Everything changes. See that mountain over there? It’s constantly being shaped by rain and wind. The shoreline you visit every summer? It’s in a perpetual state of flux. That relationship you had with that person you liked on Twitter in 2009? Way different.
After three years on Twitter and Facebook (longer on Linkedin, strangely) I’ve noticed some behavioral patterns. The ability to feel things about people is a gift I’ve leaned on throughout my career as an advertising copywriter who must understand people more intimately than as words next to the Target Audience bullet on a creative brief.
And so I’ve noticed patterns about people here over the years. Don’t get me wrong, I get that people change. And that’s cool. I’ve changed a lot too. Especially how I use this medium. Where at first I was very aggressive in going out and trying to find the right people to follow, I’m far more guarded now. In fact, before I became active on Twitter, I used to send those humiliating friend requests to people I didn’t know on Facebook. In retrospect, I was trying to use Facebook like Twitter. As a result, I friended a lot of people I didn’t know and tried using Facebook as the device to get to know them. Then I found Twitter. Duh.
Thanks to the tools of social media, I’ve come to know hundreds of people across the planet whom I’d never know otherwise. I love this medium for that. But what bothers me is that too many people who I’d had solid relationships with just a couple of years ago, have gone on to become so self-absorbed as a result of growing their network – that they’re just not the same people I originally followed. They’ve gotten too big. They’ve changed into different people.
Again, people change. I get it. And that’s what makes the relationships you have in social media a lot like the ones you have in real life. You don’t like everyone in your office, right? But you’ve somehow got to work with all of them, nonetheless. In social media, as in real life, each relationship is different. Some are more intimate than others. People change. And sometimes it sucks.
When I first got into social media, my goal was to build my network and interact with brilliant people. People who could challenge and inspire me. I’m sure you have similar reasons for jumping in. And for the most part, I think I’ve done a pretty solid job of growing my network over the years. But I didn’t have the time or the resources to make social media my full time job, and so at some point, the elation of connecting with new people faded. This is not to say that I’m not constantly amazed at the ability to connect with kindred spirits in the farthest reaches of the planet. I am. And some of these people are dear friends. The idea of human connectivity is very reassuring to me.
But people change. You’ve got to be prepared for that as much here, as in real life. Over the past three years here I’ve seen people I admire grow their businesses, change careers, have children, move to new countries, get married, get divorced, deal with loss, win in business, fight disease – the list goes on. Our lives are in in a constant state of flux. And all of these changes directly affect us. It’s been my observation, however, that the people I admire most are those who are true to their core convictions regardless of the changes that swirl around them.
I recently unfollowed some people here who I once considered to be my friends, but who have changed so much that I barely recognize them. Why did I unfollow them? Well, I suppose you could say that the reason is because I’m too sensitive. But I prefer to think of it as being too human. Unlike a lot of folks, I’ve never used this medium exclusively as a way to fill my brain with the latest news, trends or gossip. I’ve never tried gaming the system so that I come across as some guru, expert or cowboy. I’m just a human being human in a cold, digital world. And the people I’m most attracted to here are likewise.
Unlike the workplace, there’s nothing here that says I have to continue trying to be friends with someone I don’t like. Most of the people I’ve unfollowed recently have grown their networks so large that they no longer even see me in their streams. These are people who used to routinely engage with others sans prompting, but who are now so big in their own minds that the only time they see anyone is when people @reply to them after they push content into their stream. And even then, you only get a response back if you’re lucky. I’ve been here too long to get that special feeling when someone @replies to me after I’ve @replied them. Especially when these are folks I’ve known for years. It’s been my observation that these people keep a sharp eye on their Klout score and only directly engage or RT others who are ranked higher – as a way to game the system and continue growing their legend.
I don’t follow everyone who follows me. I can’t. I’m just not smart enough, and I don’t want to pretend to be friends with everyone. People deserve better than that. However, I’ve found that the best people to follow here are not those with tens of thousands of followers, but the ones with just a few hundred. These are real people. If you’re following someone with 40,000 followers who follows most of these people back, ask yourself this – when was the last time this person ever sent you an unsolicited @reply to anything you tweeted? Chances are, they never have. That’s because they can’t see everything. And unless you’re a person who can benefit these rock stars (by having a high Klout score or having a large follower base), you’re likely not going to end up on any list that these people follow closely. Sure, if you’re lucky, you might get an @reply from some of the chattier rock stars here – but mostly you’re just a number to them.
When it comes to the change from being a friend to being a number, however, I’ll pass. I’m too human.