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

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

by Kerry Scott on 26 May 2010

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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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy Boland May 26, 2010 at 9:48 am

awww man… now I feel bad. I don’t follow a lot of people back just because I don’t have time to manage my Twitter account.


Kerry Scott May 26, 2010 at 10:02 am

Amy—you don’t use Tweetdeck though, right? You should. You will hate it for the first three days, and then it will make your life 87% better.

You are a perfect example (for me) of the whole following thing. I remember that I followed you when I was brand-new to Twitter and didn’t know a soul there. I found the Minnesota Historical Society on there, and I looked at who was following them (because any friend of theirs is a friend of mine). You followed them, and you lived in Minnesota, and you were new to Twitter too, so maybe you would want to meet new people like I did. So I followed you, and you followed me back. And now I know about broomball, and I know how to cook things I had never even heard of before.

That’s exactly why I like Twitter. I meet cool people who wouldn’t necessarily have intersected with my suburban stay-at-home-mom life. It’s like a periscope to the wider world. I love that periscope.


Amy Coffin May 26, 2010 at 10:03 am

I use Twitter to network with other genealogists, other researchers, librarians, local media, national media, etc. I use it as a news feed and to establish connections. I do not follow genealogy vendors and accounts who do nothing but try to sell their wares or drive people to their site. I want information, contact and interaction and I will only follow those who give me that–genealogy or not.

That being said, I gladly follow you because you’re awesome. :)


Steve Boese May 26, 2010 at 10:04 am

I am with you Kerry – it is just a ‘follow’, it’s not like you are asking for an airport pickup or to be pulled out of a burning car. I do think some people get off on having 10x the numbers of people following them that they actually follow back.


Luckie May 26, 2010 at 10:06 am

Hi There Kerry!

Just speaking for me, I tend to follow people who I’ve developed a rapport with via one of my blogs and/or Twitter. I admit — I do not follow every genealogist in the community and know for a fact, many choose not to follow me (SMILE).

Online communities are REAL communities — they just happen to exist in a virtual state. Like in your real community there are folks you hit it off with immediately and others not so much, the same applies to the genealogy community — I think.

I’m OK with community members who choose not to follow me — I know, I’m not everyone’s “cup of tea”, nor they mine. So long as mutual respect is there it’s all good with me.

Thanks K for posting this — sometimes you just have to speak your mind.



Kerry Scott May 26, 2010 at 10:08 am

Amy—thank you. You are also awesome. And also you’re one of the first genealogists who followed me back.

Steve—Airport pickup. EXACTLY.


Joanne Schleier May 26, 2010 at 10:25 am

Thank you for your post. I am one of those who does not follow many and I never thought anyone would be offended by that. Since you brought this to light, I may have to reconsider. Here’s my justification… I do not have internet on my phone and I’m usually only on my computer to work on something. Albeit, I do have family and friends on Facebook. I used to post there quite a bit but now I generally check in only to see what people are posting and if I have any mail. I don’t use Tweetdeck, I use Flock browser. I am still torn between wanting to be more active on Twitter and not having it take over my life and feeling the compulsion to HAVE to tune in. Oh help!


Kerry Scott May 26, 2010 at 10:39 am

Joanne—I went through a period when I first got a bunch of followers where I HATED Twitter. I felt exactly that way—like it was taking over my life. I felt like I had to read every tweet (like email), and I couldn’t, and it just felt like a huge chore. I nearly dumped it altogether. I finally asked people who were more active and had more followers how they did it. All of them used Tweetdeck (or a similar tool), and all of them said this: Don’t try to read every tweet. You can’t. You read when you are on, and when you’re not on, you don’t. You’re not obligated to read every word everyone says. It’s not like email…it’s more like a party, where you talk to some people here, and then some people over there. You don’t try to follow every conversation in the room at once, and you don’t try to keep up with conversations that take place while you’re not in the room at all. It took me a while to really wrap my brain around that concept, but once it finally clicked into place, it was a huge change how I felt about Twitter. Now I really like it. I don’t have time for it every day (and sometimes I go for several days before I even get to go near it). But the way I use it now fits that pattern, so it’s no longer a source of stress.

