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The Fallacy of Social Media Reciprocation

You are not entitled to attention.

You are not entitled to a follow-back on Twitter simply because you follow someone. You are not entitled to blog subscribers or comments simply because you publish stuff. You are not entitled to clicks to your junk or signups for your newsletter or any thing of the sort.

In fact, you are not entitled to anything.

The web is not a democracy, nor is this an egalitarian society. Giving of attention when it’s such a precious commodity is not something to be done in some empty gesture of validation, and as the attention giver, I and only I will decide how I’ll approach my connections online. My reasons aren’t yours, nor should they be. You don’t decide the value in paying attention to you, I do. This black-white, good-bad, hard-and-fast-rules of engagement stuff is ridiculous at best, and pathetic at worst.

If you honestly need someone to follow you or friend you on a social network to find self worth or acceptance, it’s really time to re-evaluate your priorities.

Moreover, if the precedent we’re setting is that blanket reciprocity should be the standard, aren’t we bound to inundate ourselves with countless connections that have no enduring meaning, purpose, or substance to us other than some initial handshake gesture? That’s a plainly ridiculous way to set etiquette standards for communities that, by their very nature, are adaptable to the needs and methods of many different types of participants.

There is no inherent value in a superficial connection, but only in how that relationship becomes substantive later. That means too, my friends, that the follow you have so self-righteously given and for which you are demanding reciprocation  has no value either until someone recognizes it for themselves.

Some are very stingy with their attention, and for perfectly valid reasons. Some, like me, are more liberal with their connections for equally valid reasons. I am so utterly sick and tired of the whining and complaining of unreturned follows, of self-righteous criticism of those who do the opposite, of the “wrong” people getting attention when there’s *clearly* someone more deserving (ahem), of someone not replying to a comment or a tweet or a Facebook wall post. Enough already.

If you find something interesting, useful, entertaining, or valuable, give it your attention. If you don’t, don’t. If someone makes that choice for themselves and their assessment doesn’t agree with yours, tough. Discuss and learn to understand their reasons if you like, offer them yours and make your case, consider both sides…but get over it already.

Attention, friendship, and all of the bits in between are earned. And they are in the eye of the giver. So as you navigate the social networks and communities on the web, realize that the value exchange does not hinge on some ridiculous idea of reciprocation. Instead, it’s in the interactions and the contributions and the discussions, many of which can happen without explicit gestures of connection whatsoever.

Perhaps instead of griping about others’ refusal to pay you attention you should instead evaluate the insipid nature of your pandering, your disagreeable personality, or your lack of contributions to your communities in the first place.

Because if your motives are sincere and your participation worthwhile, the rest somehow takes care of itself.

Join The Conversation

  • Jan 24 Posted 6 years ago Patrick Boegel (not verified)

    I know you are more likely being figurative but I don't think it is the 14 year olds who are truly the problem.

  • Jan 21 Posted 6 years ago Patricia Beaudin (not verified)

    I like this article. It annoys me to no end when people tell me they followed me and I should return the favor. I feel they're putting pressure on me, glaring down over my shoulder even though I know they're not. Plus I only want people who are interested to follow me, I'd rather have one person that looked at my blog and read it and commented then ten followers who never gave my blog another look. I'm half tempted to post this on network blogs on facebook but people there don't read, they have their info saved and they open each topic, paste and leave.

  • Jan 20 Posted 6 years ago Jonathan MacDonald (not verified)


    Great fallacy

    I've written a few here as you know:

    Hopefully we can collaborate?


  • Jan 20 Posted 6 years ago Chris Chambless (not verified)

    Amber - Great post! I bet if you repackaged this article with a little editing it could be a child's guide to playground behavior. Curious that adults need to be taught the same lesson again years later.

    rationalchica- I agree with you the shorter blog post are most digestable, but you have to balance that with getting your content seen by as many people as possible, and that means optimizing for search, and THAT mean interlinking between blog post and saying the same thing a couple of different ways.



  • Jan 20 Posted 6 years ago Taqiyyah Shakir... (not verified)

    This was a very honest perspective that I think we all know somewhere inside, but it needed saying. I tend to engage only people who fascinate me or offer some use, and I feel more surprised than deserving when they return the attentions. Staying humble and human online is, I think, the takeaway of this article.

  • Jan 20 Posted 6 years ago J Marti (not verified)

    Excellent article. I agree 100%

    >>>Perhaps instead of griping about others’ refusal to pay you attention you should instead evaluate the insipid nature of your pandering, your disagreeable personality, or your lack of contributions to your communities in the first place.
    Because if your motives are sincere and your participation worthwhile, the rest somehow takes care of itself.


    Well said.

  • webwranglerjean's picture
    Jan 20 Posted 6 years ago webwranglerjean

    THANK YOU. I had a run-in with #teamfollowback yesterday and I tried to get just this point across. Automatic reciprocal follow-back policies are a good way to quickly render your Twit-stream completely useless.

