I’ve just hacked through the entire database of people I follow on Twitter and eliminated nearly 2/3 of them, or almost 1,000 people.
Why, after almost four years on Twitter, am I slashing and burning my tweeps?
When I first started on Twitter in 2009, its greatest advantage seemed to be that it presented a wide variety of opinions in real time without any filter. How wonderful! How diverse! So I followed most of the people who followed me and my Twible project, and many other folks as well.
It wasn’t long before I was drowning in tweets, making my Twitterfeed feel like one of those cluttered, overfurnished rooms where there’s no place to sit down and read the newspaper because of other people’s stacks and stacks of ephemera. Recently I evaluated the usefulness of spending my valuable work hours with each potential tweeter, with the people I unfollowed falling into these five broad categories:
1) People who have not accessed their Twitter accounts since the Paleozoic Era.
It turned out when I carefully combed through my tweeps that a whole lot of them had not been on Twitter in quite some time. Ditto for organizations or people I followed for a one-time event such as a conference. This first category was a matter of simple housecleaning. Easy peasy.
2) People who turned out not to be terribly interesting to me.
I’m sorry about this one, which is more personal than category #1. In some cases I began following these people several years ago simply because they followed me, only to discover later that we had very little in common. Kind of like when you meet someone at a party, only to discover later that there’s really not a lot to talk about.
3) People who tweet about minutiae.
I’m surprised by how many people still think that everyone on Twitter is interested in hearing exactly what they’re doing at every moment of every day. The people I prefer to follow are those who point me to interesting ideas, news stories, opinions, blog posts, pictures, humorous items, etc. — not the ones who tweet pictures of their mashed potatoes. (You know who you are, Mashed Potato Guy.) I think that a good rule in life is also a good rule on Twitter: Always remember you are not the most interesting person in the room.
4) People whose tweets have nothing to do with what I write about.
I’ve realized that in order for my tweets to be useful to my own followers, I need to narrow the bandwidth of the people I follow myself. In many cases I unfollowed people not because they were tweeting about narcissistic things (#3), but that they were tweeting about things that were important to their own careers but not necessarily relevant to mine.
I use twitter professionally much more than personally, so I have focused in on several key areas including Mormonism, religion journalism, breaking news, history, social media, publishing and digital books, and advice for writers. Sure, there are also some people I follow just for fun, like Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, or for edification. (Did you know that William Shakespeare is on Twitter? Yea, verily.) And yes, I follow Lands End for the killer sales. But for the most part I have whittled the list way down to include primarily the people who are helpful to my work, which even meant cutting out some people I know personally offline. (Since two of those were extended family members, it could be an awkward Thanksgiving dinner.)
5) People who filled up my Twitterfeed with one-on-one arguments or long private correspondence with other tweeters.
Twitter has a “message” function for a reason. Not everyone wants to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations. If your messaging goes back and forth more than two or three times, take it outside, folks.