I was pretty excited the day my Twitter account went over a hundred followers. I’d been building it for awhile, tweeting what I hoped was quality content, engaging with others, retweeting good stuff and participating in Twitterchats. It was always a thrill to see when a new person had followed me, and I usually went to look at their profile and send them a personal message that highlighted something I found interesting about them.

At some point as my following continued gradually to build, I noticed the pace was accelerating. Where I’d once gotten four or five new follows each week, now I was getting four or five a day. And while I had formerly usually recognized the names of followers, now I had no idea who these people were or why they were following me. Sure, I tried to tweet good stuff, but I was hardly a social media guru.

Like before, I hurried to go to their profiles and find something of interest to talk to them about – except that there was less to find, because they weren’t following me for any particular reason. So I stopped following every single person back. Instead, I followed those who I saw an immediate reason to engage with and left the rest.

That’s when something really interesting started happening. I call it the Twitter Churn. New followers would appear on my notifications tab by the dozens – but my total following would increase by one, or two. Or it would go down. In they came, and out they went.

There’s no big mystery here. It’s been blogged about enough times that one fabulous way to build your Twitter following is to follow a couple hundred new people every week. Most will follow you back. Voila, 10K followers. Except – it’s meaningless. They’re not listening to you. Most likely they’ve muted you or don’t even look at their news feed, only at their finely sorted lists. You could easily have 10K followers and not one pair of eyes on your tweets.

And with that, I’ve noticed a new phenomenon. A lot of the newer influencers, who have pretty exalted places in the social stratosphere, have very low numbers of followers. Small audiences of people who actually listen to what they have to say. Well, I’d rather have 200 people who care about my thoughts than thousands who just signed on to build their numbers.

Early adopters of Twitter and other social platforms had a real advantage over those who came along later. I’m not just talking about the fact that they got their actual names as Twitter handles (that means you, @dianawolff, wherever you are) – I mean that they built huge loyal followings at a time when follower counts meant something. Those people – and a handful of later-comers who are truly exceptional (hey there @isocialfanz) – have big numbers of people actually listening to them. The holy grail of social media.

I listen to them too. And one of the things I’ve learned is that sometimes less is more. So I’ve given up my @unfollowspy habit and stepped out of the Twitter Churn riptide. No more automatically following someone back just to be polite, and then watching my feed fill up with auto-scheduled tweets of other people’s content.

If you like what I tweet, retweet it once in awhile. Reply to something you find interesting and let’s have a conversation. Then if I see you’ve followed me I’ll know you’re someone I want to follow back. And give me a shout every once in awhile. It’ll be great to talk to you.