The reasons people get unfollowed on Twitter are more varied and complex than is often recognised. Perhaps one of the most unexplored elements in the wider picture is how much it matters who unfollows you. If you’re being unfollowed by churn-mongers who would never have read a single tweet you ever wrote, it really doesn’t make a scrap of difference. But if you’re being unfollowed by engaged readers, that's a critical problem. This piece looks at Twitter from the viewpoint of an engaged reader, and explains what moves real people to click that magic button.
Above: A modified poster featuring UK Prime Minister David Cameron. The triviality of social networking lends the originally very serious poster a fair amount of humour. But being unfollowed on Twitter probably isn't as big a joke for major political figures as it might seem. I don't know his real unfollower stats, by the way.
So, here goes. A straight-talking, point by point rundown of the reasons why your most important followers (the real, engaged individuals) might be unfollowing you on Twitter...
YOUR PROFILE PIC STINKS
Yes, seriously! Attention spans these days are so short that many people are reluctant to read any text at all, and images have become the driving focus of vast chunks of the Web. When your tweet arrives on a follower’s timeline, your profile pic will probably be the first (and very possibly the only) thing they look at. No one is going to look at something they don’t like, so unless your tweets have jawdropping levels of value, if your profile pic is offputting, the overwhelming likelihood is that you’ll get unfollowed. I looked at the difference a profile pic can make in my How To Spot an Online Faker piece.
YOUR USERNAME STINKS
As above. If your usename in any way offends, looks unattractive in your followers’ follow lists, or suggests that you’re aggressive, discerning followers will be reaching for the Unfollow button.
YOUR ATTITUDE STINKS
Are you swearing and/or presenting yourself aggressively in your bio? Are your tweets argumentative, abusive or predominantly negative? Are you prone to making undiplomatic or incendiary statements? Do you use racist or otherwise offensive language?… Guess what; you’re gonna get unfollowed.
If there’s absolutely no inherent value in your Twitter acount (in other words, followers get nothing at all from you unless they click a link), you’re a spammer. Public tolerance towards spam is exceptionally low. It might appear quite high given the number of followers some Twitter spam accounts build up, but none of those followers will be readers, or in any way engaged. The follows are purely button clicks, from people (or bots) who never pay any attention to their timelines. If you start spamming, and you’re not famous (and sometimes even if you are), ALL of your most discerning and attentive followers will be off – guaranteed.
Do you DM (Direct Message) people you don’t know with self-promotional matter?… This is rude, disrespectful, annoying and extremely selfish, and it’s guaranteed to lose you the followers who matter most. Don’t be tempted to think that just because most of your followers stay put after DM promos, it’s actually okay. The people who don’t unfollow you are those who never pay attention to anything anyone else says on Twitter, and are only there to promote themselves. In other words, the reason they’re not taking offence at your rude behaviour is because they’re not paying attention to it. And that means they won't be paying attention to your tweets either. You’re only losing the very people who are taking the most notice of you, and emotionally reacting to you - the most valuable followers anyone could possibly have. DM promos are therefore very much a false economy.
TWEETING TOO MUCH
If you’re tweeting every few minutes, there’ll almost certainly be little or no overall value in your messages, and life’s far too short for other users to sit looking at pointless, worthless rubbish. Seeing someone relentlessly popping up on a Twitter timeline gets annoying in itself – especially if they’re just tweeting links or seen-it-before quotes. If you’re never out of people’s faces and never off their timelines, chances are they’ll quickly get sick of the sight of you and unfollow, even if you do at times have something useful to say.
HIGH VOLUME DELETION
It seems to be in vogue among spammers at present to flood Twitter with an intensive, daily barrage of tweets, then delete them all, so it looks in their user stats like they’re not heavy messagers. If this is you, you should know that it really angers attentive followers (i.e. the followers you actually WANT), and even if they have a fairly high tolerance to intensive tweeting, they won’t tolerate being treated like idiots. This practice is disingenuous, sly, and insulting to the intelligence of other users. Don’t be at all surprised if you get unfollowed, and perhaps even blocked for it.
If your last three tweets are exactly the same, or you loop the same selection of messages every day, don’t even think you’re going to retain your most engaged followers. You’re just not. Full stop.
Seen a clever tweet? Couldn’t resist the temptation to re-post it without attribution, like it’s your own? That's plagiarism. You may fool some followers – you may even fool most. But if you’re doing it a lot, and people start to cotton onto the fact that you’re cheating, they can end up feeling duped. Essentially, in trying to pass off other people’s work as yours, you’re insulting your followers’ intelligence. No user wants to run the risk of extolling the virtues of a thief, and consequently ending up looking like an idiot. So if there’s any suggestion or indication that your tweets are stolen, people won’t want to retweet you (ever), they won’t want to promote you (ever), and the easiest way for them to ensure that doesn’t happen is to unfollow you.
No one cares how many people unfollowed you or how many people you followed in the past 24 hours. So if you’re using a third-party website that auto-tweets this information, have the sense to switch off the function. In tweeting this sort of nonsense, you’re once again treating all your followers like valueless idiots who will happily and moronically sit there consuming spam. Anyone who wants to prove to you that they’re not a valueless idiot, has the easy option of clicking the Unfollow button.
FOLLOWBACK / FOLLOW TRAIN TWEETS
“Retweet this to gain x number of followers! #followback #teamfollowback, etc…” Never be fooled into thinking that these ‘follow train’ arrangements will benefit you. What they actually do is build up the influence of the clown who originally tweeted the message (because he or she is the one who’s getting all the retweets), achieve nothing for anyone else, and worst of all, prompt anyone with a brain to zap you straight off their timeline with a rapidfire click of the Unfollow button. If you normally do have something of value to say, you might be forgiven one or two indulgences in this type of ruse, but if you get involved a lot, and/or your tweets are not considered particularly important anyway, it’s going to be goodbye from all the followers you really need to keep.
TEDIUM / BOREDOM
Even if you're inoffensive, well behaved, and conscientious about what you say, it's important to remember that being followed on Twitter is a privilege, and the most discerning users won't stick around out of courtesy alone. One of the most misunderstood areas of amateur Web publishing (and Twitter is of course a facet of Web publishing) is the difference between the way the publisher (or the Tweeter) sees information, and the way the reader sees it. My personal experiences seem important to me, but let's be honest: you don't care what I ate for my lunch, how long it took me to jog from A to B, or how many holiday brochures I've just looked through. So if I'm mostly posting that kind of information on Twitter, and you don't know me, and particularly if I have quite a routine life (which I do), you're quickly going to glaze over and switch off. You might have nothing against me whatsoever. You just don't need or want to know my lifestyle trivia, and you find it boring. This is another common recipe for an unfollow. The remedy is to refocus the conversation on things that matter to everyone.
ERM... YOU UNFOLLOWED THEM
Are you sure you haven't, either accidentally or as part of a 'bulk dump', unfollowed your unfollower first? If you have, it's almost inevitable that they'll exact their revenge just as soon as they find out.
THE FOLLOWER NEVER WANTED TO FOLLOW YOU IN THE FIRST PLACE
This is by far the biggest reason for unfollowing on Twitter. People following your account purely in the hope of being followed back. They’ve no interest in what you say and will never read a word of it. If you don’t follow them back as they hope, they’ll unfollow you, and many will still unfollow you even if you do return the ‘favour’. This, unfortunately, is a fact of life on Twitter. You can, however, console yourself with the knowledge that if you've taken care of all the above points, the only followers you're going to lose, will be the ones you didn't really need.