GenealogyBits—one thing I just figured out is that you can follow people and add them to lists at the same time. I don’t know how long that feature has been there, but I just now noticed it, and it has made it SO much easier to keep up. I have all of my emails from Twitter go into one email folder automatically (without cluttering up my inbox). Every couple of days or so, I go into that folder, see who is following me, follow back, and immediately add them to the appropriate list. Now I only have to spend maybe five minutes a week on this altogether. If I get too far behind, I get overwhelmed, and that’s not good.

Luckie—I’m not everyone’s cup of tea either. In fact, I’m more of a Diet Coke…a little bit bad for you, and not entirely appropriate for polite company. *wink*


GenealogyBits May 26, 2010 at 10:27 am

I’m pretty bad about following people myself… Mainly, its because I don’t ever log into Twitter via the site and add people- also because I never get around to adding them as they follow. I do eventually get around to logging in and going through my lists.. but it happens about 2-3 times a year.. :P


footnoteMaven May 26, 2010 at 10:37 am

I follow genealogists when Twitter allows me to follow them. There is some ratio between those I follow and those following me. When I exceed that ratio Twitter cuts me off. (I’ve been too busy to really figure this out.)

It’s very frustrating.

To follow you, I had to go through my list and dump someone else. I follow genealogists, libraries, librarians, historical societies, historians, photoshop geeks, certain authors, etc.

Were it not for TweetDeck I’d be insane. Wait, I am insane.



Elizabeth O'Neal May 26, 2010 at 10:49 am

Honestly Kerry, until this morning, when I noticed that your tweets were not showing up in my stream of genealogy people, I thought I *was* following you! I’m so sorry – I quickly remedied my mistake!

I’ve been on Twitter since way before the rest of the genealogy community, so I follow lots of non-genealogy people… since that’s who befriended me at the time. Here’s my problem (and I know others have had this problem too): once you follow 2,000 people, Twitter automatically cuts you off, and refuses to allow you to follow anyone back until 2,000 people follow YOU. It’s their bizarre attempt at “sp*m control.” So every time I hit my limit, I have to head over to Untweeps and unfollow some people… usually the ones who have been inactive for 6 months or more. It’s a major pain, and kind of rude, IMHO. But… what else can you do?

I’ve also noticed that people I *know* I was following – and I know I didn’t unfollow – sometimes fall out of my list. I don’t know if they deleted an account and started a new one or what, but it’s very weird. Same thing at Facebook – people I was friends with fall off my list. Did they secretly “unfriend” me? Who knows??

Actually, I’ve been wondering this very same thing about the “follow” feature on Blogger. Sometimes people just don’t follow you back. I guess people just have their reasons for not following with whatever media they’re using.


Kerry Scott May 26, 2010 at 11:05 am

Elizabeth—I’m 99% sure you were following me back too, so I think that’s a glitch (and I’ve seen that happen before too…I know there are people I’ve followed back, sometimes for a long time with lots of conversations in between, who will write and say, “Why did you unfollow me?” And I didn’t. So that does happen.)

As for the over-2,000 people thing that you and fM are seeing…that’s part of the problem with not following people back. If everyone you follow followed you back, your ratios would be fine and Twitter wouldn’t treat you like a spammer. I think a lot of genealogists are newer to Twitter and are nowhere near 2,000 people, so they don’t realize that they’re doing that to people by not following them back.

I use Friend or Follow every so often, to make sure my ratio doesn’t get too out of whack. I don’t always unfollow people who aren’t following me (because I’d miss out on some good people that way), but it helps. It also helps me spot spammers that I might have missed (because some people will follow you, wait until you follow them back, and then immediately unfollow you so that they can follow more people…and I’m not into that at all).

