Back in late October 2009, Trey Ratclff at Stuck in Customs used the power of his website to create a Twitter community. His post explains it better than I can summarize, but in short, he invited all of his fans to leave a comment with their Twitter, website and/or Facebook addresses so we could connect with each other and share info about our own photography, photography news in general, and of course anything else we want to discuss. The one that really came together was the Twitter version, and Trey formalized the group in a Twitter list here. It makes it very easy to follow everyone on the list. I did so, and occasionally I go back to the list to add folks who recently joined to my Twitter feed. Trey’s community organizing (so to speak) also had the beneficial effect of prompting me to devote my energy to this blog and my photos. I had just started it about a week before, and the Twitter community gave me the motivation to build it up.
Now, the issue of Twitter reciprocity has been covered pretty extensively in a million places and articles and blog posts. I have no illusions that anybody cares about my theory or approach. The extreme short version is that it depends: sometimes you should follow a person who follows you, and sometimes that isn’t necessary. But in this specific context, of the Stuck in Customs Community, as Trey named it, it seems pretty clear to me that following the people on the list is meant to be reciprocal and mutual. If you don’t ever follow at least everyone on the list who has followed you, then you aren’t in sync with the whole idea behind the “community.” So it has been disappointing to me that probably more than 50% of the folks on the list who I have been following for 2-3 months now have never followed back. These are not people who followed and then dropped me because I did not measure up (that would be disappointing but fair) — they all never gave me a shot to begin with. They apparently looked at the “community” solely as an opportunity to get followers without giving back any attention. Primarily as a result of this phenomenon , I had a “following” to” followed” ratio on Twitter of better than 2.5 to 1 as of this morning. For someone who follows very few celebrities, including photographer celebrities, that’s a bit extreme. I sent out a tweet on this issue this morning and a few other people indicated they noticed the same thing. I also asked whether it would be best to Direct Message these folks, drop them, or just leave things as they are.
The common sense consensus was to keep the people whose tweets I value, and drop the rest. I plan to follow that advice, which was my first instinct, but with an added twist. The breakdown of these people, using that metric, would be a small handful whose tweets have been truly valuable, another smaller handful who have managed to annoy me in some fashion, and the great mass, numbering in excess of 100 people, who have moderately interesting tweets and photographic work. I’ll obviously keep the first group, I’ve already dropped the second, and the third group is the problem. I could very well live without them, but I would rather build the community than just cut them off. So my plan is this. It will take some work, but I think it is worthwhile.
Over the next few weeks I will systematically give each of these people a positive reason to notice and follow me. I will either retweet one of their posts, comment on a photo, or even tweet a link to one of their photos that they have not featured. If that causes them to follow me back, great. If not, after a few days, I will drop them. I actually did this yesterday with someone by accident. I re-tweeted with a comment on a photo, not realizing that this person had never followed me back. When the recipient of my attention responded by following me, and I received the email notification, I thought that was fantastic and came up with this idea.
Overall, the Stuck In Customs Community has been a great experience. I have met some great Twitter friends, and even though we might never meet in person I value that connection. In the end, a network has to involve 2-way connections. Unless you are an extremely rare individual, you cannot expect to keep people’s attention when you do not share back.