For a little while, I've been thinking about what I call "Reciprocal Following," as in, liking someones FB page, following someone twitter or their blog, or hearting someone's etsy (to suggest a few) for the sole reason that they will theoretically do the same for you.
Ever since I joined Ravelry in August and the Hive in September, I've been much more heavily involved in online communities geared towards crafters and crafting types. One of the things a lot of these groups do is organize reciprocal followings. On the Hive, for example, we've been doing Twitter follows ever Tuesday and FB ones every Friday. I've participated in almost all of these. What I've been really thinking about is, what are the up-sides of doing this? What are the down sides?
Before I continue, I wanted to say that I've felt like some of what I'm going to say in this post falls in to some areas that are kinda taboo. The few times I've seen them talked about it's been in embarrassed, apologetic vocabulary. We're a little ashamed to say that we find the online behavior of some of our fellow crafters to be, well, annoying; we're even more ashamed to admit that the taste of our fellow crafters may be different than ours, or that what they do simply isn't our thing. Well, I'm pretty anti-taboo. I believe all topics should be open to discussion. So this is me, opening up for discussion with my own behavior and thoughts on these topics.
The potential issues with "reciprocal following" really came in to focus for me yesterday when I wandered over to Twitter. I don't use Twitter as much as I'd like to, mostly because the time investment to actually keep on top of it is ludicrously prohibitive. I found that the only one of my lists I've been reading regularly was my relatively new Amigurumi and Plushies list. I realized why, too: for most of my other lists, I get the info other places (mostly FB). The only two that aren't repetitive for me are the Ami/Plushies list, and the "Crafters" list, which is a catch all for people from the Hive plus a few other odds and ends. And I found myself thinking "this is nice and all, but I don't have any actual interest in X type of craft, and I'm highly unlikely to ever follow a link about it, buy it, etc." Furthermore, I thought, "the ones I care about are getting buried by the ones I don't." I actually started thinking, "what's something I could name a list that would secretly mean, 'the only tweets I actually care about'?" What I ended up doing was a bit of cleaning house. I left most of the Hive tweets, because I've made friends with many of the people in question. I removed the ones that really didn't seem to be craft related, the ones that I didn't even remember who they were or why I'd followed them, and a couple that were for things I'm really just not interested in. And I didn't have to remove the ones who over-advertised (like, sales pitches every few minutes) cause I've been removing those all along. I was left with a list of about 120 crafters, instead of almost 170. I've gotten it to the point that I think it's manageable and useful again. But it really got me thinking, why this drive for trading follows?
Meanwhile, yesterday I spotted Etsy's new feature for forming a circle, and within 24 hours I've been hearing calls for people to reciprocal circle-add. Since I haven't seen any public place that weights us based on how many circles we are in, nor have I seen any sign that circles do anything other than let us see which items and stores the others in our circle have chosen to heart, or who they have chosen to add to their own circles, I can't help but feel that there is no value in a reciprocal circle adding. Indeed, it appears that circles don't do the ONLY thing I really hoped they would - namely, enable me to see when the people in my circle add new items to their store - but I guess that's a different story.
So...I really want to get my thoughts down on this, because it helps me sort through things.
First, I think the value of reciprocal follows varies by medium. I am finding that, as both a crafter and a consumer, there is value in reciprocal FB liking. I have found artists whose work I am interested in that I would never have found if I hadn't done this. I've made new friends doing this. I have not sold anything doing this - yet - but I have bought one thing already paid for and a second ordered, because of this. On the other hand, I've also ended up with some things in my stream that, after paying attention for the first couple weeks, I decided really weren't of interest to me, and yes, I have decided to add them to my ignore list rather than have them clutter up my FB. This is particularly true in cases where I ended up with a "liked" page and a person friended yet every single thing got posted to both lists (and thus I ended up with a complete duplicate set of their posts) - in these cases, I usually ignore one or the other so that I only get the info once.
On Twitter, on the other hand, I find the constant stream of information so overwhelming (at it's worst, it was hundreds of tweets an hour) that it drives me to not want to use the medium at all. Rather than completely lose this resource, I have decided that unfollowing has to be okay and appropriate. Because Twitter is so intense - and, I hate to say, because I've found that fellow users are much more likely to abuse Twitter by filling it with constant sales posts and reposts because they know that everyone else only reads a fraction of the tweets they get, too - it's really not valuable to follow someone whose work and tweets are of no interest to you.
