Last year, my friend and co-author, Kyle Lacy, pissed off thousands of people when he blew up his entire Twitter account, unfollowed nearly everyone he was following, and then slowly started following back the essential people.
I never noticed.
My Twitter was so full of junk and noise that I never noticed that he re-followed me. (He did! I checked. Shut up.)
Kyle’s problem, he told me, was that he was following so many people — close to 60,000 — who weren’t saying anything useful, it was clogging up his Twitter feed. He also admitted — reluctantly — that he hadn’t properly used Twitter lists to keep track of different groups of people.
So his only option was the nuclear one.
Thousands of people unfollowed him, upset that he unfollowed them, and he’s only following 1,500+ people right now. But he’s got a better handle on his Twitter feed than he’s had since he joined in 2008. He had over 50,000 followers, and he’s now down to 36,000+.
I’ve been thinking about Kyle’s nuclear option lately, especially as I’ve been looking at my general Twitter feed each morning, and it’s filled with noise, chatter, and completely useless garbage.
It’s motivational quotes, reminders to download a new ebook, more motivational quotes, invitations to webinars, articles about how high achievers who are not me achieve greatness, a #hashtag #filled #tweet, the latest Mashable article, and more motivational quotes.
The signal-to-noise ratio on Twitter is terrible. It’s like trying to find a radio station in the middle of the desert. There’s a lot of static, but no music.
It’s gotten worse as Twitter changed its algorithm, expanding on their “While You Were Away” feature. They want you to see the tweets they think you will appreciate.
I don’t. These new tweets are all terrible. All of them. (Except for @VeryLonelyLuke. That guy’s hilarious.)
So how can I reduce the noise? How can I restore some semblance of usefulness to my general Twitter stream?
Checking under the hood: I think I see your problem
I plugged my Twitter account into ManageFlitter to see if I could figure out the problem.
The problem was a whole bunch of people with between 50,0000 – 1 million followers, evenly split between people who were following me and not following me. There were about 3,000 people out of the 14,000 people I was following.
I even hid verified accounts from the mix, so I wasn’t including celebrities or news organizations.
What I was left with were the self-published authors and social media “experts” who yo-yo follow others to artificially inflate their accounts.
“Filthy rotten spammers” (FRS), as I like to call them.
FRSes will follow thousands of people, get a few thousand follow-backs, then unfollow everyone, and start all over. They do this to get past Twitter’s follower limit and grow their accounts by leaps and bounds.
You can easily spot an FRS: they have 50,000+ followers and have written a surprisingly small number of tweets.
The worst are the ones with more than 100,000 followers, and 150,000 tweets. These are the people who spend a few hours every day retweeting all the crap they find in their own Twitter feeds.
Seriously, some of these people send nearly 100 tweets in a day! When I checked their stream, it was retweet after retweet, with the occasional “You’re welcome!” sent to someone who thanked them for the RT. As if the FRS had done them a huge favor.
Pruning and trimming: Seeing some progress
With ManageFlitter’s help, I started unfollowing the people in the 50K-1M range who weren’t following me back.
I realized I had followed those people because they followed me first. I could tell, because as I moused over each name on ManageFlitter, their bio popped up, and I could see they weren’t someone I would normally reach out to first.
(Trust me, I don’t eagerly follow people offering yoga and vegetarian-eating tips unless we’re already friends.)
I unfollowed nearly 1200 people in an hour. I could have gone faster, but I did want to make sure I wasn’t unfollowing people I actually found interesting.
However, this wasn’t all the FRSes. I checked my Twitter feed again, and there was still a lot of crap in my stream. It was better, but not great.
I showed all the people who were following me, sorted by number of followers in descending order, and excluded all the verified accounts. This hid accounts for CNN, the New York Times, and
Alyssa Milano er, I mean, Colts punter Pat McAfee. (Alyssa Milano loves baseball. Shut up.)
With this new list, I found another 500 or so people I could eliminate. Problem is, I hit ManageFlitter’s 1700-unfollowers-in-a-day limit, and have to wait for 24 hours to finish the job.
For $12/month, I get unlimited following, plus all kinds of other features, including creating white lists of high-value accounts, integrate and manage my Twitter lists, and various analytics capabilities. But I’m going finish this experiment first before I commit to it.
Initial results: Prognosis good
After my initial pruning, which took about 90 minutes, I could already see a difference in my Twitter stream. I rediscovered some old Twitter accounts that I hadn’t seen in months, including Doug Bursch, Cathy Day, and a few others.
While I’m not exploding my Twitter feed like Kyle did last year, I am going after large chunks of it and pruning off a lot of deadwood in the hopes that my network will yield a whole lot more signal than noise.
While Twitter will no longer be the conversational tool that it once was — thanks a lot, marketers and filthy rotten spammers! — it will at least be a whole lot more useful to me than it was just a few days ago.
Twitter is a dying animal. I think we’ll see in the next few years that it’s either going to need to do something drastic (which I heard they’re thinking about upping it to allow more than 140 characters–but that’s not that drastic) or they’re going to need to find a way to cut through all the noise and junk and spam and make Twitter something worthwhile.
I think it’s going to be hard; and honestly, I’m betting that Facebook is going to find something to put them out of business.
Imagine for a second that you’re not into marketing, you’re not an author, etc. Let’s say that you’re a school teacher, or a plumber, electrician, etc. What does Twitter off you? What Twitter over Facebook? Why bother with both? Twitter was interesting when it was new, but there’s definitely a reason that numbers are down (numbers for real accounts, that is, I’m sure tens of thousands of new accounts are created each day) numbers are down because Twitter just doesn’t offer to much value to the average person–most “regular people,” only go on Twitter to follow celebrities and trade comments with a friend or two, but most celebrities admit to hating to have to have a Twitter account (as the rapper B.O.B once said, “I’m just rapping to stay relevant”) so not even the most followed people on Twitter want to be on Twitter, and I bet that the others on Twitter don’t really want to be on Twitter either, they’re just waiting for Facebook to take the blue bird out back and put it out of its misery.
As always, you offer wonderful insight and advice. I recommend using your Outlook or email search feature to look for the word “Twitter” to help to decide what emails you want to unsubscribe to also. I don’t need any FSRs sneaking into my inbox either.
I’ve actually shut off most notifications that come from Twitter, and then have Gmail filters that cut out the rest. That’s also helped immensely.