How To Unfollow On Twitter With Class

by Neal Wiser (@nealwiser)

Sometimes in life (and Twitter), you just got to cut your losses and start over. Here’s how to do it right.

ari_herzogLet 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

woman-looking_smUnfollowing 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?

Of course, all this raises a few questions

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

Resources about “Following”

Ari’s posts that inspired this story

Comments

  • May 12, 2009

    I remember when Ari was doing this. He did indeed handle with wonderful consideration. I myself need a follow/unfollow policy. As of right now it’s about 90% instinct. I have a difficult time unfollowing people, but it is necessary for me as I truly want to read and engage with everything in my stream.

    Great job unfollowing like a gentleman, Ari!

  • May 12, 2009

    Oh dear. For me this falls into that huge category of posts that simply overthink Twitter. It’s a social medium, surely we don’t need follow policies and complicated formulae on Twitter any more than we do with friends we network with in real life?
    Typically well written piece Neal, but the process isn’t for me. I’ll stick with instinct – if I’m enjoying someone’s Tweets or find them interesting I keep following, if I don’t I unfollow.

  • May 12, 2009

    I don’t disagree with anything in this article and I think you’ve done a good job here.

    I think it’s mportant to remember that Ari chose to unfollow because he ended up missing the conversations that are of interest. Sometimes we are so obsessed with numbers that we forget the point I’m afraid.

  • May 12, 2009

    Hi I’m new to this so a work in progress. Forgive me if this seems a daft question! If you unfollow someone do they get a message to that effect? I’m already getting a feeling that I’m not keen on being connected to people who are completely transactional about this by sending out automated tweets and ones bragging about different things ( number of followers, no of FF and no of RTs) . The ones I want to let go won’t even notice my absence- unless the system tells them!

    Would this be considered not playing the game? It’s already a lot of stuff to skip through and I’m pretty judicious.

    Advice pl?

  • May 12, 2009

    Neal,

    I think that if you need to get rid of all your twitter users and start over there is a way to do it. But to be honest, take the time and setup groups. Ari is complaining about organizing 500 ppl? Come on. That’s just lazy. Plot out a day to get things organized. Unfollowing is completely counter intuitive and IMHO very distructive. Worst that happens you catch things here and there and you don’t catch EVERY word.

    As for the following policy, I disagree with @mikecj. A following policy is needed especially if you have more than 500 followers. It makes it know that you’re not being a snob for not following people back. A friend of mine in the Internet marketing sphere online @wilreynolds doesn’t follow me under that account. At first I was hurt because I thought we were friends and I looked up to him. But after he made it clear that he only follow people who mostly post about SEO on that account, I understood. Was I being too sensitive… probably but online is a community and a party. How would you feel if you went to a party and tried to have a convo with someone but they ignored you? Upset right? Exactly.

    Wil does a great thing he has another account that he maintains where he will follow everyone and wants to. Because he made his intentions clear there are no hurt feelings.

    Just MHO.

    -Seth

  • May 12, 2009

    You can also use untwollow to unfollow up to 2000 people at once.

  • May 12, 2009

    P.S. Thanks for linking to my article on why I unfollowed everyone. :D

  • May 12, 2009
    Alexei

    I’m sorry. I don’t believe that anyone can truly follow 7,000 people — no matter how well organized they are. 7,000 people is one big blur no matter how many groups you make. This bragging about numbers is just a big lie.

  • May 12, 2009

    Man you’ve done your research! Great list of links at the end. I’ve gone through this debate as well. After reaching 8,000 followers, I cut back to following only the people I really recognized, which was about 600 or so. The problem was, for me, it didn’t really help or change anything except to cause me to lose ground. You’re going to meet new people and add them to your list of friends over time, so growth is virtually inevitable. It boils down to deciding whether you want the number to be large now or later.

    Great advice about having a follow policy and great tools if someone decides to go down this road. For me, it just didn’t really help.

  • May 12, 2009

    I think that Mike is partially right. At times you can overthink Twitter, but I think he oversimplifies things himself. Eventually, at one point or another Twitter is about relationships. Respecting those relationships is essential.