  • sandeemiller's picture
    Jan 20 Posted 6 years ago sandeemiller People want to be validated for their work. But if its automatically given than there is no worth to it. Friending or following anyone who asks just because they asked doesn't mean anythink in the long run. You will appreciate it more when it comes if you don't expect it.
  • Jan 18 Posted 6 years ago Chellie Campbell (not verified)

    Hi, Amber, I saw your post in "news" on Facebook and came on over to read what you had to say. I appreciate your direct admonishments that we don't deserve anything for just showing up, but that what we contribute is what pays off. Sometimes my in-box seems filled with nothing but pitches and commercials, and although I'm happy to look at them occasionally and even more rarely find something that interests me, they all begin to seem like white noise background quite promptly. Where's the beef?

    But an interesting discussion, ah, now that's what I like! Thanks for starting one here.

    As a financial coach, I work with small business owners to help them grow their businesses. Everyone wants to know the magic email or magic blog topic or magic number of friends they need to be successful. I shake my head and tell them that success isn't in any of those things. Being present isn't the same as having a presence.

    Hmm, I like that last sentence...think that will be my next blog topic.

    Cheers, and thank you!



  • rationalchica's picture
    Jan 17 Posted 6 years ago rationalchica

    Amber - I really enjoyed your premise in this post. Cracks me up how sensitive some folks are about reciprocation. We're all just regurgitating our opinions here and there to see who will bite, right? If the stars align, someone responds. 

    So, you "had me at hello'...I mean by the 6th paragragh. Don't take this personally; it's just something I've been thinking a lot about recently... I think that most blog posts are too long.

    I find it interesting that many bloggers feel the need to write as if they are composing an essay for a college lit class. Typically, the posts are well written, as is this one, but longer than necessary. I was able to grasp your assertions and support early, and that was fabulous. There really is no need to bring in additional substantiations and an extra five paragraphs. (Am I off base? I'd love to hear contrary opinions on this.)

    I mean seriously - consider all of the content we try to consume each day. I don't know about y'all but I want to read something longer than Twitter (which doesn't do anything for me personally) but much shorter than a research paper. How about a blogini, postini or postette. And....(as I go off on a short tangent) I don't want to have to click links to previous posts to complete the story - like a mystery novel. Just set me straight right then and there.

    Just something to think about (not just you, dear writer, I mean the blogosphere in general). Sorry I used your comment area for my soapbox.

    Kind regards and happy writing, Leslie

  • Jan 17 Posted 6 years ago Barb Coates (not verified)

    Brilliant commentary Amber.

    People need to remember that social is simply the online equivalent of a tangible social environment, whether it's high school, work or a cocktail party. Meaningful relationships emerge in these environments for a reason - simply that the participants find it mutually beneficial. People will follow or re-tweet your tweets, subscribe to your blog, or engage in a myriad of other ways if they find your discourse interesting and or useful (which is why I decided to post a comment here!). 

    We seem to live in an age of entitlement which I don't need to elaborate on here because other, more worthy commentators have done so before me. But I find it fascinating to see how this attitude has consumed the social environment which by definition was supposed to be one which championed personal, meaningful dialogue.

  • Jan 17 Posted 6 years ago Will (not verified)

    True...but you are entitled not to pay attention to someone who won't pay attention to you.

    I think what bothers a lot of us is the sense that the digerati lure us in with the promise of interactivity and "relationship," when in fact it's just one more scam to get us to consume and boost their egos.

    But perhaps that's "the insipid nature of [my] pandering, [my] disagreeable personality, or [my] lack of contributions to [my] communities in the first place." 

    I just read an article on social network "curation" (such a nice euphemism--doesn't sound anything like "blowing off") that talked about "receiving a deluge of self-important babble from people they went to primary school with.”

    I am so sorry you all are plagued by all these gauche people (me included). But isn't that kind of part of the deal when you are a part of a society?

    Of course, you know all that, or you wouldn't have posted this looking for comments.

  • Robin Carey's picture
    Jan 17 Posted 6 years ago Robin Carey

    Anybody see "You Have Zero Friends" on

  • Jan 17 Posted 6 years ago @spittk07 (not verified)

    I can't tell you how many times I meet someone for about 2 seconds, and before I get home they've "friended" me on Facebook. Why?  It really makes you question the value of the online relationships you have...I mean it's like there should be 3 categories of Facebook Friends or Twollowers...1) People I met once and friended me, 2) People (like family) that I'm obligated to befriend but never talk to online, and 3) People I enjoy sharing ideas and networking with...

  • Jan 17 Posted 6 years ago Anonymous (not verified)

    I agree with your post- attention must be earned not expected. Truly no one is entitled. Authentic interaction and giving/sharing  information of high intrinsic value is a most for anyone looking for success in social media.

  • Jan 17 Posted 6 years ago admin (not verified)

    Posted this on our Facebook page Facebook

  • Jan 16 Posted 6 years ago Frozen Fabulist

    It's strange - somewhere along the way the idea of friend-for-friend (or even more cringe-worthy - f4f) became some sort of social rule.  One that I choose to ignore.  I think this is what happens, sadly, when you let 14 year olds dictate behaviour on social networking sites.  Suddenly it's all about how many people follow you and your inane twaddle.

    Quality over quantity remains my guiding principle.

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