Why I Hate the Twitter Follow Limit

We wanted to flip the tables on internet marketing this week and take a look at one of the limitations of Twitter from a user perspective.

You may not know this yet, but there is a limit to how many of your fellow tweeters you can follow. I found out the hard way.

As a writer, I am a good observer. So when I joined Twitter, I watched how other writers handled their accounts. Writers follow (and are followed by) each other in droves. Some paranormal e-book authors follow 60,000 or more people. I began aggressively following other writers and literati thinking there was no limit to the inspiration available.

I was wrong.

“ Twitter limits following behavior [because] these limits help us improve site performance and reliability and help us make Twitter a nice place for everyone.” —Twitter

Aggressive is a bad word for Twitter. They use the word 4 times (out of 456 words) on their Following Rules and Best Practices Page. And never in a good way.

But when I say I follow other writers aggressively, I mean actively. I’ve sought out people with shared interests. A lot of them. Since June, I’ve followed 2,000 people I wanted to learn more about. And therein lies the problem. Twitter says I can’t follow anyone else until I have more followers. Here’s why that doesn’t make Twitter a nicer place for me.

I believe in the limits of my own importance

Being merely one human out of nearly 7,000,000,000 on this planet, I expect to notice more people than notice me. I think it’s weird when people have nearly the same number of followers as following—as if they are in a followback loop where they only want to know about people who like them first.

I currently follow three times as many people as follow me. I don’t think that’s because I’m boring. It’s because I like listening more than talking. Plus my following list covers many different topics and those tweeps may not share my interests.

Here’s who I follow and why:

  • Marketers like SEO Chicks give me tips to do my day job better. Foreign marketers like Why Not Blue refresh my language skills while teaching me about SEO Montreal-style.
  • A Dangerous Business and other travel bloggers fuel my dreams of someday using those language skills again.
  • I learn about the publishing industry from agents, publishers, reviewers, and lit zines. I like being reminded of the people behind the good work at places like Melville House and Dalkey Archive.
  • Other writers share my struggles and triumphs. Tweeting to Sarah Martinez about how much I enjoyed her book launch is a “thanks for the invite” and good promo for her.
  • Visual artists and musicians offer different looks at creativity. BOMB Magazine posts archive interviews that hit all the right notes.
  • Popular blogs like Huffington Post make sure I’m not totally clueless on the happenings of the world.
  • Washington State DOT, Seattle Police, and local media give me the news I need right now.
  • My friends and I support and promote each other in Twitter and real life. Ann Hedreen, Liza Wolff-Francis, Icess Fernandez, and Kim Brown all keep me grounded.

Most of those people will never follow me back. I don’t expect them to. But to get to follower/following parity which Twitter seems to want, I need a wide variety of strangers to follow me that I don’t plan to follow back. That just isn’t me…

I believe in community

I follow back. Not indiscriminately, but if you want to take time to get to know me, I’d like to get to know you too. We can do that on Facebook, but unfortunately you’ll have to make the first move on Twitter (and wait until I hit some magical unpublished ratio—PR and the Social Web says the magic formula is number of followers plus 10%—that means I can follow you back).

Although our day to day importance in each other’s lives may be small, I’m still glad to connect. The world is a lonely place without connections.

I believe in serendipity

Twitter is like Penn Station at rush hour. Somewhere in the cacophony is a voice telling an interesting story (a lot of them really), and I believe that Fate (and a little judgment on my part) will point me in the direction of the information and inspiration I crave. These “random” interactions prevent creative stagnation.

I believe in you

I don’t dump people I follow without good reason. Three or four tweets about how no one likes you or how you are the only important person in the word will get you dumped. And I block spammers. But mostly you’ll find me a pretty open and generous audience. Which means it’s nearly impossible to winnow down my following list so I can follow new people.

What do I do now?

Can I get around this follower limit? Yes. I could start dumping people I don’t LOVE (but I won’t). Or I could build lists of people I am interested in but don’t follow and then set up a stream in HootSuite, but why should I have to? Why should it be so difficult?

”If you’ve reached the account-based follow limit (2,000 users), you’ll need to wait until you yourself have more followers before you can follow additional users.” —Twitter

I can accept that I have to sit out following for a while (not that I have any choice). But it annoys the crap out of me that I can’t take an active aggressive role in building my Twitter feed. So, Destiny…will I get more followers or is everything I need already in my feed?

