Blog Post

Unrealistic Expectations on Twitter Can Lead to Problems

TwitterI’ve been a little caught off-guard lately with some of the presumptions people seem to be making now on Twitter. Where did all these expectations, such as an expectation for a response to a retweet or a “follow back,” come from? Why are people coming to Twitter with the belief that others should act and react just the way they expect? That isn’t how the real world works. Why should it be any different on Twitter?

Why Don’t You Respond to Me on Twitter?

Twitter _ People who follow alizasherman-2The other day I received a message from someone I like (but hardly know) asking me why I’m not responding to their messages to me on Twitter. In a momentary panic, I clicked around to look at all of my recent @ messages and my DMs (direct messages) and couldn’t find any addressed to me from this person.

When I asked them about their message to me that I failed to address, I was pointed to a retweet of one of my tweets they had put out to their followers. It appeared that this person retweeted me with an expectation that I would respond to that retweet as if it were a personal message to me warranting a response. Maybe they were expecting me to thank them for the retweet, and because I didn’t do it within 24 hours I’ve broken some new unwritten rule. Why didn’t I get the memo?

My theory on conversing on Twitter is that you:

  1. Do the best you can.
  2. Try to use the Golden Rule (as with all social media).
  3. Respond and thank people when you can, but you shouldn’t be held accountable for thanking every person every single time they mention you.
  4. Regularly tweet a general “thanks to everyone who retweeted me this week” or “thank you to everyone who mentioned me for #followfriday today” rather than naming each person by Twittername (and that should be okay).
  5. Try to retweet or give kudos to others when you can, and as appropriate, just because it is a nice thing to do.

Yes, I believe in being courteous, but I’m getting a sinking feeling that many people are now doing “nice and generous” things on Twitter for the kudos, public thanks and @ mentions they expect to get. Some people’s thinking now seems to be “that person has 5000 followers, so if I retweet them, they will thank me — their followers will see my Twittername and maybe even link over to my Twitter page.” They are co-opting nice gestures and turning them into strategic ploys. My skin is crawling at the thought. No wonder that, increasingly, the kudos I get from popular Twitterers is by DM instead of publicly.

Why Don’t You Follow Me Back on Twitter?

Twitter _ People who follow alizashermanWhen it comes to expectations on Twitter, I think an unrealistic one is expecting people to follow you back if you follow them. Sure, it would be nice, but my advice is to follow people because you are truly interested in what they have to say, or are truly interested in connecting with them in some way and cultivating a relationship, or both. What could you possibly gain by following random people purely in the hope that they will follow you back? Here’s what you gain: Noise! The dilution of your Twitterstream with worthless noise. Why use Twitter that way?

If you really want to know why somebody might not follow you back, I’ve come up with a little guide to different types of Twitterers who probably won’t follow you and the reasons why. Hopefully, this list will save you some disappointment and heartache.

  1. The Celeb — If they’re famous and actually using Twitter, chances are they just won’t follow you back. Unless they are @britneyspears.
  2. The Frugal Follower — If they are really good at time management and controlling their impulses, chances are they are only following people they know or who they truly admire, and you’re just not one of them.
  3. The Snob — They might not know who you are and therefore you are not worthy of a follow back. Or maybe they don’t like you.
  4. The Chooser — They only follow their friends.
  5. The Novice — They may not know how to follow you back.
  6. The Overwhelmed — They haven’t noticed that you’ve followed them, and just haven’t gotten around to seeing who is following them to determine who they want to follow back.

If someone doesn’t follow you back, that’s okay. Yes, there may be moments where your emotions get the best of you. I’ve personally seen people who I do know — who I’ve known for years — who have not followed me back. I admit that for a moment now and then I do think “Oh no, they don’t like me.” But then I let it go, because I realize that I’m probably guilty of doing the exact same thing to others. And I don’t mean any offense; I’m just #6.

Twitter _ People who follow alizasherman-1So the next time you’re interacting on Twitter with some expectations, realize that not everyone is on Twitter for the same reasons as you, and not everyone uses Twitter in the same way you do. There are actually no written rules on Twitter, and that’s okay. There won’t be anarchy on the streets because of that. There may be some hurt feelings along the way, but as long as we each do the best we can, what else can anyone ask for?

What are your expectations when using Twitter?

