This article first appeared in Funding Insight on 2 August 2018 and is reproduced with permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this, visit www.researchprofessional.com.
The longer I’ve actively been on social media, the more certain things grate on me.
I’ve written before about why I’d follow an account—a person or organisation—on Twitter.
So, you can imagine that if an account started to become the opposite of what it was when I followed it, it would turn me off.
With longer-term use, other aspects become salient when it comes to unfollowing an account. This article isn’t about whether I’d follow back, or decide to follow (or ‘like’, depending on the social media platform), rather I’m going to look at why I’d stop following (or liking) an account.
Most of the reasons are to do with consistently hitting my irritation threshold. There’s a rough formula here, and unfollowing only happens when the account starts irritating me more than I find it useful or fun.
If it’s super-useful and only occasionally irritating, I’ll stay. If the usefulness (or fun in engagement) fades and the irritation becomes constant or increasing, I’ll likely go.
Here are the top five reasons that would make me unfollow an account.
1. Changed areas of interest
It happens. You grow apart.
You have fewer things to talk about and don’t share as much as you used to. Once upon a time, the live tweets of three-day conferences used to be riveting and I’d be hanging out to hear about our mutual buddies’ presentations. Now, I tend to mute the conference hashtags…more and more often.
This is where ‘other stuff’ connections gets you past changes in research interests or complete sector shifts. If your account is very ‘work-face only’ and your work-face changes to one that I’m not very engaged with, it’s likely I’ll unfollow. If, however, you offer more than work-face (maybe savvy takes on #HigherEd in general, fun/witty ways of engaging with your community and talking about your work [whatever that work might be], interesting [to me] hobbies or activism), I’ll probably stay.
2. Changed primary platform, auto-posting to others
There are a fair number of people and organisations that I follow across platforms. That is, I follow them on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Usually, a bit of repetition across the information or images doesn’t bother me too much. It’s when someone seemingly abandons one platform for others and just maintains an auto-feed that I may walk (from the auto-fed platform).
For example, if you only post to Facebook and auto-feed to Twitter, all that the people on Twitter see is a link to Facebook. That’s it. No lead-in text, no context. It’s annoying, especially if your main social-media platform is Twitter (and you’re not going to follow up on the link every time at another platform).
3. TMI (too much information)
This particular element is highly subjective.
There are some friends and colleagues from whom I’m perfectly happy to hear about their lunches, commutes, dating, holidays, and kiddies’ shenanigans. Sometimes, it’s because I know and like them a lot and the social media engagement we have is just another extension of our friendly relationship. Sometimes, I may not know them that well, or only know them through social media, but they relate these aspects in ways that I find appealing, funny and interesting.
A good example of this relational consideration is when someone I follow becomes a parent and their stream becomes a steady diet of baby pictures, baby pictures, and more baby pictures. First up, I don’t hate babies, so put down those pitchforks. This kind of big (maybe temporary?) shift in programming can present a dilemma at times, though, because – I’ll admit this much – babies aren’t my go-to topic of interest. I’ve had two, and like squeezing them as much as the next person, but they aren’t what I want all over my social media streams. I am not looking for, or finding value in, endless pictures of babies.
You could substitute ‘baby/babies’ here with all manner of other things that don’t automatically interest me as dominant topic streams (for example I find goat yoga a huge turn-off, as are diets and/or number of steps you’ve taken). Conversely, some things do automatically interest me: research sector stuff, and researcher development and education specifically; examples of fried dough from around the world; research and news on the critical race studies front; cactus, succulents, and fungi…I’ll stop there.
There’s just too much in my stream from some accounts. The items posted or things said are things I’m broadly interested in but there’s just too much, all the time, and it takes over my stream. I may not recognise this pattern till after I’ve been following for a bit. If it’s a Twitter account and I like the links/comments enough, I may put it on a list that I can check every once in a while.
Sometimes, people just stop posting, or take to posting every month, and that monthly post is an auto-fed update about how many followers they’ve gained and lost. This is a perfect example of an account becoming useless. Unfollowing will follow.
Having said all of this, I hope it’s clear that these are highly subjective preferences and everyone’s tastes and thresholds differ. Just because we may aim for work-face on our accounts doesn’t mean the accounts aren’t also idiosyncratic.
Ultimately, you’re not on social media for my benefit; you’re on there for yours. It’s okay for our interests to diverge. It happens. So keep true to yourself, and don’t worry about your followers. Like me, you’ll find those who interest you, who amuse you, who inform you. If you have a shared interest in goat yoga, that’s fine too. Just don’t expect me to be part of it.