How and why to unfollow or unfriend in social networks

How and why to unfollow or unfriend in social networks


Unfriending or unfollowing in social networks goes against social norms. It’s something that you’d only do in real life relationships in extreme situations such as a relationship breakdown or separation.

There are good rational and even scientific reasons why you should regularly refresh your networks and make new friends and lose some old ones.

A potential downside of social media is that networks self-organise and form cliques. They coalesce around common interests and topics.

I work in public relations and I’m from Northumberland in the UK and so my networks have concentrations around this topic and location.

It’s the herd instinct. I want to hang out with people that are like me with a similar background and belief system.

In a social network that isn’t necessarily a good thing. You’re unlikely to be challenged or to learn new stuff. I suggest that you break out and regularly seek out new people.

This isn’t an argument for unfollowing people that share your views, indeed they are likely to be connectors who will share your content, but it is a call to action to proactively develop your networks.

Some networks such as Facebook or LinkedIn are two-way or synchronous. In order to connect both parties need to acknowledge the relationship and agree to the connection. Others such as Google+ and Twitter are one-way or asynchronous.

I frequently prune my Twitter network and seek out new people. Occasionally I do the same with Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn. Each network has its own dynamic and level of intimacy.

Reasons to unfollow

Here are some of the reasons why I unfollow people:

Automation – mechanically scheduling a programme of updates is a good way of sharing content at different times of the day but it’s a technique that should be used sparingly.

Silent or inactive accounts – ensure your following list on Twitter isn’t padded with silent, dead, or irrelevant accounts. Tools such as Sprout Social allow you to quickly perform a cull.

Noise – no one likes an egotist or loudmouth cluttering up their newsfeed. If you post frequently and don’t engage then you’re likely to be unfollowed.

Offensive – Challenging debate is in, offensive language, plain rudeness, plagiarists, snarks and trolls are out. Keep it clean.

Syndicated updates – replicating updates between different networks reduces the opportunity for engagement and may be repetitive if your networks overlap. Each social network has its own content formats and conversational style.

Spam - Nothing is likely to get you unfollowed faster than following up a new LinkedIn or Twitter connection with a generic sales pitch via direct message or email.

Muting versus unfollowing

Here’s a big fat caveat. If unfollowing someone is likely to cause offence think twice. Everyone has a story about an awkward situation.

It’s probably not worth the drama of unfollowing a colleague, client or family member. Inevitably an awkward conversation will result.

If you want to remove someone’s updates from your newsfeed but don’t want to unfollow them, each network has its own means.

On Facebook you can hide a user’s posts, on Google+ filter the newstream by circles, on Twitter mute (via an app) or filter via lists, and on LinkedIn filter updates.

Unfollow with care. It’s social media after all.

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