Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Are you a Social Media Snob if You Do Not Follow Many People on Twitter?

I was reading an interesting article at Social Media Rockstar entitled, "Dear Web 'Celebrity' That Never Follows Anyone Back,". It made me think about some of the celebrities in the Educational Technology world that I live in and how they use Twitter. So I decided to check out some of the most popular people I know on Twitter and test their ratio of Followers to Following. This ratio is simply the number of followers divided by the number of following rounded to the nearest hundredth. The results were really interesting.

To find the most popular people I know I went to WeFollow and looked at people who were tagged as #edtech and #education. I only examined people that were on top of these lists that I follow on Twitter (sorry if I missed anyone who should be in this EdTech Rock Star status). Here are the results (as of 3/31/09):

David Warlickdwarlick44415777.91
Will Richardsonwillrich45481013136.72
Josie Fraserjosiefraser28563837.46
Dean Shareskishareski26474186.33
Lee KolbertTeachaKidd21244904.33
Bernie Dodgeberniedodge21765164.22
Ewan McIntoshewanmcintosh409710863.77
Vicki Daviscoolcatteacher465817762.62
Alec Courosacourosa274512132.26
Chris Lehmannchrislehmann20719202.25
Liz Davislizbdavis217417461.25
Kevin Jarrettkjarrett223618991.18
Drew Buddiedigitalmaverick285424511.16
Lucy Grayelemenous262222981.14
Jeff Utechtjutecht288527151.06
Mike Sansonemikesansone344037810.91

Just to be fair I thought I'd include my own statistics.

Mike Arsenaultmarsenault3933380.86

In the article Brett Borders has this to say about people who do not follow many people:
You might think that non-reciprocation makes you look like an "influential thought leader," but to me it looks like:
  1. You're kind of a noob. Your name might be "big," but your social media interaction and filtering skills are small.
  2. You're kind of a snob. You're more concerned with appearing "popular" than listening and learning from people.
I would imagine most Twitterers have reasons for who they follow and who they do not follow. I personally do not follow everyone that follows me. I tend to look at a users' profile and if they do have similar interest (education, technology use in schools, social media, etc.) I follow them. As you look at the data above almost half of these people have approximately 4 times more followers than people they follow or worse. Is this a bad thing?

I particularly wonder about the top two in David Warlick and Will Richardson. They both have written tons in their blogs and books on top of what they offer on Twitter. David is constantly adding and refining resources that many educators find to be tremendously useful in the classroom (i.e. Class Blogmeister, Citation Machine, and many other resources found at the Landmark Project web site). Both of these guys run a pretty demanding schedule of presentations.

The people on the bottom of the list really do walk the walk and talk the talk on Twitter. Most of them follow as many people who follow them or at least close to half of the people who follow them. I take my hat off to them and hope that someday I'll have built up the resources they have in Twitter.

I only have a fraction of the followers and following that these individuals have. I would mostly attribute that to still being somewhat of a noob and still figuring out how to best filter the information that comes from so many different sources as I try to balance doing my job, reading RSS feeds, Twitter, Facebook, and having a personal life.

What are your thoughts? Should these EdTech Rockstars follow more of the people who follow them? I look forward to your comments.


Anonymous said...

Guilty as charged!! I follow 386 and have 960 followers. To be honest, I found trying to keep up with the number of followers recently got out of control for me. I just couldn't stay up with numbers and so let those e-mails kind of lapse. That being said, I do try to check links now (see my post at http://alicebarr.com) and see who each person is. As Twitter is becoming more main stream, I am getting requests from some pretty interesting places and people. Thanks for this Mike. I'll try to be better!

Peter Malcolm said...

I suspect it depends what you are interested in getting from Twitter. If you have a really busy life and offer interesting content, you might easily discover that many more people follow you than you are able to follow. It might be worthy of more detailed analysis. In the meantime, Brett Borders' numbers might also be instructive: following 2,208 with 2,263 followers.

Thanks for an interesting post.

Liz B Davis said...

Mike - I think this is an interesting question. Because I am always talking about how great Twitter is, I do try to follow people back if they follow me. Because of this, my network on Twitter has grown quite large. Ironically this doesn't make me a great person to follow, especially if you are starting out because there are so many Tweets that I miss.

Also, I find the more followers you have, the more new ones you get. It seems to be an exponential relationship. In the past my ratio was better, but it has become harder to keep up with new followers.

