I recently discovered that someone I’d been following here for a couple of years, unfollowed me. No, it’s not the first time this has happened (nor will it be the last). And yes, I keep tabs on this stuff every once in a while, as I take who I follow fairly personally. I like to think of the people who I routinely engage with here as friends. Or, as close to friends as you can get without physically meeting. Anyway, I was a little shocked by the unfollow, so I asked him why he did it. His response was that he didn’t think I really cared very much about Twitter anymore. And then I was like, ‘wha??’ I’m sorry, I missed the memo on much you’re *supposed* to care about Twitter. I guess I care as much as the next guy, but probably not as much as some other people. The fact I’m here at all proves that I care at least a little bit. Then it dawned on me how little me and this person actually communicated since the days of the epiphany when we were all giddily walking around just happy to collide with each other. Global reciprocal communications in real time was very shiny back then.
So the correspondence I had with this person made me think about the idea of reciprocal following and friendship here. I believe there’s a huge difference between someone who is a friend, and someone who is just a friendly social acquaintance. I think most of us like to believe that we’re friends with the people we follow and who follow us back, but are we? Admittedly, I fall victim to this as much as anyone else. For example, there are several reciprocal follows I have on Twitter with people who have massive audiences and who are highly engaging, but who have never once in all the time I’ve been in this space just randomly responded to something I’ve tweeted. Sure, they’ll sometimes reply to me after I reply to them about something they’ve pushed out there, but that doesn’t mean they’re my friend. That just means they’re friendly people. Generally.
Ok, stop – before you get any further, understand that this is my personal opinion and that because there are no rules here, everyone is welcome to manage their affairs the way that works best for them. If you want to follow 50,000 people – great. That strategy just doesn’t work for me. I care too much about sincere connections. And don’t get me wrong, it’s cool to get a reciprocal follow from one of the popular kids, and it’s fun to chat with them when they reply to you. But there’s a big difference between being social with someone, and actually being their friend.
How do I recognize friends? I pay attention to who replies when I push content into my stream. And not just the big important stuff I push either. The stupid stuff too. When someone routinely identifies with me about my regular life stuff, these are the people I usually follow. Because these are people I’d likely be friends with in real life. Not that this isn’t real life – but you get what I mean.
How do I try to be a friend? Next to talking to the people I always talk to, I spend time every day looking into my stream to reply to people who I don’t routinely talk to. I’ve gotten away from the shiny new phase of Twitter, and use it a lot differently now. I simply don’t have the time to read through every tweet in my stream. But I do try to reply to people every day who I don’t routinely engage with (and I’m not talking about replying only to the popular kids, either.) The way I see it, there was a reason I followed someone in the first place. Sometimes all it takes is a random reply to something they’ve pushed, to reconnect.
My point is to be friendly here – but don’t expect a person with tens of thousands of followers to really know that you exist just because you get a reciprocal follow from them. That is unless you engage them directly. And even then, they won’t know the stupid stuff about you because there’s no way any human being can see everything in their stream.
Friends. Over the course of a lifetime, they’ll come and go. But the ones who matter most tend to stick around. And they almost always know the stupid stuff about you. They pay attention.