Dear Mega-Twitterer: why I didn’t follow you back

[Exploring the question* of whether meaningful conversation of any sort, even brief, can occur on Twitter.]


Dear person who follows 140,980** people on Twitter and decided to make me number 140,981. I appreciate you choosing to follow me, I truly do. On some level at least.

I see that you also have 136,074 Twitter followers. Congratulations on such a large following.

You may have noticed, though, that I did not follow you back and bring your number to 136,075. Then again you might not have noticed. I mean, it must be hard to keep track of these things when you follow so many people yourself. It’s about relationships, right?

It’s not about relationships for you? What? You mean it’s about numbers? On Twitter?! I’m shocked, shocked I tell you!

Social Media – social or media?

I’m new to social media. I just started this blog a year ago, and  created Twitter and Facebook accounts just this past summer. I don’t have much personal experience to go on.

Going by your own tweets, dear Twitter follower, you appear to love Jesus, love his people, and have a good grasp of doctrine. So why wouldn’t I follow you back?

Because for me social media is for being social more than it is about media. It’s about being communicative more than just making connections. It’s about relationships more than it’s about building a tribe.

Especially that last one. If anyone reading my posts or tweets ever thinks I’m tribe-building, please take me aside and shake some sense into me.

You see, Jesus was into relationships.

Come to me when you’re tired, he said.

Let me hold those children, he said.

I want to hang out with you, he said.

I want your comfort and support, he said.

Relationships are important in Jesus’ kingdom. Another way of looking at it is that the kingdom of God includes the relationships God’s people have with each other.

So I try to use social media in a way that builds relationships. I love to read the comments people write about my blog posts, and I try to respond to every comment that is amenable to discussion (and even some that aren’t).

For Twitter and Facebook, I like to read what people write because some of it is informative, some of it’s encouraging, some of it’s funny and some of it reveals something about the person. And then I try to respond to messages in a way that shows my appreciation or support or that might possibly add to the discussion.

But I don’t use social media in order to follow the thoughts of everyone who might have something worthwhile to say. And that brings me specifically back to you, dear person-with-a-hundred-thousand-followers-who-follows-a-hundred-thousand-people-yourself.

I looked at your tweets. You say interesting things about God. These are the types of things that I like to respond to and build a dialog with. But I don’t think that’s what can happen between us. I expect that any attempt to engage in meaningful communication will just get lost among the hundreds or perhaps even thousands of messages and tweets you must receive each day.

So thank you for following me. Please understand if I don’t follow you back.



*Aimee Byrd read through this post and helped me frame that question. Thanks Aimee!

**The numbers used in this letter/post are real, and the person who followed me really exists. I can’t make this kind of thing up, folks.


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22 Responses to Dear Mega-Twitterer: why I didn’t follow you back

  1. lauradroege says:

    Excellent post, Tim. Back when I was on Twitter, I really hated being followed by people who were just building up their numbers…and it was usually very obvious who they were. I had described myself in my Twitter-bio as a novelist, so I was followed by gobs of writers who apparently wanted me to follow them back (and buy their book!) Once, I had someone follow me, I followed back, and they sent me a DM: “Thanks for following! How did you find out about my writing?” Um, you followed me first . . . It was an obvious autoreply type of thing, which is a total turn-off for me. I unfollowed them. Sigh. I’m so glad that you’re more into relationship-building than tribe building, Tim!

  2. Tim, while there is some validity to this post because relationships surely are important. The most impact we will ever have is with those who we have one on one relationships with. We see this even in Christ’s ministry with the apostles. Tim, you know I love your blog and your writing, BUT!!!!!!

    I finish these thoughts in a private email to you with a challenge.

    Tim thanks for working so hard to always build relationships with those reading, it’s a tough job that you do well.

  3. I have similar feeling about Twitter, and also about “following” people on WordPress. There seems to be an understanding of “if I follow you, you’ll follow me back.” But I try only to follow people I’ll actually read, at least on occasion. Or else, like you said, the content from people I actually care about will get lost.

    • Tim says:

      I like the way you said “at least on occasion”. When I first starting reading blogs I read every single word the bloggers I followed wrote. It was easy because there were only a small handful of people I followed. Now I’ve found so many wonderful writers who have great things to say that i find I can’t read everything everyone of them is writing. It bums me out!

      To paraphrase an old saying: “Too many blogs, too little time!”

