Amber Naslund’s How Twitter Works Today… And How I’m Using It Now got me all riled up about something I didn’t even realise bothered me as much as it does. This is the part that really got to me:
Let me explain this very clearly: a Twitter follow is not a validation of your worth as a human, nor is it a stamp of approval from someone online that you’re awesome or not. If you even slightly see it that way, you might need to reset some priorities.
Twitter is simply a tool, a mechanism. Everyone uses it differently, and heavy users like me need to rejig the system once in a while so it continues to work and stay manageable. In short, the system of follows and lists and DM access and what is useful to me to pay attention to is not about you. In this case, it’s about me and what makes Twitter valuable for me personally.
You get to say the same thing about your experience, and you get to shape it according to your own needs. Hell, unfollow me and put me on a list (or don’t) if you want. Your Twitter is yours to shape, and you don’t owe me anything either. I’d wager that a good portion of the people I’m most interested in at a professional level don’t follow me back. And who cares?
I’ll be honest — the decision to follow someone on Twitter makes me really nervous. It feels like a huge commitment. Because if I realise a few days down the line that I’m not as interested in someone’s stream as I thought I would be, I find it very difficult to unfollow them — people take this stuff very personally. So when I find someone I might want to follow, I usually put them on a list first for a few weeks, and if I find myself clicking on a few of the links they tweet, I’ll go ahead and follow.
But it’s not a foolproof system, and every time I realise I actually don’t want to see this person’s tweets in my main timeline I feel trapped. I know I shouldn’t feel bad about unfollowing, but I do. The point Amber makes is so true, and bears repeating: “a Twitter follow is not a validation of your worth as a human, nor is it a stamp of approval from someone online that you’re awesome or not.”
The fact is that I use Twitter as a business tool, not so much as a way to communicate with friends. That means that I have very strict criteria for the kind of stuff I want to see in my timeline. I don’t want to see Foursquare checkins, I don’t want to see constant updates about a topic not related to my work, and I don’t want to see only tweets about a person’s product/app. And I’m sorry if that seems selfish, but to paraphrase what Amber says in her post: I get to choose what makes Twitter valuable for me, just like you get to do the same with your stream.
I like Chris Bowler’s distinction between the two main ways to use Twitter in his post The Purpose Varies:
One fact that I do my best to keep in mind is this: there are two very different ways to use Twitter. Option A is as a social tool to interact and joke around with others, to connect. Option B is to use it as a source of sharing information, usually in the form of links to content or pithy blurbs of opinion.
Some people like the service for one, but not the other. Some people manage to strike a lovely, harmonious balance between the two. The catch is that — in my opinion — we mostly want to follow folks who use the service in the same way we do.
I’m an Option B guy myself. I still love having conversations with people who use it more in the Option A way, but I’m not going to follow them. And one more time, with feeling, “a Twitter follow is not a validation of your worth as a human, nor is it a stamp of approval from someone online that you’re awesome or not.”
So let’s agree that we’re allowed to be selfish about how we use Twitter. I’ve learned from experience that I go insane with information overload if I follow more than 200 people, so I’m not going to break through that barrier. And you get to make your own rules, and follow and unfollow whoever you want. That is still, after all these years, the simple beauty of Twitter’s follower model.
So hey, let’s be selfish, and find the measure of our self-worth somewhere else.