I don’t use Blogger, so I don’t have a clue how their follow feature works.


Lisa Ellam May 28, 2010 at 9:41 am

Hi Kerry!
I just found you through Tina’s Follow Friday post and I’m so glad I did!

I dipped my toes into the Twitter world and then quickly ran away! It felt a bit overwhelming to me so I haven’t been on since I signed up for my account and began following just a few.

You’ve made me reconsider and give it another look.

I’m loving your blog!



Kerry Scott May 28, 2010 at 9:44 am

Thanks Lisa—and I hope you give Twitter another try. It really is a great way to connect with people.


Amy Boland May 28, 2010 at 9:44 am

Hey, I LIKE diet Coke. And I like you.

OK, on your advice I made good and followed everyone back. Now I need to do something about TweetDeck, which I once tried and which I DO hate. On the bright side, I feel like a better Twitizen.


Karen Packard Rhodes May 28, 2010 at 1:00 pm

I came here on the recommendation of Tina Lyons (her Follow Friday in the Gen Wish List blog), and you do have a fine blog. I have subscribed, and am now following you on Twitter.

The ball is in your court now. (Bwahahahahaaaaaaa!) Ya gotta be careful with those petards, y’know!

I generally follow genealogy-minded folks, folks who have interesting things to say about a variety of topics (I’m even following the Dalai Lama — who’d have thought the Dalai Lama was on Twitter?), and family and friends. I do not follow any entity whose motive for following me is strictly commercial — and we all know what those look like. Well, I do make an exception for such as Ancestry.com or Roots Television. I also understand that not everyone I follow is going to follow me back — I don’t expect the Big Names in Genealogy to follow me (though some are, for some inexplicable reason! Hahaha!).

I don’t use Tweetdeck, though I may look into it, nor have I made up any lists. Just haven’t had time to investigate that, either. Thanks for a thought-provoking blog entry.


Michelle Goodrum May 28, 2010 at 2:17 pm

I am so glad I read your post and all the comments. I have not yet started to Twitter or Tweet or whatever but am thinking about it. This conversation provided some excellent “food for thought” for when I do start. I’m sure it will make me a better Twitizen as a lot of this is so foreign.


Marsha Keeffer May 31, 2010 at 2:35 am

OK – I’m now downloading Tweetdeck because you said it’s good stuff. And I listen to you. Because you’re smart and I like your writing. Though I’ve been on Twitter almost from when it started, I’ve never felt successful there – and haven’t really connected…of course, I do autoposting mostly, which is probably the issue. I’m going to retry – thanks.


Susan Tiner May 31, 2010 at 8:14 pm

I LOVE the big party analogy, never thought of it that way before. I haven’t been on twitter much recently, mostly because (like you did) I am making a major change in direction and want to carefully re-think how social media technologies do or don’t fit in before plunging back in. I did experience some people who followed just to get me to follow then immediately unfollowed. One person in particular (I will not name him as he is a nationally recognized figure) I just checked and to this day he is still following 0 people! I found his stealth twitter strategy kind of insulting, especially because in his position he really ought to know better than to bait less “famous” folks just to get followed.

Going with the party analogy, one thought that comes to mind is that people often complain of parties being overwhelming.


Reverend Chicagodom June 5, 2010 at 2:19 am

Following everyone who follows me would be ridiculous. If someone finds me interesting (I don’t tweet on a particular topic) then they can follow me. I do look at them, and I read more than just a few of their tweets. I read a page or two; I check their website. I get a gist for them. And frankly, if they are a company just looking to expand their Twitter empire, or if they are a spammer, or (and this is the important and most likely one) if they are boring or uninteresting, I don’t follow them.

Using your listening paradigm: just because I like to listen to a comedian like Jerry Seinfeld doesn’t mean he wants to listen to me.