I think everyone has the right to use Twitter as they see fit. Personally, unless someone is sharing amazing things that I don't want to miss, I often don't follow people if they don't follow me because unless I @them they will never be part of my conversation.

Bill Ferriter said...

Hey Mike,

This is an interesting conversation.

I definitely don't follow everyone who follows me----and that has nothing to do with trying to appear like an "influential thought leader."

Instead, it has everything to do with wanting to be able to have meaningful conversations with people. I've found that whenever the number of people that I'm following grows to more than 200, I simply get lost in the streams of information that comes through my Twitter feed.

At that point, Twitter becomes useless, doesn't it?

I think the trap that we fall into when we get involved in any social networking application is judging one's influence or popularity through numbers instead of using a tool to improve our own learning.

In the end, I couldn't care less how many people I'm followed by or how many people that I'm following. What I care about is connecting to a managable network of likeminded colleagues that I can learn from.

Does this make any sense?

Dean said...

What Bill and Peter said. I've given up a long time judging how and why people use twitter. There is no formula, you make it what you want. That's partly why it's so popular.

Unknown said...

Hi Mike -

My rationale for following just about everyone who follows me is pretty much the way you describe. I think as educators, we have an obligation to be modeling life-long, connected learning and to provide support to others in our field. For me, it's not terribly time consuming to hit a follow button. (For the record, there are certain types I will not follow... they tend to be life coaches and/or internet marketers. )

That said, I don't try to keep up with my Twitter stream; it would be impossible to do so. I jump in when I can and when I need to, and I have no qualms with this. I feel the same thing about my newsreader and am not compelled to get my unread items down to 0 every day. I look at these things as resources that I can search or participate in when I have the time. It's just information waiting for me when I'm ready for it!

I guess I shouldn't be judgmental about other Twitterers (who really knows their circumstances and motives), but I am somewhat. I do think that if people are in the public eye with this stuff and are already tweeting, they should consider how they are staying in touch with the people that admire their work. We all should be learning from each other!

Take care,

Lucy Gray

Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher said...

For me, it is a hit and miss with not quite as much forethought as I should have. If people engage in conversation, then I always try to follow everyone who responds. If someone hogs the twitter stream or is just plain rude to an excessive amount, I unfollow as I don't want to be around that. Sometimes the people who are just real downers and get my blood pressure up, I unfollow and then refollow when I Have the energy. (Guess I go on a tweetcation.)

But it all happens so fast, I was shocked when I looked at your numbers because last time I looked I had around 3300 followers -- it really changes quickly, so it is something to take a look at.

I do, however, have a "hotlist" or small group of people that I pretty much read all of their tweets - using tweetdeck. Some people say that they want to really limit who they follow to keep it simple, however, they can do the same thing in tweetdeck and then bathe in the beautiful randomness of a really large twitterstream. To me, that is the best of both worlds.

I toyed with using the program that automatically follows everyone who follows you, but just don't feel like I want to automate something as personal as twitter - so I gotta do it, I guess. It just means that I'm a binge friend added, I guess -- adding several hundred in a day and then just adding replies another day.

Thanks for sharing -- but yes, if someone has thousands of followers and less than a 100 that they follow, I do take that the wrong way.

plu said...

Take this educator's ratio for example http://twitter.com/downes he follows 1 and has over 1000followers. Not prepared to comment on how it fits into the title of the post but I believe, as suggested to me by heyjude, the posts could be through something like Facebook and and he actually never or rarely never visits Twitter.

I admit to doing the same thing in reverse with Facebook - only updating FB status via Twitter and rarely going to FB.

BTW - I try and re follow as many as possible who are relevant and not spam - and the is a lot more of the latter coming through.

But hey I am not in the league of this ladder.

cheers Martin @plu

Teach42 said...

I used to follow every educator who followed me. And I loved it. At any time, I got a wonderful snapshot of what was going on in the EduTwitterverse. However, as wonderful as that was, I was completely unable to follow the tweets of my close friends... and my wife. They were lost amongst the rest of the noise. I know some people use Tweetdeck or other 3rd party Twitter applications to create groups. I don't. I go to Twitter.com 90% of the time and tweet from there. Consequently, I decided to do a major culling and trimmed myself down to 300. Since then, I have added people more organically. I add people that I meet face to face, people that reply to me and capture my interest based on their profile or image, and people that I just find interesting.