    Thanks for this article on unfollowing with class. Regardless of how you go about it, unfollowing can have long-lasting effects even after the relationship has been severed.

  • May 12, 2009

    Very informative article and some great links. Thanks! My only question is: How can you determine who “Your closest followers”, and who “Your fans” are?

    Cheers,
    Scott

  • May 12, 2009

    Alexei – The article was talking about HAVING 7000 followers… not “bragging about” following 7000… In fact, quite the contrary as Ari had tried, but could not!

    I’ve read and re-read it several times, and don’t see where your comment is valid.

  • May 12, 2009

    Personally, I don’t think that EVERYONE who talks about having X number of followers is bragging, and I assume Alexei wasn’t implying this, but that’s my opinion.

    That said, if you stand way back and observe Twitter, it is a social game with rules and objectives. Some people play by the rules, some don’t. The rules are set by mass acceptance and observation of social communication standards on Twitter. Everyone is playing, whether he or she accepts it or not. Everyone has an agenda or they wouldn’t be there to begin with.

    One of the primary objectives is the promotion of your agenda. But there must be reciprocity (give and take) or your agenda won’t be noticed. The underlying current or mana of Twitter is how well you develop relationships with the right kind of people so that your agenda gets noticed and promoted. It’s like cell division in action.

    In the animal kingdom, you will find herds of animals; each individual’s primary goal is survival. But by living in a supportive community, you increase your own chances of long-term survival.

    The game is afoot!

  • May 12, 2009
    Jeff Hurt
    @JeffHurt

    I think the headline of this post is misleading and that Ari was probably not a good example to use. Class is defined as elegance of style, taste and manner. I think you mean that Ari was transparent and forthcoming about unfollowing people, an element of showing manners, but not necessarily class. I suggest that his process of unfollowing people showed coarseness and inelegance—the opposite of class .

    Why would I state this?
    1) According to Ari’s blog, he valued those he followed so much, including me, that he paid $25 to dump us. H-m-m-m, that’s finesse for you. When was the last time you paid someone else to dump your relationships, I mean followers, and then announced it to the world? We had become a nuisance to him. That’s transparency and honesty, not class.

    2) Today, Ari broadcasts tweets of each person he’s beginning to follow again as if to push in everyone’s face that the rest of us don’t add value to him. That’s not class. That’s annoying.

    3) Ari states in his post Why My Twitter Train Is Stopping, “Once my Twitter friend level is down to zero, I can focus on following those who provide value to me–and so I can share that value to you.” He clearly states that the people he was following did not bring value to him. He was transparent and honest, and his motives were self-serving. Granted, Ari can and should do what he wants and make Twitter work for him, yet I think he could have handled it differently, with class.

    4) I considered myself one of Ari’s customers since I was a consumer of his blog, tweets and a Facebook fan. Using the customer metaphor, I find what he did as a slap in the face. His actions told me that as one of his consumers, followers, I didn’t bring any value to him. Ari recently sent out a bulk email stating that he values everyone who reads his blog, follows him in Twitter or is a Facebook fan. So how does he show that value? He doesn’t. He just keeps broadcasting, wanting more eyes on his stuff so he can eventually make money. Not classy.

    I agree with Scott that there must be reciprocity (give and take) or your agenda won’t be noticed. Ari could have kept all those followers, dumped his groups and added one new group in TweetDeck of the people he wanted to follow closely. That would have been class and showing value to everyone he was following.

    I will say that Ari’s actions have made me think a lot about how bloggers, Tweeps and those with Facebook fan pages show value to their readers. Unfollowing them does not show that you value them.

  • May 12, 2009

    Jeez. It’s only Twitter!

    Just go ahead and unfollow if you want, who cares?

    :)

  • May 12, 2009

    Because we are concentrated on a very specific area, we decided early on to go with a “quality vs quantity” method of developing who we want to follow. So many people will say that it’s rude to not follow everyone who follows you — and maybe that’s true, but it doesn’t work when you’re trying to get across a specific message to a targeted group.

