A recent flurry of Tweets between me and @HarvardSocial about the ideal number of Twitter users you should follow got me thinking.
I blogged a while back about Dunbar’s limit, an idea from anthropology that we are hard-wired only to manage about 150 interpersonal relationships at a time. And a recent Wired article commented on how following about 100 Twitter users is engaging and useful, and even a few thousand could still be worthwhile. But above a certain number, say tens of thousands, the conversations start to die off. We are back to mass media, not social media. (Here’s another article: Facebook’s “In-House Sociologist” Shares Stats on Users’ Social Behavior)
Although I was a relatively early adopter, having joined Twitter pre-Obama and Oprah, I still have only about 850 followers and in turn follow about 450. And these quantities have worked for me.
For me, the utility of Twitter to me has always been about the quality and tenor of conversations. Numbers are useful to see if you are connecting with your audience, but obsessing over the numbers is like masturbation. It satisfies an urge, but is ultimately unrewarding.
So what’s a user to do? New users especially are confounded over how to best use Twitter (hence the widely reported high drop-out rate of so-called Twitter Quitters).
One suggestion is don’t follow the “big” names. So out go @mashable, @guykawasaki, @scobleizer, @techcrunch, @chrisbrogan and so on. It’s not that these Twitter stars don’t provide value. But their tweets are so widely retweeted, that people you follow will pick up on the important conversations and tweets, which will filter to you in any case. And when you retweet the most widely retweeted tweets (follow that?) your tweets clutter up your followers’ Twitter streams.
Much better, IMO, is to follow a few dozen users with whom you can have rewarding exchanges: who will listen to you, who trust your thoughts and ideas, and respond in useful and thoughtful fashion. Isn’t that the basis of all meaningful relationships?
“Follow then the shining ones, the wise, the awakened, the loving, for they know how to work and forbear.” — Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta, the founder of Buddhism, 563-483 B.C.