Someone unfollowed me on Twitter the other day. You don’t get a note or anything when that happens; I just happened to notice.

It doesn’t bother me, but sometimes I like to know why.

My guess is that they were seeing too much volume in my updates, and it was overwhelming their Stream. Fair enough. I don’t plan on reducing my output anytime soon, though.

The episode got me thinking about my output, and why it has grown inexorably over time. I believe I have discovered an Immutable Law Of Status Updates, let’s call it Brad’s Law. (Unless someone else has said this, in which case I get first dibs on the next odd insight.) Here it is:

The More People You Follow, The More You Update

The Number In Your Stream

The reason is this: You see your own status updates in your Stream.

That is, when I look at my Twitter homepage, I see everyone’s various Twitter updates, with mine mixed in among them.

Twitter home page for @bradrourke

Twitter home page for @bradrourke

When people first start out, they only have a few people they are following. If they update a couple of times a day, they see a satisfying concentration of their own items among their friends.

If one person happens to update a lot, then the Stream gets a big block of their updates one after the other. It can look weird. Maybe the new Twitter user will even unfollow that person. (Maybe that’s why they unfollowed me.)

  • Early on, the signals are all set up to tell me to udpate only a bit every day. Otherwise I will look like one of those hyperusers.

But, later, as you add people you are following, updating just once or twice a day won’t cut it. You don’t see your own items mixed in, because they get pushed off the page by all your new friends’ updates.

Of course, you want people to see your stuff — you want to be visible — so you update more frequently. You ratchet up your output until you see a satisfying concentration of your own updates mixed in with your friends. Again — not too much. But since there are more friends, you need to update more.

  • As I gain in experience using Twitter (or Facebook too), and as I gain friends, there is pressure to update more. That way I can feel like I am a part of the conversation.

You might think that I am leading up to a lesson about moderating your status updates. But I’m not, because the reverse holds true, too. The more people I am following, the more I want those people to update frequently. Otherwise people get lost!

It’s an interesting vicious cycle — or virtuous circle, if you are inclined more positively. I don’t see it as a good or bad thing, really: just as a phenomenon.

Find A Sweet Spot

For me, I have hit at about the right number of people I am following. I can manage to see most things, and I am updating at a rate that is comfortable for me. I know that some new followers, who are perhaps new to Twitter, will quickly unfollow me because there’s more output than they want. That’s OK, maybe they’ll be back later. By the same token, some people who follow me who happen to have lots of friends might not ever notice my updates, because I don’t issue them often enough.

In fact, if there is any advice embedded in this, it is based on that observation:

  • Try (through experimentation) to hit a sweet spot for you where the number of people you follow allows you to update at a pace that is comfortable for you, without your overwhelming or being lost in the Stream.
  • Figure out a reason that you’re on Twitter (or any social network), and be true to that.
  • Don’t watch your number of followers too closely, as it will fluctuate and people may leave for any number of reasons.