Dealing with Friend Inflation on Twitter, Digg

    by Simon Owens
    December 8, 2008
    Illustration for MediaShift by "Omar Lee":http://www.omarlee.org.

    It happens several times a day now. Ever since I opened my Twitter account approximately three months ago, the follow alerts have been gradually increasing in frequency to the point that they clutter up my email inbox if I don’t clean them out often enough. “Jessica Kositz (jkositz) is now following your updates on Twitter” my latest alert tells me, and I dutifully click the provided link so that I can peruse Jessica’s profile to determine whether she meets whatever unspoken criteria that would result in my following her back.

    My decision on whether to reciprocate a follow takes only a few seconds, but in those brief moments I am able to assess several things: Did the person fill out his profile? Did he upload his picture? What’s his profession and where does he live? How many followers does he have and how many is he following? How often does he post? The answers filter through an inconsistent mental calculus, and based on my arcane and semi-rational reasoning, I decide whether or not to follow the person back. More often than not, I don’t.

    Once I hit...around 400 people I followed, it was enough to say I know who I talk to on a regular basis, and I can afford to simply not follow back just because they follow me." -- Minjae Ormes, online media consultant

    This is a decision that millions of social media users make sometimes several times a day; in a world where a Facebook friend request costs nothing more than a single click, the “friend economy” faces an overabundance of friend inflation. Given that reciprocal friending — that is, friending someone simply because he or she friended you — is often the norm, users sometimes find that their friend feeds and follower lists become so cluttered that they’re virtually unusable. In some cases, people discover that by expanding their networks they are actually diminishing their power.


    Twitter Reciprocation

    Jack Bastide would not agree with this assertion. An online multi-level marketer (MLM), Bastide registered his Twitter account shortly before I did. In that short timespan, he has managed to amass more than 6,700 followers as of this writing. Perhaps even more impressive (or less, depending on the way you look at it), he somehow manages to follow over 7,300 friends. I use the word “follow” in the loosest sense of the word, because even Bastide admits that there’s no adequate way to read all the tweets flowing through his feed every day.

    “I have a mutual follow policy,” he told me in a phone interview. “The way I was able to develop a huge list like this pretty quickly was that I followed a lot of people and I give them a chance to follow me back. And if they don’t, I delete them and go follow other people. That’s my basic strategy.”

    For Bastide, the object isn’t to read the massive influx of daily tweets, but rather to use Twitter as a networking tool, almost a more collaborative version of email. “So here’s what I do,” he said. “Obviously, if someone sends me a direct message, I’ll answer that. And if someone sends an @reply [a method of publicly responding to someone’s tweet], depending on if it needs an answer or not I will answer that as well. Sometimes I’ll post a question for something and I’ll get 40 or 50 responses, and I can’t respond to all of them personally.”


    So rather than focusing on his unmanageable tweet stream, he concentrates on the @replies and those who have direct-messaged him. In some respects, his Twitter use is largely a series of one-on-one conversations, an amalgamation of quasi-public back-and-forth discussions between him and his growing follower list.

    Of course, not everyone who has thousands of followers even attempts to reciprocate. Kevin Rose, the founder of Digg, is quickly making his way toward 100,000 followers and yet he only follows a little over 100 other users. There is something to be said for being able to collect so many interested readers without the allure of a follow-back. But when I mentioned this to Bastide, he dismissed the “gurus” who rarely give follow backs as unwilling to participate in the conversation.

    “I guess they are free to do whatever they want, but I’m free not to follow them,” he said. “I’m not going to follow them if they’re like that. And I’m not just talking about following, but do they respond to replies? If I'm following someone I'll send them a few replies and give them a few chances. If they don’t respond, I delete them. I even deleted Santa Claus because he wouldn’t follow me back.”

    Less is More

    With some social sites, the law of diminishing returns means that increasing the size of the network does little to increase the power of the user. In speaking to power users on the social news site Digg, for instance, I found that the power users who are able to consistently get submissions to the front page often keep tight, closely monitored friend lists.

