"Unfollowing All"

HiResDear Twitter: I went away.  But I want to come back.

A couple of months ago I determined to follow-back everyone who followed me on Twitter.  I watched as my friend Chris Brogan, among others, interacted with a gazillion followers/followees, and he told me he used search filters in Tweetdeck to manage the conversations and filter out the spam.  Sounded like a worthwhile approach…

I used SocialToo to get the process started.  But as the hordes started filling up my chat channel — and as my own work on other fronts crowded my time — I found myself doing more pruning than tweeting: cleaning out spammers, etc. 

So I barely tweet anymore.  My friends’ worthy signals are lost amidst the noise. And I’ve learned this much about myself: I find tools such as Tweetdeck and Seesmic too cumbersome to deal with — setting up Friends Lists, Colleague Lists, Search Terms, etc. takes too much time, especially when time is at a premium.

Interestingly, and distressingly, my blog also suffered as a result from my time away from the tweetstream.  The twitterati helped inspire new posts and vet hare-brained ideas.  Without that daily interaction, the blog has grown listless.  My AdAge Power150 ranking has plummeted, too (for whatever that’s worth).

So I am going to START OVER.  I am going to perform a FULL SCRUB. 

If you see that I’ve Unfollowed you, please don’t take it personally: if you care enough to express any dismay over my action, you are very likely one of the folks I’ll soon be following again!

Posted on: December 14, 2009 at 11:45 am By Todd Defren
82 Responses to “"Unfollowing All"”


  • Brad says:

    Twitter is the same for me. It’s like an on and off thing. I love him some times but after a while I just follow too many people and too many updates show up. I’ve unfollowed everyone more than once… :D

  • dharmesh shah says:

    You might need to be a bit careful here. If twitter sees a high volume of automated “unfollows”, it may suspend your account. Twitter does not like automated/robotic unfollows.

  • I accidentally gave my twitter account detail to a site in hope of increasing followers and what I got was that I followed more people then I got followers. At first it was like a disaster because I had very maintained list but once I started listening to what other had to say, it was a good experience. Keep tweeting is my goal.

  • Ari Herzog says:

    Well, heck, Todd, I’m no stranger to changing twitter strategies — and nearly two months ago, I reincarnated my Twitter account to start fresh at 0 following, 0 followers, and 0 tweets. You can see my blog post about that at http://bit.ly/arisaysbye.

    Fast forward and I only tweet two ways: twitter.com from my computer and ubertwitter from my mobile. I also use lists far more for tracking than the stream. I follow less and less people every day who I used to follow, and focus on following those who enhance my knowledge. I follow you, for instance. But many of our common acquaintances, some of whom commented elsewhere in this thread, are folks in lists of mine. Like Sid Burgess recently tweeted to me (http://twitter.com/sidburgess/statuses/6755869690) he uses the stream for strategy and lists for tactics.

    I’m trying to do that too.

  • Todd–I will miss your tweets and hope to be one who can make it back to your twitter list…I enjoy the blog and your tweets.

    However I understand the need to prune. I’ve been using HootSuite which I am finding very helpful for tracking, following, stats, and listening.

  • Todd,

    I completely understand the sentiment. Lists in TD and Seesmic are doable if you organize them from the start (even that takes time). I don’t have tens of thousands of followers but the idea of sorting individual followers has me reaching for Advil.

    It’d be nice if Twitter asked new and existed users to classify what they like to tweet about, a Twitter-based directory. They could even allow multiple topics, the addition of topics, etc. That *might* make classifying your followers easier. Have a good one!

    Bobby McDonald

  • Hi Todd,

    By now you will have performed your mass unfollow and have begun (or completed) re-following or new-following Twitter lists as you tweeted you would.

    While I would wish to be one of the voices you were interested in hearing (reading?)I certainly understand and respect anyone’s need or desire to trim back their lists to manageable numbers (and those differ for each one of us). Hmmnnn..lots of parens this morning. Must be time for more coffee…early yet.

    I will keep following you regardless because I have enjoyed and learned from your Tweets and posts. I do hope you find time to keep sharing.

    Warm regards,


  • More power to you, Todd! Sometimes, especially in social media, if the results aren’t what you’re looking for it’s best to just start over with a clean slate. Myself, I’m extremely picky about who I follow. Only those that will help make up the best network for me get followed back. It’s not so much about making friends as it is maximizing the information you get from it.

    Tessa Carroll

  • Hi Todd -

    Sorry to hear that the following everyone approach didn’t work so well for you – at least for what you were hoping to get out of it. I’m curious: Since I’m assuming that you must get several hundred new followers per week, and realistically, no one can interact with ALL of them, why did you try the auto-follow approach in the first place? Why not just follow back those people who spend the time to engage with you and add value back to your life and community, the same as you do for them?

