Saturday, December 5, 2009

Following 10,000, Filtering and the Value of Large Numbers

As a person that appreciates symmetry and patterns in nature, I was intrigued this morning when I saw that I was following exactly 10,000 people on Twitter. Even better, I am only 8 followers away from 11,111 which in some ways, is an even more perfect number (no official reason, I just like the symmetry better). I don't normally mention following numbers in public as it's a turn off but I couldn't resist if for no other reason than the fact the reason I mentioned in the first sentence.

I wasn't really expecting any responses other than maybe a snarky "who cares" or "I just unfollowed you so now you have 9,999." Instead, I got some thoughtful replies from folks like Adam Zand, Chris Selland, Dan Blank, Alex Howard and Hadley Stern.

The gist of the comments/questions (as you can see from the answers above) was, "how do you follow so many people?" and "do you really see value in following so many?" My immediate answer was:
  • Out of the 10,000 people I follow, only about 500 or so of that group do most of that tweeting. Of that group, I pay close attention to about 200-300 (a relatively manageable number) using Tweetdeck
  • To Chris' point, I may not "really be following" all 10,000 of the people I have connected with on Twitter, but I believe that my willingness to follow back gives these folks a feeling of connection and makes them feel like they can DM me or @ me when they like (I try and respond to all personal @'s and DMs). In fairness, I also have an "all friends" column in Tweetdeck and at least a few times a day, keep an eye on this open stream for new folks to add to my inner circle of people to follow.
  • Adding a third item to this that I tweeted after the fact, the serendipity that I've enjoyed as a result of engaging with such a broad audience has led to some amazing things like new business, podcast interviews and even the opportunity to write the foreword to Janet Fouts latest book.
While I realize that my strategy doesn't work for everyone (just like I'm finding out that my blog-reading strategy varies wildly from person to person), it seems to be working for me. I'm not sure what happens when this number grows to 15,000 or 20,000, right now, I'm going to keep adjusting my filters and enjoying the benefits of lots of social "friends" to give and receive valuable information on research, restaurants and rollodex access).

What is your Twitter follow strategy?


  1. Thanks John. Not sure about the "congrats" (could just as well be "condolences" but either way, I appreciate your stopping by.

    Aaron | @aaronstrout

  2. Aaron, hope I didn't reveal anything with my comment! And to clarify, what Aaron showed me was a way to filter a subset of followers in Tweetdeck and he also made it clear to me that he rotated through who was added to this list. This isn't to say one ignores the all-followers column, just that you have a way to make sure you see tweets from those you really want to see.

  3. Hadley - ha! I was implying no such thing. I took your comment as a sign that you may have some people that merit a deeper look (for me, certain friends, bloggers and analysts fit that bill). That doesn't mean that I don't look at other folks streams. I assume based on our discussion and your comment above that you were looking to do the same.


  4. I like the number 11,111 because it's a palindrome. In fact, I believe I once offered "congrats" to Neville Hobson (@Jangles) when I noticed that was how many tweets he'd made. You're just four followers away from that magical mark as I type this, so advanced mad props to you for the palendromical milestone!

  5. This is such a good question, Aaron. I think it'll become even more relevant as we recruit more and more "mainstreamers" to social media.

    I honestly don't know which strategy works the best. There are pros and cons to each, of course, and a person's strategy may evolve over time. Still, even after doing this for two years, I'm struggling to find a system that works.

    My frustration lately is that the more "open" I try to make my follow/read philosophy, the more the value diminishes. The more you follow, the more filters you have to create to sift out content and relationships that are relevant to you. At a certain point, you get too many filters...too many micro-streams to check.

    Scalability...same dilemma we've always faced, right? Makes me appreciate skillful politicians a bit.

  6. great post Aaron - asked because I'm struggling with same - on a smaller scale. What bugs me is if I claim to be 'following' I feel like it's only fair to actually do so. I tried filtering for a while but felt guilty about it.

    I do generally try to follow back - as long as it's a person and they seem to have something interesting to say - but it's not always easy. As you say, it's maybe 5% that do most of the tweeting - I'm probably hardest on that group because they take up so much of my attention stream. If they aren't providing value, I stop following.

    But that's my style - thanks for sharing yours...

  7. Good post Aaron.

    I'm the exact same way. In my Seesmic client, I've got a "cool people" column that includes a subset of the 4k that I currently follow. I'm slowly transitioning that column into a Twitter List (when will Seesmic allow column exports?).

    I don't think that I dip into my home feed as often as I should though. I don't know how you could scale your Twitter activities w/o using some sort of list or filter.