    Neal Rodriguez

    Neal Rodriguez, who works for Nielsen Business Media, has managed to propel 179 submissions onto Digg’s front page as of this writing. In a recent phone interview, he told me that it isn’t the number of friends you have that helps get content to the front page, but rather the number of active reciprocal friends. Digg, he said, only allows you to send “shout outs” (messages that push your submissions) to a very limited number of friends, making it essential to weed out the non-responsive, inactive Diggers.

    “When you push the ‘share’ button there’s a selection that says ‘shout to all’ and it’ll allow you to shout to everybody,” Rodriguez said. “But the end result is it only shouts to a small proportion of that whole list that’s available for you to share with. If you look at your recent activity — and if you shouted to all — if you have about 200 friends it only went out to 50 people, or only 26 people.”

    So it’s imperative that the power Digger maximize the chances that those 26 or 50 people are ones that will be sure to Digg content shouted to them. This means that you have to choose your friends carefully, looking for tell-tale signs that they are more than just casual users. When Rodriguez first started on Digg, it was a matter of observing the other power Diggers and pinpointing which of his friends were most consistently Digging his submissions.

    “Let’s say that MakiMaki was the top Digger of the month,” he explained. “I would see who was Digging him consistently, who Dugg his last 10 stories. I would Digg all their stuff, and they would Digg back, and that’s how I started to build my friends list.”

    One tidbit that I noticed with people I interviewed across multiple platforms is that they usually look for whether a user has uploaded a picture or an icon before friending them. Just about any form of social media has a default icon, but will also allow you to upload your own avatar. Most Twitter users are reluctant to friend someone who uses just the default icon, and Rodriguez usually follows this rule with Digg: If someone doesn’t even take the time to upload some sort of photo, then they certainly won’t put in the effort to stay active.

    Interestingly, I’ve found over the last few months that Rodriguez and other Diggers have started forgoing the friend system altogether and instead have done most of their networking offsite. Perhaps part of this comes from paranoia, in that if they message each other internally then Digg’s administrators can then monitor how they push stories and actively quash any attempts to game the site. After all, the allure of the social news site is that content can make it onto the front page organically — that any user has a fair shot of getting an item to go popular. Rodriguez says that he pushes his submissions now mostly over IM and email; sometimes he even talks to other Diggers on the phone.

    The Rules of Friending

    Like me, Minjae Ormes, an online media consultant, seemed conflicted over what criteria to use in choosing who to follow on a social media platform. She said that it varies depending on the site — she may be more strict with Twitter than on Facebook, for instance. With Twitter, she said the stream of tweets sometimes gets so cacophonous that she has to monitor her follow list to make sure it doesn’t get out of hand, sometimes removing someone who tweets too much and then re-following him when his posts die down.

    Minjae Ormes

    “Once I hit…around 400 people I followed, it was enough to say I know who I talk to on a regular basis, and I can afford to simply not follow back just because they follow me,” she said. “Right now, my follower and follow list are within 30 people of each other, but it’s not the same 800 people that I follow. It just kind of happened that I seek out people who are in new media, who are in fashion…or in film…and I’ll follow them.”

    To tame the beast, so to speak, Ormes is constantly removing people from her follow list, so much so that it is almost a living document, a constantly mutating list that changes as she monitors the value of each friend and whether she’s benefiting at all from seeing what they have to say.

    As for Jessica Kositz, my most recent follower (though actually I’ve received several new follows since beginning this article), I chose in that instance not to follow back. She’s not an anomaly for me; the distance between the number of people I follow and the number of people who follow me is constantly growing. Someone with Jack Bastide’s friending philosophy might consider me arrogant or a snob.

    For me, it’s just simple mathematics: Every person I add is just another set of tweets that I’ll have to scroll through to get to the ones I really want to read.

    Simon Owens is a former newspaper journalist and an associate editor for MediaShift. He currently works as an online analyst for New Media Strategies. You can read more of his writing at his blog or contact him at simon[.]bloggasm [at] gmail.com.