22 Responses to “Unrealistic Expectations on Twitter Can Lead to Problems”

  1. Aliza, thank you for this wonderful post.

    Between (a) people who may have unrealistic expectations of twitter replies (on 1 hand) and (b) spammers who are becoming more and more crafty with time (on the other), the rest of us can only do the best we can.

  2. Great article and I think the root cause of the problems you mention come from people just looking at twitter from a selfish perspective of “what can I get out of this?” It is tempting to derive some sense of value from who is following you, or who RTs your tweets, or who you are interacting with but Twitter (and social media in general) is about others just as much as it is about yourself.

    If I look at someone’s profile and don’t see a mixture of tweeting links and responding to people I generally won’t follow. No one owes anyone anything on Twitter. Keep posts like this one coming!

  3. jeanneendo


    My expectations are that twitter will take swift action to clean up the garbage that is clogging the twitter stream more and more every day.

    Just now, a man just sent me an @ message informing me that he wasn’t going to use my True Twit (anti-spam) because it’s “too slow”. He then proceeded to ask me to follow him! Can you believe how nervy some people are? Is he just trying to annoy me or does he seriously think I might follow him after he tried to bypass the application I set up for the purpose of keeping spam out??

    I just sent out this tweet to my followers:

    “Proof of “human spam”: Man w/gall 2 bypass word validation & @ msg me saying “True Twit sucks” & he’s “no bot”. Then asked 4 a follow! BLOCK!”

    This is not the first time someone calling him or herself human gave me a speech about not being a robot while simultaneously annoying me. About a month ago, a woman spent several tweets telling me she was a “real live woman”.

    What prompted her to justify her human qualities? She had left a spammy comment on my blog (about the topic of infertility). I threw it in WordPress’ Akismet anti-spam to code it as spam and deleted it.

    Then she left a message on my YouTube channel (with almost the same exact wording). I deleted her message there and blocked her YouTube channel. (I don’t need her exploiting my infertile readers and she was spammy – while daring to pronounce herself in the message not to be a spammer)!

    THEN, she started tweeting in various places (including the endometriosis panel on TweetDeck). OK… That prompted me to send her a tweet. Since I clearly had no desire to follow her, my message to her on twitter was sent as an @ message. I couldn’t have sent her a DM if I wanted to.

    I tried my best to be polite in the tweet but I didn’t hide the fact that I viewed her as spammy. (I don’t remember my exact words but I did not say “spam” or call her a “spammer”. I did imply I wasn’t wild about the wording of her tweets about infertility).

    That’s when she tweeted me back about being a real live woman… and not a robot. Huh? I never said she was a robot. (She sure was spammy, though).

    Frankly, I don’t care of she’s a human or a robot. If she’s annoying me or clogging up the twitter stream with her nonsense and I keep running into her, I’m going to speak up.

    Back to today’s human. I blocked him, of course, after he @ messaged me a follow request by bypassing my word validation software. (He gets points for creativity, I guess).

    Then I sent this message on on twitter to whomever might be listening:

    “Dear twitter spammer, Just because you are a human doesn’t mean you’re not spam. You are WORSE than the robots because you are intentional!”

    When will this madness end? I am too sick to spend this much time and energy on spammers. I refuse to allow “followers” that are inappropriate to be listed as being linked in any way to my account. Short of watching over my twitterpage 24 hours a day to “catch” the porn and spam accounts right when they follow me, I don’t know what to do.

    Interestingly, a friend of mine had just as many porn accts following her as I do and the blocking software has eliminated/prevented almost all of them.

    However, in my case… the same software isn’t cutting it and I am manually blocking even more porn accounts now than before.

    This means many porn accounts are getting past the blocking software.

    I am sorry I have gotten off on such a tangent. I didn’t mean to get off-topic.

    The bottom line is: I am #6/overwhelmed by spam and porn accounts on twitter.

    So, when I read your article about someone’s unrealistic expectations of you (i.e. keeping track of every little detail going on with your followers), it just reminded me of how very #6/overwhelmed I am simply by the spammers alone who try to follow me each day.

    For anyone reading this, I am not speaking against my various forms of blocking software (and I have several applications now). Like I said, my friend has had great success with the same program that isn’t enough to protect my account.

    I just checked my twitter page sent folder and saw word validation messages have been sent out to porn accounts. So, it’s getting some of them. Just nowhere near enough. (It would seem the word validation message would go to 100% of attempted followers. So I honestly don’t know accounts are getting past it).

