How I Discovered Bigger Is Not Always Better

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by on July 19, 2012

June 14 marked my 4th Twitter birthday. The first two years I was on Twitter I took great pride in having a very small personal learning network. Since I was only following a couple of hundred people,  I was able to recognize the names of everyone I followed. For the most part I knew where they lived and what their job title was. I felt a connection to each person. There were no names in my stream that I did not recognize. About 18 months after I joined Twitter my PLN began to grow quickly. I started connecting with more  and more people and I was able to follow 350-400 people without feeling overwhelmed. During the last year the number of people I follow crept up to slightly over 500. It was too many, but I know many people who follow thousands.

When I share the strategies I use on Twitter with others,  the one thing I tell people is that they should never follow people just because that person follows them. I emphasize that one way to not get swallowed up in sheer numbers is to only follow people that have something specific to offer. In a moment of what I can only say was sheer insanity I threw my own advice out the window and I started following everyone who was following me.

I started going through my most recent followers. As long as it was clearly an educator who had a profile picture and a completed profile I followed back. But after I clicked “follow” for literally the thousandth time Twitter stopped the madness. On the 1001 click  a message popped up that said I was “forbidden from following” anyone else. Apparently it is only possible to follow 1000 new people a day. During the 24 hour mandatory waiting period I came across two blog posts that reminded me of why I made the decision to keep my PLN small to begin with.  Does Twitter Matter? by Josh Stumpenhorst and 10,000 by Dan Agins. Both posts stress the power of not just connectedness, but the actual relationships that can flourish. As I watched my “All Friends” column fly by at a pace I never knew possible with names I did not recognized I realized I made a huge mistake. I was spreading my PLN way too thin. How can I possibly be of any value to anyone if I cannot keep up?

I feel like I owe it to my PLN to follow fewer people. I cannot keep up with 1500 people! I just don’t see how it is possible. If I unfollow you over the next few weeks please do not take it personally. During this experiment of mine I have discovered that my personal learning network is no longer personal. Even though it is three times bigger than it was last week it isn’t three times better. It seems as though the law of diminishing returns applies to my network.  It doesn’t make any sense to follow everyone just because they follow you. Many of the people in my PLN are people who I call friends. They are my support network and they help keep me in check when I lose my temper. I reach out to them and offer support when I can, but now they are lost in the crowd. We need to remember that we don’t owe it to each other to follow someone just because they follow us. I have said this for years, but I lost sight of why it is so important for our connections to be meaningful. Following someone just for the sake of following someone reminds of how back in high school we had everyone sign our yearbook whether we knew them or not just to fill up the blank pages. Every educator that is on Twitter is part of the same network. It is not necessary to connect to everyone. I follow plenty of people who don’t follow me. I don’t take it personally. Please think about this as you build your PLN.

5 Responses to “How I Discovered Bigger Is Not Always Better”

  1.   Kim Caise Says:

    Hi Beth! I also carefullly twitter profiles when notified of new followers. I also scan their tweets to make sure they are tweeting about things that are relevant or interesting to me. Sometimes you have to ”clean out the clutter’ every once in awhile for those that are fairly inactive tweeters. Just my opinion!

    Kim Caise

    P.S.- missed you at ISTE!!


    •   Beth Still Says:

      I can’t believe we missed each other at ISTE. I’m sure we will see each other in San Antonio! we should make plans for lunch now before calendars fill up!


  2.   Philip Says:

    I have mixed feelings about this (and I tend to follow folks back if I can identify they are a teacher). I understand the desire to have a close network of friends. I want that myself. I also want to encourage others to connect, learn, and share, and Twitter can be a hard place to “feel” valued when a newbie. And many quit before they make important, lasting connections. For what it’s worth, here what I do (but it’s a personal network–to each his own). I follow educators back, but not companies or non-educators unless I have a reason for it. I also have created a private list of my “core PLN.” In the list are those folks with whom I have made a strong connection–it’s exclusive, but I lurk in both streams and move people in and out as relationships change. I don’t ignore the big stream, but I spend more time in the “core” than not. Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Beth.


    •   Beth Still Says:

      So many people have told me they manage their network in the same way you do. I tried, but found I would get distracted by the All Friends column. It was just too overwhelming. Every time I opened Twitter I felt like I was getting hit in the face with a fire hose. I think what it comes down to is that each person manages their network in a way that works for them. Those who never figure out how to manage it simply give up. Approximately 400 of the 450 accounts I’m following now are educators. When you really think about it that is a lot of people, especially when all of them are fantastic educators. I’m certain that I probably am missing out on following some wonderful educators with my strategy, but I feel like this works better for me. Thanks for dropping by my blog. I always appreciate your thoughts.


  3.   Paul Bedsole Says:

    I really appreciated your latest post concerning twitter and the mistake you feel you made following too many people. I don’t have an account yet and was thinking about joining. Thanks for the advice about keeping a smaller more intimate group of people to follow. I do think that quality is much better than quantity any day especially if you have gotten to the point where they are part of your support network. I think you made the right decision to go back to what worked for you and I wish you all the best!

    Paul Bedsole


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