Five Reasons to Follow Back

I've noticed a trend in the educational community toward paring down Twitter followers to a tidy, manageable number. I get it. It makes sense. Twitter streams can feel crowded. They can move at a break-neck speed. Might as well follow just the people you feel like you truly know.

I don't think there is anything wrong with un-following people and this post isn't meant to be a shot at people who do. However, here are a few reasons that I tend to follow back people (not companies) who follow me:
  1. You never know when a follow-back becomes a chance at a new relationship. That new person with 42 followers might just be lurking at first, but it's a chance to welcome someone knew into a personal learning network. I want to avoid unintentionally creating my own comfortable community filled with old friends at the expense of welcoming new people. 
  2. You never know when someone who is shy wants to have a direct message conversation. The beauty of following back is that it creates opportunities to have one-on-one conversations with people who might be more reserved about going public with their thoughts.
  3. Following back helps people who are new. It's easy to say that numbers don't matter. But the truth is that numbers mattered to me in the beginning. I'm not saying that it was a healthy thing, either. But I wanted to know that my voice mattered and I mistakenly believed that those numbers were some kind of a metric on influence. I remember feeling excited about reaching one hundred followers on Twitter. 
  4. Un-following can feel personal. Although it isn't meant to be personal, it can leave people wondering what they have done something wrong. I know this sounds silly, but each time someone pares down their Twitter list, it feels a bit like basketball tryouts, where I'm wondering if I made the cut.  
  5. I can still keep private lists if I want to keep things smaller. I have private lists based upon geography (just so I can remember where people live) and that's worked well for me.
John Spencer

Professor. Maker. Speaker.
I want to see schools unleash the creative potential in all teachers to transform classrooms into bastions of creativity and wonder. Read more →
Email me at john@educationrethink.com for speaking inquiries on design thinking and creativity.


  1. Yes. Yes. Yes.
    Once again, thank you, John, for challenging me and others in education. I found myself wanting those followers, but now I feel more responsible about what I tweet because I have a few. I like to follow those with few followers, and encourage them to swim in the stream. I unfollow when a person's tweets are no longer relevant to my profession, or when I find I'm frustrated at many things the person tweets. My mental health is valuable to me - I'm good at being challenged at times, but there are other things that can get my goat. I feel mean when I unfollow, but sometimes it's necessary.

    It's time to write my own post about Twitter and how it's affected me this year. Thanks for that extra boost I was looking for that will have me getting out the laptop...

    Cheers! -Joy

    1. I'm with you on the whole unfollowing if it gets too personal or disrespectful.

  2. #5 is perfect. I don't understand why anyone wouldn't just create lists. P e ople who make big announcements about un-following remind me of livejournal 10 years ago when those people would make dramatic "I'm trimming my friends list" posts.

    I follow, I unfollow, I become a fan, I share ... I even hate read. All for different reasons.

    Although maybe I should make a dramatic video that tells people why I'm unfollowing. I could be the John Taylor Gatto of Twitter.

    1. Love the John Taylor Gatto reference.

  3. I follow back if something in their recent tweets catches my eye, four square counts against. (Sorry.) But the most likely thong to get me to follow is a conversation. People who are willing to tweet back and forth are almost always worth a follow.

    1. Four Square drives me crazy. Then again, my memes drive others crazy, so go figure.

  4. I agree with your ideas. Following back is a basic courtesy and is really helpful for people who are beginning to use Twitter. I must admit that I don't follow eggs.

    1. I agree on following eggs. Though I admit that some of the eggs are just people who haven't figured it out yet. I'm wondering what it would look like to help eggs become people.

  5. I recall you mentioning your follow back approach before, John, and respected you a lot for that. How we manage all this is interesting. Our management of it can also limit us, I think. We can often base the follow back decision on the bio, or the role or what they are tweeting, etc. Sometimes I have found that after I follow someone, it is the conversations that I catch between them and others who I already follow that have been valuable. I would not have caught those @ exchanges, had I not followed that person.

    I am using lists more too. If I don't follow someone back right away I will often add them to a list based on geography and/or topic as well... and I try to spend time in those lists to keep in touch or engage further that way.

    I often wait a bit before following back... the person may decide that they don't care for my tweets...so unfollowing for them may be less awkward if I haven't followed back yet :)

    #metatwitter .. simple and complex

    1. I sometimes wonder what I miss when I don't follow back corporations. I want to interact with people. And yet . . . what am I missing in the process?

    2. hmm.. maybe some info, but maybe not much if they aren't sharing the work of others. If they unfollow you for not following back...it is clear they weren't interested in 2 way learning or conversation.

      Just thought I would mention that there are a number of educators who I don't follow, but yet I am very familiar with their work because their tweets and blogs get shared frequently by those who I do follow, or I read their comments on blogs I do follow.

      It is interesting to compare how my teens use Twitter...kind of like as Twitter has promoted "follow your interests". Things are what they are, I guess.


Contact Form


Email *

Message *