I tried. Back in the early days of Twitter... a year-and-a-half ago or so... whenever someone followed me I almost inevitably followed the person back. We were all trying to figure out what this new medium of "microblogging" was all about, so I followed most of the very early adopters as we all joined into this grand experiment.
But somewhere along the way I had to stop the immediate reciprocity. As Twitter has grown and more and more people have joined the service, I found there was no way that I could really follow all those who started following me. I simply didn't have enough attention to share. I watched (and marveled) as folks like Robert Scoble, Jeremiah Owyang and Chris Brogan all started following thousands of people. (They still do: Scoble follows 21,000+, Jeremiah almost 6,000 and Chris over 12,000.)
I realized over time that my usage of Twitter was a bit different from that of Scoble and others. I outlined the 10 ways I learned to use Twitter first in December and then again a bit more back in April. For me to use Twitter in the way I do, I like to focus a bit more on the people and services I follow. I do like to scan down through them... and for me that meant following fewer people.
The "Replies" tab in Twitter also helped. I could use that to see who had replied to me publicly with "@danyork" and from there I could learn about people that I might want to follow. (Now I have the same functionality in Twhirl and pretty much never go to the actual Twitter web site... but the purpose is the same.)
The increasing amount of "spam" Twitter accounts has also killed any kind of immediate reciprocity, at least for me. When you can tell just by the name that the account is there purely to sell you something, it's a very easy decision to NOT follow that account. I've found that the spammers are getting a bit less brazen and sometimes when I do look at someone who is now following I find that even with a "normal" name... they are still a spammer.
So what do I do these days when I get a follower notification in email? Or if I see someone publicly replying to me on the Replies tab?
IF I have time (and that's a big "if"), I will go take a look at the person's Twitter page. (And if I don't have time, I sometimes let the notices accumulate and then look through a batch at once... or sometimes admittedly I just don't have the time to look at them.) What am I looking for?
- What are they tweeting about? - If the person is tweeting about things that are of interest to me - and especially if they provide links to interesting articles I haven't seen before - I may follow them then. If all they tweet about is their lunch or what TV show they are watching, I'll usually pass.
- Do they have a website URL in their profile? - What is the site they link to? Do they blog? Are they doing something interesting or with an interesting company or organization?
- Who are they? - If they are a friend or someone I know in some context, I'll often add them.
- Miscellaneous - Sometimes I may add someone purely because I'm not following anyone doing the kinds of things they do... or I think their posts are funny or interesting... I don't always have a solid reason.
Basically I'm trying to figure out... why should I let this person have some of my attention?
It sounds harsh... but to me the reality is that we all have only so many minutes in the day and we all have a zillion other things we are trying to do. If I am going to start following someone... why?
I try to look at folks who follow me... but I often can't... and so over time the ratio of people following me to people I follow has continually grown and grown. I feel bad, sometimes, too, when I wind up talking to someone and they say "I follow you on Twitter but you don't follow me."
What do you all do? What criteria do you place on people you follow on Twitter? How do you respond to follower notifications?