The slipperHow to make sense of Twitter follows and unfollows

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The Slipper

A couple of weeks ago I wrote my most hypocritical tweet ever:

Follows are not love. You are as lovable with 5 followers as with 50,000. You are not your Twitter feed.

(I just spent half an hour searching for that tweet before discovering I twittered it on my dad's birthday. Let's not dig too deep into that one.)

Hypocritical because, as Rob pointed out, I spent the rest of the evening cooing over the various retweets. "So follows aren't love," he asked, "But retweets are?"

You, your therapist and your much-vaunted "real world" friends may agree that my attention to retweets is misplaced, and that the world of social networking is mere posturing and business schmoozing. And on the surface, that diagnosis all-too-often rings true: surfing through the back-and-forth on Twitter reveals an apparently endless stream of here's-who-I-know, here's-what-I-do.

But if Twitter's just a forum for professional advancement or brand marketing, how do you explain services like Qwitter and Twitterless? These are services that help people track unfollows: the Twitter users who used to follow you, but don't anymore. Tracking unfollowers suggest some level of personal obsessiveness, some kind of personal stake, in who follows (or unfollows you). I should know: I'm a leading obsesser.

Of course, following unfollows is just the mirror image of everyone's favorite Twitter past time: collecting new followers. Last night, Rob and I had some fun exchanging examples of the kinds of lame "please follow me" messages that are becoming all too standard on Twitter. Messages like:

Follow me plus my five most recent followers. Each of them will then follow you...and so on.. for 5,000 total follows!

The value of our tweets is sure to appreciate, and your children will treasure them as family heirlooms forever.Follow us today!

I know you're the guy who keyed my car. I could sue. But all I'm asking is that you follow me on Twitter.

Little Jimmy declined our request to follow. Three days later, he lost his lucky bottle cap.

I followed Social Signal just last month, and I've already lost 10 pounds! Please keep those slimming tweets coming!

For each new follower, we'll let one puppy live.

Rob observed that the corollary of that last threat is the following:

For each unfollow... I get a new puppy slipper.

From this observation was born a new badge of honor: The Slipper. Tonight I awarded the slipper to a bunch of folks who Twitterless tells me recently unfollowed me. I flagged my message with the hashtag #theslipper and linked to the image I shamelessy appropriated from Embroider USA Florida.

And yes, you can look at The Slipper as a sign of the depths to which I've sunk in equating follows with love -- if not intellectually, then emotionally.

But I want to use The Slipper to do the reverse: to dig myself out of the trench that so many of us are now in, in which we treat Twitter follows and unfollows with the same levels of desparate neediness that used to be limited to hookups and breakups.

To that end, I see The Slipper as a way of making peace with the tides of follows and unfollows; a way of acknowledging that an unfollow is as likely to reflect an overall triage of excessive follows as a response to my latest tweet about Inbox Zero or @lilsweetie.

And for those who've received The Slipper, accept it with my gratitude: for taking the time to follow me in the first place, for thinking consciously about how to use Twitter to pay attention to the people that matter most to you, and of course, for reminding me that follows are not love.

Are you gnashing your teeth whenever you lose a follower? Try sending them The Slipper.

Just send a tweet to @formerfollower with the hashtag #theslipper and the link




Raul says

August 10, 2009 - 12:42am


You know I adore you. That's just beyond obvious. But this post really made me love you more (by the way if you ever need to find that tweet again, I favorited it, so you can find it in my Twitter favorites).

A few weeks back (actually during Blogathon) I wrote about the whole follow/unfollow thing, and I agree - follows aren't love. I would argue even re-tweets aren't love.

I live in my @ replies. I love the conversational nature of Twitter. I know lots of people who have unfollowed me. Some of those are actual close, intimate friends of mine. Boris Mann doesn't follow me. I don't follow him either. And we like each other a lot.

I can completely see how being unfollowed, by its very nature, can be heartbreaking. It's the breaking of a formerly-existing bond.

At this point in time, I think I'd be a bit heartbroken if I got unfollowed by a close friend. But seeing as we are connected through Facebook, Flickr, etc. it's kind of difficult to really be disconnected from people. As Rebecca Bollwitt (who is also one of my really good friends) once told me, when I was joking about follows and unfollows - "I got your number".

It's true. As long as there is SOME form of connection, things are all good.

As always, all my love and respect to  you and Rob. Many hugs.

Sweton T Fleming says

August 10, 2009 - 4:35am

hi...twitter or quitter i couldnt understand what you tried to say in your post........

Rick Hardy says

August 12, 2009 - 12:38am

Alexandra, you are too funny. Thanks for humorously describing a small part of the social media journey, and for uncovering my own similar insecurities. Although I'm now at the place where unfollows don't bother me (well, almost--I don't use Qwitter or Twitterless because I just don't want to know), and I know that Twitter love is not love, I'll continue to (try to) enjoy the Twitter experience and be thankful for RTs. :) If I do summon up the courage to find out who is unfollowing me, I'll send a slipper to them. What a funny invention! 

Twitter Trackbacks for How to make sense of Twitter follows says

September 1, 2009 - 3:54pm

[...] How to make sense of Twitter follows and unfollows | Social Signal – view page – cached Follows are not love. You are as lovable with 5 followers as with 50,000. You are not your Twitter feed. — From the page [...]

Jamie says

July 13, 2010 - 10:05am

lol. Just found this post on a google search for API calls to find twitter unfollowers. Didn't find the API calls.  Instead I found an intelligent article that sheds hilarity on the endless gaming that is Twitter.  Thanks and looking forward to possibly receiving (or sending) a Twitter slipper of my own.


- Jamie

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