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10 Thoughts About Your Unfollowers

By Sree Sreenivasan | November 2, 2011 5:55pm

Most people on Twitter are obsessed with getting more followers, but today I am going to focus on unfollowers.

Unfollowers (not sure it’s a real word; let’s make it one), of course, are people who stop following your account on Twitter. Here are some of my thoughts about them.

1. PAYING ATTENTION TO UNFOLLOWERS SHOULD BE PART OF ANY SMART USE OF TWITTER. No need to obsess over them, but keeping track will help you be a better user of Twitter. You will learn more about what works and what doesn’t and pick up clues that will help you eventually gain more followers.

2. PEOPLE UNFOLLOW YOU ALL THE TIME. In fact, each time you tweet, you remind people you exist, and they might have one of three responses. One: They might miss your tweet altogether (most likely). Two: They find your tweet interesting and might click or RT or comment — or all three. Three: They realize they don’t want to follow you any longer. This is the reason to be judicious in your tweets and think through what you are going to be saying and what response

I know someone with 1.5-million followers who finds that about a couple of hundred people unfollow him each time he tweets. Whenever I tweet, I know I’ll lose people — nowhere near my friend’s level, but over the course of a week, it’s roughly 50 people (I explain how to find out below). That doesn’t mean I don’t tweet as much as I want to; it means I think carefully about each tweet I send.

3. THERE ARE MANY REASONS SOMEONE MIGHT UNFOLLOW YOU. People might leave your account for a variety of reasons. They found your last tweet or set of tweets too boring or irrelevant; they followed you hoping you would follow them back; they are culling the list of folks they follow; they confused you with someone else; you tweet too often; you don’t tweet often enough; your tweet(s) insulted them; you aren’t politically correct; you are too politically correct. The list goes on an on. There are also spammers and bots who follow you. Twitter goes through and deletes them on a regular basis.

4. TRACKING UNFOLLOWERS CAN BE DEPRESSING. Tracking unfollowers is only for the strong of heart. It can be depressing to be told who’s stopped reading your stuff, so please do not proceed unless you think you can handle it. Imagine if you got an email every time someone added your email address to their spam filter. That would be depressing and so is this.

5. THERE ARE SEVERAL WAYS TO TRACK UNFOLLOWERS. There are three free tools I use to track unfollowers. One is Twunfollow.com, which sends you a summary of those who’ve left you. It used to have an instant notification system (so you’d get a email as soon as someone unfollowed you), but now only the summary seems to be working (if you know of a service that gives you instant notifications, let me know). Another tool I use is @Unfollowr, which gives you listings of your unfollowers, and more. The third tool I use is Who.Unfollowed.Me, which works more or less like the ones above (the others send you info, this one you visit on a regular basis). No need to use all three services. Find the one you like and use it when you can.

6. NEVER WRITE TO SOMEONE ASKING WHY THEY UNFOLLOWED YOU. Take a hint, please, and do not email or phone someone and ask them why they stopped following you. It’s embarrassing and awkward for everyone involved. In addition to all the reasons listed at No. 3, he/she might have added you to a Twitter list and is following your work that way.

7. NOT ALL UNFOLLOWERS ARE EQUAL. LOOK FOR PATTERNS. The main reason for doing all this unfollower tracking is so that you can find patterns in the data. Are you losing followers with similar career/biographical info on a regular basis? Are accounts influential in certain topic areas leaving you? Are you losing followers after certain kinds of content that you tweet? Finding these patterns will help you be better on Twitter.

8. YOU SHOULD BE UNFOLLOWING ON A REGULAR BASIS. A good Twitter account is in constant churn. You should be following new accounts on a regular basis and also unfollowing accounts that no longer interest you. That’s one of the best ways of making use of Twitter.

9. HERE, BEFORE YOU ASK, IS A THOUGHT ABOUT FACEBOOK & UNFRIENDING. Whenever I talk about Twitter unfollowing, someone always asks about the ability to track who has unfriended you on Facebook. Facebook does not make it easy to track unfriending the way Twitter does (and we should all be grateful about that). There is a Chrome extension that can sort of guess at who has unfriended you, but I do not recommend it. First of all, why give yet another third-party service access to your account. And, more importantly, if someone unfriends you on Facebook, just let it go already (see No. 6 above).

10. MY TIPS ON REDUCING UNFOLLOWERS. Here is my working list of attributes of a good Twitter account. If you try to make sure each of your tweets features one or more of these attributes, I guarantee you won’t lose many followers. Try to make your tweets helpful; useful; informative; relevant; practical; actionable; timely; generous; credible; brief; entertaining; fun; and occasionally funny.

What do you think? Post your comments below using your Facebook account or on Twitter @sree.

Every week, DNAinfo contributing editor (and Columbia Journalism professor) Sree Sreenivasan shares his observations about the changing media landscape.