@johnrobinson: I admit I'm suspicious of media folk who join Twitter, attract 100s of followers & follow only a handful. They're talking but not listening?
@smalljones: @johnrobinson don't fear the followed, they are simply stuck in broadcast mode.
@ryanbruce: @johnrobinson Very few people can pull off not following people. Then they are simply a 140 character newsletter.
@jiconoclast: @johnrobinson I think your instincts are sound. Many media folks see Twitter as just another one-way publication medium.
@robyntomlin: @johnrobinson Agreed. There needs to be give and take or it's just broadcast. Best when it's a conversation.
@johnrobinson: I mean, I love addressing an audience, too, but reading you guys is much, much more entertaining and informative.
@BIF: @johnrobinson To me, the value of Twitter is listening in on what folks are talking about. Plus we've gotten some great stories via tweets.
@kiyoshimartinez: @johnrobinson Dunbar Number reality & having a good signal/noise ratio could be a good reason. Not everyone has equal value to you.
@johnrobinson: @kiyoshimartinez I got that. But 1,000 followers and 32 followed?
@chrislowrance: @johnrobinson Personally speaking, I keep my list short because otherwise I can't keep up with everyone.
This is an old discussion in Twitter years, hashed out by many in the pre-Ashton and pre-Oprah days, but still a stumbling block for some users on Twitter.
It seems particularly difficult for some people in the media, those most likely to consume massive amounts of information and to suffer the guilt of not being able to consume it all.
1. No, there are no rules on Twitter. But there is etiquette. Following back is generally accepted good Twitter etiquette.
2. Unread tweets piling up in your Twitter stream are not like unread magazines piling up in your living room. You don't have to feel guilty about failing to consume all the information.
3. Following back on Twitter is not like accepting a connection on Facebook or LinkedIn; it's a looser connection. It's not like following back gives away all your social and personal data, as can happen when you accept a friendship on Facebook. Your words are already out there on Twitter, if you have an unlocked Twitter account and you're trying to broadcast your messages. (Of course, you can always have another, real, friends-and-family private Twitter account.)
4. Half the value of Twitter is for listening and reporting. People cannot send you private, personal messages if you don't follow them back. So if you ever plan to use Twitter for gathering information, asking questions of others that they might not want to answer publicly, you should follow people back. Or if you want to be accessible to people offering you unsolicited information privately, you should follow people back. If you ask a question and seek information, without following people back, you will place a barrier of frustration in front of your sources. Many of them won't try to to get over that barrier.
5. There is a thing as the Dunbar number, a theoretical limit to how many relationships people can sustain. And there is such a thing as a time limit on how much online social networking can fit into a balanced life. And there is such a thing as a tension between broad, shallow networks of contacts and deep, narrow networks of contacts, and even gender differences about what people prefer. Those anthropological and psychological implications are part of the fascination of social networks. You get to choose. But take time to understand the implications of your choices.
Self-promotion: Read more about listening to Twitter and figuring out the Twitter news cycle at twitter cycles.