    So, it would appear that I have 2 choices in the near future:

    1) Keep feeling overwhelmed (or #6, as Aliza would call it)


    2) Quit twitter

    I don’t want to quit twitter. My fear is that if things keep going the way they are going, I will be driven off twitter… because I absolutely refuse to have a twitter account that’s linked to porn and spam. I just don’t need someone pulling up my twitter page, clicking “followers”, and seeing porn and spam.

    So, for now I just block/report, block/report, and block/report. I don’t know how much longer I can keep this pace up.

    If anyone has any suggestions, I currently have the TwitBlock application, TrueTwit, TweetBlocker, UnTweeps, AND manual blocking… I block/report to twitter’s @spam account daily.

    The word validation software is catching some spam but far too much is still sailing through. I am doing LOTS of manual blocking.

    Anyone have any suggestions?

    Thanks again for a great post, Aliza!


  4. Fantastic article. Hit the nail on the head. I was getting pissed @ all the snobs, especially in my geographic area. My expectations are related to fundamental interpersonal skills which involves reciprocity. If your a supposed social media guru or freelance and I follow you but you don’t follow back it’s like I called and left a message inquiring about your products and services but you never return the call. I wonder if these people even realize the amount of referrals I can throw their way from my personal network and book of clients. Their loss, but it still seems stupid to even be on Twitter just to be heard and not listen. How would you feel if you said Hello to someone and they ignored you?

    Alas you are correct though. Don’t take it personal.

    • I actually tried the reciprocity thing, and found it wanting. Within a month I was following over a thousand, there was virtually no conversation, almost all people I followed were following 2,000 or 10,000 others (imagine trying to read 10,000 people’s tweets and keep up with even a fraction of their links?) So, no personal contact, no conversation? Unfollow. Sorry, I don’t owe it to anyone to read their one-way only Chatty Cathy tweets all day and night. All anyone has to do to get me to follow them is learn to develop the social skill of back and forth dialog.

  5. Here’s a good one. I had a request from someone on the web site asking me to promote an event. (In the mean time I noticed a 1st time retweet from him.) I told him that space was reserved for young heroes’ events, but if he sent me a tweet I would RT it. It was a good cause, so I have no problem doing that. He sent me the tweet I asked for from two accounts (I guess expecting me to retweet both.) I retweeted one of them. THEN he sent me another from both accounts…twice. To top that off he sent me a DM asking me if I got them all. I have been playing possum hoping he goes away. :) My guess is he’ll be back.

    Now here’s a guy who probably has good intentions. Some people just don’t know any better. Should I try and explain things to him or just block him altogether? In my mind I am not sure of this answer.

    Thanks for listening.


  6. This was a brilliant article and really well written covering a topic that doesn’t get nearly enough attention.

    I only have 500 or so followers but I can hardly keep up with them and only follow 350-400. I simply get too overwhelmed. Only recently I have become better at checking my @ messages. Yeah, I’m slow like that. However, despite acknowledging all this, I still worry about offending those I don’t follow back, or not catching and replying to all of my @ tweets. There just isn’t enough time in the day.

  7. If I really wanted an answer from someone I would send them an email, Twitter is more like a party with a hundred different conversations going on at once. We can hop around, listen to what interests us at the moment, and ignore what does not.

    Parties are fun, but not a good way to get real work done.

    to paraphrase and old song “it’s my party and I’ll tweet if I want to”

  8. jeanneendo


    Unrealistic expectations indeed…

    I’ve been using twitter since 2007. Those were really the days. No spam. No money-making schemes. No false cures being peddled.

    Times have changed. I am a heavy twitter user. I have been very, very “#6” lately (that’s overwhelmed in Aliza-speak). :)

    I spend an enormous amount of time blocking spam, porn, money-making schemes, people who tweet hateful/negative things/excessive profanity, teeth whitening products, people I don’t know who are following me to hawk their products/services because my twitter followers clearly fit their niche (using me), etc.

    Since I write about health issues (including women’s health issues such as endometriosis), I seem to be a target for spam robots using keywords that somehow get maddeningly linked to porn avatars/accounts. This has been making me bonkers and you may have seen me tweet about this issue occasionally.

