Many people have this huge misconception about Twitter and social contracts. They believe that there’s an implied social contract on Twitter that says if I follow you, you will follow me back. There’s a built-in feeling within each and every one of us that believes that if we are given a gift, we must return the favor. Dr. Robert Cialdini covers it extensively in his book: Influence. In today’s social networks, that contract is absolute BS.

Unethical marketers with bad intentions have ruined that social contract. Now, 90% of the people who follow me are salespeople, marketers and BS artists looking to show me how to Gain 2,000 followers in a day! Lose weight fast! and Make Money Online! Unfortunately, it took a large number of jerks to spoil the party for everyone else. Once-meaningful methods to build relationships like #FollowFriday on Twitter have since become spam-bait. The practice of following interesting people has given way to the practice of using bots to automatically mass-follow people you don’t care about. Because of that, this social contract has been broken.

I will not ever follow anyone back automatically unless I have already connected with them in a meaningful way, or their profile is at all interesting to me. That said, if you comment on my blog with something meaningful or if you actually connect with me (via @reply) on Twitter, I’m likely to return the favor. If we exchange business cards at a conference and I tell you I’ll call you, I will. Those are still meaningful connections to me. But if you simply follow me without saying anything and expect me to reciprocate, I’m done with that.

A few weeks back I had a conversation with Brian (or Magical Dad), who suggested that I just use filters to selectively choose which people I want to listen to. But why should that onus be on me? Why can’t my tweet stream be only the people I am interested in hearing about? It seems foolish to try to enforce an antiquated social contract that inconveniences me just so that a few people get one extra follower.

Right now I have just under 200 people that I follow. I’m guessing that if I follow more than 300-400 people then I will literally never be able to keep up. Some people follow tens of thousands of users. And we wonder why they never @reply us. If that means that I’ll never have more than 500 or so followers, so be it. But I’m not going to subscribe to a broken system just to get some additional internet popularity. And if that’s what you’re currently doing, I suggest you re-evaluate or realize that you are either a) working too hard to filter, or b) not actually paying attention to anyone you follow.

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