How can you follow more than 150 people on Twitter?

When I first started to use Twitter there was a small and fairly tight knit group that I followed and who followed me back. It really felt like a community and there was a sense of intimacy. The feeling of intimacy was supported by meeting with a lot of these folks in real life.

But over time the follower count grew. I don’t check the numbers like many seem to, but it must be over 1,000 mostly mutual follows by now.

Sometimes I am asked how it is possible to follow so many people,especially in the light of ideas like the Dunbar number of about 150 people.

It has made me think about how I see Twitter and how it works for me.

TWITTER IS LIKE A RIVER
Twitter is like a river that is always flowing, whether I am there to see it flowing or not. From time to time I come to the river and watch it flow past. While I’m there interesting conversations and tweets catch my eye and I respond. New people say interesting things and I follow them. Then I go away again, and still the river of Twitter continues to flow. It is important to maintain a zen like calm when I cannot see the river flowing past.

TWITTER IS LIKE A COCKTAIL PARTY
Twitter is also a bit like being at a cocktail party [HT: @mediamum]. When you arrive the party is under way and conversations are happening. But unlike a cocktail party in real life, it is a lot easier to chime in on the conversations in Twitter. Also because you are not physically present it is easier to interact with people you don’t know. In this environment it is easy to build up relationships that involve weak social ties, but which are really quite powerful in different ways.

ATTENTION
It can be hard, with so many contacts, to stay in touch with particular individuals. I always read @ replies and DMs (direct messages) and respond where it makes sense. This is where tools come in handy so that none of these personally directed messages are missed.

TOOLS TO MAINTAIN PERSONAL CONTACT
The other side of Twitter is that you actually get to know people. This might seem a strange idea. But it is possible to meet and get to know people online, and to become friends. There are some folks whom I count as friends – we met initially via Twitter only to meet later in real life and continue building the relationship.

But the challenge with an increased number of contacts is how to manage the conversations. I’ve found Tweetdeck to be an immensely useful tool, it enables creation of groups. Also Twitter searches, which can be saved to an RSS reader. Mr Tweet is also very useful if you want to work out who else to follow. And Tweet Later is a really handy service.

BENEFITS
What an amazing, diverse and interesting bunch of people I have access to nowadays with Twitter. In the past it would have been impossible for me to make contact with so many people in such diverse locations and professions. I’ve made some good friends, had some interesting debates, and learned a lot. Thank-you to everyone who’s participated. Look forward to tweeting more in future.

4 thoughts on “How can you follow more than 150 people on Twitter?

  1. Stilgherrian

    Caronnect, I find Tweetdeck useful for managing a large-volume Twitterstream.

    I use the left-hand panel for the unfiltered river of Tweets — which I only glance at from time to time. I then have a couple of groups and searches, one for close friends, and one or two for topics or locations I’m currently interested in. And then there’s a feed for people directly talking to or about me.

    I find that provides a nice blend of “ambient intimacy” with my closest (I see everything they say), across to noticing little sparkles of interest in the fastest-moving stream. And I notice immediately if someone wants my attention.

  2. caronnect

    Great post, Kate. I really like the way that you presented it and the last para on the benefits is so apt. A significant drawback is managing the volume and you've give suggestions on how to manage this. Chris Brogan has 20,000 people following him – I really that is when Twitter is being used as a publication tool. Meaningful exchanges & getting to know Tweeps are part of my Twitter experience.

  3. Colin Campbell

    So true. I marvel in an odd perverse sort of way with some of the people who are following me, who I doubt I have much in common with. Is this some kind of ego trip to work out who can get closest to Guy Kawasaki in the number of followers and people they follow. How can you possibly monitor that many people in any kind of meaningful way. I am around a hundred and I reckon it is time to cull.

  4. Stilgherrian

    Chris Brogan covered some of this material in How I Use Twitter at Volume:

    “It’s a lot like showing up to a very busy, very loud cocktail party, but also a business meeting, plus a focus group, plus several other social situations. Twitter, unfiltered, is like someone with mind reading powers walking down 38th Street in Manhattan. It’s not especially easy to manage, and it’s very different how things work at this pace. Looking at unfiltered Twitter at this volume just doesn’t cut it.”

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