as disingenuous. The way that you achieved over 190K followers is a direct result of the follow-me-follow-you practice that is so common on Twitter — at least it was as the service was growing and you were building your following.  That’s not to say that you didn’t work hard to earn followers by providing a steady stream of helpful content and advice. You earned some followers and others just reciprocated.  And now you call this  mass unfollowing an “experiment.”  The real experiment was following tens of thousands of people and as they followed you to see if that built up your numbers.  We know the answer.  It did.  What we don’t know is how loyal that following is. 

    The better experiment would have been to DM each of your followers to let them know you’re unfollowing them and see how many unfollowed back.  In other words, what percentage of your followers are reciprocating and how many are true admirers and attention providers?  That number that would be great to know.

    Given your recent post about the value of followers, likes etc, I know you think some of these metrics are frivolous.  I agree.  I wonder how you’d feel, however, if the number of people following you suddenly dropped form 190K to 10K or less.  You’d be emotional too.  No matter what we say in posts, we all appreciate attention and respect, and we’ll grab on to any metric we can to illustrate that we’ve achieved respect in part because of your following.  

    You’ve always been a leader on Twitter.  I hope this doesn’t spawn a wave of duck-n-roll Twitter celebs who find the people they follow bothersome.

    Keep up the good work.  We are all learning through your actions even if I don’t personally agree with them.


    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      I appreciate your perspective and your well-considered response. 

      To answer your question about follower drop to my account, I almost deleted my account entirely September 10th. Decided I was sick of it. Then, I decided to see what would happen if I followed just a few folks for a while. Now, I kind of like my account again. 

      I learned a long time ago that it doesn’t matter whether 190K people follow me or not. The most clicks I’ve ever received for a tweet were around 200. Almost 200K people follow me, but barely a few hundred at ANY time ever respond to my tweets or take any action. Ever. 

      And believe me, the weeks after the unfollow experiment proved to me that several thousand people weren’t seeing my tweets, because I tweeted the unfollowing several dozen times, and still (now, today) get questions about it. 

      So, I’m learning. 

      • Anonymous

        Thanks for your reply.  I’ve always appreciated your directness and honesty — which is why I follow you ;-)

        Having 190K followers is actually worth a lot because that means that they CAN see your tweets.  It’s likely that a large percentage of these are old accounts that aren’t used anymore, and the vast majority of others aren’t watching as the stream flows by.  But if just 1% (a favorite marketing phrase) are seeing your tweets, that’s 1900 people paying some attention to you at any given time.  That’s a large auditorium full of people! 

        You and Doug Haslam were the first Twitter evangelists I knew so I hope you’ll continue experimenting with Twitter and comparing/contrasting it to other options like G+.  You’ve started doing that recently and it’s very helpful.



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  • http://www.resultsdev.com Online Supervisor Training

    Thanks, finally another person slightly jaded of this phenomenon …
    I agree that just following the trend can sometimes make the user uncomfortable… 

  • Susie Sharp

    As statistician Valdis Krebs famously said at a Twitter Convention in Cleveland about 3 years ago, “Change happens at intersections.” If you follow back everybody, the conversation becomes incestuous and you learn nothing new. I try and follow people off the beaten path and rarely follow back. And I do a lot of intermediate trimming. I maintain a no spam zone. Congrats on your new freedom and I hope pearls of wisdom are easier for you to find now.
    Susie Sharp
    Cleveland, Ohio

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  • Nick Sweeney

    I was curating the Twitter account for the company I used to work for and really focused on following great people with great info to share.

    Then, one weekend, one of the owners decided we didn’t have enough followers and started following about 1,000 “new” people. Among them – a porn star (whoops) and a dead celebrity (tweets from the grave!). Needless to say, I was furious.

    I’m curating again at my new company (@CoupSmart:twitter) and am doing my best to once again only follow the best. Like you said, Chris, you can’t keep up with thousands of follows, no matter how many TweetDecks you stack up. Social Media has the word “social” in it for a reason. You need to choose just as wisely who you hang out with online as you do offline, lest you find yourself in some dicey company.

    Thanks for not making me feel bad about being selective. :)

  • Christina Mitchell

    Thanks Chris.  It’s time to take a fresh look at my twitter accounts.  I have to say, I’ve had the fortunate experience of meeting a few really great people on twitter, but it does take time and with all of our new found social responsibilities, it is increasingly difficult to keep up with everything.

    Even though I am new to Google+ I have to agree that sharing here is really a different experience and I am thrilled to see how this will evolve over time.

  • http://termpaperwriter.org/ research paper

    Oh.. Thanks for good news!

  • http://www.learnsmallbusiness.com DeAnna Troupe

    Yes this post makes perfectly good sense and it’s what I’ve been saying all along. You’ve got to talk to people on twitter or you won’t get the full benefit of the relationship. 

  • http://www.toddejones.net/ tejones

    Shama did this some time ago and I was delighted she added me back!  Truthfully, I don’t know if you follow me or not.  LOL  For me, I’ve used twitter to engage people around certain conversations such my favorite TV show, “Criminal Minds,” or college football.  I use lists too.  I interact a lot of with folks in my townon twitter as well.  Using twitter is evolving, huh?

  • http://jeffroach.ca @jeffroach

    Good post, Chris. I don’t even listen to my home feed. I created a private twitter list a long time ago and I add and remove people I want to listen to regularly from that list. That’s what I listen to. And I find it pretty easy to ignore spam DMs and report them for spam when needed. However, I don’t even close to 130k followers.

