What’s The Deal With Not Following People Back On Twitter?

I hesitate to even write about this, because I’m not looking for drama.  But I really do want to understand this:

Why is it that so many genealogists won’t follow you back on Twitter?

I don’t get it.  In my experience, genealogists are usually exceptionally nice people.  In fact, once two people determine that they’re into genealogy, they usually hit it off.  So why would a genealogist not follow back another genealogist with “genealogist” right there in their bio?

This is a new thing for me.  I’ve been on Twitter for a couple of years, but I only recently joined the genealogy world in the past few months.  At first I thought maybe it was just me, but I’ve started asking other people (privately), and no.  It’s a thing.  In fact, I don’t think people are realizing how many folks they’ve inadvertently offended by this.  Think about it:  someone follows you.  That act says, “I want to get to know you and hear what you have to say.”  When you don’t follow back you’re saying, “You are welcome to hear me, but I don’t ever want to hear what you have to say,” or “I’ve looked you over and decided you are not worth my time, so I’m going to ensure I never hear you.”

To me…well, that’s harsh.  If someone came up to you at a party, you wouldn’t say that to them out loud.  You’d probably chat with them a bit, and if you didn’t like them, you’d find a way to move on.  You wouldn’t explicitly say, “You can listen, but don’t talk to me.”  You wouldn’t ask to know what the last 20 sentences they said were, and then judge them on that.  People don’t behave like that.  And the whole point of Twitter is that it’s exactly like a big party, where you talk to strangers and see who you hit it off with.  That’s why it’s different from Facebook.

But that’s what I’m hearing from people.  I’m hearing people say, “I look over their last few tweets, and if I’m not interested, I don’t follow back.”  What if their last few tweets were about a specific topic, or a conversation with someone?  Or I’m hearing, “I don’t have time to listen to everyone.”  Are you using Tweetdeck (or another Twitter management tool)?  Do you realize you can sort people into columns so that you can prioritize what you read?  Are you trying to read every single tweet?  Because your head will explode if you do that.  Or I’m hearing, “I only follow people I know.”  That’s fine (although I think you’re missing out), but then you should tell people that so they don’t recommend you to others.  I cringe a little when I see people who recommend friends on Follow Friday, and I know those people don’t follow anyone back.  It’s embarrassing to tell your friends to follow someone when they’re just going to be essentially told, “You’re not worth following back.”

I don’t follow everyone back either.  In fact, I have about 1,100 followers, and I only follow back about 700.  These are the people I don’t follow:

  1. People who are naked in their photo and/or bent over something that is not a headstone (you know the kind I mean)
  2. People who only post automated links to their blog posts and nothing else (not that there’s anything wrong with that necessarily…I just prefer to subscribe to blogs via RSS instead of via Twitter)
  3. People who post a lot of ugly political stuff (a little politics is fine…calling for the assassination of the President is not)
  4. People who are very obviously spammers
  5. People who are a company (not a human) selling something in which I’m not interested.  For example, if the bio has only a company name (no human at all), I consider whether it’s a company I like (or might like).  I follow Ancestry because I am a customer and I use their product daily.  I don’t follow Chuck’s BBQ in Whateverville, Texas (because I’m a vegetarian who lives in Wisconsin).

Other than that, I generally follow back (and if you meet this criteria and I’m not following you back, let me know, because I probably just screwed up somewhere).  I follow everyone who has the word “genealogy” in their bio, because I am interested in genealogy, and I don’t want to say “I never want to listen to you” to a colleague.  If I ended up sitting next to them at a conference or something, I’d be mortified.  Once I follow them back, I put them into various columns in Tweetdeck (genealogists, HR people from my old HR life, mommybloggers, local people, people I know in real life, etc.).  If I’m not sure where they fit, I put them in a “new person” column.

I don’t try to read every tweet (because that’s just not possible…I’m not even on Twitter every day).  I do try to read some stuff from everyone I follow.  If I don’t like what they have to say, I can always unfollow them…but I want to at least give each non-porn non-spam non-crazy human a chance before I make that judgment.

I don’t see following people back as an endorsement or a commitment to read everything they write.  I see it as an opportunity to meet people I wouldn’t have otherwise.  Some of the coolest people I know on the internet are people I met on Twitter.  The beauty of it is that it’s a little random.  That’s why I like it so much better than Facebook (well, that and the lack of Farmville, quizzes, and photos that I wish I could un-see because some people do not look as good drunk and shirtless as they think they do).

Now, it’s a free country.  Folks are free to use these tools any way they want, and while my method works for me, it might not work at all for you.  But I’m concerned that some genealogists are not completely clear on the message they’re sending to colleagues…and I’m also genuinely curious, since this is so different from my experience with Twitter in the non-genealogical world.

So, genealogists—enlighten me, please.  How do you use Twitter?  Why are you there?  What do you get out of it?  Why do you follow (or not follow) people back?  Are you okay with the message you’re sending to your followers who you don’t follow back?

Photo by josh.liba

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