How Many People Do You Need to Follow on Twitter?

It was interesting but not terribly surprising to see the attention garnered by Chris Brogan, who decided to unfollow 131,000 people on Twitter recently – an “experiment” done to kill a troublesome spam problem.

Brogan’s move raises a few questions such as:

1. Why would anyone want or need to follow 131,000 people?

2. How could anyone have a productive Twitter experience with that much data flowing through their live stream?

3. How many of the people were following Brogan only because he was following them?

To be honest, I have always had a thing about people who follow thousands of people on Twitter, let alone tens of thousands or more than 100,000. It strikes me as something so complicated, unworkable and unmanageable that the downsides far outweigh any benefits.

Yet there are lots of people who are follow-aholics for a variety of reasons.

The biggest culprit is the idea that if you follow someone, they will follow you back. This plays into the whole social vanity/I have more followers than you thesis. There is also the notion that if you have lots of followers, some of them will pay attention to whatever you’re hawking or saying.

That said, I believe there are few, if any, benefits to having massive amounts of followers. It’s completely do-able but it kills the idea of following people who provide some kind of “value”, which is the power of Twitter. In other words, it is great to drink out of a hose that is dripping but messy if the hose is gushing with water.

For people who do follow lots and lots of people on Twitter, I guess it’s the price they pay to have lots and lots of people following them. If it means have your life stream become completely overwhelming, that’s the price to pay.

For the rest of us, it makes no sense to follow lots of people, and by lots I mean no more than about 500. Following 500 (or less) people lets you follow people who provide “value”, as well some some strategic follows such as potential customers, rivals, etc.

It will be interesting to see how Brogan reloads on Twitter. Will he focus on following a smaller group of people or revert back to his follow everybody ways once his spam problem disappears?

  • In Aug 2008, i did a mass cull. At that stage I was following approx 13,000 people.. Why was I following so many? because I took bad advice which said that its rude not to follow people back that follow you… it was the worst piece of advice ever..

    I now am followed by approx 15,000 people and follow under 300..

    I take the view and advise people to view the twitter stream they get as a very valuable resource. It should contain great info, links to great & informative articles, and any other things based on your criteria.

    I took a ton of abuse and stick for doing my mass cull. Many thought it was rude to unfollow people but in essence its far ruder in my view to pretend you are reading their tweets when in reality you are ignoring most people that you follow. In reality most people only really follow approx 150 – 300 people… thats their core people that they take notice of… the rest they ignore… they are just too frightened of doing a mass cull.

    the other thing that @chrisbrogan will notice is that growing a following when you dont follow back is really tough – its the right thing to do but really tough. Far too many people on twitter still play the i follow you, you follow me back game… so to grow a following when you dont follow back, you have to be interesting, fun, interested, providing good article, advice etc…or a top celebrity..

    but the bottom line is that by following such a small number of people, you get no dm spam, you get to spend more time reading what is important to you, get to develop better relationships with people.

    so may advice… follower people based on your own criteria but really value that stream…now imagine that you had to pay $10 per month per person that you followed.. I bet you would not follow anywhere near as many….

    mark Shaw

  • Mark Evans


    I’m in the same boat as you with close to 8,000 followers and 35o people followed. It strikes me as the right balance in terms of usability and value. Thanks for the comment. Mark

  • Mark, I took Chris’ approach last week and unfollowed everybody, then refollowing people I knew in real life. I think I’m following around 150 know and life has been much more interesting when I read my main Twitter timeline.

  • Mark Evans

    My point exactly! It’s quality over quantity, which is a better approach in many, many cases. Thanks for the comment. Mark