It's not that I don't want to be connected to so many people. But I also want to key in on the people that I know personally, that I'm close with, and that I already have relationships with. It's not a closed circle by any means. But the cover charge isn't just clicking 'Follow'.

And if that's so wrong... well, judge me accordingly!

plu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
plu said...

Take this educator's ratio for example http://twitter.com/downes he follows 1 and has over 1000followers. Not prepared to comment on how it fits into the title of the post but I believe, as suggested to me by heyjude, the posts could be through something like Facebook and and he actually never or rarely visits Twitter.

I admit to doing the same thing in reverse with Facebook - only updating FB status via Twitter and rarely going to FB.

BTW - I try and re follow as many as possible who are relevant and not spam - and the is a lot more of the latter coming through.

But hey I am not in the league of this ladder.

cheers Martin @plu

Mike Sansone said...

A great question and thanks for the chart too.

In my view, it's a bit like sitting at Panera. I'm at a table with a few folks and someone walks in and waves. I wave back. I don't necessarily go over to their table and listen to everything they say, but I acknowledge them as they did me.

With Twitter, I skim/scan/save a lot. I probably miss something someone says -- and there are some I don't follow. But if they "say hey" to me, I'm going to "say hey" right back.

I can learn something from everyone.

PS. I dig that I am at the foundation of this list:-) Thanks

Jason Falls said...

You can certainly read into numbers analysis a number of different ways. I would ask each person why the don't follow back to determine if they're snobs or not, though. If the answer is, "I only follow people I know personally," then it's not snobbery, but how they choose to use Twitter. Remember, you can't control who follows you. (Unless you want to be rude and block everyone.)

Fair question to ask though. I'm sure snobbery is sometimes the reason. Nice post.

Emma said...

Interesting post & comments.
I guess my view is nearer to VIcki's than to any others ... but,
Though I use tweetdeck; I don't have a group of "best" friends; I've thought about it but have decided that then I'd just ignore the rest.

I do try to limit who I follow; I can't keep track of too many others.

On the other hand, if I choose to follow someone & they don't choose to follow me back, it's not a big deal to me. There are a couple of people I follow, often reply to them, (& they reply back) - but they're not following me. That doesn't bother me - as I know they're people who aren't that interested in much of what I do.

(Mind you, compared to most, I'm a wee small fish! - just over 100 following & c. 160 followers. Dunno how many of those are marketers etc., )

Emily Kornblut said...

It's worth keeping in mind that posting those following/follower numbers in a prominent place on the page was a design and user experience choice made by Twitter -- it doesn't mean that it's the most important indicator of how the site overall is being used, its value, or any particular person's involvement there. What I love about Twitter isn't just the ability to follow people back, but to follow/participate in conversations on topics I care about, using a combination of Tweetdeck searches and RSS feeds for Twitter searches. Each tool can serve a different purpose for receiving and sharing information and participating in conversations, and personally, they really help to manage the information overload.

As for what demonstrates being a social media snob (or not) on Twitter, I second the previous comments that it's the extent to which you engage in conversations and respond to those who @ you - take the time to thank people who respond to information requests you pose (if you have a high number of followers, you have a much greater advantage in getting responses when you need something), and work to manage the ratio of things you ask your followers for to the value of info you give back to them.

nycrican2 said...

I just wanted to comment that I recently stopped following a few of the edutech rock stars. A few are on your list.

After following some of them for a while, meeting them in person and still not getting a follow back,I guess they were not interested and that is perfectly fine with me.

However, I was totally shocked and insulted when I met one of them recently at a conference FTF and told him, "hi, I am one of your followers". This person laughed and said,"you and everyone else". He then started a conversation with another person. I stopped following. This person is not on your list but is considered a edutech rockstar by many.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about this experience and for sharing.

www.colorbakery.com said...

I think the epithet of "snob" is not only silly, but inaccurate. There's a dearth of emotional investment, there aren't the same kind of wounded feelings had you instead, say, turned down dinner with someone who lived in a trailer home and served, perish the thought, macaroni and cheese covered in generic tin foil. I am new to Twitter, granted, but one thing was clear to me immediately: it is simply not possible to pay attention to, much less respond to, even *absorb* the truncated, brief meanderings of thousands upon thousands of transient remarks that cascade by. I like quality, not quantity. So if someone whose interests reside in the realm of power tools or algebra, it's a safe bet I'm adding nothing to their Twitter experience, and they, nothing to mine.

Keisa Williams said...

