TECH TALKS: Follow Faux Pas

Let’s get right to it: sometimes, social networks feel like one big popularity contest. For some people, there’s an almost insatiable need to constantly get more followers. For others, social networking sites are viewed as information feeds, and then follow counts don’t matter as much. For even others, social networks are to build an audience, a following and in some cases,  a career. For most of us, social networks are a combination of these things, which means that none of us are immune to the disappointment that sometimes comes with being unfollowed.

The good news is, it’s pretty likely that every one of us has been unfriended or unfollowed at some point or another in our brief social media lives, whether we’ve been aware of the unsubscribing or not. Alternatively, I’m sure many of us have also found ourselves in a position of unfollowing, defriending or unsubscribing to someone else. I know I’ve been both the “unfollower” and the “unfollowee” before. Navigating social media is tough, especially as different people use it in different ways – and at the end of the day, we are all entitled to use sites like Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Facebook how we choose.

Considering how much activity takes place online in any of these social networking platforms, I thought I would run through a few common “Follow Faux Pas” to help everyone ease the pain of unfollowing someone or being unfollowed by someone. As a social media junkie who’s been tweeting, blogging, friending and following since sites like Friendster and LiveJournal were the go-to for online communities, and as a former digital trendspotter (I know! That really was my job!) who was one of the first to introduce the notion of “FOMO” to the mainstream, I’m no stranger to the complicated and intricate world of social networking and online relationships. Below, you will find some scenarios you or someone you know may have experienced, as well as some advice with how to react and respond.

You are obsessed with getting more followers or getting everyone you follow to follow you back.

I totally get the sentiment behind this, but once again, I have to reiterate that as everyone uses different social networking sites in different ways, you never have control over someone else’s approach, and a lot of the time, it might not be the same as yours. My suggestion here is to only think about how you want to use a specific social networking platform. Maybe Instagram is for friends only, but Twitter is where you go to share your jokes with the public and follow a small amount of people who also make you laugh. Try to spend less time worrying over someone else following your feed, and instead think about who you want to follow and how curating a good “follow list” can enhance your social networking experience.

You consistently interact with and/or “like” or “fave” posts of someone you follow, but who doesn’t follow you, in the hopes that through repeated attempts at catching their attention they will decide to follow you back.

Okay, this can work sometimes. And sometimes it’s just because whoever it is you are following is one of those people who’s a little less involved with their smartphone – maybe that person is someone who only checks in here and there on their “interactions” page of Twitter, or doesn’t have push notifications set for Instagram or Facebook. They might just not be as invested and aware of the people following them. It’s happened to me before, where I haven’t realized a close friend was following me or liking stuff I was posting until multiple “likes.” Sometimes it’s hard to just tell who someone is based on a username alone. If that’s what kind of situation you are in, then this might be a good tactic for getting that person to follow you back.

However, for the most part, you’re dealing with someone who doesn’t know who you are. That’s because that person is Justin Bieber and he has nine bazillion followers (rough estimate). Go ahead and fave his tweets all you want, but know that there is a very slim chance you’ll get an email alert that he’s following you back anytime soon.

Finally, I imagine there are situations where someone does notice your regular likes and faves, but they’re just not interested in following you back. You can like that picture of the cat sitting in the sink eight hundred times but they’re still never going to check off the “add” sign next to your name.  I’ve been there myself, and on both sides of the equation. Either you suck it up and accept the fact that the person is probably never going to follow you, or if you are that person – just bite the bullet and try following someone new for a little while. Once you start following someone, it doesn’t mean you have to follow them for life.

You have an alert every time someone unfollows you.

Stop. Stop that right now! I always think about those services, like “Qwitter” or whatever else people use to find out when they are unfollowed and by who, and how horrible it is to actually know. Once I tried one of these out for a month and it was pretty upsetting. I was appalled by some of the people who unfollowed me – some of them were friends or people whose opinions I cared about! I didn’t want to see that! So I erased my access to the service and now I don’t know if people unfollow me all day long, and I am a lot happier about it – it’s never on my mind! In fact, I bet someone is unfollowing me right now and I don’t even know it and I never will. Ignorance is bliss, my friends!

Someone unfollows you, you notice, so you reach out to them.

