Coping With Twitter’s Unfollow Bug

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If you’re like me, you may have noticed that Twitter may be arbitrarily, randomly, and haphazardly, unfollowing people you fully intended to follow. Similarly, if you’ve ever noticed your friends and contacts unfollowed you, it may have caused a sense of confusion, dread, or self-insecurity. Before one spirals into a series of apologies or deep-depression, it’s likely not your fault, (whew!).

What’s causing this? I’m not sure, so I asked my proper contacts at Twitter who responded “This is a bug, and our team is working to fix it.” They also sent me a link to their support FAQ, which indicates the known issue. I’ll leave it to the team at Twitter to get this resolved, but in the meantime, let’s discuss how we can cope with this industry phenomenon.

Imagine this bug in the physical world: Your dear Aunt Margaret wasn’t invited to your wedding due to mail parcels gone missing, or your executive wasn’t invited to your big presentation meeting because your address book deleted him, or you couldn’t call your best friend to let them know about your funding announcement because his contact info went missing.

The act of following someone in Twitter is an important social indicator for at least three reasons: 1) A follow suggests the individuals content is worthy of listening to and you want to hear their thoughts –even the most mundane ones 2) It’s an important indicator that you’re willing to engage in deeper conversations by receiving direct messages and 3) At a broader social perspective, this is a gesture this person is in your broader social clan, your kin, your affinity.

Importantly, in my line of work (and probably in yours too), direct messages have become a mainstay of communications with clients; in fact, some overloaded executives ask me to DM them, rather than email them. In more than one case has a qualified business request come by direct messages requesting my research and advisory services. Unlike the overloaded email channel, direct messages are an important opt-in business communication channel of higher quality signal.

Despite the business communication opportunity losses, there are broader social impacts that may relationships around you. Just a few days ago, one of my dear colleagues Susan (@Setlinger) pointed out that she wanted to send me some information, but noticed I had unfollowed her and half-jokingly wondered if she’d offended me. This wasn’t any passive-aggressive maneuver by me, I had full intentions to follow her, and quickly apologized and refollowed her.

Yet, I wonder how many business, personal, and casual relationships are strained by the bug haphazardly unfollowing. It causes us to give pause and question the stability of the Twitter infrastructure, usage of my personal data and social network, and what important messages I may have missed from my trusted Twitter network.

So what can you do? If you find that you’ve arbitrarily unfollowed someone in Twitter (or maybe you need an excuse to escape the ex), and you’re in a potential embarrassing situation, I recommend bookmarking this blog post, and sending it your apparent victim, explaining the situation was out of your hands. Hopefully no relationships were damaged, and we can continue happily twitter-ing with relationships salvaged.

I’d love to hear from you, have you been a victim of the bug? How are you coping?

Jeremiah Owyang is an industry analyst with the Altimeter Group. You can follow him on Twitter at @jowyang.