    Tagged: digg facebook online etiquette social networking twitter
    • Hey Simon, Jessica Kositz here. Since you called me out as an example, I thought it only appropriate I weigh in. This is something I’ve been thinking about myself and yes, I too go through each Twitter-emailed link alerting me to new followers and make an ad-hoc decision (usually in 10 seconds or less) whether to follow back or not. This isn’t a consistent science, either – my decisions vary case by case and usually are dependent even on environmental factors such as my mood or whether I’m at work, home, etc. – but my general theory is if the person works in the same industry as me (I do PR at Burson-Marsteller, so communications, new media, journalism, etc.) then they get my follow back.

      I use the same loose discretion when I initiate the follow, which usually occurs after I stumble upon someone else’s @ reply (I started following you from a RT you posted from @dylan20 last week, regarding broken embargoes, etc.), and I’ve long since given up thinking I’ll read a person’s every tweet in earnest, but rather, hope that by adding more and more to my list I’ll benefit from the collective conversation – which is really what Twitter is all about, in my opinion.

      Thanks for this post, interesting to read others’ opinions.

    • Nice post, I have written on my similar experience.

      When I got my tweet on I was excited to explore all the possibilities of connecting. Listening. Joining the conversation.

      What happened more recently, and I think this will be the key for social media in business, was my critical path info feeds were mixed in with 90% noise of my “listening and following” others. All kinds of reasons garnered a follow from me as I grew my social network. From finding other thought leaders via current connections. Listening to someone like Guy Kawasaki and seeing who he was listening to. All the time wishing I had some way to filter the full TWEET blast from the ones I wanted to pay close attention to.


    • Simon,

      I agree with a lot of what you’ve said in this article. I find it’s possible to follow in earnest about 50 people and read their tweets at least a couple times a week.

      My strategy is to respond to any @ and DM messages people send me. Using the Twitter client twhirl it’s very easy to do. And since anyone can @ message you, you don’t miss out on any conversation.


    • You might be interested in this little experiment on “blind following” that I have been running on Twitter since March. 688 followers for an account the specifically tell people not to follow it.


    • Thanks for including me in this post, Simon! Funny how our convo about this topic stared out as a couple of Tweets.

      I just wanted to add that more active use of Twitter also led to a change in my behavior as to how, and with whom I am engaging in that community, and even my own handle. I initially started as @thebaggageclaim (for my handbag blog) to focus on getting in touch with other fashion bloggers. As I began to meet more people, however, it felt natural to expand my areas of interest/network, so I ended up switching the handle to @minjae. Perhaps trying to encompass all of my various interests in one social media identity – then express them in 140 characters or fewer at a time – is a rather ambitious task, but it has made meeting people and cultivating meaningful relationships that much more fun.

    • For me to follow someone back:

      *You basically have to be a real person
      *You have to be active
      *You can’t have 100% of your tweets as promotional
      *You have to be interesting and be relevant to my interests.

      That’s all.

    • brian

      I hate the User Interface of Twitter. Its bad…

      FaceBook and Orkut are lot better IMO.


    • Great article. Thanks for the information.

    • Ablwe Jones

      Well done dude. I like it.


    • In terms of following, it seems logical that you should only follow someone that you perceive will add value for you in one context or another. Along similar lines, the number of followers you have will demonstrate your perceived authority in a given subject. In my opinion, the more influencial the user, the more likely the divide between the number of those being following and the number of those following will be high. Obviously there will be exceptions to this rule, but this seems to be the case more often than not.


    • This post came at just the right time for me.

      I have been struggling with Twitter for the past day and a half. Here is how I screwed up: I didn’t have a strategy. I didn’t understand Twitter when I first got on and am still learning the psychology of Twitter.

      With regards to who to follow and followers, here is what I now think in week 7 of twittering:

      1.DEFINE YOUR PURPOSE with twitter-business or personal. If it’s both, CREATE SEPARATE ACCOUNTS.

      2. LESS IS MORE. Follower count is meaningless and don’t let that sway who you follow. Look at content of tweetstream and ONLY follow those where you get immediate gut feeling that content is valuable to you and/or your followers.