    Obviously, I’m not trying to say that your approach was wrong. I just think that instead of completely purging yourself, which means you may lose some really strong content and contacts, why not just follow back only those people who are adding value back to your community?

    And oh yeah, like D Mullen, don’t forget about @KeithTrivitt :)

  • Alexis Ceule says:

    Just don’t unsubscribe me from your newsletter either! And wow, what a confession. You’re speaking for soooo many of us. The time to stay connected is hard enough, but finding time to make that first connection with new like minded people, is even harder.

    Love your blogs!

  • I keep reading all these gurus telling us how to “do Twitter right” and some say it’s rude not to follow everyone back except the blatant spammers, while others wave Dunbar’s number and say if you follow more you can’t possibly be genuinely interested in connecting, in growing a relationship. Well, each to his own…

    But the way I see it, not all our offline relationships are identical in depth or intensity, and not all exist for the same purpose or fill the same roles – and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be the same on Twitter. I follow (or not) for a variety of reasons (sometime just on a whim) without much regard to numbers. And a combination of public and private Lists – fluid, flexible, and very idiosyncratic Lists – make it almost manageable!

    Seeing how each of us finds a way to work with Twitter is endlessly interesting, and the year-end will undoubtedly have other people doing the same kind of reassessment as you have done, Todd. Should be fun to watch!

  • Bill Handy says:

    Todd, glad to hear of the change of strategy. Number of followers is a suckers bet regarding value for follower and followee (easy to quantify I suppose…) and I have been preaching the smaller numbers for a while. I posted two articles on the subject, the most recent, “Size matters in social media – inversely” which can be read here – http://billhandy.com/2009/10/14/size-matters-inversly/. Would love to hear your thoughts on the academic/research based viewpoint.

    Although you have probably already dumped me (Good for you!) you can contact me any number of ways.

    btw, your shift tracks with other research regarding folks walking away from the mega follower attitude and being more selective in sharing information – your just one of the early adopters.

    Look forward to your future posts.

  • Jerry says:

    It does seem that there has been somewhat of a trend of “un-following” twitter members. While I don’t take it personally, it is a bit difficult to shrug it off. It’s one thing to be selective in the first place when initiating your audience base, it’s quite another to accept them, and then cut them off. But as you said… if they really care enough, they will verbalize their feelings. Say NO to SPAM! Spamarati also applies ;)


  • I hope you will follow me back so I can learn form your experience. I was like you and did the same thing. at around 9K I changed my mind so there is currently a 5-6K difference in following and followers. But I am still having a hard time weeding through them. I know several with 40K + followers and following that don’t seem to have that problem. I thought it was just me.
    Good Luck


  • mike DrIEHORST says:

    First, I applaud you and anyone else for your efforts to try to follow back everyone. I’m sure it worked for a bit, and I applaud you for it. I know I would quickly become a mess if I tried to.

    I have way more followers than those I follow because I’ve tried to be selective by professional interest, geography and personal interest in who I follow back. Selfish? Maybe. And, yes I’m missing some great information, but I figure I’d rather go niche than mass.

    Finally, congrats on the more business distractions from Twitter. Great sign.

    • Have you tried a verifier service like truetwit? It forces your new follow to fill out a captcha before auto-following and has significantly reduced my experiences with spammers on both my personal and work accounts. Starting from scratch, lists are probably a good idea to implement going forward. Good luck!

  • Amybeth Hale says:

    A good learning lesson Todd! I enjoyed your insights & have missed your tweets.

  • Arik Hanson says:

    You could make a fairy valid argument that you could follow less than 500 people and be perfectly fine, Todd. Most people that engage you via Twitter will no doubt do so via @ or DM anyway, right? Or, maybe you’re planning to take this approach already. Probably a wise move.

    I have missed your regular posts, actually. So yes, your community and colleagues do notice ;) I know all about the mad scramble for time, but your ideas and insights often inspired me and gave me pause, so I do hope you find some time and energy to devote to the blog in 2010.


  • We all seem to be wrestling with this, Todd. For me, it crystallized with one simple thought:

    Does listening to MORE actually make me a BETTER LISTENER? No.

    When you open your front door and let everyone enter your home, you’re not creating community…you’re creating a crowd. Community exists only where people listen to each other and actually HEAR each other.

  • Chuck Hemann says:

    Todd – I’ll be interested to see how this works for you? About two weeks ago I went through and unfollowed about 1,000 people. Not because they weren’t good, but just because I had never interacted with them, nor remember any sort of meaningful content in their own tweet streams. It seems to have dulled the noise a little, but would love to try this approach if others, like yourself, find it useful.