    (I’ll send tweets like, “Dear twitter, I am blocking/reporting spam to you but it’s still getting worse. Please help!”) I send these out to let off some steam. Obviously I don’t think the people who run twitter will see them (!) but the moment of levity helps me when I’m blocking 11 porn avatars in a row and want to scream!

    I use the TwitBlock application and yesterday I used too. Yesterday alone I blocked/reported 30+ accounts.

    *** It’s easy to become #6/overwhelmed at checking out the actual legit followers to your account when you are so busy blocking half-naked women’s pictures! ***

    I, for one, block the creepy pictures first. Sometimes I have no remaining time/energy to even look at the other new followers. :(

    Finally, I stopped doing #FollowFriday as of last Friday after reading a great post on it by Gabe at @KidsAreHeroes.

    This is an excellent post!


  9. Oh – one other thing:
    Twitter’s #ff has gotten out of hand. I rarely participate. So many tweeters cram as many @names as they can into multiple tweets. No explanations as to why someone should follow them. This is almost equivalent to spam in my book.

    To over-tweeters of #ff (or Music Monday or Travel Tuesday or whatever): Do you really want me to blast your pages by mentioning every one of my followers, so that your page is filled with such? Do you really read each of these? Do you actually go to each of those links? Let’s stop blasting each other with this noise and just post whatever it is that you enjoy posting about instead of a worthless list of the same contacts week after week.

    • To those unfamiliar with Twitter #FF means Follow Friday (a day people tweet who they think is good to follow, based on their own experiences).

      Here’s how it works for me. I find people I can converse with who also tweet some URLs to interesting web sites and blog posts. These are the “real” people on Twitter, but maybe just to me. Others are real too, but nobody gets along with everyone, so it’s a personal chemistry thing. I tweet out who I think the good ones are, they tweet out who they think is good to follow. Most often when I follow others’ great #ff suggestions they don’t pan out, but it’s still a good way to give recommendations, and let people know you appreciate them.

  10. Great article! I don’t feel a need to follow someone just because they follow me. I follow because someone’s tweets appeal to me.

    I have found that many are only following someone in hopes of getting followers themselves. They are using the number of followers as an ego trip, even though a huge amount of them are not actually interested in anything you have to say or share. These number-hounds are not what I refer to as “legitimate” followers. I prefer quality over quantity.

  11. Good post. :)

    I started using Twitter last year and was amazed that I could tweet someone a reply or a question and get no response. Fortunately I’m a “wait and see” kind of person, and over time I found some people who would reply fairly regularly. I follow those people most closely by doing a search for @someone and then adding that search to my favorites so I can quickly check up on everything they’ve been up to.

    I had been following about 250 people at one point (and Twitter seemed pretty cozy) when all the buzz was about “how to get more followers” and how we should or shouldn’t have to follow those who follow us. I zoomed in on SEOs and SEMs and Small Business Owners and in no time was following 1700 people who were following me back.

    My Twitter stream quickly became a blur of spammed repeated Tweets to get a free e-book, sign up for my e-newsletters, refinance my loans and so much more useless clutter. They largely ignored my tweets to them, and never made an effort to comment on their own to me… and when I checked the profiles of most of the people I was now being followed by and I was following back I saw that they were following and being followed by tens of thousands of people.

    No wonder they didn’t respond. How could they be reading and posting links to pages of interest and simultaneously read the tweets and follow the links of those they were following?

    I then spend a few days unfollowing almost everyone who was anonymous to me so that now I’m only following just over 100 people. I still have over 1,000 followers, but that number is ever so slowly inching downward. The good news for me is that now I actually enjoy Twitter again. I read the tweets of the “good guys” I follow, read their blog posts and retweet them. I never look to see who has decided to follow me anymore. If they want to be followed, all they have to do is start a conversation – tweet me and I’ll tweet you back. I’ll click on your @message to me a few times over the next few days and tweet you if you’ve said anything interesting. I’m using Twitter for social media now. Less is more. To me following too many turned Twitter into a largely anonymous blur of spammers.

  12. Its interesting that you choose to call people who dont know you or dont like you snobs. It sort of implies to me that you think random following is ok for everyone who is not a snob but then you say you don’t randomly follow.

    I imagine you see yourself as a Frugal Follower as you painted them in quite a nice light.

