3 tips for reducing Twitter overload

As I mentioned in my last post, a lot of people don’t like the “follow everyone” approach. They think it overloads their streams.

In some cases, they’re right, especially if you’re  already famous before jumping on Twitter or or you only want to connect with a small group of friends. For those kinds of interactions, though, I think other platforms work better: phone calls, texting, email, even Facebook.

I think Twitter’s unique advantage is in how well it works for connecting with a lot of people. And if you’re trying to connect with a lot of people, you have to connect with a lot of people.

In that case, you’ll need a few tricks to pull this off without feeling overwhelmed.

1. Think of Twitter as a stream

I can’t emphasize this enough. You can’t expect to read everything in your Twitter stream. That would be like trying to swim in every part of a real stream. It’s not possible. You’ll drown in the volume.

Instead, you dip your toes in, maybe go for a swim. But then you get out. You let the stream continue to flow. You don’t have to catch it all.

On Twitter, you don’t have to catch everything everyone says. In fact, you probably won’t catch most of what anyone says. That’s okay. That’s the nature of Twitter. Just let it flow.

2. Create Twitter lists

Right now, I’m following 1,700+ people. As a result, I don’t actually use my main feed much. I’ll glance at it when I get on, but I head straight for my lists after that.

Some lists I use for finding content to read or retweet. Other lists I use to find people to interact with. I suggest you do the same. That way, you can partition off the different things you want to do, avoiding the overwhelm of trying to do everything – read, reply, share – all at once.

Set up a few public lists, but mostly I’d go with private lists. That way, you’re free to add anyone to any list without hurting anyone’s feelings by including or excluding them from certain lists (think “tweets too much” vs. “must read”).

Some people feel that following this many (or more) people ruins your main feed. If you’re using lists, you shouldn’t need to follow a bunch of people (you can list people without following them). I agree that following a lot of people makes your main feed less useful, but I do it because it allows everyone to direct message me, which I like for privacy.

If you follow everyone, it’ll also help people feel like you care. You’re inclusive. Some people don’t follow others but still engage everyone. I think that’s definitely possible and in a perfect world perhaps the best option. Problem is, when you’re not following anyone, it looks like you’re not paying attention. I don’t like that.

The more engaged you look, the more engaged you’ll get. I like that.

3. Unfollow annoying people

Finally, if someone’s that annoying or boring, unfollow. I feel like the liberal approach is best, like water. Easy follow, easy unfollow. Perhaps it’s not as deliberate an approach compared to someone who is super selective with the people they follow. I’m cool with that, though, and I recommend the same for you too.

It’s like offline. You don’t know who’s going to turn out to be an amazing friend. You don’t know who’s going to suck you time. So in life, you can worry about it all the time, stick to only hanging out with the best people in your life, or you can embrace people in general. You can talk to the guy bagging your groceries, the lady at the desk, everyone. I feel like that’s a more fulfilling lifestyle. It seems to place a higher value on people.

So I try to have that carry over into Twitter (and really the rest of what I do online).

Truth is, unless you get into following tens of thousands of people, the direct messages don’t pile up that quickly. Spam isn’t too much worse (you’re going to get it either way). So start engaging with everyone. If you don’t like it after a few months, you can always start over, which isn’t a big deal if you’re switching to follow only a few people. It’s much harder to switch the other way.