  • May 12, 2009

    In real life we don’t unfollow people; we only get attracted to the ones that we could feel the relatedness. Naturally we tend to get overwhelmed with having too much; that indicates that we must have come from a space of no clarity; losing ground on our intention of playing the game. Re-creating your intention is far more effective than unfollowing; it gives you the focus of who you are being as a player; who you are serving; deriving passion from contributing far exceeds the agenda of taking; yet being a receiver is also a noble role; you keep the loops complete; we belong to the universe; we have preferences, YES, but cutting relationship is not part of the natural law; nature preserves its own integrity; if you are out of integrity; sooner or later, nature will fix itself by re-cycling its rotten garbage. In the mean time; keep playing full out; an opinion is an opinion; interfering in other people’s natural growth is not part of the natural law; adopt, adapt, get results; keep what works.

    Hey! I converted a guy (misunderstood my intention) who gave me a ^bs^ into a ^fan^; all because he did not believe in unfollowing me; that gave me ample time to get support to really get down to heal the relationship and be present to him; that was a breakthrough to me; again; it depends on our agenda; we can only contribute to the extend of us existing in the listening of the other. ^I exist for those for whom I exist.^ In return I get unlimited supply of surprises from people whom I remember so well or those that I don’t remember following at all simply by staying connected vice versa.

    My only concern is that I am too noisy, so please, unfollow me, when we are meant to be connected again, welcome back! #Lovesparks (fear twucks)

  • May 12, 2009

    I have noticed this new twitter strategy… Perhaps “ari” had a fabulous reason… but

    What is looks like to me is people with low self esteem trying to look like a twitter celebrity.
    This is not a useful business plan.

    Oprah, Ashton, and even social media gurus are not cool enough for a one way follow..
    no one is. Get over yourselves. If you can’t keep up with your followers,
    do not follow them to begin with.

    Meanwhile, if you are following someone who is not following you back, ask yourself
    if they are worth it. People will treat you however you let them.. Do not massage another person’s ego.

    Tweet softly but lay a big egg.

  • May 12, 2009

    Hmm not a huge fan of massfollowing.. i wrote about it in this article. check it out and lemme know what you think!

    http://www.infiniden.com/blog/?p=49

  • May 12, 2009

    Ryan, I think you’re on target with your blog post. I’m wondering if age has anything to do with the “quality vs quantity” theory. The people behind our blog are (I assume) slightly older than the typical Twitter demographic, and therefore less concerned about the “popularity” aspect. This is not to say that younger people are more superficial — perhaps the message they’re trying to get across appeals to a broader range of people than ours, and I’m way off base here…

    I think that if you have a Twitter account and intend to use it for more than announcing what you’re having for lunch that day, it pays to take some time before posting your first tweet — and try to understand who you’re trying to reach/who you want to learn from. That way you don’t get mired down in a sea of followers you can’t relate to.

  • May 13, 2009
    jumjum
    @jumjum

    when i received the following tweet by @typoberlin RT ”speaker @JoshuaDavis is a pretty cool Twitter dude: 0 following/1,411 followers/226 updates! Too bad I can’t tell him that way ;-) 8:06 PM Feb 12th from web“ i just had to unfollow this pure sender. he turned out to be also a bit boring broadcasting in which funky gallery on this planet he is again hanging up prints of the same thing over and over again while riding a skateboard. however his community of listeners is growing ( 3,634 Followers until now, still no one worth to follow), but this is not how i understand twitter: talking while keeping your ears deaf.

  • May 13, 2009

    Thank you for a thought provoking article and some very helpful links. I must say, I’ve been a bit mystified when I get an email from Twitter notifying me that someone is following me, I go to reciprocate, and discover (from the fact that I cannot message them) that they’ve unfollowed me already… yes, without saying a word.

  • May 14, 2009

    Come on, let’s be realistic here. :-)

    Nobody can effectively follow hundreds or thousands of people anyway. I see no disrespect in unfollowing such a huge number of people. Once you are following more than a couple dozen active tweeters, the only way to manage them is to divide them into groups and then practice selective reading.

    The only reason people want a lot of followers is so they can promote their agenda–bottom line. I don’t mean to say people are disingenuous, but it’s called “Social Networking” for a reason. You collectively care about everyone who follows you but only a small percentage of people will get your personal attention. The rest is just noise. In fact, probably 90-95% of all tweets are just noise–no matter how meaningful they may be.

