I Don’t Have to Follow You

Warning: This post probably goes against every feel-good, kumbaya, let’s welcome everything post I’ve ever written. But those were business and this is personal. It’s time to draw some lines.

I’ve been wanting to write this post for some time. I’m stopped from writing it because I know there are people who will take it wrong or think I’m being rude, exclusive, or just plain mean. However, I’m hoping most will take it in the spirit in which it’s intended – an explanation of why I don’t follow or Friend every person who asks.

It should go without saying…

I have different reasons for following who I want to on the various social networks, and there are different reasons for each social network.

When I first started on Twitter and to a lesser extent, Facebook, I did a mutual follow back to all who asked, but all that led to was a bunch of noise. Nowadays I take more care in selecting my friends and follows and choose people I’m truly interested in having a conversation with. I can’t think of any one person I follow because they share out a lot of links each day. However, I can name dozens of people who I follow because they share interesting links followed by a fascinating discussion.

Regardless of my reasons for following anyone, the truth is, I don’t have to follow anyone at all. And as harsh as it sounds, I don’t understand why it’s a personal affront to a person I barely know or never even heard of if I don’t want to Connect on LinkedIn or Friend on Facebook. In real life there are people who are friends, people who are acquaintances and people who we don’t know at all. I don’t go from house to house bringing everyone I don’t know into my network in the real world, so I’m not sure why I’m considered a snob if I do if I choose my friends the same way online.

I also use a lot of filters so if you follow me on Google+ or Facebook, you’re not going to see everything I post. My neighbors don’t need to see all my discussions with blogging and social media friends, and my family doesn’t necessarily need to share in neighborhood news. If I use filters it’s not because I’m choosing to exclude you, it’s because I’m doing my best to make you feel comfortable and not clog up your newsfeed with stuff that isn’t interesting to you.

By not following you, I’m not attacking or insulting you

I’m not sure when it became a personal insult not to want to follow people I don’t know from Adam, yet not a week goes by when a total stranger isn’t asking why I don’t follow back. In real life I’m always nice to people who I don’t click with, but I don’t invite them to follow me everywhere I go. And you know what? Neither do they.

As a community manager it’s my job to include everyone and treat everyone as an equal and as a friend, but that’s business. Professional communities and personal social networking are two entirely different animals. It’s like working at a large department store. You’re genuinely friendly and helpful to all the people you see every day at work, but do you want to interact with them on Facebook or Twitter every day? Not hardly.

I think too many people are afraid to draw lines because they don’t want to hurt feelings, or they feel they won’t be part of the “A-List” or “in crowd” if they don’t include certain names. This is silly. If someone doesn’t interest you, you should feel no obligation to spend time with them online or off.

I don’t have to follow you

I don’t have to follow you and I don’t have to be your Friend. I’m not a mean girl because I draw a line between my personal and professional interactions and I’m not a snob because I like to keep my private life private. Social networking isn’t a participation trophy. We don’t have to let everyone into our lives simply because they show up.


What are your thoughts on following? Do you follow everyone? Where do you draw the line?


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  1. Ric Dragon says:

    You always write such great posts, Deb. And I can understand the sentiments behind wanting to share these thoughts. I do think, however, that something might be getting missed.

    With all those filters in place, why NOT follow people back? Don’t those filters decrease the noise?

    The thing is, one of the greatest values to be gained from much of social is the making of “weak link” connections. By every so often getting a bit of an opinion or thought from someone I otherwise wouldn’t hear can be immensely valuable. If we only surround ourselves or connect to our existing relationships, we won’t get the benefit of that exposure. – just something I’ve been thinking about lately.


    • Deb Ng says:

      Filters help for sure, but they don’t necessarily decrease the noise.If I follow a spammer on Twitter, I can’t stop his spam from appearing in my feed.

      I also think it still depends on the people, Ric. For example, I chose not to honor the The friend request of the kid who bullied me all through high school. I also chose not to honor the friend request of the blogger who used tell everyone who was listening I had no idea what I was talking about.

      I also like to use the different social networks for different reasons. LinkedIn is more professional than Facebook, where everyone I follow I have a personal connection to. Twitter is for people who I want to have a conversation with, no matter how well I know them.

      So I do follow a variety of people, but I do it in a way I feel most comfortable with. I think who we choose to follow personally is a very personal thing.

  2. Good stuff. I believe that folks who want to be friends with everyone are the most hurt by exclusion, but as I was told a long time ago… “A friend to everyone is a friend to no one.”

    • Deb Ng says:

      I also think that when you don’t follow everyone, you pay more attention to what is happening in your feeds, the more people I follow, the less I really see.

  3. Josh says:

    There is no obligation to follow people just because they are following you. There is only so much time in the day to follow those people we are certain we want to follow, let alone others we don’t yet know.

  4. Carol Kelly says:

    Deb, I applaud your words! I definitely don’t follow everyone and I rarely ask people to follow me. (You were an exception!) :)

    Just because we have all of the tools to connect, does not mean that we are obligated to do so. I agree with your thoughts -“Social networking isn’t a participation trophy. We don’t have to let everyone into our lives simply because they show up.” I could not not have expressed it better myself.

    Thank you for your bold and refreshing honesty!

  5. Ryan Rutan says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Social networks are not high-school! I cant say I have a definitive line of follow vs. unfollow; however, there needs to be a reason. In the absence of good reasons to act either way, I’ll usually error on the side of following the person. If they start posting things that distract from my intake of desired information, I’ll simply unfollow and wont think twice about it. To me, it’s just that simple. =)

  6. Well, heck. I’m just thrilled you follow me! Honestly though, I used to follow everyone but that was in the beginning when I was joining some of these networks. I have started to do a slow unfollow to a lot of people on Twitter and on Facebook and I wish I could find a proper way to let people know that it’s not personal. I am the social media coordinator for an outlet mall and some of merchants have requested to friend me through Facebook and I’ve denied every one of them. I even had one “remind” me face to face that she had requested to be my friend. The best I could offer her was that I saw it but I wasn’t approving any new people right now. It sounded snotty but the plain truth would’ve been worse. What’s the advice on how to politely tell people you’re not interested if confronted?

  7. OBVAVirtualAssistant says:

    Hi Deb, this is so true. I was just reading an article similar to the meaning of this “what-are-your-facebook-likes-revealing-about-you” The social sites have reached such a level that our private life is in a complete jeopardy. I completely second your opinion when you say “I don’t have to follow you.”

  8. Agree with you completely! I’m really specific with LinkedIn. I get requests to connect but I don’t feel like I recommend someone I don’t know.

  9. Jeff Currie says:

    I agree with you totally. Personal offense should not be taken because I choose to shape my various groups in ways that work for me. There are many, many potential friends and followers out there, and it seems a huge waste of energy for a complete stranger to get upset because I choose not to follow them, etc. it’s a sign of our changing social expectations, I suppose. For example, I’ve had people get offended because I didn’t answer my cell phone when they called. Before cell phones, there were answering machines and people did not expect you to always be available to answer your phone immediately! The various social media sites definitely work in different ways, and in order to use them most effectively, I think they all need to be given different roles.