Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
July 25, 2009 3:02 PM

The Art Of No

When is it ok to say "no" to someone in Social Media? If someone follows you on Twitter, do you have to follow them back? If they join your group, do you have to join theirs as well?

Chris Brogan (co-author with Julien Smith of the upcoming book, Trust Agents, and co-host of the Media Hacks Podcast) has a great Blog post today titled, Quid Pro No, where he questions when it is ok to say "no" in a world of Facebook friends and Twitter followers without insulting anybody:

"I was asked to join someone's new social media application, but because I have a lot of stuff on the go, I politely declined. What I got back as a parting shot was, 'Thanks. I'll still buy your book.' It left me feeling a bit awkward. Do we expect reciprocal behavior all the time? Is it easy enough to see that I participate as much as I can in both directions, and that it's not all about me?"

If you think that Brogan's Blog post poses a very serious question about how scalable individuals are in a world where any one person can have hundreds of thousands of followers, you should read the great and diverse comments that follow his Blog post. The reality of being able to join everything and follow everyone creates one big torrent of content that will - without question - turn the conversations that should have more thought and time dedicated to them by certain individuals into a great big sea of follow requests and group requests that will take so much time to wade through that most individuals will never be able to become any kind of active participant. It is something I Blogged about at length in April of last year: The Trouble With Twitter - Confessions Of A Twitter Snob.

Maybe we all have to simply admit that just because we are equally connected, it does not mean that our respective content is of equal value to others.

Let's be honest with ourselves: if we buy a book by Tom Peters, does that mean that Tom Peters should - at the very least - buy something from everyone who bought a book from him? It does seem a little ridiculous. Now, just because something is free, cheap or easier to do than buy a business book, does that make any more sense?

Obviously not.

My interest may be your interests. Your interests may not be my interests.

This is why the concept of "what is a friend online?" gets constantly debated. The truth is, most of us can only have a handful of real friends (it's just the way it is). If you are taken by the content published here, why is it so difficult to swallow that the content you're producing may have little to no relevance to me? Or, maybe your content is of relevance, but I simply don't like your slant and take on things? If you're getting the value from what's happening here, why do you need my validation on your content? Isn't it enough that each day there are other individuals following you, requesting online friendship or joining your group?

We don't have to say "no". 

If someone does not follow, friend or join you, they're not saying "no" to you after you said "yes" to them. It's not rejection and you should not take it as a slight against your ego. In a highly personalized world of publishing, understand that it's not a world of "no" at all.


If you're joining this conversation on the sole basis that you hope I will join yours, the fundamental reason you connected to me is flawed. I follow those who provide value in my life. I don't care if they follow me back. I'm getting value from them and what they're publishing. I can also add my perspective on their space and share it with their audience. The value in connecting to them is not for the reciprocation, it's in what they're saying/doing and I what I can learn or share with others from them. I don't go to a movie and then assume that the director should connect with me because of how much I loved the flick and talked about it to others.

Isn't getting value out of what someone publishes enough? Why do they also have to follow, friend, link to or buy from those that are following them as well?

That all being said, listening to what others are saying about you, your company, brand, products and services (and responding) is still a must.

By Mitch Joel