Ridiculously Backward Rules for Limiting Your Social Network

One of my resolutions is to expand my social network. It’s actually a goal I continued from last year.  Sometimes I project my own values onto others, so forgive me if I assume this should be a goal for everyone in higher education.  Why wouldn’t you want to connect with more people?  Why wouldn’t you want more resources to help solve problems, to promote your ideas, or gain new perspectives?

And then there are the people who are part of social networks—sort of.  For whatever reason, they have decided to limit their social networks according to some aribtrary rule.  So, if you would like to limit your social networking this year, because socializing has become too <insert NikkiMK back BACK channel expletive here/>ing tedious, please follow one or all of the <insert drum roll/>:

Ridiculously Backward Rules for Limiting Your Social Network

  1. Try arbitrarily limiting your followers to a number you pull out of your… er… hat. Don’t let anyone tell you there is a happy medium between following everyone who follows you and setting arbitrary limits on your followers.  Draw a line and set limits.  Besides setting up a Group in TweetDeck to filter your inner circle of friends is just too damned complicated.  Better to just cut everyone but the inner-inner circle and leave it at that.
  2. Only follow people who are directly related to your field, or have a similar position and rank, etc. Who has time to follow all these people?  Filter them out.  You just don’t have time to take the chance that they might actually use the same technology, serve the same types of people, have similar roles as the people who are on your cross-functional teams, etc.  After all, no good ideas have ever come from leaving one’s discipline have they?
  3. Get all you can from social networking, but don’t worry about giving back to your community. You are the center of your network.  It’s all about you.  Only tweet to promote yourself; don’t help promote your friends.   Ask your questions, don’t help answer someone else’s.  And if you do answer, only answer because it makes you look like a smarty-pants.

Of course, if you’d rather be part of a community, check out The Social Networking Girl @micala‘s blog posts on community that inspired me this week.

(Thanks to @bradjward for tweeting out the image above, right.)

24 Responses to “Ridiculously Backward Rules for Limiting Your Social Network”

  1. Says:

    Here, here! As I commented on @micala’s blog, twitter is a conversation for me - and the arbitrary rule-making gets to me.

    As an introvert, I can understand how somebody could go into overwhelm with twitter at times, and I understand that overwhelm may be why people are setting up their “rules”, but that’s when you close your client and walk away (or filter them as you said).

  2. Says:

    Wow, that’s kind of a strong position.

    I was actually talking about this yesterday asking another higher ed pro (@adamstahr) how he could manage to follow so many folks (around 400) on Twitter - while I look more like one of those you described in your post (problem with twitter is you can not even be an anonymous non-following-back person ;-)

    First quick disclaimer: I always reply to @karinejoly request, even if I don’t follow or follow back the person. However, with the 50 people I follow, I already have some problems to keep up (I do have some heavy twitterers in this group though).

    Adam’s answer was TweetDeck (which I have finally downloaded).

    Call me old-fashioned but it really feels weird - a bit like cheating - for me to make the public commitment to follow somebody on Twitter and actually not follow this person’s stream of Tweets in TweetDeck - except if the person addresses me directly by sending an @karinejoly request or question or belong to the A-group.

    So, what is your take on this Technology Trainingand all you super Twitter following-back users?

  3. Says:

    Sorry, got a typo in the link to @adamstahr twitter profile

  4. Says:

    I think setting rules like these limits your ability to realize the full potential of social media. I don’t think you need to follow everyone. I don’t follow those people who are following thousands but only have a few followers. I also don’t follow very many people who never “@” anyone. If they’re not engaging the community, what’s the point?

    That being said, expanding your network enables you to get more value out of the community … and opens more doors for you. Get other perspectives by following people who are different than yourself. Plus, you never know how one connection might lead to something totally unexpected.

  5. Says:


    If you don’t get overwhelmed by the barrage more power to you! But after trying the ‘pile it on’ approach and finding myself deluged and at times not able to give quality input because of it, I opted to prune my networks to what I could tolerate and where I could make the greatest contribution.

  6. Says:

    Hi Michelle,

    Sometimes I get in work mode and have to walk away. The important thing for Nikki, the Extreme Extrovert, your pal and polar opposite is to remember that it’s okay to miss the fun once in a while!

    I guess unplugging works out well (sort of) for both of us.

    Hi Karine,

    I still use TweetDeck to follow everyone. I just use columns to make sure my close friends (still about 100 or so) don’t get lost in the shuffle with the new people.

    I keep my friends in a column mainly so they stand out from the crowd and I can get the flow of their full conversations with each other.

    I consider everyone else new friends. They still get followed. I just might not catch every conversation string. Just bits and pieces.