  13. It seems that twitter is quickly becoming too “glittery”, and less intimate. I agree almost 100% with the post, but I’m not surprised this is happening. Twitter is stock full of desperate people trying to promote their business,blog,and products. That alone is (obviously) going to lead to problems.

    All in all, I like Twitter, and I’ll keep mine for the time being, when it gets too ‘fake’ I’ll let it go and move on to the next social craze..

    Great post,
    Tristen R.

  14. I’m fairly new to Twitter, and I’m going on 67 years old, so I thought perhaps I was old-fashioned when I decided to only follow a few people (say… a couple of hundred) who interested me. I did this so I could actually interact with some of them, develop mutually helpful relationships and have some fun.

    I also wanted to promote my powerful aging blog (I so hate “anti-aging”)so I can help dispel the common myths of aging, and the fear most women have around it. I do very little promotion, preferring to merely do a single tweet about a new blog post. While I am an NLP Coach and Health Practitioner, I talk about that very infrequently on Twitter. People who read my blog will find that out. That means they are already interested enough to follow me further, off of Twitter.

    A few days ago I had a flurry of new followers – say more than 50 – and it was a pain in the a** to figure out it they were legitimate followers. Most were not, but a few were real finds; people of a like mind, or just different enough to be quite interesting. The majority were out to SELL me. ICK! I’m not sure how it happened, but it proved my point. Quality trumps quantity any day.

    At my age, I know better than to cave in to doing what’s “expected”. That’s something I value about aging; no longer having to follow others rules.

    Thanks for the great post. I will re-tweet it. It’s incredibly valuable for the newbies like me.

  15. Fred Brill

    Great article! I thought I was the only one who felt like you do.

    Between the robots (automated twitter apps – like Loves2Twit – the “view my sexy profile” twitterers, and the marketers linking to their get rich quick sites – I gave up on re-following – although I do try to refollow those who are like me – sincerely interested and interesting (okay I am not sincerly interesting).

    As for thanking for retweeting – I do my best but my best honestly my best isn’t really very good. A twitter relationship is an odd dynamic for sure – but it has lead me to some really great people.

  16. Love it! Excuse the brevity – typing on mobile phone.

    I personally will NEVER follow anyone who’s any line of marketer, life or other coach, or has anything about making money in their username. No matter that they follow me, etc.


  17. I will add one to the last bit.

    Prudent Twitterers – those who follow the conversation via other means and will join in when something interests them. Like a stadium full of people all talking, it is sensible to focus your interest on the conversation that is meaningful to you, not every single word everyone says.

    Following is not necessary to hear what is being said on Twitter, yet those coming from the other forced follow type platforms don’t get that at all.

  18. Some people just have no sense. What I expect out of twitter is exactly what I get. Yes, I follow people and no, I don’t expect them to follow me back.

    I’m on twitter to advertise my blogs. If I get people to come and participate fine, if I don’t I’ll find some other way. People just don’t use their heads.

    Common sense says that you can’t expect others to act the way you do, just because you want them too. This type of logic makes no sense and that’s why people get their feeling hurt. They set their own selves up to fall then get mad at the other guy.

    Okay enough rambling — I’m gone.

    • Blogvertising is cool. If you’ve got the right title for the blog, you can get a lot of people to go there (what they do once they’re there is another story). Twitter is pretty cool for that.

      I came here to this blog due to a RT, posted a reply and then also checked out your blog for a while. What’s so cool is we don’t need Google or Bing to get around, we link to each other and go places we never would have thought to go on our own.

      @Fantomaster once tweeted a link to some research indicating that 70% personal tweets and 30% informational (blog posts and other websites) tweets works best. People who are stuck at a desk, alone, all day really *need* a little of that personal stuff once in a while.

  19. Hey loved this article! I haven’t got that many followers and funnily enough only yesterday someone RT’d a warning I sent out, then I noticed one of their followers RT’d it again. Naturally I was shocked as I didn’t realise anyone actually reads my posts. I did thank them for RT’ing and also then checked out who they were and they both work in the IT field so I followed them.

    I won’t lie here, I do like feedback (less for my tweets and more for my blog) which is why I thought I should start commenting on blog posts I really like because I almost never do it myself. I merely read, enjoy then close the tab and yeah…it’s nice to get feedback once in a while :)

    BTW, I’m not doing this for someone to look at my blog, I found out recently I had more people who read it than I thought…just no-one actually comments.

    Keep up the good work.