Okay, so let’s say you do have an alert set for when someone unfollows you, or you are someone who is very aware of who your followers are. Reaching out to someone who’s recently unfollowed you can be uncomfortable for everyone involved. It might be a blow to your self esteem and you might wonder why you lost that follower, but sometimes it’s best to keep those feelings to yourself – if you confront that person, you are putting them in an awkward situation and setting yourself up to feel even more disappointed than you do already.

Of course, sometimes this could simply be a result of a glitch on the platform. I always hear about people who log onto Twitter and find that all these users they’ve always followed are no longer on their follow list. It’s never happened to me, but I’ve definitely heard about it happening. So maybe that’s what happened to you or your friend? In which case, I guess it’s okay that you say something about being unfollowed… but still, I’d recommend against.

You unfollow someone and they reach out to you within minutes. Potentially on another form of social networking.

Abort! This is a stalker and/or Single White Female situation we are looking at, here!

Okay, maybe not that extreme, but this is a little intense. Once I unfollowed someone on Instagram and they DMed me on Twitter within minutes. It was weird and freaked me out a little. Another time, I changed some of my privacy settings on Facebook and someone who I didn’t know very well was aggressive in reaching out to me and asking what they did wrong. This made me feel pretty uncomfortable. Of course they didn’t do anything wrong, it’s just that I (or anyone) might unfollow someone else for any number of reasons. We’re all sharing the internet and we should try to respect that.

If this happens to you, there are a few ways you can handle it.  One option is to cut off contact if you’re really ballsy, but in most cases it might be easier to swallow your pride, chalk it up to a mistake and follow them back again – yes, that means out of the hundreds of tweets, photos and status updates you consume a day, thirty of them are going to be from that one person you wish you could just stop following. Get used to it and move on!

Or just choose to ignore that other person – you don’t have to follow people you don’t want to follow and some battles aren’t worth fighting. Eventually, they’ll forget about it.

Unless they really are stalking you…

You get an email or message of some sort from the person you recently unfollowed and it says something along the lines of the passive aggressive “Why did you unfollow me? Don’t you like me anymore?” or the self-pitying and accusatory “Well I guess you don’t think I’m interesting enough.”

That is… uncomfortable. Look, as I’ve said already, it’s okay to feel those feelings. Trust me, anytime I’ve been unfollowed by someone I admire or like, I’ve thought, “Was it something I said?!” And it probably was! But there’s nothing I can do about it and reaching out to that person is one of the follow faux pas that can create an uncomfortable situation for all parties involved. If you get a message like this, I honestly think your best bet is to ignore it. And if you are the person sending the message… well, maybe rethink your choice of words… or sending it at all.

You get an email saying “So-and-so is now following you on Twitter” a few times. Like seven times. Seven times in a row.

This is a tried-and-true tactic of the “Follow Back” obsessed – it’s as though the thinking here is that you’ll really pay attention to the next email alert or notification and finally follow that person back. “Then she’ll see me and be like, ‘Yes I will follow her back!’ and then she will follow me!” I don’t know, maybe this works on some people?

Or again, maybe this is because of some glitch in the system, in which case, don’t worry about it. We’ve all heard about this stuff happening. And to be honest, this is sometimes a great excuse for unfollowing someone you are nervous to offend – Twitter did it, not you!

You unfollow someone and they immediately unfollow you back.

This is like the Internet version of playground fighting I guess? It seems petty, but sometimes it’s a sigh of a relief! Sometimes you unfollow someone you really didn’t want to follow anymore and they didn’t want to follow you either – it just took one of you to bite the bullet and click “unfollow!” Or sometimes it’s just someone else being petty. Not much you can do here. Their loss, right?

I’m sure there are a whole bunch of other uncomfortable situations and follow faux pas I’ve forgotten to include here. I’d love to hear about those, and also how you deal with the occasional “Follow Bully” (as I like to call it).  You know, one of those people who is constantly riding your tail to make sure you are following them. What do you do about that? What are some tactics you use to enjoy social networking however you like, but also to avoid hurting other people’s feelings? I would love to hear what you think about social networking etiquette and follow faux pas – sound off in the comments below! Or you know… follow me on Twitter?

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