Sometimes in life (and Twitter), you just got to cut your losses and start over. Here’s how to do it right.
Let me tell you the story of Ari Herzog (@ariherzog). Some of you may follow Ari (whose blog, AriWriter I highly recommend) and may have seen his recent announcement that he was declaring Twitter Bankruptcy.
Twitter Bankruptcy is basically the Twitter version of Email Bankruptcy where someone is so inundated with emails that they cannot realistically process them all. In Twitter Bankruptcy, instead of emails, the problem is having to process too many people (decide to follow, organize in groups, etc.) and unfollowing everyone in order to start over.
Although this may seem like an antisocial thing for a social media evangelist like Ari to do, for Ari this was an act born out of necessity.
What Happened Was…
Ari recently reinstalled his OS (including Tweetdeck) and quickly realized that rebuilding all his Tweetdeck groups was going to be extremely time consuming (he was following about 500 people). As a solution, Ari decided to follow everyone. But instead of following groups of individuals, Ari’s strategy was to follow conversations where the people whom he wanted to pay attention to could be found, along with other new voices. Ari also felt that following everyone would be the best way to, “grow my network, gain potential value from more people and… pass that value on to you (the follower).”
At first, Ari was quickly achieving his goals. He also increased his Followers from about 5900 to about 7000 in only two weeks. But then Ari encountered a problem; Twitter’s Following Limits were severely limiting his ability to follow more people.
After carefully weighing his options, Ari concluded that he had no other choice but to unfollow everyone. This would give him the opportunity to rebuild his network from scratch and allow him to restore control and vitality to his tweet-stream.
Looking for Mister Right
Unfollowing is part of life on Twitter. It happens every day and it happens to everyone. It can sometimes be hard to be unfollowed (and even to do the unfollowing), but no one should take it personally as the reasons are as varied as your followers.
However, what doesn’t happen every day, at least not yet, is Mass, or Bulk Unfollowing, which is the unfollowing of large numbers of people. It’s a drastic step and the decision shouldn’t be taken lightly. In a recent post on Search Engine Journal Gerald Weber makes some excellent points about Why It’s a Terrible Idea To Unfollow Everyone On Twitter. To summarize, Gerald rightly states that mass unfollowing:
- Burns bridges with people whom you may need in the future.
- Doesn’t allow you to truly connect and is like having a one way conversation.
- Diminishes Twitter whose value is in the interconnectedness of the entire community.
With that being said, if you are going to perform a mass Unfollow, take Ari’s example and do it right. So, what exactly did Ari do?
- First, Ari established a Following Policy so that his Followers would understand why he does, or does not, follow them back.
- Second, he clearly communicated his intentions to his followers, explaining in detail what he was doing and why he was doing it.
- Third, he made them part of the process by asking them for their ideas and opinions.
Of course, all this raises a few questions
- Did Ari have to put so much effort into informing his Followers?
Of course not, but Ari respects his followers. Also, Ari is a rare social media expert who actually practices what he preaches. He used the tools of social media, in this case Twitter and his blog not only to inform his followers, but to include them in the process.
- How many people will notice that Ari stopped following them back?
Who knows. The reality is that now it’s commonplace for users to be following many hundreds or thousands of people. Unless you’re a high profile figure, few people beyond a few hundred of your core-Followers will probably even notice that you’ve dropped them.
- Why didn’t Ari just backup his data and restore it?
I talked with Ari while writing this post. Ari said that he did backup his documents, but it didn’t occur to him to backup Tweetdeck. It’s understandable; with almost all Twitter apps being web-based it’s easy to forget that when something is stored locally.
- So, why was what Ari did significant?
Because in today’s world where common courtesy, much less simple civility, is in short supply, someone with thousands of followers, the vast majority of whom he probably never interacts with, demonstrated tremendous respect and courtesy towards all of them.
- Would you do the same?
This isn’t just a rhetorical question. After all, how many people would really go half as far as Ari did? All things being equal; Ari’s was a classy move.
How To Unfollow With Class
So, you need to unfollow a large number, if not all, of those whom you are following. Here’s how you do it, with class.
- Establish a Following Policy.
All you need is a simple statement of why you will, or will not, follow someone. While some feel any policy is too much, I’ve found having a Following Policy allows me to both clarify what I want to get out of the relationship and allows me to set some “ground rules.” I’ve written previously about establishing a Following Policy here on Twitip. Also, you can use my personal Following Policy as an example.
- Ask yourself why you are cutting yourself off from your Followers.
Following is a relationship with a real person, especially if that person follows you back. As such, you should have a good reason for unfollowing because you are cutting yourself off. While that person can still reach you through “@” messages, you will miss everything else they tweet.
- Know the risks.
Beware; some people may think less of you and even think that you aren’t organized enough to handle something as simple as following. This could even hurt your career if someone you unfollow is a coworker, client, etc.
- Decide how deep you want to cut.
Do you want to cut out everyone, or just select groups of people? Try trimming first before going nuclear.
- Decide whom to tell.
While you should tell everyone, there are several tiers of people you must make sure to tell.
- Your Closest Followers
- Your Friends & Family
- Your Co-workers & Clients
- Your Fans
- Clearly explain why you are unfollowing.
Keep things in perspective. You are not breaking up with a “significant other.” The best notifications are short and to the point, unlike this post . However, it’s still a relationship and a clear message shows that you respect your followers and reduces the chance that you will damage that relationship. Just realize that some Followers will be offended no matter what you do. It’s unfortunate, but it’s reality.
- Decide which Channels you want to use for notifications.
If you are unfollowing from a specific platform, notify people on that platform. Writing on someone’s Facebook wall that you’re unfollowing them in Twitter will only cause confusion (and may make you look stupid). You can also send an email to specific, important followers such as an employer, client or family member. But remember, whatever channel you choose, don’t assume that everyone will see the notification. Expect that most won’t.
- What Tools can you use?
The following is a list of just some of the services, tools and resources for bulk unfollowing and backing up your Twitter account.
For Mass/Bulk Unfollowing:
For Backing up Twitter Accounts:
- How To: Sync settings between multiple TweetDeck installs on Windows
- How to transfer TweetDeck settings between two computers
- TweetDeck Export and Import Group Script (I do not vouch for the quality of code. Use at your own risk)
- How to Download Your Twitter Archive
- Backup your friends and followers on Twitter
- Twitter Back-up Tools
Resources about “Following”
- To Follow Or Not To Follow, That Is The Question
- Neal Wiser’s Following Policy
- How to Follow Everyone Back on Twitter Without Ruining Your Experience
- The Twitter Followholic: An Epidemic
- Prevent your Twitter stream from becoming a flood
- Why I Unfollowed Everyone on Twitter and Why You Should Too
- Pruning Your Twitter Followers
Ari’s posts that inspired this story