      3. DON’T try to build your follower count. Even though many do(and I made mistake and did 2) it WAS a mistake. Why? Twitter is about AUTHENTIC communication with like minded souls. S L O W and steady wins, I believe, in this medium-in the long run. It may look sexy to have a lot of followers, but, I believe, this will not matter in long run. Soon there will be a way to measure quality of content of follower base and THIS will become the standard for who to follow.

      I just hope these few comments help someone else. I am going to completely refocus my twitter strategy as I screwed up and got caught up in the ego thing about followers. I now realize that and it was a mistake for me.

      I hope this helps someone else struggling to define what twitter might mean to them.

      Go for quality,meaning and a slow build-just like in real life relationships.

    • Nice post! thanks

    • Hey Simon,

      Good Article …

      It was great chatting with you on the phone. By the looks of this article I guess I am a “Twitter Ho”

      Guilty as charged :)

      Jack Bastide
      (Trolling for more followers) :)

    • When I first started building my Twitter list it was all about finding the people I wanted to talk to. Then I started connecting with their followers too and they followed me back.

      I too look at the profiles and see if there is interesting discussion going on or if it’s just blah blah blah or spam. While I understand the idea of the MLM thing, it’s not for me. It’s not about volume it’s about quality of discussion.

      I tried the auto follow thing for a bit as an experiment and regretted it almost immediately. Now I’m back to checking daily on the follows I’ve gotten to see if it’s someone I’m interested in listening to or starting a conversation with. If not, I don’t follow back.

    • Great post Simon. I know there are a few twitter ‘usage styles’.

      To get my follow you need to have a complete profile that provides some inclination that I will gain value from following you. To keep my follow you need to post some valuable content outside of just what you ate for breakfast ;)

    • Honestly, I’ve found twitter to be incredibly overrated. While it’s most certainly interesting, I simply don’t see the business use for it. While once in awhile you will get a good heads up on an interesting article or perhaps something else along those lines – it’s basically just small form facebook, in my estimation. And, well, I like facebook better.

    • There are many poor souls on Twitter who follow everyone they find in the hopes they can magically create an engaged audience out of thin air.

      Newsflash: People don’t want to read boring, quotidian blog posts about how “Social media is changing the game. Learn how!”

      Those people — and there are way to many of them out there — don’t get my follow.

      I tend to follow people who have an inside track on interesting info, a personality that shows in their tweets, and — let’s get down to brass tacks — are intimately in touch with their funny bone.

    • I love this post but think it’s a debate that will never die – because everyone is different. And our opinions and reasons for being on and using Twitter will always vary.

      While it is impossible to read all the streams of thousands of followers, I personally try to thank everyone who replies to me or DMs me – it seems the least I can do for them answering a question or commenting on an insight I’ve shared. Then again, I’ve never been one for mass producing processes – which can be good and bad in my line of business. I tend to personalize as much as possible.

      I suppose the Web Celebs can get away with not replying, following or even acknowledging others – but someday when they’re no longer web celebs, I bet they start becoming a little more personable.

      Christine Perkett

    • I’ve noticed something really strange recently – the more I block or unfollow people – no doubt all of them absolutely fine people but just not in my community – the more followers I get. I think it is something to do with focusing on who you follow and whom you want following you. The more thorough you are the more clear the reason becomes in why someone might follow you.

    • Nic article. Just looked at @JackBastide’s front page. Nothing but useless stuff – short personal conversations, no proper nouns, hardly any links, few original thoughts. 8000 followers, but so what? I subscribe to the theory of “slow and steady” accumulation of followers that genuinely think you add value, rather than building a nearly meaningless, large, house-of-cards network through reciprocal follows and essentially gaming the system. I have never asked for a single follower. But I know I can mobilize them around an important issue or news break if I want to.

    • I hate the User Interface of Twitter. Its bad…

      FaceBook and Orkut are lot better IMO…

    • For me to follow someone back:

      *You basically have to be a real person
      *You have to be active
      *You can’t have 100% of your tweets as promotional
      *You have to be interesting and be relevant to my interests.

      That’s all..

    • I’m in the Jack Bastide/Chris Brogan camp and am more than happy to be there. Currently I follow 2,005 and am followed by 2,008.

