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I will probably unfollow you

In the beginning there was not much, and my head said:

MY PROBLEM: building a personal brand on the Internet and becoming inspiring to people, without over-complicating things; one account.

POSSIBLE SOLUTION: to reach a critical mass of followers so the content I am creating for free pays me back in terms of reputation, for which I should achieve a cooperation loop in between getting branded and being inspiring.

IMPLIES: Be worthy to your audience and experience the responsibility of keeping them close.

And here the problem comes: network asymmetry. Because, on the Internet, everything boils down to the fact that a few are followed by many while most of the people get barely no attention. It happens everywhere, and it seems to be a natural behavioral pattern in networked systems in which all the agents compete for the same resource (in this case, fame). This means two things:

  • Jargon Lanier stating our current network designs are dehumanizing and alienate us to the idea of being defined by a set of diminishing ciphers.
  • From Facebook to Twitter, all the social networks append all the demagogy-driven functionality you can imagine. This is: if you were Hitler on Twitter, you would probably still win a flamewar against @DalaiLama.

Fortunately or not, there are two wide profiles of media users that fit this natural model that builds from financial monopolies (pure evil) to information monopolies (pure evilness): collectors and readers; those who drag attention and those who prefer to follow. And hitherto, the model would be right if that was all, but it is not. The reason why I am writing this is because I know someone already felt bad because of how this apparent “natural order” works.

Prosumers are here to stay, as Henry Jenkins would state. There are those who read and write, who watch and film, who do and do on both sides of the information game. For those, it is as mandatory to be aware as to be listened. And for them I swear I feel bad when I unfollow them after they followed me, because I understand how hard it is to be ignored when you are doing your best to fulfill and audience. But, as a prosumer —and this is my first, I think, good reason to unfollow— I do really need to filter my timeline and do not have time nor criteria to do so with lists; this is an issue of cognitive overload.

Secondly, and this is the mean reason, I think Twitter accounts that parallel followers and followed tend to have a reputation problem; either because there are taken as #FollowBack maniacs craving to ascend or because it looks like they want to befriend everyone, as if everyone would be equally meaningful to them (a bit too unrealistic).

Twitter itself was framing a situation: it will be hard to ascend, and it is forbidden to ascend in a dirty way, but on the other hand the only way of branding yourself is ascending. So what I needed was very clear: a fairly ethic way of gaining followers without going into the “dog eats dog” world they have invented. I wanted a base of real followers who were interested in who I am because of what I say, despite I cannot track all of them because my attention span is limited. And then it arrived, THE IDEA.

Tweeting without followers is like shouting in the middle of the ocean, using the hashtags as a temporary way of staying in the surface; while massive follow/unfollow cycles, aside of forbidden, are an easy way of getting an audience that does not engage with you (as a matter of fact, you will be followed by the #FollowBack maniacs or worse, bots). I then recalled some lessons of ludology: there are the “ludic” cheaters, those whose cheating is part of the game while not trying to finish, ruin or win it. I applied this sort of reasoning in order to find way of letting my people know that I am here and I offer quality content without:

  • Buying a follow.
  • Using software to run batch queries on undetermined masses of human beings.
  • Expending two to three years devising an executing a full-time personal branding plan.

So I decided to go for dedicated follows with later unfollows to those who would not call my attention or repeat too much feeds I already had. A way of telling “hey I am here” without telling it too loud, but strong enough to motivate a click on my nickname. And a hand-based way, person-by-person.

This is how I do it:

  • Fit a clear description of who I am and what I do.
  • Program selected content on Klout so my audience gets targeted articles with the keywords they want.
  • When my last three or four tweets sound appealing, I look for accounts that broadcast UX content and then select among their followers.
  • Some follow backs come in, from people who usually profiles as a reader or from mere followbackers.
  • Then I get rid of those who ignored me and those who simply need a follow back (I do not want people following me just because).
  • In the meanwhile, I carefully select from the new followers who is uploading original content.
  • There are some other strengthening techniques, such as liking many tweets or provoking conversation and debate.

I go to bed thinking I am doing an effort for them every time I go for content or write it myself, and I hope that pays for me ignoring what most of them do, as most of them do not even have a blog.

Indeed, Twitter is as dehumanizing as its design. Many para-linguistic elements are lost, and therefore we are limited to the functionality they implemented. As a UX designer, I sometimes wonder what if social networks achieved to be any social, for real, instead of a collection of ideology and demagogy with a few thinking individuals every now and then; because of the way they work, that is the behavior they are breeding. For now, all we get is the jungle, and I do think we should accept our current designs do not allow us to behave —and win— as humans do in non-virtual environments.

By my side, I accepted, long ago, that I cannot take online behavior as if it happened in real-life. This means, that I shut myself every time someone unfollows me. Twitter is a toy and it works how it works. I agreed on the idea that any mistake will be taken as a great offense, that some individuals will lurk on my past attempting to expose me, that some people will simply insult me or that some others will capitalize my miseries for their benefit. Following this new scenario and considering its flaws, what I did was finding a way of letting someone I am interested in knowing I am here to share good content. But if you ask me if the whole mode is wrong, I will agree. For now, all what we have is accepting a double profile: our side in the net and its ways to survive there, and out side in real life and its ways to survive there. For the times that come, I hope to be the one that designs something that does not comply with asymmetric networking.

All this said, I hope you understand me. I want to be ethic and pragmatic at the same time, and I cannot ask you for what I am not giving. Due to all this, I am easy: if you want me to follow you, follow me back as if you were knocking to my door. If I like what you share, I will follow you. If you unfollow me, I will still liking what you share, hence I will not unfollow you. The good thing of all this is that no individual can get to make the difference, not in my account but neither in yours, because success is an aggregated issue; if you really behave, people will eventually come to you and you will not need to use this tricks for long. And still, sometimes I simply follow people with a few dozens of acolytes just because they look like incredibly cool people.

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