Thursday, March 14, 2013

It's Not Me, It's Them

As a professional PR person, I’ve had a chance to dive into social media. Twitter in particular I really like, because it’s fun to challenge yourself to say something pithy in 140 characters or less. The exchange of ideas and information there can be fast and furious as well as laser targeted, which makes the format a useful resource for all sorts of things. There is this one thing I’ve learned from my use of Twitter that I did not expect – to become unattached to what people think of you.

Students of self-improvement may be familiar with the phrase “What others think of me is none of my business.” This is a great philosophy because even if we twist ourselves into pretzels to people-please, we never can truly control how someone might choose to view us. And we burn ourselves out in the process. I believe that focusing on what I am creating and contributing is a healthier and more productive way to live. I have found that it is also important to let go of the need for others to like what I am writing/thinking, or to look for praise or agreement.

Easier said than done though. There’s this annoying ego that jumps in ascribing meaning to what others say and do about us, and sometimes those thoughts can become really destructive, causing great work to be abandoned, like when Stephen King threw his manuscript of Carrie into the trash. (It was rescued by his wife and became his first big success.)

As an early adopter of Twitter, my policy is to follow back everyone who follows me. I know this is not how everyone uses Twitter and I’m not saying it’s the right way. Maybe I am just old fashioned, but I feel like it is only polite to return a courtesy. To keep my Twitter feed from becoming unmanageable, I just use the Lists feature to pull out the updates I want to be sure to read. It’s no big deal really. But as a company, Twitter doesn’t want its follow/follower ratios to get too unbalanced, so if you follow folks back like I do, you kind of have to go in and unfollow them if they unfollow you so that your account can continue to grow naturally.

I use a website called to accomplish this task. It is also very simple. I sign in with my Twitter account on the JustUnfollow website, it pulls up a list of everyone who has recently unfollowed me and I click unfollow by each one. (Twitter no longer allows bulk unfollows so you have to do it individually.) 

Now here’s the unexpected learning I’ve received: I have a lot of followers on Twitter so every week, oodles of people unfollow me. More new people follow me than old ones leave though, so my follower tribe has only ever moved in an upwards direction since I first tweeted back in 2009. And it’s not like the unfollowers are directly tied to what I am sharing either. I can have a day where I get the most retweets and favorites ever and still have plenty of folks say, “No thanks, your stuff is not for me.”

I find it kind of fascinating. It has forced me to adjust my previous belief that if I would just tweet amazing stuff all the time, everyone would always love it. And while it is true that the majority of people do seem to like it, I cannot control those who take offense, choose to weed down the number of people they follow, don’t appreciate my point of view or whatever. My personal Twitter policies have forced me to find a way to become comfortable with processing the steady unfollower stream without it impacting my desire and ability to continue to post what I believe is useful information. In essence, it has thickened my skin.

Thanks to Twitter and my ways of using it, I no longer see rejection as something that must be painful or unpleasant. For a variation on what Abraham Lincoln once said, “You can’t please all of the people all of the time.” That’s life. Accept it and move on. I am not suggesting to ignore all negative feedback or that I am absolute in my beliefs. Challenge and dialogue (brief that it may be) can be important. I am still interested in what others choose to share with me, and I am sure most others are too. But it feels very freeing to recognize that everyone has free will, your stuff is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea and that it’s totally okay. I appreciate people taking the time to check out my contributions and I am in agreement with whatever decisions they then make. Perhaps the next time I visit San Francisco, I will stop in the Twitter corporate headquarters to thank them for teaching me this valuable lesson.

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