  • Todd,

    Todd here aka @tojosan on Twitter. It’d be a shame to lose you on Twitter. I say scrub hard but scrub fair. Don’t let go of folks that might add value to your day. There are plenty of dead weight profiles on Twitter that don’t quite qualify as spammers. Drop those as well.

    I’ve stopped following back folks that don’t have any tweets along with the spammers I block immediately.

    Tweetdeck’s latest incarnation makes list building as you go much easier. It’s just two clicks away to add to a list or to a Tweetdeck column.

    I keep a column called peers of folks I don’t want to miss. That’s fairly simple by creating a column with just one person and add as you go. Also setting up search columns on specific keywords is a great way to keep tabs on things you care about. Most other twitter conversation isn’t much more exciting than a chat room anyway. I just let that roll by.

    If folks want your attention, then can @ you, use keywords, or get on your ‘must see’ list.

    Cheers and good luck,
    Todd @tojosan

  • Matt says:

    Todd (and Aaron),

    I’ve also been struggling with the best way to interact and follow on Twitter. You’re right in saying that the third-party apps are cumbersome. I suppose it’s too much to ask right now for Twitter to integrate some of the more popular functions of tweetdeck, seesmic, etc. with the Web interface. The new RT feature is okay in its form, but horrible in its function.

    As part of my year-end archiving, I’m going through the people I follow and removing anyone i haven’t interacted with directly or I couldn’t remember seeing a meaningful tweet from. We’ll see how it goes. I doubt anyone will throw much of a fit.


  • David Mullen says:

    I’ve wondered about using auto-follow recently because I’m sure there are some great new folks who follow me and I haven’t been able to give good time to vetting through new followers, finding them and following back.

    Hearing your experience with auto-follow is really helpful. Thanks for sharing it.

    And if you get a chance, consider following @dmullen back. I heard he’s a pretty good guy. :)

  • …just don’t ‘unsubscribe me’ from the newsletter…:-)

  • I am interested to see how it goes for you, Todd. With so many people on Twitter, and so many new list organizers appearing, I would love to see which you think is best. Happy Holidays!

  • Todd, I did this last summer and it was the best thing I could have done. I realized that Twitter (like any platform) was what I made of it, and I do not get anything out of it when I’m following thousands of folks. Obviously desktop apps like Tweetdeck can help, but overall I have more established online relationships with people because I’m not worried about following everyone back.

    My opinion has always been that if you believe Twitter is NOT simply a broadcast platform, then you can’t in turn be following everyone back. It doesn’t mesh with what we promote as “best practices” in the field.

    Looking forward to hearing how it goes!



  • Dave Fleet says:

    Hi Todd,

    I’ve thought about doing this in the past, especially around the time when I experimented with following everyone back. That particular experiment did nothing for me – I found the stream becoming unusable. I saw no benefit from the activity. Interestingly, I saw no discernable change in the rate of new people following me when I auto-followed compared to beforehand, so there really was no incentive to continue.

    I understand that auto-following reduces maintenance time on the account, but frankly that time is minimal in general – most people don’t add hundreds of new folks daily. As far as I’m concerned, if someone wants to chat, I’ll follow. If they want to DM, they can ping me and ask me to follow.

    I’m not playing the follower numbers game though, so other peoples’ mileage may vary.

    Curious how you find Twitter once you’re back up and running…

    • Doug Haslam says:

      I took a different approach– stopped the auto-following as the reason for my doing it evaporated. Spent the time I might take rebuilding my nuked list by unfollowing any spammer I see, knowing I won’t autofollow them back anymore. It cleaned up my message stream over a matter of days, and my contacts didn’t get stressed.

      As for paying close attention, I keep a small, private list of folks I want to follow more closely. Yes, I’m having it both ways. As usual.

  • I won’t take it personally at all–I’ve been seeing a lot of these sorts of ‘purging’ notes, on Twitter and even my personal friends on Facebook. Thankfully my family members remain connected… ;-)

    As you state, it becomes too much, and when that happens it’s time for a refresh. I’ve had friends take Facebook sabbaticals, where they stay away for a month or more intentionally. Is this going to be a trend for 2010, and if so, what does it mean for marketers?

    Good luck with the full scrub–it’s nice to start the new year with a clean slate…

  • Aaron Strout says:

    I’ll be interested to hear how this process goes. As you know, I waiver back and forth on my Twitter engagement/following process.

    Aaron | @aaronstrout

  • Misty says:

    That’s a well-thought-out awsner to a challenging question

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