    People are so concerned about keeping their daily tweet quota high that they surf the web, find an interesting looking site (but never read a single word on it), and tweet the site just to show they’re being active.

    As I said in my previous comment above, Twitter is a game–a social experiment in progress. There is a hierarchy, a herd mentality, objectives, rules, winners and losers. There is much to be learned from observing the Twitter game.

    I say, be real, be honest, and be yourself. Do what you want and people will like it or not. In the end, I only want people following me because there is true reciprocity and appreciation. I don’t need, nor will I exhibit artificiality.

    Thank you for playing!

  • May 14, 2009

    Rowena makes a great point. I wonder how many Twitter Snipers there are out there. That I know of there is no term called Twitter Sniper but I would define it as:

    People who build their Followers list by following you long enough for you to follow them back, then they drop you.

    I think there’s a lot of sniping going on out there, probably far more than you might think.

    And the game goes on….

  • May 14, 2009

    Interesting fact a tips about fallowing its something that are really relative and funny because there are user that don’t give a lot of good things on twitter and they have a a lot of follower and there are other its juts the contrary.

    Good pots. Than you for it.

  • May 17, 2009

    Why not using PeopleBrowsr for your Twitter activities? I am using all the tools available at the moment and I look forward to having a more stable version of PB as I will be so convenient and help to overcome this kind of problem.

  • May 19, 2009

    How anyone can follow more than a handful of people is beyond me, unless one has several hours a day to machete one’s way through the drivel that is 90% of Twitter to find the occasional posting of interest. I follow 25 people. That’s enough.

  • May 20, 2009

    Well as the old saying goes, it’s an opt-in society. Ari chose to follow that many people without considering them first. If he had auto follow, thats his problem, he really didn”t need to announce to the world he’s a moron.

  • May 20, 2009

    ….. and opt-out. The choice is yours. :)

  • June 24, 2009

    After reading through everything here, to me the conclusion is inescapable: the only way to “unfollow with class” is to do it quietly. I too am guilty of announcing it once in a while, when someone pisses me off, but a public unfollow doesn’t get me “even” with someone who’s rude; it just makes me look stupid.

    From now on, if I have to unfollow, I’ll just do it without a word. If I make a mistake, I can always re-follow, and I know how to admit when I’ve made a mistake. If someone is unhappy with me about an unfollow, I’m not hard to find.

  • June 25, 2009

    Thanks, just what I was looking for! :)

  • July 22, 2009

    If he had used a tool like the latest version of hootsuite which is web based he would have never had the issue with the tweetdeck desktop. Seems like a Tweetdeck FAIL to me.

    This shows the need to create functional Social CRM tools that help organize and aggregate Twitter, FaceBook and Linkedin type connections.

  • August 28, 2009

    Isn’t there a simple way to unfollow just ONE PERSON?

  • August 28, 2009

    Okay I just figured it out. Boy I’m getting e-lazy.

  • January 31, 2010

    i recently developed this app to help you identify who you should unfollow.
    http://www.theunfollowapp.com/

    hope you find it useful!

  • March 4, 2010

    How do I bulk unfollow all who are not following me? Apart from Huitter

  • March 4, 2010

    Why is it that you can only use Huitter three times?

  • April 20, 2010
    John Jameson

    So what you are telling us is that Ari was too disorganized to do it properly the first time, and did not think of the long-term consequences of his idea of following conversations.

    IMHO bulk unfollowing shows me you do not know how to use social media properly.

  • June 21, 2010

    Could you please give http://www.JustUnfollow.com a try? A review on your site would be pretty cool :)

  • July 2, 2010

    New to twitter, and etiquette rules like these – with clear examples and rationale – are extremely helpful.

  • July 6, 2010

    There are no tools now to mass unfollow now as Twitter put its foot down. But there is a workaround:

    http://www.hostnexus.com/blog/how-to-bulk-unfollow-on-twitter/

    Hoping people will find it useful because it took a while to work out. Mass unfollowing of spammers on Twitter should be embraced.

  • July 9, 2010

    The article was very thought out. very interesting read.

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