    I don’t wait for someone to reply to me to get to know them. I put myself out there if I find a way to connect.

    Other columns I use include a search on eduGuru as well as any private Twitter groups (using grouptweet) I use for chatting with friends as a private channel.

    Hope this helps!


  7. Says:


    As I said on Twitter, thanks for the techniques, but what about the philosophical aspect of this question - i.e following folks, yet not really following them? Don’t we all have a physical/human limit with the communications our brains can handle (since we’re not computers yet)?

  8. Says:

    Expanding a Twitter network is good but not to include every service-selling person or organization that decided for some strange mass-marketing reason that it or he/she wants to follow me. I block those from even following. (Recently: Amazon deals; weight reduction plan; erotic models and clothing.)

    Who do I follow? I check to see what every person who is following me is writing about. If there is strong professional content, then I will follow them. If most content is about the details of a person’s daily life, then I don’t. Just not interested if that’s most of the content.

    Each person on Twitter (or anywhere else) has to make that decision for themselves.

  9. Says:

    You know, I’m actually one of those people who was a ‘rule’ setter in twitter. I was telling myself I would follow no more than 100 people - but precisely for the reason that I wanted to be able to pay close attention and have that conversation and really feel like I was connecting with people. I tried hard to stay within those limits, but found it was just impossible. There are too many people out there with so many amazing things to say that only following 100 just wouldn’t work. I will say that I do *not* arbitrarily just follow people back if they follow me. I do look at their twitter feed and profile and try to make a decision on whether or not to follow back. If they’re following thousands, my chances of following back are slim. I still do think, though, that the conversation is what’s important to me. I think there just comes a point where it will be too much. Tweetdeck’s great because it allows you to separate things out, and I know I can just respond to replies and DM’s, but that’s not the same. It’s not the same as keeping up with little details and bits of information that people might share that could easily get lost in a stream of thousands of followers. It’s a fine line for me.. I’m still working out how to handle it.

  10. Says:

    Hi Nikki, you put forward good counter arguments to the three rules you mention but I wouldn’t call any of them ridiculously backward. The last one is probably counter productive but I could see why someone might want to follow either of the first two for the sake of efficiency. This obviously wouldn’t work for anyone who sets themselves the goal of expanding their twitter social network but plenty of people have other goals they need to achieve. That’s ok!

  11. Says:

    I’m hoping to address Karine, Heather and Bob all in one here because it gets to the same idea.

    I think rules in either extreme are bad. I wouldn’t blindly follow everyone, nor would I set limits based on some number.

    Allow your network to grow organically based on people of interest whom you find or who find you.

    I also don’t narrowly define person of interest by exactly what I do. My current role is Technology Training Coordinator-a small pool to pick from. But I’ve also been a teacher, a programmer, an interim Assistant Director if IT & Multimedia. I’ve served faculty, students, staff, children, adults, seniors, people with disabilities, etc. Who knows what I’ll be doing next, what past experiences I will draw from, or who else may share one these experiences!

    When I follow people, I don’t leave feel it’s a fake follow. I have a column for everyone and I do actually have it open and read it. I scan all these “new friends”. If there is a way to connect, I reply. It’s something I picked up from teaching and connecting with students. I may miss their threaded conversations with each other, but since I’m not part of their inner circle and they are not part of mine, that’s fine.

    I do, however, need the context of the threaded interactions between my close friends. Before I had a good filtering system, I’d miss that someone was pregnant, someone else had a birthday, or another had terrible news. I’d feel like an ass tweeting about myself in the context of these tweets.

    Here’s my philosophy: Just like in the real world you have acquaintances and you have friends, I see my column of all followers or “new friends” as acquaintances and my special Group in TweetDeck as my close friends.

    You wouldn’t refuse to talk to acquaintances at the store or in the elevator just because they aren’t your close friends yet, would you? Why do that on the Internet?

  12. Says:

    The number of people you can follow depends entirely on you. The point is not that you shouldn’t limit the number of people you follow, but that you shouldn’t set some arbitrary limit. I don’t just willy-nilly follow everyone who follows me, but I also am not afraid to add people to my network who might have something useful to say. For me I’m doing fine at 377. Might not be doable for other people, but it works for me. The benefits have far out weighed the costs IMO. In my experience, most people on twitter are not heavy users so the difference between following 100 and 300 hasn’t actually been all that dramatic. And I’m not afraid to unfollow people who become distracting to keep the conversation relevant to me.

  13. Says:

    You’ve hit the nail on the head here. Twitter, for me, isn’t the same as it is for others. Probably because I just don’t have the time to devote to it as others seem to and I don’t find it as valuable as they do.

