On Twitter-follows: policy and (optional) apology

It’s been quite a while since I wrote about my own policy on how I use Twitter.

In Twitter, many people aim to follow just about anyone who follows them. Quite a few people seem to think that this is a matter of etiquette, that it’s rude to not follow someone who follows you.

And yet here I am, a fairly ordinary, nothing-special kind of guy, with a fair few more than five hundred followers at last count, but only following rather than less than a hundred. In terms of those views about etiquette above, it might seem like I’m more than a bit rude to the Twitter community. So if my follow/not-follow seems unfair to you for that reason, I do apologise.

But it’s not about rudeness, I promise you – in fact it’s simply a matter of managing Twitter-overload. Let me explain.

As I understand it, many people just let the Twitter-stream go by: wash past them in a swirl of unending opinions and experiences. (If someone is following literally thousands of people on Twitter, I can’t see how they could do otherwise than let the stream wash past.) This would mean that the only option is to trust to serendipity: that the right Tweet, the meaningful Tweet, will somehow jump out of the stream, demanding attention at just the right moment.

I know that works for some people, perhaps many people, but it doesn’t work for me. Instead, I treat Twitter as my main business-intelligence tool. I assume that every Tweet is potentially meaningful – which means that I read every single Tweet that comes my way. I manually check just about every link presented in those Tweets. And I read probably at least half the articles linked-to in those Tweets – not just skim-read, but read carefully enough to make (I hope) useful comments on them.

In short, it’s a lot of work. As it is, it already occupies at least a couple of hours every day, and often more. That’s why I’m very careful about who I follow, because I have to – I don’t have any other choice, if I’m to stay sane and get any other work done in the day.

I’m an ‘aggregator’: I collect information, annotate it, and pass it on. I reTweet an average of about ten Tweets a day, sometimes more; many other Tweets that I receive (totalling more like thirty a day) will end up, often with extensive annotations, in my weekly ‘A week in Tweets’ blog-posts. That’s why I tend to restrict my ‘follows’ to those who are other ‘aggregators’ – people like Oscar Berg, Sinan Si Alhir, Craig Hepburn, Trevor Snaith and Pat Ferdinandi, to arbitrarily pick a few examples – yet who tend to post only a relatively small number of focussed Tweets. I also follow a few specific ‘thought-leaders’ in a much wider range of disciplines, but again, only those who post a relatively small number of Tweets.

I do believe I deliver a useful service in annotating all the Tweets that I reTweet or re-post. (Several people have told me this directly, which is kind of them.) Yet the only way I can do this is by keeping down to something manageable the numbers of Tweets that I have to deal with – which at the moment is around 150-200 Tweets a day. Hence the tight restriction on who I follow, and how many people I can follow.

The simplest annotations I do are the addition of specific hashtags. I’ll admit that a few of these may not be readily comprehensible to everyone, particularly:

  • #entarch – enterprise-architecture
  • #bizarch – business-architecture
  • #bmgen – business-architecture, especially business-models, linked with themes from the book Business Model Generation
  • #itarch – IT-architecture
  • #e20 – ‘enterprise 2.0’, the use of so-called ‘social-media’ in a business context
  • #km – knowledge-management, usually with an emphasis on narrative-knowledge
  • #ux – user-experience, particularly the design and usage of online-tools

My longer annotations always occur after the link (if any), and are preceded by a ‘<‘ sign. Occasionally I’ll have to abbreviate or edit the original Tweet to make room, but otherwise I try to keep them intact. And wherever possible I try to include the Twitter-ID of the person who provided the original Tweet. (I notice that quite a few people don’t bother, but to me the attribution is an important point of professional etiquette, and also important for those who need to follow citation-trails in future.)

One other point: blocking. Like everyone, I receive quite a few ‘follow’-requests that are from spammers, time-wasters and people who are just trawling for auto-follows in the belief that quantity is more important than quality. (It isn’t. 🙂 ) I check every follow-request, and allow or block accordingly. There are also a few people whom – politely, I hope – I will block on the grounds that my work will be irrelevant for them: for example, someone from a building-supplies store who misunderstood the context of ‘architecture’ that I work in. In general, that check of the initial follow-request is the only time that I will block a potential ‘follow’. In fact I’ve only had one case where I had to block someone who’d been following me for quite a while – and that was because that person had become openly abusive to me and to others on my Tweetstream, and was frankly beyond a mere nuisance.

So that’s it. If I don’t follow you, it’s not because I don’t think that what you say is interesting – because it almost certainly is interesting. It’s just that I’ve found that this is the only way I can cope with the flood of information and still stay sane (or vaguely-sane, anyway… 🙂 ). If there’s something that you think I should know about, please Tweet me direct as @tetradian – because, again, I do read every Tweet that I see.

Many thanks to all, anyway.

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3 comments on “On Twitter-follows: policy and (optional) apology
  1. Linda says:

    I have no problem at all with this policy, and don’t consider it rude. The only thing I request is that you don’t DM me, because I can’t DM back someone who’s not following me. 🙂

    I have three Twitter accounts, each tied to a specific project, and work with each one differently.

    I’d appreciate it if you’d drop me a line by email. Some while ago my address book crashed and I seem to have mislaid your email.

  2. Tom, you can have your serendipitous cake and eat it too. If you use a tool like Nambu you can set up groups of twitterers and say have a must read group (btw you are in this list) and keep a good track of this and then the rest of the people you follow help you make wonderful unplanned connections.

  3. Tom, I just came across this post as I was purusing your blog. I love that you have such a thoughtful approach to Twitter. I agree whole-heartedly with your sentiments and although I’m not as discriminating as you, I attempt to only add people who will give me valuable insight into my interests.

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