10 March 2013 - 12:34 pm

Why it’s important to limit who you follow on twitter

I’m obsessed with the number 57. I sometimes call it my ‘lucky’ number and other times call it my ‘unlucky’ one. Regardless of what it actually is, it’s a number that will always be with me for the rest of my life. That being said, when I finally caved into the Twitter hype back in 2011 I decided that I’d limit the amount users who I follow to 57.

At the time it was purely for superficial reasons, it didn’t really serve a purpose other than fueling my obsession with the number. 2 years and some 800 tweets later I find myself being really thankful for having set a follow limit from the very start.

Why? Well it’s partly to do with Robin Dunbar’s social relationships theory. Dunbar, a British anthropologist, showed through research that the number of healthy social relationships any one person can maintain is 150 (give or take a dozen). Anymore results in the relationships becoming strained and less valuable.

Now, although this theory was solely based on social relationships I believe Dunbar’s theory can be applied to business ones, and more importantly who you follow on Twitter too. There’s a common misconception that following more people will help keep you more up to date, make you more popular and improve your online social standing. But is that really true? What if following too many people had a reserve effect?

I was recently followed by someone who runs an online fashion store, excited to greet my new friend I clicked on her profile to say Hello. My happiness was flattened after seeing the amount of users she followed; I was just another number on her account.

Picture of an account on Twitter

Surely there is no benefit following so many people? With some brands and even people tweeting almost every ten minutes (particularly news sites and bloggers) it can become very hard to digest and make sense of the information constantly flowing in. Having a limit will help you not miss anything important and allow you to maintain a healthy relationship with those you follow. They’ll also feel more valued if they know that they are one of only 150 people that you’ve chosen to receive updates from.

This graph I quickly made illustrates it pretty well:

Graph showing how useful twitter is depending on the number of people you follow

So what number should you pick? 150 is too general of a number to choose, and it may not necessarily work for you. In order for this to succeed, you need to decide on a number that means something to you personally.

Maybe it can be the house number of where you used to live? Or the year you were born. Whatever it is, the number needs to evoke some sort of emotion, it needs to make you think of a time, place or moment within your life. The more relevant it is to you as an individual, the more likely you’ll keep to the limit!

Ultimately, following people who you are interested in and regularly interact with is one of the best and most effective uses of Twitter. You just have to be sure you don’t miss out on what they’re saying!

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  • About the author

    River Tam

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    River works for NACUE as a regional coordinator consulting universities and students on how to create and sustain entrepreneur societies. When he's not traveling across the country and attending enterprise conferences he moonlights as the Editor of Aspyre.