I have to be honest: I did not realize that the question of “unfollowing” would be such a hot-button issue during the #SAChat about authenticity in social media on February 13. I believe in quality over quantity. I apply this principle to my social and professional networks. Even as an extrovert who loves working a room, I realize that not every first impression will turn into a lasting connection. Those connections will vary in purpose, type and frequency of communication, and the effort invested in maintaining the connection. Moreover, there are some connections that will end.
In the world of social media, it is difficult to uphold the principle of quality over quantity. Not every person I am “friends” with or “follow” is an actual friend or trusted colleague. I don’t tend to “friend” people I don’t know in real life on Facebook because I share much more information there, but Twitter is more impersonal. My concept of appropriate social media etiquette is predicated on the fact that there are a large number of people who I follow (and who follow me) who I don’t actually “know”. So when I considered question 3 (Is it okay to “unfollow” someone you know professionally?), I took into account that there are plenty of followers who fall into the category of fleeting acquaintances or people I have never met in person or communicated with outside of Twitter.
Therefore, this was my response:
“SoMe is free speech but I don’t have to be everyone’s captive audience. I also don’t have to talk to every person at a party”
Some of the relationships that I maintain through social media include people I am very close with personally and professionally. These are people who I am unlikely to unfollow regardless of what they say online. What they communicate is relevant to me because it exists within the context of relationships that would still survive absent social media platforms. These are the people who I will always talk to at a party. These are people I will reconnect with at a conference even after time and distance have separated us. These are people who I try to catch up with if I am at or near their campus or hometown.
But the majority of people I follow on Twitter don’t fall into that category. I often follow other professionals after meeting them at a conference, engaging on #SAChat, or some other surface-level interaction. There is always the potential for that connection to go further, and it has a lot to do with the content they post and interaction with them. If that further connection is not established, I don’t feel guilty if I choose to unfollow for some reason. If a Twitter “non-friend” fills my feed with content I don’t feel interested in or am offended by and I don’t have some other level of sustained social obligation to them, unfollowing seems natural. If Twitter was a party, it would be a giant Gatsby-esque affair. Everyone is there and having a great time, but whether you take the time to talk to someone is the difference between whether you “know” them or you really know them.
Ashley N. Robinson is a Residence Hall Director at the University of Connecticut. She is a proud UMaine Black Bear and sits on the National Board of Directors of Gamma Sigma Sigma Sorority. She is passionate about social justice and in her free time enjoys cooking and exploring the great outdoors in New England. You can follow her on Twitter at @AshleyNRobinson and read her blog athttp://ashleynrobinson.com/.