So recently I decided to unfollow two accounts that were not really adding value to my feed on Twitter, and I asked some of the people who follow me to suggest two other accounts I could follow. It was then that it became apparent to some of my followers that I only follow up to 20 people on Twitter at all times. Most responses I got back focused on that fact rather than suggesting who I should follow, so I though it might be useful to explain my thinking on only following 20.
Just to make things clear, I am not explaining myself. I don’t think following a large number of people on Twitter is in any way a source of balance or a sign of open-mindedness or anything to do with being accepting of other points of view. If you think that’s the case then you have no idea how the algorithm works. I also don’t subscribe to the “follow-back’ economy. TBH, I am not even sure that this is even a thing anymore but, back in the day, one followed to be followed back and it was a weird, and underhanded understanding among Twitter people that that’s how you grew your numbers. I found that to be slightly hypocritical and decided to only follow the people I thought would contribute to a balanced feed and not enter into a pseudo-transactional approach to Twitter communities.
But why and how do I manage to get by with following only up to 20 people/ accounts? First, let’s agree that this only works if your goal on Twitter is to get information. I don’t use Twitter as a platform for conversations (much) or to broadcast my work. I do, however, put out opinions on there but without really expecting to get an audience which is why responses usually cause me a fair amount of anxiety. I use Twitter mainly to keep up to date with themes and topics in my industries of interest: service design, tech, marketing, tech policy, business. I culled this down by removing advertising when my work took me in a different direction, and recently have added politics because I feel disconnected from the realities of my adoptive country. So how does it work?
If you understand the Twitter algorithm you will realise that some things are currently true:
- For an optimal use of your life, you won’t be able to scroll through all the tweets if you follow lots of people (same is true of any social platform with an algorithmic feed; Instagram is liable to cut the “you’ve seen all new posts” notification any day now).
- The tweets you want to follow are those that gain traction by either being liked or RTed by the right people
- If a certain account becomes “hot”, meaning it starts accruing followers or engagements, it will show up in the algorithm through someone you might have in common.
- Relevant tweets have a way of finding you.
- Including ONE source that disagrees with your world view will not skew your feed enough. The algorithm responds to perceived constant behaviour not to exceptions.
With these in mind, I pick my sources as follows:
- I follow a few “mavens” = people who aggregate a lot of knowledge from all possible sources and share it widely so that they stay on top of busy feeds. They tend to do a sort of pre-curation for me — 2–3 accounts
- I follow publications with strong tech and tech related editorial and reporting and which are likely to be followed by the tech community = 2–3 accounts
- I recently followed some design-led organisations to see whether that would add more design content to my feed — 1–2 accounts
- I follow research companies -1–2 accounts
- I follow key thinkers in business, marketing and tech but now those who do sound bites or who make a living from speaking at conferences. They tend to speak too much and drown out solid thinking.
Additionally, I follow a handful of friends and my boyfriend (because he’s smart and worth following). Finally, I added one left leaning media source because I wanted to get some more nuanced news atop the mainstream media.
If you understand that following these accounts also means you see most of what they RT, relevant content from accounts they follow, tweets they’ve liked and accounts they’ve recently followed, you will understand how, put together, this type of combination of accounts makes for a strong enough coverage of things one should be aware of. I have seldom missed out on important topics (please understand I also have a RSS feed, bookmarks, etc) and I also don’t spend more than 2–5 mins at a time skimming through my feed (I tend to quickly bookmark the articles I want to read and move on).
I also check and optimise on a regular basis. I used to follow more specialised tech news sources but found they lacked substance and drowned my feed with silly updates about smartphones so I dropped them; if there is a relevant enough smartphone piece of news, it will show up in the rest of the coverage or someone I follow will RT. I do this almost every 3–4 months.
And that’s just it. It’s a simple way to manage the onslaught of information by working with the algorithm, not feeding it.