    I will intentionally block people who aren’t ‘real’ or seem to be some variety of spam. When it comes to other social networks, I’m not quite as discerning. LinkedIn, I’m fine with adding pretty much anyone who seeks to add me, though I don’t go out of my way to grow my network.

    On Facebook, it’s generally limited to people I’ve met in real life, though there are some exceptions for people I know online and have communicated with.

    I’d like the networking to be a conversation, so taking on more folks than I can handle does everyone a disservice, I think.

  14. Says:

    I agree with Bob Johnson here. I ask, “what do they write about?” For me it’s about quality and relevance. When using Twitter professionally, I generally will not follow someone (even if I know/work with them) whose tweets are almost all personal, or are primarily @ replies or retweets.

  15. Says:

    I definitely fall on the side of trying to follow more people. Like Stewart said, there is a decent balance of people who Twitter a lot vs. a little - if everyone I followed was Chris Brogan, then I definitely couldn’t handle it! And I don’t think it’s cheating to follow someone, but not be super aware of them. When someone follows me, I don’t expect them to catch every single tweet of mine, and reply back instantly. I just hope that if they happen to read something they connect with, that they’ll respond and say hi or offer their thoughts. If not, no big deal.

  16. Says:

    Good point, Tracy!

    I also see my own Tweets like messages in a bottle, if somebody can catch them, great - if they don’t, I just feel abandoned in this sea of highly connected people ;-)

    But, seriously, you’re right, I probably need to loosen up, it’s just social networking, after all ;-)

  17. Says:

    witter is about conversation and engagement. There is no one size fits all, no magic number to follow, no single best app to handle twitter. In fact, I maintain that your personal answer can-and will-change as your situation changes.

    I don’t separate work and personal tweets and personas. I figure my identity is a combination of both, so my tweets will be too. I expect that if this isn’t suitable to you, then you will be responsible for deleting me from your feed. Personally, I like having the “whole picture” of a twitter peep, and find them MUCH more interesting and engaging. Likewise, I follow an 80-20 rule: I use TweetDeck and tend to follow everyone 80% of the time. I don’t always engage, and I try not to obsess, but I stay vaguely aware of what’s going on with my twittersphere. That being said, there are times that my twitter feed and my workload are not compatible, and I need to drop the conversation noise. When this happens (about 20% of the time) I reduce to a group of local peeps because they are working and engaged on the things I am working on as well. I don’t like staying at the reduced level all the time, because I find great value added input from the greater circle (I mean, honestly, from @fienen in Kansas, @kevinoshea and @davideisert at Purdue, @markgr in Buffalo, my twitterstream is an expansive and effective network of people I would never have otherwise “met”). So to me, I obviously find value in a range of voices in my twitterstream. Like@karinejoly, I always respond to @robin2go questions or comments, because I want to encourage the dialog. And if you follow me, I will look at your profile and, more often than not, follow you back if your tweets and background seem like they would be a good addition to my network.

    My selection of twitterers is much like real life. I have some who are peeps I work with at Penn State. Some are design people; others are education geeks. Still others are librarians. Some peeps are even virtual drinking buddies. So be it. Again, I find that each group has value, many often overlap, and most of them are valued for the particular input they offer. Some are infrequent until there is an event or a topic for them to tweet about; this is important, because that is particularly when I want to hear from them.

    But what about the loudest voices? Well, either they’re for you, or against you, as they say. We all know the twitterfeed can become raucous, rebellious, and ridiculously loud at times. Conversations happen. Networking happens. Go to a party and listen to the conversation. As in Twitter, you will probably hear my voice bouncing above the normal level of conversation. I find that I value these voices if they are engaged in dialogue I find interesting or relevant. Too much so? Then I find ways of lessening the noise. Sometimes it means walking to the other side of the room for a while (twittersnooze, twuffer), and sometimes it means disengaging that voice from your focus (unfollow).

    Let’s consider, for a moment, the number of presentations and talks I’ve done to promote microblogging-specifically, Twitter. Four times within the last year alone, I’ve done events where we’ve created a backchannel and encouraged people to sign up and get involved. These are noobs; some of them never get back into the conversation, but I’ve had more than I have expected stay tuned in and participate. They make their way up the Twitter Curve and are engaged in the twittersphere. I think of Mark Greenfield’s explanation that you need the alpha user to encourage the new participants; I consider myself an alpha user with a responsibility to those I have introduced to Twitter to be there if they try to engage… or reengage… or reengage yet again. If they aren’t saying much, then there’s no real need to delete them from my twittersphere. In fact, I find that I am more likely to remove someone from my twitter stream if I discover they are prolific twitterers but not relevant to my needs or interests.