      I go through the exact same mental calculus you do when getting the new follower e-mails. The difference between us is that more often than not, I follow back.

      Yes, being a “power” twitterer is a lot more work and more time-consuming, but it’s also tremendously rewarding. I have made so many wonderful connections, have learned so much and have been exposed to so many interesting and different points of view and perspectives. And of course the conversations themselves have been very interesting and enriching.

      I won’t go as far as saying that people like you who are followed by many but only follow back a small number are snobs. I guess the way I view it is you’re happy to have people listen to what you say, but aren’t willing to extend them the opportunity to be heard. In doing that, you’re using Twitter as mostly a one-way medium, the way TV or newspapers are for instance. And to me, that’s not the way I want to see social media be used. We already have one-way mediums and they have their place and their purpose. Why should Twitter be another one?

      If you want to only have conversations with only a core group of friends and followers, why not do it on your blog? Why be on Twitter at all? And if your reason for being on Twitter is to have conversations outside that core group, why would you only want to talk at them and not listen?

    • This all seems too limiting to me. Why not just admit that Twitter at its base, is a Global Chatroom, and move on?!? Different people are going to find value in different ways, which have nothing to do with any of the above.

    • In general, I only follow back those who I think are relevant to my industry or interests. Also, I do take the time to check and see if these people are even legitimate twitterers if that’s a word? There is a lot of spam and just weird profiles out there.

      I also believe if you are trying to build a network for promotional purposes of your website or business it may be beneficial to follow those who are in a similar industry. Just think “relevance”.

    • interessant article

    • i don’t like the user interface of twitter
      i prefer facebook
      but twitter is a good promotional media (IMO)

    • interesting very interesting article, I as well as some of you track my friends … but that’s it I think is a good virtual friendship, at the end of it all frendship become the way to promote some of the web site …

    • This is sooooo true, it happens to me!

    • friends are whats important twitter confuses me but its what is hot I have to start uploading to my site I get 120000 hits amonth on my site thats only 2 weeks old the 120000 is based on my 30000 hits a week go friends

    • Great post my friends list is a cow lol

    • Very interesting read! thanks

    • Very interesting post! Thanks

    • I like Tweetdeck for filtering out a lot of the noise it’s pretty good.


    • fusozluk sözlük sozluk fatih üniversitesi fatih sozluk fu sozluk fusözlük

    • nice posting man! Great. thx you..

    • thanx

    • nice post,thanks so much

    • I’m a firmly believer in the universal “law of reciprocating”.
      The “law” works in your subconscious, even without you noticing it.
      If someone dugg me, I’m digging him back.
      If someone sends me several shouts to digg, I digg.
      If I shout him to digg, and the person doesn’t digg, the “law” unnoticeably kicks in, and my diggs to that person decrease or gradually disappear, and if asked … I explain.

    • thanx

    • nice post! Thank you, i really like this post..

    • Dariel Bendin

      Oops, sorry Simon, Neal had retweeted you and you quoted another Neal in your piece. I must have had Neal on the brain!

    • nice post, thank you so much

    • Very interesting read! I know there are a few twitter ‘usage styles’.


    • I get daily reports of followers. Maybe about 5-7 daily. Generally though, I do not follow back. I don’t see why I should have to just because someone is following me. They are following me for a reason that may not be a reason to follow them. And often I don’t care to follow a spammer back. If they want to make me look more popular by adding me as a friend, go ahead. I will add people that I want to read, want to keep in touch with, and not because they were following me.

      As for reciprocal digging goes, that is yet another flaw filled idea. The whole idea of digg is to digg something you think is a good article, not something just because someone else dugg it. What’s the point then of digg?

    • twitter has become a huge marketing tool for seo and big companies think twitter should do something about this.

    • My wife loves twitter.She even has Barrack Obama and Arnold the terminator following her.Does it help SEO, for her site? The jury is still out.

    • Great Post Simon…I feel comfort read your post…

    • Interesting post,thankfully I do not have so many twitter followers for now,but after reading this I think I will be more careful about choosing who I follow!