By worrying about who’s following who, you are missing the point of Twitter. It is the Internet, it’s not real life or a party. It is different. The societal niceties and dynamics of real life are not the same online. I have run into people I’ve not followed, or not accepted Facebook friendship, in person. I tell them the truth – that we don’t have enough in common for me to be interested. Or I tell them they’re boring!


Polly Kimmitt November 12, 2010 at 9:27 am

Kerry, you’re brilliant! I am totally rethinking my Twitter habits now that you’ve shown me the light. Thanks! And apologies to anyone I haven’t followed back. I’ll now go and search them out. Or maybe in a few minutes. Next time I’m on Twitter?


Karen Demerly December 29, 2010 at 3:06 pm

I’m with the Reverend on this one. Everyone doesn’t use twitter the way you use it, or I use it – nor should they. Your non-followers aren’t sending a message, other than that they are using it differently than you.


Kerry Scott February 25, 2011 at 7:42 am

I agree that they’re using it differently, and that’s fine.

But I think that it’s important for folks to be aware of general internet culture in order to make informed choices. For example, a generally-accepted tenet of internet culture says that messages typed in all caps are perceived as shouting. Now, that doesn’t mean that you can’t type in all caps. You absolutely can. But you should be aware that many readers will perceive your message as shouting, so you can make an informed decision as to whether to do that or not.

The same is true with Twitter. In most fields, the generally accepted convention is to follow colleagues back (provided they’re not obviously spammers, or using Twitter entirely as a feed reader for their own blog, or have their profiles locked, or whatever). You definitely don’t have to do that; you can use it any way you want. But you do need to be aware that if you refuse to follow a colleague back, they might be offended…because that’s contrary to how the majority of people use the tool.


Lorine McGinnis Schulze February 24, 2011 at 11:38 am

I wonder if others had the same problem I did when I first started on Twitter. I didn’t know whn I had a new follower or who it was. So I couldn’t keep up with the “follow me and I’ll follow you” idea! Eventually I realized I could get an email notification every time someone follows me. And then I quickly have peek at their bio. If it says genealogy or history I follow. I’m not going to look at a few tweets and pass judgment! Good grief everyone is allowed to be boring at some point – at least I hope so or I’m in big trouble


Kerry Scott February 25, 2011 at 7:31 am

That’s exactly how I do it too. I know the email notification thing used to be the default, but I’m not sure it is anymore.


Margel June 14, 2011 at 11:24 am

I had a few moments and somehow ended up at this year old post,but it sure makes me feel terrible. First, I don’t tweet. I have more on my plate now than I can handle. I do have a blog and only follow a few other blogs. I have an aversion to hundreds of posts stacking up in my Google Reader. I don’t know how I would sort/prioritize them, but I never meant to insult anyone. There are a bazillion blogs I like. In fact, I could do nothing else. Really? I have insulted people. I like my little corner of cyberspace where I can chat and write about my dead people. I never knew it came with expectations and obligations, but would never want to insult someone who chose to follow me. Oh dear. . . . .


Kerry Scott June 14, 2011 at 1:44 pm

If you’re not actually tweeting, I think it’s not really an issue. People can tell when an account is dormant. It’s like a party; if you aren’t actually there, you can’t be expected to chat with people…because you aren’t there.

It’s when you’re there and talking all day long, but ignoring or refusing to talk to certain people that I think there’s a greater potential for hurt feelings. It’s like going to the same party and being a social butterfly there, but refusing to talk to some of the guests.

Also, this is about Twitter…blog following is a whole different deal. Most blog readers don’t use that “follow” thing (that’s popular in the genealogy world because so many use Blogger, but outside of this niche, not so much). Just because someone isn’t following a blog visibly via the Google follow feature doesn’t mean they’re not reading it.


Margel June 14, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Whew! That’s a relief.


Judy July 13, 2011 at 11:07 am

How about following us back? @genealogygals



Kerry Scott July 13, 2011 at 11:12 am



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