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On Etiquette and Math of “Follow” in Twitter September 5, 2009

Posted by farshidk in Social media.
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TwitterWatchdog.com in a post recently had some advice on who to follow and not to follow on Twitter. See this. However among them there were the following:

  • “I follow everyone who follows me because I think that’s the cordial way to use Twitter.
  • If I’m following someone and they won’t follow me, then I’ll give them a few days but then I’ve got to unfollow them.”

There have been other posts on this topic claiming that if you don’t follow the people who follow you, you are a “Twitter snob”.

I disagree. I don’t have to follow everyone who follows me. And I certainly don’t expect everyone whom I follow, to follow me. Here is why.

Non-Twitter Social Networks

On social (or business) networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, there is a single simple relationship between two people: you are either “friends” (or linked), or you are not. LinkedIn also formalizes the notion of “degrees of separation”, but that is another topic for another day. For the sake of this discussion we are only concerned with first-degree relations, those whom you are directly linked with. The way this works is that typically you add a person to your network (e.g. send a friend request) and if that person accepts it then the two of you are linked or “friends”.

If you are mathematically inclined, in terms of graph theory, Facebook and LinkedIn networks result in undirected graphs, where each edge or link connecting two nodes is an unordered pair or set such as links {A, B} and {B, C} in the graph in Figure 1 below. In this graph A and B are linked (friends) and B and C are linked.

Figure 1: An undirected graph showing a Facebook network segment

Figure 1: Undirected graphs represent Facebook or LinkedIn networks

Twitter Social Networks

Unlike Facebook and LinkedIn, a relationship in Twitter is 2-way where each direction is independent of the other. You can follow someone, and by default you do not need her approval to follow her. Independently she may or may not decide to follow you. Twitter networks are directed graphs, where edges or links are ordered pairs and directed such as (A, B) and (B, A) in the graph in Figure 2 below. Here A follows B and B follows A. B follows C, but C does not follow B. Note that some refer to people who you are following as friends. So C is a friend of B in this example. But I prefer not to use “friends” in the context of Twitter and stick with Twitter’s own terminology “followers” and “following”.

Figure 2: Directed graphs show Twitter netoworks

Figure 2: Directed graphs represent Twitter networks

Of course you can make your Twitter profile protected so that you must approve anyone who wants to follow you. Or you can block a follower at any time. You may choose to follow that person or you may not. You do not have to reciprocate. And that is a very important concept in Twitter.

Who do I follow?

I follow many news and media channels from BBC, CNN, NPR, and NY Times among others such as (@bbcworld, @CNN_top@nprnews, and @nytimesarts). I also follow @TED_TALKS for updates on fascinating TED talks which I think are among the best things on the internet). But for obvious reasons I don’t expect them to follow me. In fact many of these accounts don’t follow anyone even though they have thousands (in some cases millions) of followers.

Among notable individuals, I follow Evan Williams, Twitter CEO (@EV), serial entrepreneur and billionaire Richard Branson (@richardbranson), well-known internet guru and evangelist Guy Kawasaki (@GuyKawasaki), the famed MIT linguist and political dissent Naom Chomsky (@noamchomskymit), and President Barack Obama (@BarackObama). Guy (and his team) is one of the most active accounts on Twitter with a lot of worthy and interesting tweets on regular basis. I don’t expect any of these people to follow me (though Guy is kind enough to follow me).

On the other hand, there are certain friends and strangers who follow me whom I don’t follow for various reasons. Maybe they are primarily readers and not contributors, or maybe I am just not interested in their tweets. And that should be just fine. This is not an ego trip, nor it is a popularity contest. Though a friend of mine thinks that it actually is for a lot of people!

How do I decide whom to follow?

The pool of potential candidates to be followed for me comes from those whom you run into browsing the net and reading blogs and news, those who are already following me, and recommendations  from various sources such as (Twitter suggested users, TweetDeck suggestions and directory, #FollowFriday tweets from those whom I am following already and Mashable lists (http://mashable.com/category/twitter-lists/) which has very interesting lists, such as authors, comics, and foodies on Twitter. But I still have my own criteria to apply as follows:

  • I look at her or his bio on the profile page. For me it is important that they say something interesting, informative (or funny) about themselves. Blank bios do not interest me, unless of course the subject is a well-known person who doesn’t need an intro.
  • I check the vital statistics — number of followers, number of people s/he follows and the number of tweets s/he has had. Generally the bigger the numbers it is, the better. But there are exceptions. I know famous tweeples (a Twitter user) with million+ followers and thousands of tweets, whom I’m not following. For me they have nothing interesting or relevant to say.
  • More important than the number of tweets, is the quality of tweets. Syntactically I generally value tweets that include hashtags and links. Unless I am particularly fond of someone (e.g. a real friend) I don’t care for tweets about one’s daily chores, or personal replies to others that probably should be direct messages. To get around this problem Guy Kawasaki has a separate reply account @GuysReplies that he uses to reply to followers. Semantically I like tweets that provide useful information or insight, that I can learn something from.
  • I do not follow spammers, but I don’t see any harm in them following me.
  • I don’t just blindly follow people in the hope that they will follow me. I am not in it to build a large following to sell them some goods or services. I go for quality over quantity.
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1. Twitter Trackbacks for Twittiquette: Etiquette of “Follow” on Twitter « Software Technology Trends [tektrends.wordpress.com] on Topsy.com - September 8, 2009

[…] Twittiquette: Etiquette of “Follow” on Twitter « Software Technology Trends tektrends.wordpress.com/2009/09/05/twitiquette-etiquette-of-follow-on-twitter – view page – cached #RSS 2.0 Software Technology Trends » Twittiquette: Etiquette of “Follow” on Twitter Comments Feed Software Technology Trends Metadata and Tagging Shall We Bookmark? — From the page […]

2. On Etiquette and Math of “Follow” in Twitter « Software Technology … | twittersoftware.org - September 12, 2009

[…] Read the original here:  On Etiquette and Math of “Follow” in Twitter « Software Technology … […]


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