One of my most popular post of all time is is my twitter follow-back policy. It took me a long time to develop that policy, tweak it, and think about it. Before I ever wrote about the policy, I tweeted about it. And both the kudos and stark resistance I encountered helped me refine it.
Finally, one day, I woke up with something on my mind and the post poured out. It’s from the heart. It really works for me. Most people who comment or tweet me about the post tell me they love it, or at least most parts of it. About ten percent tell me they hate it. Some are extremely courteous, like Ubaid Ansari. Others treat me like you would Attila The Hun, which used to hurt quite a bit.
Now? Well, passionate personal attacks are still hurtful to me, but I guess I’ve grown used to them over time. Plus, I take solace in this Hollywood axiom:
“If they aren’t talking about you, you’re doing something wrong.” – Unknown
Unknown was pretty smart.
Anyway. In my policy, I state that I follow everyone back, with just a few caveats, like obvious spambots or people who have never tweeted.
The result of following everyone back is that I now follow over 300,000 people. So – fairly, I think – several people per week point out to me that if I’m following that many people, I can’t possibly read most of their tweets (and I actually say this in my policy). If I’m not reading them, these astute folks point out, then maybe my follow-back isn’t that sincere after all.
Maybe. Perhaps all my follow-back does to people is (a) say “thank you for your kindness” and (b) free them up to follow more people – the mechanics of which I explain in my follow-back policy.
But there’s more to my policy than that. Twitter really works for me. And – because of the resistance from my policy’s detractors – I’ve thought long and hard about how I experience Twitter differently than many folks do.
I think I finally stumbled upon something that will help me articulate the difference. Here goes.
Most people experience Twitter as I once did… as a binary equation: either you’re part of the 200 million strangers using Twitter, or we follow each other and you’re part of my small in-group. It’s yes/no; friend/stranger.
That’s how we do Facebook and LinkedIn: I know you or I don’t; you’re in or you’re out. I grew up in the Northeast, just a bit outside NYC. All the meanest New Yorkers were exiled to my town. And their children? Those were my peers. We Yankees are raised to ask, “Do I know you?” These are my people. We don’t like strangers.
I never quite fit in there (and as a kid, I got beaten up a lot). To me, one of the great joys of life is meeting strangers, even if just for a minute before flitting on to the next new thing. Ever watch a Labrador retriever meet new dogs? …Or new humans? …Or new sticks, even? That’s me.
So – at long last – here is how I regard following 350,000 or more people on Twitter: I think of my interactions as a series of concentric circles, with me in the center. (As you read this, put yourself in the center of your own concentric circles).
- Beyond the widest circle is everyone I have yet to meet, and there are a couple hundred million of them. I want to meet them all!
- Then there are all those thousands of people I follow back. They and I have followed each other, which is at least a cursory kindness – like smiling at a stranger you pass on the sidewalk. “Hello, fellow human”, you each say with your eyes. “You matter”, as my idol Angela Maiers likes to say.
- Now that I have a person in my widest of wide circles, I will take any excuse to draw them in closer to my next circle. I’ve even created a Twitter list called “The Circle” which has many, many of these folks in it.
- If someone engages me in anything like a genuine conversation, they’re in. Not “Thanks for following”, and certainly not “Like my Facebook page.” Rather, anything even remotely thoughtful, no matter how lame, earns access. “You live in Florida? I went to Disney in 1976! Have a great day!” Boom, you’re in!
- This list, “The Circle”, is where I spend a lot of my time. I often re-tweet fascinating links and remarks from my friends there. But that’s still not all.
- Once you’re on my real radar and I’m on yours, we often converse, albeit 140 characters at a time. Over time – years, often – a true friendship forms. That’s how I met many of my best friends from around the world in the past 4 years.
- I could go on with this all day, but I think you get the point.
Maybe when I follow someone back, some think that’s bogus and completely insincere; a false gesture that means less than nothing, as my detractors contest. Maybe.
But that’s not where I’m coming from when I do it. To me, following back is a simple gesture of courtesy, of recognition of another’s kindness, and of their humanity.
And it’s an invitation! “Now you’re part of my massive extended family”, it says, “Welcome! Let’s get to know each other, cousin!!” If someone never engages further, that’s fine. If they wait a year before connecting any deeper, that’s cool too. I’m the host who’s let you into my party, to meet my friends and join the conversation. If you’re satisfied at that level, then how cool is that?!?!
Revile me for how I experience Twitter if you like. But please know this: I find it extremely enjoyable, and I want you to as well. That is my only aspiration for you.
As I say all the time, “No pressure, only fun.” You define fun on your terms.
If that includes me, I’m honored.
For another of my top social media posts, try It’s Time to Kill #ff Dead!
This post first appeared on Ted’s previous blog.