Right now I follow 484 people and have 876 followers. I really like to respond to people who tweet directly to me but it becomes impossible to keep up when you have more than...about 200 (which was the last time I remember feeling relaxed about reading tweets). I love being the resource or go-to person when it comes to information. It's what I do. I may not follow back, but I do try to follow those who engage with me in conversation. That is what twitter is all about for me...and bragging about my son...and getting my network to pressure me about my exercise habits...and ;)

Anne Van Meter said...

I've actually, at the moment, more followers than followed, but I think that's more because of the marketers and business-folk who suddenly started following me. The only one's I've actually *blocked* are the free-Mac sleazy girls. I'm not sure what those other folks are doing. I hope I'm driving them nuts with math/education/tech/gardening/family tweets!


Pam said...

I recently heard a presentation by one who might be considered one of the edtech stars talking about Twitter. He enthusiastically talked about how quickly he could get answers to his questions from his PLN in Twitter. However, he is one who actually follows very few people. My question to him would be this...How does he contribute to the networks of all of those who follow him? He never sees their questions, so how can he help them with their problems? Shouldn't this work in both directions?

I understand how difficult it is to keep up with hundreds or even thousands of tweets, but maybe tweetdeck or something similar would offer a viable solution.

Dean Jarvey said...

Today Kevin Jarrett (followers 2236, following 1899) tweeted: "I follow ALL K-20 educators who follow me, so, if I've missed you, please say so in a tweet with @kjarrett."
Clearly Kevin has to use the technology to filter and sort the 1899 people he follows and manage that flow of tweets. But hey - these are people who should know how to use the technology effectively.

I respect that Kevin is willing to welcome newcomers and make them feel at home.

I am @djarvey; if you are an educator and seem interested in edtech, I will follow you. Everyone has something to offer.

Lee Kolbert said...

I completely agree with @teach42's comments. I also had many more people that I followed earlier on and found it very difficult to sift through the stream of noise in order to keep up with those with whom I've developed relationships with.

It takes a long time to figure out how to use something like Twitter and then how to best use it for yourself. Sometimes, I will follow people who I find interesting or who seek me out for conversations. Like many who have replied here, I do not automatically follow back either. Frequently, I just don't keep up with my email enough to click through to check out who everyone is.

I'm sure lots of those 2000+ people who follow me are not even on Twitter anymore or are spammers. Doesn't matter to me and shouldn't matter to you.

I think it's really tough to figure out what people are like in 140 characters or less, so I find it interesting that you were able to figure out that I am a snob. :) There's a lot of great networking that comes out of using Twitter. So, why apply rules and then throw sand on those who don't play by them?

Kevin Jarrett said...

Hi Mike! Thanks for the post. I think you're all wet, though. ;-) My response is here:



Richard Byrne said...

This is an interesting topic and one that I've often thought about, but blogged about because it doesn't quite fit with the mission of my blog.

I understand the often made point, it's hard to filter through the noise if you follow too many people. When I was at the 700 mark, I considered not following any more people. Now that follow 1500+ I can't see myself not continuing to add to that list. I don't follow everyone that follows me, but I do follow most because I look at every person I follow as an opportunity to learn something new.

Probably 75% of those I follow are educators. The remainder come from a wide variety fields. I do this because of the way that my mind works. I often take things that aren't initially designed for education, but can be modified for classroom use. Therefore, I feel it is important for me to follow people outside of education.

Back to the question of does not following people back make you a social media snob? It doesn't inherently make you a snob, but it does seem to be a bit "unfair" to ask 4000+ people to "say hello to teachers at conference X" if you put yourself in the position of not being able to repay the favor because you don't follow three quarters of the people who help you. That said, I still "say hello" to those conference participants because I think that Twitter is a valuable learning tool for teachers.

Richard Byrne

Stephen Downes said...

I have 1062 followers and follow only one account - the Twitter account that everyone follows by default.

Were Twitter the only media in existence I would probably want to reconsider my following stats.

But I am probably the most plugged-in person on your list, and I have a wide variety of content sources. Ultimately, using my methodology, I 'follow' tens of thousands of people, not merely a few hundred.

People who puff about the lack of 'following' by some people on Twitter should get off their high horse. I know how to use hash-tag and 'at' searches; I am not illiterate. I receive numerous Twitter posts in my RSS reader every day. So I don't follow you personally - what do you want, a personal nametag? I use Twitter intelligently, and not just to increase my own popularity or list of followers.

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