    So in reality, was does this mean? It means there are no real rules. You should be tweaking your network the way it best works for you. Believe me, if someone doesn’t like your input (or doesn’t like the fact you don’t offer input), they should unfollow you in order to maintain their own network as it works for them.

  18. Says:

    @Billy: Knowing full well I’d be stirring the pot with this one, perhaps I took it a bit over the top, but my point is:

    If you are going to set arbitrary limits on your social network, you may have missed the point of social network.

    There’s an expression, “If you always do what you always did, you will always get what what you always got.” If you are using Twitter to connect with the same circle of people, where’s the value-add?

    @Andy: Have you every checked out these @replies? Are they just unrelated conversations or are you getting half of something worthwhile? Could you introduce yourself to someone in your profession by following a trail of @replies? If it’s too much too handle for now, just keep these ideas simmering in case you find yourself in on half a conversation.

    Also, for me, though maybe not for everyone, I find connecting to people socially helps me connect to them on other levels. I feel more comfortable pitching crazy ideas and taking risks if I know someone on a social level first. I’m at a large university. It was hard to really know people socially on that level until Twitter (especially as a commuter), factor in all our branch locations around the state as well and you can see how socialization make a large state university feel like a small office.

    @Ron: Establishing a presence on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter at once would be like trying to move into a new house, changing jobs and going on vacation all in the same week. I’ve been told (and now I notice it for myself) that you really have to focus on getting one going and feeling comfortable and satisfied with it before moving on. That way you can just focus on maintaining the old and building the new. Perhaps, you can come back to Twitter later.

    @Tracy, @Stuart and my longtime pal and partner-in-crime @Robin2go: There is a nice balance of people who tweet a lot and people who tweet a little. I’m actually really happy to add someone new, as Robin said, who tweets little for the purpose of indoctrinating them into the Twitter cult and making them feel welcome. Even we have little in common, what do I have to lose from a few extra tweets. If they become as chatty as @Robin2go or me, I can always unfollow later.

  19. Says:

    Thanks Nikki, for replying to comments. Good follow-up! Yes, you’re right, sometimes an @reply is half of something useful/worthwhile. I do always check.

  20. Says:

    @Andy: You’re welcome. I was planning writing more about diversifying your groups in the future, so I didn’t want to expand too far in the replies. Check back!

  21. Says:

    I sense from several comments that some are trying to keep up with everything that happens in Twitter. That is, to connect with the various conversational streams and stay with them to get it all from those they follow. That definitely would require keeping the number manageable.

    For me, after about 5 months of getting increasingly active on Twitter, it’s Chris Brogan’s river analogy. You don’t DRINK the river, you drink FROM the river.

    When I have time, I take a look at what’s flowing by, see if there are conversations I want to engage in where I can add value, post links to a couple of things I’ve read lately, look at the @ conversations of others & maybe jump in. My settings show people who aren’t in my network who are getting an @ from someone I follow-that’s how I find some of the greatest people to follow. I look at new followers’ profiles & tweetstream, as do several who commented here, and follow selectively where I see value. I don’t expect it to be two-way value perception every time.

    This is not at all systematic, obviously. But I find that Twitter has SO much to offer-new ideas from smart people every day, as someone I follow tweeted just the other day (wish I could remember who)-that I clearly can’t get it all.

    And this system HAS worked to build a sense of community and connection with those who are on regularly, tweeting things of value. I count on @ messages for sustained conversations.

    I tried setting up Tweetdeck & gave up pretty quickly. I have a wide variety of interests and am following people in all of them, but some of them share several of the same interests. So if I put someone into the Cycling column, the Public Policy/Gov 2.0 column, and the Social Media Column, I see the same tweet 3 times.

    That’s less efficient for me than just sipping from the river when I can, and I’m pretty serendipitous in how I process info & ideas-I’d rather bounce all over the place than drill down forever in one spot, and Twitter is GREAT for that.

    I ended up defining a social media follow policy & posting it on my personal blog so people would understand when I don’t follow them back, friend on Facebook & so forth. I have different standards & comfort levels in different spaces, which is where my personal limits come in rather than an arbitrary number. (Policy for the curious: https://biketoworkbarb.blogspot.com/2009/01/tweeting-twittering-friending-following.html)


  22. Says:

    Really good point. Sometimes, it’s too easy to focus on your specific niche.

    I’m sure someone outside that group has something good to say.

    Great post!

  23. Says:

    “Allow your network to grow organically based on people of interest whom you find or who find you.”

    Excellent point! I will admit that when I first started engaging on the social networks that I was a ridiculously strict rule follower, now 6 months in I’m learning the error in that. Live and learn I suppose now it’s just a matter of trimming and cleaning up the various sites with an eye towards relevancy instead of the almighty numbers.


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