  • http://profiles.google.com/theinteracter Neil Hopkins

    131k? Wow…

    That’s why I use Twitter lists.  I can dip in and out of streams relating to groups of interesting looking people without killing my own timeline.

  • http://goo.gl/QvKcQ SusieBlackmon

    Thank you again, Chris, for the mention in your Google+ stream recently. 

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  • http://twitter.com/TheDigitalPost Jose Jimenez

    Hi Chris and it’ been interesting following your experiment. FYI I’m not a Twitter follower of yours but I do see your content via rss. I tend to keep a pretty tight rein on who I follow back on Twitter (approx. 600) and I manage my followers via lists which I find is a good way to monitor conversations from different sets of people. I’ve read a few comments here but not all of them so perhaps its has already been suggested but why not set up a list of people you are considering following as in the 30 people you suggested? Monitor via Tweetdeck or whatever platform you use and that way, you dont need to follow them unless you actually feel they are providing value. This will also prevent you following and then unfollowing them.

  • http://faleafine.com NEENZ

    As long as there are people, there will be issues. I too am learning how to balance all of my “relationships” — hey, I asked for it when I committed to building a global community. But, like Deborah said below, it’s becoming more about building the right community, not just any. So, I have already accepted that people will feel some emotion in me not just not reciprocating a follow, but not readily being aware of their every tweet. It’s a tough balance, but as I navigate I’m learning.

  • http://www.online-business-virtual-assistant.com/ Virtual Business Assistant

    I enjoy reading your blog, and it is relevant to the daily life of the people now. I am looking forward to read more thoughts and ideas here in your site.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t look at my home feed often as I’ve created a private list for people I want to see tweets from.  But the problem with that is I miss out on a lot of other fun follows.  So I’ve decided, in order to network with new people, I need to start paying attention to my home feed.  There, I will surely find some gems.

  • http://twitter.com/cmackin1 Colin MacKinnon

    Great Post.  Appreciated!

  • http://www.rizzotees.com/ Chris @ Rizzo Tees

    I am totally gonna get cycled out, I just know it! (Hell, I tweet so much, I would not blame you sir)

  • http://www.rizzotees.com/ Chris @ Rizzo Tees

    Tell your cat to stop spamming Brogan! lol

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  • http://thesocialjoint.com/ Lucretia M Pruitt

    Thanks for the update! It’s good to see how it turned out.

    I won’t go see if you follow me or not because I’m all kinds of sensitive and I’d rather just pretend that everything I say is worth reading (yeah, I know it’s not – nobody tweets gold every time.) So I just figure I’ll @ you when I need to, I’ll talk with you on G+, I’ll read your blog and occasionally comment, and if I really need to talk to you? I’ll shoot a flare gun up in the sky – you tend to notice stuff when it’s important.

    But I’m still going to live in my self-imposed Schroedinger’s Cat when it comes to whether you follow me or not. It works for me. ;)

  • Elizabeth

    This was very interesting and thought-provoking, thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=822233629 Erin Kathleen O’Bryan

    You did what I wish I could do, a do over on Twitter. I miss so many good information, I’m sure because the the information is flying by so quickly. If there was an easy way to clear it all out and do it again, I would. Just to clear out the interference and hear more clearly. Thanks.

  • http://www.blogstash.com Satrap

    Interesting experiment Chris.

    I just don’t understand why so many people love to have thousands of followers and they go to any length to get as many followers as they can, even if that means using softwares.
    I mean, what good is it if most of the people who supposedly follow you aren’t even interested in what you have to say and couldn’t care less about it.

    Wouldn’t make more sense to have a few who are actually into what you talk about and make a stronger relationship with those few people?…

  • http://4thress.com Carl Thress

    You were one of the first people I followed when I started on Twitter, and it amazed me when you followed me back. (I had no clue at the time that people could automate that. What can I say? I was a noob.) I saw several of your tweets about unfollowing everyone, so it came as no surprise when it happened, and I’m not at all surprised that you’re not following me now. I don’t know you, and you don’t know me, so why should you follow me just because I follow you? The button does say “follow” after all… not “scratch-your-back-if-you-scratch-mine” (that would be kinda long… and more than a little creepy). Truth is, I have people who actually know me who don’t follow me, so why should it bother me if a complete stranger decides not to follow me back? If we had conversed regularly or semi-regularly, that might be different, but in any case, who you follow is your decision and (should) have no bearing on how people perceive you or their own self-worth.

    I think it’s cool that you decided to handle things the way you did, rather than just create a private list of people to pay attention to. You’re being up front with people, rather than making them think you’re hanging on their every word, when in fact you never really saw their tweets anyway.

  • http://www.commun.it SharelOmer

    Hi @chrisbrogan:disqus ,

    A great story that show the real need to filter the noise in order to build relationships with the people that matter to you…

    Manually build relationship with so many people is not scalable, we miss the important people to us our high-value relationships…and drown in a sea of endless tweets and spammers…

    Luckily, there are some tools out there that start to help solving this problem of scaling the building of personal relationships with the people that matter to you :) 

    please update on this very interesting experience… it make us really think of the way we build relationships via social media.

    Sharel @Commun_it:twitter 

  • http://www.realtimeoutsourcingservices.com FerdinandFelix

    Excellent post, Chris!  I like the end part where you said “My following is not a seal of approval. It’s a
    choice. Like all things in life.”  This is so true since we all live by the choices we make each day of our lives, which starts each day getting up from bed.