Chris Brogan unfollowed me on Twitter, and it made me sad.
That sentence probably needs some unpacking; let me start from the beginning.
Twitter has been really important for me in terms of building a career. It's connected me with business partners (like Jennifer McCabe), community co-founders (like CoHealth's Fran Melmed) and even potential employers (before I joined WCG). But more importantly, it's started literally hundreds of really great relationships. It has enhanced hundreds more existing relationships. In fairness, most of my really strong twitter relationships have a real-life component (although not all do). But that doesn't lessen the impact of the tool in terms of my general connectedness.
So when people follow me on twitter, I take it really seriously. That's harder now than it was a year (or two) ago because there are so many more spammers and 'bots out there who are either a) trying to sell you something, b) trying to hack your system, or c) trying to build an attractive-looking number of followers for one of the reasons above.
I follow people on twitter because I am interested in what they're saying ... or what it's likely they'll say, based on their bio, the lists they're on, or people we know in common. By following them, I'm making an investment in them. Whenever I follow someone, I always hope that they'll follow me back ... because that opens the possibility that we'll form a relationship, and begin to get to know each other. It doesn't always happen (in fact, it's a relatively rare thing), but if we *don't* follow each other, there is no possible way for that relationship - or value exchange, call it what you will - to happen.
Anyway, for the last couple of years, I've been using a tool called contax.io to manage my followers (it used to be called MyTweeple; it's recently been revamped and rebranded by its very clever creator Shannon Whitley). Contax.io makes it really easy to go in and look at the people who've started following me that week, and to decide whether I want to follow them back (sometimes), "hide" their profile from my contax.io list (so I won't have to sort through them again next week - this is what I do with bots) or block them (which is what I do with pornographers and obviously malicious spammers). It works really well for me.
And because of the proliferation of accounts that are NOT designed to allow a relationship between two individuals, one of the ways I spot the bots and spammers is to use a tool called twunfollow, which tells me who has unfollowed me that week. You see, bots and spammers like to follow an account, hope to get a follow-back, and then unfollow after a few days. When I see that's happened, I know I don't want to follow them.
But every once in a while, a friend unfollows me. And that always makes me a little sad. And it brings me back to the fact that my friend Chris Brogan was on that list today. To be fair, Chris and I are not bosom friends ... but we've broken bread and shared drinks together on multiple occasions, so even though we haven't seen each other for a while, I was sad to be losing the ability to stay in tune together on twitter. I was curious to see if Chris was unfollowing others as well ... and saw that he had unfollowed practically EVERYBODY (over 100,000 people for him). That was curious enough that I went out to look at his blog, and discovered his post, The Great Twitter Unfollow Experiment of 2011. And that made me feel better. Social media is like real life ... you make friends; you drift away from friends. Sometimes you have to disconnect in order to get closer. But the point is ... if you value the channel, and the relationships it brings, don't be lazy about managing the people who've "invested" in you by following you ... do them the courtesy of at least considering whether they're somebody you'd like to follow back. As I've found so often, it's worth the effort.
Want to be sure I am clear ... I mentioned Chris here because he was helping me to make a broader point, not because I'm concerned about him unfollowing everyone. On the contrary, I think that Chris is one of the most generous, likable guys in this business ... and he's doing what he needs to do (please read his blog post, linked above, for an explanation). He's a prince of a guy, and he takes a lot of unwarranted abuse. Want to be sure this post isn't interpreted like that by anyone.