When I first heard of Twitter I didn't understand its potential role in the education world, and thought of it merely as yet another avenue for annoying celebrity self-promotion. However, when I was shown how easy it is to follow people in education and gain quick and easy access to the newest information and real-time educational conversations, I was hooked. In addition to the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of articles I've read, I've met countless learners online and in person that I would not have known if it weren't for Twitter, and I frequently have had support and been able to support others with challenges and questions from the workplace. I know I'm still barely scratching the surface.
However, this isn't about how great Twitter or other social media is for professional learning or how important it is to use it authentically. (Try this thoughtful blog by Chris Wejr for those insights.) This blog represents a somewhat lighter take on the art of following, not following, and unfollowing other Twitter users. I do realize that after being on Twitter for just over a year or so, I'm still a bit of a bunter and my opinions don't carry the weight of some of you bright lights, early-adopters, and Twitter mavens with follower lists in the thousands. However, I do now believe everyone should have a thoughtful and effective strategy that allows them to fully maximize their digital learning and manage their online persona. In the complete absence of that, here is what I have been doing, more or less ...
My interests are primarily education leadership, assessment for learning, and education technology, not necessarily in that order. I am also interested in all things related to instruction, including PBL and blended learning, and anything in the rhealm of politics or business that might directly impact education. If you are sharing content in these areas I will probably follow you.
If I know you or work with you, and you do or do not share content in the above areas, I will probably follow you. I may just be trying to convert you over to using Twitter primarily as a learning tool and get you to engage in conversations or content in the areas mentioned above, and I'm just biding my time until you get hooked like me. You have been warned.
If you follow me and I don't know you but you sometimes share content in the areas mentioned above, I might follow you. If you have a direct or indirect role in education and you sometimes share something funny or smart, I also might follow you. If you share something amusing but in questionable taste, I might laugh, then unfollow you. Sorry. Got to keep it clean.
If your account is inactive and you never share content, or you haven't shared content in months, or your content is protected, I might not follow you, or even unfollow you. In fact, I recently used the Unfollow app to remove several dozen accounts of people who were not active. This isn't a good or a bad thing and I won't refer to it as "spring cleaning" like some people do. I just prefer to follow people who are active and willing to share.
If the bulk of the content you share is personal stuff, or you get into conversations with people that are gossipy or about sports teams I don't care about or they generally don't have anything to do with learning, I might unfollow you. If you are trying to sell me stuff, I will probably unfollow you. If you may or may not even be a real person and your avatar links to a website involving something illegal in Canada and most states, I will absolutely not follow you back and I will block you right away.
If you "overtweet" and fill up my timeline to the point where your content shoves out everyone else's content, even if it is sometimes useful, I might unfollow you. Of course, if only you check in to Twitter once a week or less and you are only following a handful of people and most of them are relatively inactive, I may be that "overtweeting" person filling up your timeline with my 20 or so tweets/retweets per week. Sorry about that.
If you are still in university I probably won't follow you even if you are following me, but I might follow you later when you are working. I don't think I have to explain that one.
If you are sharing different points of view and growing my understanding of complex topics I may follow you. Real learning means taking in fresh perspectives, expanding your thinking and questioning your own beliefs, not just constantly going deeper into an area of comfort. Frankly, I do get tired of reading things I already know or believe. However, if you are rude, like to start arguments, don't appear to appreciate other points of view, barge into conversations, or cheap shot people who may or may not even be following you, then you are a "Troll" and I will not follow you. I also may unfollow you, or even block you. If you got a bit testy last year during Job Action but you are back to your old self, I understand, and I may follow you again. It was tough on everyone.
Recently, after reading this article by John Spencer about why it is good to follow back, I went through my account again and, though still using the same criteria, I followed more people who were following me, often wondering why I didn't follow them before. If you are following me and you do meet the above criteria but I didn't follow you, it's probably because I wasn't super focused about it. Please don't take it personally. This isn't supposed to be work. Furthermore, in the spirit of the John Spencer article, if you follow me after reading this, I will certainly try to follow you back.
If you use a lot of annoying, cutesy made up hashtags like #livinglarge or #gobigorgohome I won't unfollow you. I probably should unfollow you, but I won't. If you share inspirational messages from time to time, even if they are a bit corny for my liking, I will not unfollow you. I know you mean well, and I realize I am a recovering cynic. In addition to that, if you still want to follow celebrities like Steve Nash or Rhianna or whatever and even retweet them from time to time, that's okay, I won't unfollow you for that either. However, I have to draw the line at retweeting Justin Bieber. If you follow and then retweet him, we are done and I absolutely will unfollow you, and may even block you.
We have to have some standards around here. More or less.