    • Useful info.thanks much.i will try.

    • thanks for the information. it’s useful.

    • kabin
    • In terms of following, it seems logical that you should only follow someone that you perceive will add value for you in one context or another. Along similar lines, the number of followers you have will demonstrate your perceived authority in a given subject. In my opinion, the more influencial the user, the more likely the divide between the number of those being following and the number of those following will be high. Obviously there will be exceptions to this rule, but this seems to be the case more often than not.

    • nice post,thanks so much.

    • cabin
    • thanks for this great article. i’ve loved it!

    • Thanks for writeing and have nice day.
      great post

    • but… i still not understand work with twitter..

      can anybody here teach me?? hehhee :P

    • nice post,thanks and i will try it

    • Dealing with this on Twitter is much more effektiv in the Future.

    • very nice things for twitter.thanks a lot.

    • The only advice that *should* be given to get an article to the front page is:
      “Submit a good article…”

      Unfortunately, with all this social media BS, that is not the case…

    • very useful article.thanks a lot…

    • Gr8 article, Thank you

    • Great post Simon, I am a new user twitter, just learning about twitter .. thank you for the information

    • nice post,thanks so much my friend :)

    • Christopher Lance

      Great read good stuff.

    • Great information….i like your post….thank’s for sharing

    • very useful article
      Thank you so much.

    • bookmark

      nice post , thank you so much.

    • Wow ! so good idea.I’m recommend my twitter : http://www.twitter.com/huanyuetuan

      Enjoy !

    • Doh

      Thank’s for info.

    • I see no point adding friends who add you first. It seems we are supposed to do this in exchange. I now just add those who are my favorite so I can handle it.

    • Nice Post… Kepp it up ….

      Dealing with Friend Inflation on Twitter

    • It’s awesome. I’d better come up with this ideas.

    • nice post Thank a lot

    • thank for your Informaton

    • greate article it’s bring me profit for me

    • Very Good interesting read thanks…..

    • OH, Digg across of year. Great

    • hey thanks a lot
      I’ve already use twitter now!

    • thank a lot.
      grate to use twiter.

    • thank you.
      greate to use twiter.

    • It’s awesome. Twitter best.

    • nice post .greate to use twiter.

    • Nice post! thanks

    • I really appreciate the info :) great post!

    • Great information guys. I agree that twitter is one of the best way to get more friends or followers but you should complete your profile with all of your information including picture so that the people get interested to follow on you.
      I had a problem before on how to promote my company http://www.easyrooterplumbing.com but when I discover twitter, it really helps a lot.
      Good luck!!!

    • Great information guys

    • thanks for sharing
      i should bookmark this page


    • very nice info, thank you for sharing

    • Twitter is the best product on social media..
      Thanks for your post…

    • bunyawan

      I love this…

    • Hello, all you have is a web of good information and very interesting. However, each visit has come at http://www.cheappricesales.com/ web site to collect items cheap. And guarantee your satisfaction. We have collected many products such as cameras, phones, shoes and more emphasis on high quality products and low prices only. And Thank you. To visit us.

    • very nice info, thank you for sharing

    • Hey Simon,

      Good Article …

      i should bookmark this page at digg

    • To read all those daily tweets from 10 twitter whose I follow already overwhelming leave alone 50 or 100.

      Aree bursa malaysia klci

    • Filtering out spammers and making lists for important people and topics is paramount. But I always have fun dipping into a wide or full twitter stream.

    • Thank u.

    • I remembered my first time doing digg. But you are one of the most wonderful “Digger” I’ve ever follow. Keep up the good work Simon :)

    • What might work well is if you create a folder for your twitter invites on your email client.

      Thanks for the info though. I really enjoyed reading this today.

    • Thanks for the info, i apricieate it

    • nice post dude.

    • In my opinion, the more influencial the user, the more likely the divide between the number of those being following and the number of those following will be high
      And to me, that’s not the way I want to see social media be used. We already have one-way mediums and they have their place and their purpose

    • Great post. Thanks!

    • Thank you for this wonderful blog.

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