Why I Unfollowed 31,000 People on Twitter

April 17, 2015

When you spend seven years building something, the last thing you want to do is tear it down. Which is what I did to my Twitter network in February.

I unfollowed over 31,000 people.

I had reached the point where my Twitter feed didn’t matter. I wasn’t paying attention to people for the right reasons, I was following them because I got an ego boost. Eventually, my feed became so overwhelming, I couldn’t keep track of everything…or anything.

I spend about an hour a day on Twitter — one-sixteenth of my waking day — and I wasn’t able to focus on or pay attention to everyone I should. So I decided I needed to do something drastic.

The Twitter Dilemma: Practical Usage vs. Ego Stroking

Believe it or not, I had built up my Twitter list carefully over seven years. But when you write three social media books and travel around the world speaking, you pick up a lot of followers and you follow a lot of people back. These are people who have all been important to my success, so I didn’t make this decision lightly.

But with a new job, in a new city, meeting a lot of new people, I decided I should start over on Twitter, too. My new job with OpenView means I’m shifting focus, talking to a whole new world of people about a whole new set of ideas. And I wanted to be able to more easily keep in touch and follow people who are in the industry I’m helping.

So, I made the decision, pressed the button (multiple times), and unfollowed everyone. Then I’ve carefully and selectively been adding people back, and I’m up to about 800 people again. That number will keep growing, but at a slower, more responsible, and focused pace.

Kyle Twitter Feed

Not unexpectedly, people unfollowed me back, too.

Thanks to automated unfollowing and notification tools, I lost 3,500 followers when I unfollowed everyone. I also received some tweets from people who were upset that I had unfollowed them. It wasn’t personal, believe me. This was actually a tough decision.

But it made me wonder, why do we follow people back? Out of social obligation? Growing our own audience? Force of habit?

In order to build a following, you follow people. When I was just starting out on Twitter in early 2008, the focus was on building a following, because it was a part of growing my brand. To do that, I followed people. There was almost an unspoken understanding — if someone followed you, you followed them back.

Now I’ve reached the point where it’s more important to me to have the content I receive, the people I respond to, and the tools I use (like LinkedIn) be more focused. I’m not alone here. As users, we’re generally more sophisticated, and have moved beyond the follow-me-and-I’ll-follow-you way of thinking.

This second time around I’m also getting smart and making lists. I have lists for Indianapolis (my old hometown), Boston, venture capitalists, thought leaders, startups and entrepreneurs, writers and journalists, and friends. It’s a better way to help me focus and access exactly who and what I need professionally and personally. Which, to me, is getting back to the basic reason I use Twitter in the first place.

Bottom line, if the way you’re using Twitter is actively helping you grow professionally, connect with others, and promote things you care about and what you do, that’s great. If not, maybe it’s time to step back and reexamine it. The last thing we all need is another narcissistic waste of time.

Photo by tash lampard