Are you wildly inspired by too many tweeps? How do you handle your follower/following ratio?

Start call to action

See how Portent can help you own your piece of the web.

End call to action


  1. I’m with you, Isla: the follow limit has outlived it’s time. I guess it made sense initially, if Twitter was attempting to train its users how to utilize the service. But it’s relatively pointless now. If you start a petition, I will definitely sign it. πŸ˜‰

  2. Great post Isla, I originally had the same amount of follows and ppl following me. At first I thought that was a better idea, however after reading this post I would re-consider that first affirmation. I agree that this limit is a little extreme, but like robin has stated, the limiting of users is outdated. Thank you for the great information!

  3. Consider using a public list in Twitter which you call “refollow after the 2K hurdle”. Anyone you put in that list receives a message in their Interactions list – even if they’re not following you! This way they’ll know what is happening. Some may even start following you. Hope this helps – I don’t enjoy waiting for the rules to change πŸ™‚

  4. It’s an interesting point, Isla. I particularly like your perspective that you want to listen more than talk. Something a lot of Twitter users could consider! I follow about 50% more than follow me and I’m comfortable with this.

  5. You’ve put into words what was just an annoying little itch in the back of my mind every time I looked at my Twitter numbers. I, too, prefer to listen. I share a lot of information with my followers, which is cool because I’ve tried to cultivate a list of followers that I want to hang with. But it’s only reasonable that we’re going to be curious about a lot more people than we’re interested in actively engaging with.
    Thanks for an awesome post!

  6. ah ha now I’ll just mention this about what you say about tweeps that have a balance of followers to following.. just be a little more open minded Isla because its not always about auto following or even “hey I’ll follow you back if you follow me chucks!”
    Most often when I find someone that I want to follow, its because I have checked their site and find the stuff they blog about interesting. And I know that I want to subscribe and help share their blog posts and their twitter profile to my own followers as they may also find the tweep ( real person ) interesting too.
    Now here’s why it all seems to balance out in a really nice way.
    Then when I have made the follow I usually send them and @ response and let them know that I think what they are doing is good stuff. ” hey @ (name) keep up the good work as saving frogs is important.:-) BUT THIS HAS TO BE REAL AND SINCERE
    This @ response lets my own followers see that I have found someone interesting and doing/discussing/promoting good stuff. And they might follow too.
    It is at this point that they often make a connection and follow me back. I haven’t asked them to follow me back … its because they are genuinely nice people who understand the value of making new connections with like minded people. I’m sure they have checked out my timeline and website to make sure I AM OK to be associated with and care about many issues in a broad range, mostly eco ethical stuff but yes all the professional and intersting seo and IT stuff too.
    so Isla… tell your new found ( or exisiting) tweeps that you are following that you think they are doing great work ( because you genuinely do)… I think you will soon get a wonderful balance and more symbiotic relationships
    good luck…

    1. Thanks, Karen, for your thoughtful reply. I do admit to making hasty decisions about fellow tweeps based on easy criteria like profile pics, number of followers, recent tweets, and bio (or lack thereof). I applaud you for taking a deeper look and making deeper connections.
      My tweeps are wonderful and no matter what happens, I don’t expect that Huffington Post (or even WSDOT) will be following me back anytime soon πŸ™‚ But I am very grateful for the ones who do. I guess my point was that I wish I could follow more people, regardless of whether they can or will follow me back.
      It’s a wonderful world where it is so easy to connect and there are myriad ways to do so.

  7. Hi Isla. I put this on your FB page but thought it would be useful here too.
    Best solution to the annoying Twitter limit of 2000:
    1. Use http://JustUnfollow.com: It reveals who is not following you back, so you can unfollow them, which leaves room for you to follow more once again.
    2. 1. Don’t follow too many at once. (no more than 30 a day) !

    1. Hi Jonathan. I thought about it over the weekend and I’m sticking with the “I believe in you” subhead and can’t bring myself to unfollow en masse. I know lots of people do it, but it just isn’t my style. Always great to know about new tools, though.

  8. Yes unfortunately we have to follow the rules. I have learn the hard way as well. I found it very frustrating to be told what I can do and not do. I agree with you that I want to follow whoever I want. But I had to give in and follow Twitters rules. There are programs that will assist in the follow and un-follow progress.

  9. I agree with all your points. I use twitter lists to manage the people I follow. I can imagine that before the introduction of lists, the follow limit made sense, but not anymore.

Comments are closed.

Close search overlay