  4. Olivia Faix says:

    Hi Tim,
    I am definitely on the same page with you here. I follow a few people who have thousands of followers, like famous speakers whose content I like and my favorite musicians. But I don’t want to follow thousands or even hundreds of people. When I log on to Twitter, I like to scroll through to see the thoughts and comments from my internet friends that I may have missed while I was away. That’s not how some people use Twitter, but it’s how I chose to. I want to have meaningful relationships with people. Also, I am unlikely to follow someone who follows me and then tweets me asking me to “follow back.” That makes it seem like it’s a popularity contest to me. Obviously there is a bit of an ego boost when you gain more followers. But that’s not my motive for making connections on Twitter, so I’m not really interested in following people just to up my numbers. If some people want to follow a kajillionty people, that’s cool, althought I have no idea how they manage that. But it’s not for me.


    • Tim says:

      You’ve described perfectly how i use Twitter too, Olivia. I heard from one person who said she uses following in order to allow people to DM her, but that is because she’s an on-line editor for a very large news service and she finds it is another source to get tips from people on news stories. So for her the follow/follow-back is a workplace tool. That sounds like a wise use of Twitter to me.

      • Aleah says:

        It’s discerning whether it’s an effective tool that is difficult for me. Many online based subscriptions as well as editors/publishers only want your work if you can prove you have a following. As my baseline, I’m like you. I’d rather only have a handful of people to follow that I actually have interest in interacting with. However, if the numbers are the difference between being able to get my work published or it dying a slow death on a dusty hard drive somewhere, it makes it more complicated for me. I still haven’t been able to bring myself to farm followers, but I’m more likely to follow back if I think they’re a useful connection. I’m not sure I can draw a hard line in the cyber-sand on what I find acceptable.

        • Tim says:

          I can’t find the place to draw that line either, Aleah. I wonder about q publisher who is impressed with numbers, though. Perhaps they look behind the numbers to see if it would translate to actual sales.

  5. Jeannie says:

    I like your thoughts here, Tim: I’m not on Twitter so I can’t comment on that specifically, but I agree about using social media in a way that builds relationships. Communicating vs. just connecting — I really like that distinction.

  6. Adriana says:

    When I first started blogging I felt like I was on my own in the big city. Now I have blog friends who are my neighbors. When I’m online I prefer to stay in my quiet neighborhood, but now and then I merge onto the Twitter Freeway to access news from the wide world.

  7. Aimee Byrd says:

    One of my pet peeves on Twitter is the person who is obviously very popular and has many followers, but is only following like 13 people themselves. Basically, they are saying that they want to continue to promote themselves, but have no interest in what anyone else is writing. I’ve written on my struggles with Twitter and the cyber world enough to have a category set aside from it now. One of my other issues, is how Bible verses and one-liners are just floating by: themselves:
    I like to use Twitter like a cyber bulletin board. And you’re right Tim, just as with a physical bulletin board, it can’t function well if you’re just after numbers to tack on.

    • Tim says:

      Your posts on Twitter and social media have been a great guide for me, Aimee. Numbers are alluring, and I hope to navigate well through their enticements.

  8. Jaimie says:

    I only recently got started with Twitter and I’m not on it much. I definitely prefer Facebook, and more of my friends are there. However, I like using Twitter to share my and other people’s blog posts, and I browse through it once every couple days to see if I missed something interesting from someone I know (or someone I found interesting enough to follow). I have a lot less followers than people I’m following at the moment, but that’s okay (it’s the opposite on Pinterest, and I like that!). I have to say, it’s an honor when someone (coughyoucough) retweets something I say or mentions me in a tweet. That little nugget of recognition is nice. Not that that’s what I live for, of course… but it sure feels good! 🙂

    • Tim says:

      It does feel good, Jaimie, and I think that’s part of my point. Following 100,000 people tends to put a damper on that type of relational interactions.

    • Adriana says:

      This sounds like how I use Twitter too, Jaimie. Most of my online interaction happens on Facebook. I view Twitter as more of a tool than a platform. Nice to meet you, BTW! 🙂

  9. Gwen says:

    Yes. You said this so well. I started on Twitter, just to listen to some other viewpoints, to see the humanity in differing opinions, to learn. Then, well, I am relational, and I want to interact with people. I want to pray for them, talk to them, joke with them, and occasionally, I desperately request prayer through a DM, and that has also been reversed. I’m always mystified why people collect numbers, instead of relationships. I am also confused with the person who demands that I must retweet, or repost everything they do. It makes me very uncomfortable, like, I must take all sides with them, or, I don’t, know, maybe tribe-forming? I can’t put my finger on it. Yes, and it can be a good way to market this or that, but for me, I like the discussions, that aren’t rants, but carefully , or sensitively put out opinions, even disagreements. In other words, relational. You said this all well, Tim. Better than I could ever say it, but it resounded well.

    • Tim says:

      “I like the discussions, that aren’t rants, but carefully , or sensitively put out opinions, even disagreements. In other words, relational.”

      You summarized this perfectly for me, Gwen.

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