The more people you follow on Twitter, the more you realize the truth: Sometimes, you want a short break from certain people. Sometimes, you even need to break up. Topping the list of annoyances, there's the too much information (TMI) tweets, followed closely by the criminally self-promotional and the disgustingly self-indulgent. These tweets can trickle into your Twitter stream with great regularity, rendering the service at times useless.
Luckily, you can deal with the problem Twitter users in your life. From utilizing free applications, to simply "unfollowing" someone after they fail to exercise basic Twitter Etiquette, here's a few ways to deal with bad Twitter players - and not look like a jerk while doing it.
How to Unfollow People But Make It Look Like You Follow Them
Those who believe in social karma contend that if someone follows you on Twitter, it's polite to follow them back. Even if the person following you does so only for their own motives - none of which includes helping you (they just want to sell to you) - some people say "what goes around comes around."
If you subscribe to this philosophy, you should use a free app like TweetDeck. While the regular Web-based version of Twitter (accessed at Twitter.com) will stream the updates of all the people you follow into your homepage, TweetDeck, a free third-party Twitter app, will allow you to separate Twitter users into their own window panes. That means you can create a group of people who are, ahem, easily ignorable.
We showed you how to create "groups" in this TweetDeck review.
Say, for instance, you create a TweetDeck group called "Friends and Family." You can make that the front and center of your TweetDeck experience, while creating another group, entitled "Bad Followers," that you wall over to the far side, out of your immediate field of vision.
Some people will unfollow you if you never engage with their Tweets or you fail to "retweet" any of their messages. But hey, if they get the hint and end your Twitter relationship, problem solved from your end. It's not you, it's them.
Unfollow People for Short Periods of Time (and Let Them Know Why)
Twitter users have converging and diverging interests. A person's tweets might fluctuate based on where he or she is, activities and companions. As an example, if people follow me because they like my coverage on social media, they might not want to read my Tweets when I'm on a vacation in Boston for three days unless they also happen to be a huge baseball (or specifically Red Sox) fan.
I have a couple of followers, in fact, who will periodically unfollow me for a few days, and I'm not the least bit offended. In all cases, they refollow me when I get back to work in San Francisco, ready to hear my take on a new Facebook feature or a story about Google.
I do the same to some people I follow, especially when they attend conferences that don't really interest me.
In all these arrangements, you should consider sending a quick note to the person you've traditionally followed.
"Hey, you know I enjoy your Tweets, but because my stream is rather crowded this week, I need to keep business critical messages for the next few days, so I'm going to unfollow you while you're on vacation. Have fun, and I'll pick up on your Tweets when you get back."
I do the note, but a lot of people wouldn't even notice if you didn't follow them for a few days. It's a judgment call on who to temporarily unfollow, if anyone at all. Some people who follow you for professional reasons might enjoy seeing what you do outside of work because it humanizes you. But again, most Twitter users can understand the information overload, and shouldn't fault you for a temporary hiatus.