On Reciprocity in Social Media


Main Entry: rec·i·proc·i·ty
Pronunciation: \ˌre-sə-ˈprä-s(ə-)tē\
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural rec·i·proc·i·ties
Date: 1766

1 : the quality or state of being reciprocal : mutual dependence, action, or influence

I'm torn about this and I hope to explain why. Reciprocity is a problem right now in Social Media, its a rampant epidemic that needs to stop. The old cliche you scratch my back, I scratch your back wasn't meant to be taken literally to everything you do. Here is where my rant comes in. Twitter for example, why do some people feel the need to follow everyone that follows them? I'm a techie, I have every tool available at my disposal and I know how to use them. I can switch from tweetdeck to hootsuite to co-tweet to seesmic to you-name-it in a heartbeat... yet I don't follow more than 180 people. Why? Because it is impossible to actually follow all those people. I will not keep up with them if I followed 400 people, I couldn't. So I know you also can't. I'm also talking from experience, I've reached out to people with no response, or a 2 week later response that is starts with an apology because they have so many tweets to catch up on.

Unfortunately the trend of reciprocity is spilling into my new favorite site, Empire Avenue. People keep posting ads like "buy my stock and I'll buy yours" or "follow me and I'll follow you." Doesn't that defeat the whole purpose of the network? You are supposed to bring value for what you do, who you are and what you want to do. The value shouldn't lie in following back just for the sake of it. Please stop it.

But wait, this is happening everywhere. This happens on Twitter and most notoriously on Blogs. Please, if you follow my blog or my Twitter feed right now just because I followed yours. Stop reading this and go unfollow me. I don't want you looking at my stuff just because I look at yours. The fact is that the more people you follow for the sake of the Golden Rule, the less you're going to get out of it because there is no possible way you can keep up with that.

If you think you can keep up with thousands of twitter users, and hundreds of feeds in your reader, and hundreds of followers in other networks, you're deluded. You'll be able to catch some of the users' comments some of the time. You most likely will remain within your personal group of friends and people you actually pay attention to and care about. So why keep around all those other followers?

Take for example Twitter. There's a ratio number I consider heavily before I follow somebody... Actually there's a lot of stuff I consider when I am about to follow somebody on Twitter. But one that is a dead giveaway for me that will make me not follow you is if you have a lot more people you follow than follow you. I love that Twitter gives us the number of following and followers directly on the email that you get when someone follows you. I read and check every single follower that I get so it is important that you're not wasting my time. If you are following more than people are following you and have less than 100 followers, chances are I'm not even going to look at your profile.

It isn't so much about how many people you have following you or how many people you follow, but in the cases of newsworthy or worthy information, the masses usually have something to say about what's good. If you're not able to get people to follow your feed, then chances are your feed isn't interesting. Following hundreds of people back, or in hopes they follow you back to increase your numbers is lame. Its kind of like a kid going around the playground nagging everyone to be their friend. Nobody likes that kid, they're annoying, probably have low self esteem, and generally thrive on worthless attention.

So Do unto others as you wish to be done unto you doesn't apply so much to following and using social media. After all, I DON'T want people following me because I followed them. That defeats the whole purpose. I want followers to follow me because they like what I say, because they find what I say interesting or and more importantly, I want them to follow me because my feed will add value to their lives.

Going back to the ratio of followers/following, I find it very insightful. I usually raise my eyebrow to anybody with a ratio, close to 1. I'll still check out your site and feed if your ratio is between .999 and .700 but anything below that is highly questionable. Maybe I'll expand this idea into its own post soon. Just like I have a ratio for this on Twitter, I have complex judging mechanism for all other public networks I join like StumbleUpon, Reddit, Digg, etc., and trust me one of the factors I consider is not reciprocity.

This rant is really more about personal accounts in SM, business accounts, that's a different story and should be handled in its own set of expectations and guidelines. More on that later.

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