Follow Me, Follow You

What’s the “right” number of followers/followees on Twitter? I’ve previously pondered what might be the ideal number to have in your network, but there is clearly no one right answer. The right number to have is whatever works for you. Some have suggested that Dunbar’s Number – around 150 – is about right, but my own Twitter network has been steadily growing to almost double that and it still seems to be worthwhile and working for me so, for now anyway, I’ll let it keep growing. Whenever someone follows me I’ve gradually developed a process to help me decide whether I follow back or not… basically I click the link to go to the new followers page, and look for a couple of key bits of information. Are they educators? Are they actively involved in ed-tech? How many do they follow? How many follow them? How often do they update? Who do they follow?  Taking everything into account, if it looks like this person can help add value to my network I’ll follow back. (I know that sounds one-sided, but they’ve already made the decision to follow me so from their point of view I can only assume they see some worth in doing so.)

For quite a while now I’ve been getting a steady stream of Twitter notifications saying “such-and-such is now following you on Twitter”, often several every day. It’s nice to think that people want to follow you because they feel you add value to their network, but what’s the deal with these people who just collect and follow anybody? Over the last few weeks, I’ve been noticing that more and more of these follow notifications come from random people who appear to simply follow anyone.

Take a look at the screen grabs above. These three all arrived tonight and when you look at the following/followers ratio it’s pretty one-sided. For example, look at the person who is following 14,972, but only being followed by 699… that’s a ratio of over 21:1. For every person that follows them, they follow over 21 others. The other person following 1,814 has 52 people following them, that’s an even less balanced ratio of 34:1. (with only 8 updates… what’s the deal with that!?)

My own follow/follower ratio is currently 287/342, or .83:1, meaning I get followed by more than I follow. Although there is no right or wrong to this, to me it seems fairer when your ratio is relatively close to 1:1 (or at least not ridiculously unbalanced like 34:1!)

Why would anyone want to follow 14,000 people? What possible good could that do? You couldn’t possibly be getting any real signal out of all that noise could you? Perhaps if you follow a large number of people you might like to leave a comment about it.

I used to feel obligated to “keep up” with Twitter, but I’ve decided that I need to think about it like a river flowing past me… I don’t need to read every single tweet. When I had 50 or so people in my network I used to be able to do that, but as it’s grown I now use Twitter differently, just to give me a sense of the zeitgeist of what’s happening out there. I don’t bother reading every single post now – I just can’t, there’s too many – but I do scan through many of them as they pop up in Twitterific or Twhirl. I feel like I only need to find that occasional gem of a url, read an occasional worthwhile insight, contribute occasionally to a conversation going on, or catch the latest snippet of online gossip to make Twitter work for me.  With nearly 300 people on my follow list I definitely use Twitter differently now compared to how I used to use it when there were only 50 or so on my follow list, but it’s still worthwhile being part of it. I have just found I need to be more relaxed about it, less concerned with “keeping up”, and I’ve learned to be content with what I do get from Twitter rather than worrying about what I might be missing.

I’m sure this is all just part of an evolutionary process of how Twitter works for you depending on how many are in your network, but I still find it hard to imagine what use you’d get from having thousands on your follow list.


CC BY-SA 4.0 Follow Me, Follow You by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

8 Replies to “Follow Me, Follow You”

  1. The answer to the Universe may be 42 – but like you I have also been reflecting on the ideal number in Twitter. Unfortunately for me, I am still further up the river that you Chris as I still trying in vain to read each of my 200 odd twitters I follow. But, I need to become smarter in ways you suggest.

    Personally, I think the magic number is somewhere between 300-500, for me at least. I would be able to conduct a poll like dswaters did on web 2.0 tools and gather good information quickly, yet also be able to keep abreast of the great ideas out there with that number. Similar to helping students, it’s a great feeling to help a fellow teacher out there. I find Twitter makes me an exponentially better teacher than if I were to surf on my own for ideas.