On my blog, I feel as a blog WRITER that I don't want anyone following me unless they want to read my blog. I want to look at that follow box with pride and think, "hey, these people actually want to read what I write!" I may than laugh maniacally. Just a little. :) I don't want people here unless they want to be here, because this is a real investment of my creativity and time.
What's interesting is that I HAVEN'T seen this following mentality in the Hive itself. I've not seen any big posts calling for "I'll follow your Hive if you follow mine!" On the contrary, it seems that it happens as I think it "should." When I spot someone whose interests are like mine or whose work I think is beautiful, I follow them. Some of them follow me back, some don't, and that's fine. When someone chooses to follow me, I take a look at what they do, and if I want to, I follow them. On one or two occasions, I've decided that I didn't want to continue to read the content I was getting, and I unfollowed. And that was that. It felt...nonintrusive. Likewise, on Ravelry, people friend each other only when they actually want to be friends. I had thought that the new Etsy circles would work similarly, which is why it surprised me when I saw almost immediate calls for "join my circle and I'll join yours back!" I intend to work my Etsy circle the same as I work my Hive following - only those who I actually, genuinely think I'd buy something they make, or who are actually my friends.
So why am I posting this now? I had planned to let this sit a bit longer before writing about it, but I saw a post today in the Hive about something called Blogmania, which is basically an enormous blog hog with prizes. The idea is, join the event, and when it's held, people who want the prizes (there's a $100 minimum requirement for prize value, so we're talking big prizes) sign up for a chance to win them at every blog involved. Furthermore, most of the blogs, as part of the "entry" in the contest, stipulated that the entrant had to follow the blog, and/or follow Twitter, and/or follow the FB, etc. At first I thought, "wow, so much exposure!" But something about it was bugging me, and while I was going about my day, I put my finger on what it was: Is there any value to me as an aspiring craftsperson to get, say, 100 people to follow my FB only because they want to win one prize? Do these people have any actual interest in my photography or amigurumi or crochet or reading as I ramble for a long post about reciprocal following? What's the point? Now, another part of me says the point is that, at the price involved, only a dozen or so of these people would have to ever actually buy something for it to start to be worth while. And so I'm thinking about it. But...I don't know, it doesn't quite feel right.
I guess, to sum up, here are how I perceive the pros and cons.
1. Exposure. You never know what you might like/want until you investigate.
2. Traffic. In some places, higher numbers breed higher numbers and more hits breeds even more hits. Getting your blog linked to lots of places helps you in Google results, for example. And of course, it's gratifying to log on to Google Analytics and see massive numbers of hits.
3. Sales. I'm not sure about this one, as I have not the least bit of evidence that all of the networking I've spent the past 3 months doing has generated a single sale. However, I'd like to think that doing enough of this kind of stuff over enough time might generate some...
4. Wider dissemination. Any day now, I'll be writing a post aimed mostly at my friends and family in which I highlight a few of the things that I've found that I personally think are coolest and which I think will be of most interest to my circle of friends. This will include include a few people whose work I've mostly gotten to know through reciprocal follow type things. And if my friends like it, they might share it again. Or buy something. You never know. :)
1. Not everyone really bothers to follow everyone else. But I'm almost not sure that it matters, in light of what I consider to be the main downside, which I'll go on to right now.
2. What, in the end, is the value in following someone whose work is of no interest for you? I talk about this a lot above, and I think it's a really critical piece of this. If you're not interested in what they do, and they're not interested in what you do, then there is no value, and there is a loss of some of everyone's (valuable) time.
3. False numbers. I've got to admit, it's really nice when I look at my FB page and see that 77 people like it. That makes me feel all warm and fuzzy...until I sigh and remember that the vast majority are entirely non-active on my page and only about half appear to have any actual interest in my work. And don't get me wrong, you half, I love you guys - heck, I like the rest of you, too - but it's not the same.
4. Irritation. Fair or not, when I'm in a reciprocal share, where the expectation is (like in a FB liking session) that everyone will like everyone elses, I've got to admit it ticks me off when some people don't bother. And it bothers me that this bothers me, because of all of the arguments I've described above about how ultimately I think it's better that people follow/like/friend/etc the things they are actually interested in. And thus, I add to this list of downsides, irritation at multiple levels. :)
Thoughts? What do you all feel are the pros and cons of reciprocal follwing? Is it bad taste to unfollow someone or choose "ignore" for their FB page if you're really not interested in their work? Does fleshing out our number of likes or blog followers with people who may have next to nothing in common with our actual areas of work actually increase our sales? What decisions have you made about these strategies as regards different types of web resources?