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I’ve always equated Twitter to a conversation in the pub. You can’t control who talks to you. You may suddenly whip round and talk to someone you’ve just been introduced to. If someone bores you you’ll head to the bar as a quick excuse for a getaway. You’ll go and play on a trivia machine with a couple of acquaintances rather than join in a dull conversation about motorway junctions or mortgages. If someone isn’t doing it for you, you turn away. If that girl you’ve had your eye on is giving one-word replies you give up and don’t talk to her again.
On Twitter you’ll find people with only one particular interest. We’ve all met people on there who only want to talk about politics, or only want to talk about Doctor Who. You can try to talk to them about cooking or technology or anything and you’ll get little or no response. And like the Pub there’s always someone who wants to trump everything you say. You’ve travelled around France? They’ve worked in hospitals across Zaire. You’ve started to learn the bass guitar, they’ve been drunk with Oasis. In Zaire.
So you can follow or unfollow anyone you feel like. Twitter is a place of freedom. (Unless you’re a celebrity facing the unspoken blackmail of the ‘retweet my charity’ people.)
Some people react to this better than others. They’ll directly confront you with “Why have you unfollowed me? Was it something I said?”. Some will get this niggle and loudly broadcast “@joebloggs has unfollowed me. What a git he is“.
This make you feel guilty and awkward. But you shouldn’t. You wouldn’t stop someone on the way to the bar with “why aren’t you staying here to talk to me?”
Some will even say “I love reading you, but now you’ve unfollowed me I’m unfollowing you.”
Why does it have to be reciprocal? Do you have to have a 1:1 follower ratio? No-one is 1:1. For the record, I don’t follow back just anyone; they have to have an interesting timeline before a new follower is followed back. I don’t agree with “Team Followback”. I follow people who don’t follow me and I don’t throw a hissy fit about it.
If you feel strongly enough that someone is giving you a hard time you can block them. This really I hold as a last-ditch option, I rarely block people. Anyone can listen to my words unless they turn a bit mental. Everyone’s entitled to a hassle-free Twitter experience. I still recall one very classy actress who was chased off of Twitter by a voracious anti-fan who was deluging her with nasty unfounded claims about her sex life.
If I unfollow you, you shouldn’t take it as a sleight. Maybe we’re interested in different things. Maybe you’re too crude for me. I’m no prude but I don’t want to hear about your infant’s bowel movements every morning as I’m eating my breakfast. (I can’t even understand why you think anyone would be interested in that!) Maybe I don’t want to read about you “wetting yourself” as I’m drinking my apple juice. Maybe I talk to you but you give short replies. Maybe you never talk to me unless I talk to you first. I notice these things.
If you can’t take being unfollowed, don’t sign up to a service telling you of your Unfollowers. Especially, don’t message someone who unfollowed you less than ten minutes ago.
If I unfollow you, it doesn’t mean I hate you, we’re just not connecting. I shouldn’t have to answer for my choice, just as I wouldn’t confront you if you unfollowed me.