    With Twitter, some days I feel more like a gardener. Weeding. Trying new strains. And some days.. just plain sunburned. 🙂

    Twitter: MikeRomard

  2. Hi Chris,
    I think I unconsciously follow a similar process to your own. I am following 120. Followed by 134 although some of those probably do not really ‘follow’ me. They attended a workshop. 😛

    Why follow 14,000? Perhaps this is a reason… In the hope that some will simply click and follow them without going through a similar process to your own. The users following 14,000 or more are selling something. If only 10% return the favour they will have 1400 people on their marketing list. Do you think that may explain it?

    Like your relaxed approach to the Twitter experience. Did you remember to wind your clocks back one hour?

    Cheers, John ^_^

  3. As a non-twit, or closet skeptic, I’m still intrigued by the practice of following the thoughts of virtual strangers, whether there are 10 or 1,0000 of them. Personally, I haven’t quite bought into the whole notion yet, but there are obviously a great many that have, so I respect that and the value that they are deriving from twitter and similar networks.

    As for optimal network numbers, I think you’re point on “whatever works for you” is a far better measure of success or ideal to strive towards than that of the “optimal ratio”. I’d go even further to add that it’s more likely whatever works for you at any given time. You’ve indicated that your use of and reliance on the network has already changed over time and this will most likely continue. It will also change as you identify different information requirements, learn more about your network members, cycle through and discuss the list of topics that are of shared interest. We know that quantity does not necessarily constitute quality, so, I think you’re suggestions on selectivity and choosing your personal network well in the first place will garner the best results.

    Who knows, I may just find the right network myself some day soon. In the meantime, I’ll be quite happy in my optimal ratio or 0:0. I’m not following anyone and better yet, I don’t have to look over my shoulder because no one’s following me!

  4. Hey Chris,

    I find a different purpose in Twitter… I’ve discovered that the benefit of following someone is you can get a rare insight into a different person’s thoughts and opinions on different aspects of their (your) and other people’s lives.
    I started following people randomly by judging them on their avatars (which seems a little mean) and the way they see the world has really added another dimension of knowledge, another resource to the growing list I’ve obtained from the internet.
    When those I were following followed me back, an amazing set of discussions begun. the most surprising thing was, without even realising it, I had (in general) picked developers, designers, IT guys… most of whom worked a couple of blocks away!I’ve met a number of them since.
    I think it’s dependent on context and experience, but following random people on twitter can also be enriching, too.

    By the way… I’m following 51, 69 follow me, and I’ve made 1504 tweets so far…

  5. I decided that I can read 150 and keep some sort of order- I love the way Twitter comes alive in time zones though. Aussie/Kiwis tend to fill the spaces in our evenings when the US of A hasn’t joined in yet.

    I think that randoms just like to think they can follow people- I did wonder about locking my tweets down but that seemed to defeat the whole purpose.

  6. I like the idea of Twitter as a river. I’m following around 300 now, with around 500 followers. The new information flows by much too quickly for my type-a personality instincts, but I’m slowly coming to terms with following a larger group (I think I liked following 50-100 best).

    I definitely think it’s easier to “let go” of Twitter when I’m following so many more people – since I miss so many updates over the course of an average day anyway. Somehow that makes it easier for me to “use” Twitter effectively, rather than attempt to “follow” everything that gets posted.

  7. I never heard of Twitter before I attended South by Southwest last month. There I was amazed at all of the young people with laptops on Twitter, clicking away during some of the best keynote addresses I have ever heard. I brought a laptop along, but left it in the hotel room. I had absolutely no desire to use it during the panels and presentations.

    I’m intrigued, but I already feel overwhelmed by the amount of information that passes through my life each day. What benefit would it be to add even more? I think I’ll pass, until I come by some very compelling reasons to join in with the rest of the twits.

  8. Hi…I am Indonesian and now living in Australia for study. I still have difficulties in Engliah, so It would be great to exchange language and make friends with Australian. Here is my skype: nanang.prigi

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