I came across an excellent tweet by Jeremiah Owyang last week that gives a very simple tip to shedding folks on Twitter who complain about your posts. Basically, you block, then unblock them. It’s quite a “gentleman’s way” of pushing folks out of your circle: you set Jane Complainer free but don’t shun them by blocking them. It severs the connection, nice and neat.

I realized, however, there is a small trick to this method. If you use Twitter’s native interface, selecting “Block USERNAME” gives you an “undo” option by default. Clicking “undo” merely restores the user as one of your followers; it doesn’t “unblock” them.

Here’s the solution. Go to your list of followers, then open the account page for the follower you want to block/unblock in a new browser tab or window. From the first tab/window, select “Block USERNAME” from the list of actions (see first screenshot below). The user will be blocked, and you will see the “undo” action. Do nothing else here.

Switch to the tab with the user’s account, then refresh the page (use Control + F5 to fetch the freshest version). You’ll notice that a gray box appears with an “unblock” option (see left side of screenshot below). Click the “unblock” link to complete the process.

Now, what you don’t want is the “undo” option; this is what you’ll see if you block the user directly from their account page (see right side of screenshot below). As mentioned above, the “undo” link will just make them a follower again.

Third-party Twitter clients may give you similar options. I’m most familiar with Hootsuite; you can block users from their “Contacts” pane, but you can’t unblock them there. You’d need to take the extra step of opening up the user’s account in your browser and unblocking them as shown above.

I hope you’ll find this extra elaboration of Jeremiah’s idea helpful. I’ve also used this technique to shed accounts following me due to an unrelated keyword match or spammers.

Update (7-29-10): Shortly after publishing this article, I received feedback on Twitter that questioned the use of this technique in lieu of engagement and conversation. A few thoughts on this:

  • First, I personally advocate engagement first and foremost vs. bluntly shutting out detractors or those who disagree with you. However, some folks just want to gripe instead of talk; that’s human nature.
  • Also, your network is your territory: you have the freedom to do whatever you want. If blocking out users without dialog is your thing, that’s up to you.
  • Lastly, I certainly wouldn’t advise organizations or corporations to do something like this unless they’re concerned about the nature of certain followers (and whatever reputational implications that one-sided relationship carries). In that case, that’s up them and/or their management. At face value, pushing out followers limits the voice of your business and doesn’t appear very customer friendly.

A topic for a future post, perhaps …?