Social media produces some interesting and downright curious behaviors. Over the past few months, I’ve noticed a rather compelling relationship that’s popped up in my social interactions. It tends to manifest in two similar fashions:

  • Someone chooses to follow or friend you. They’re active within their own network; it’s not a spammer or automated account, but a real person, just like you. No matter what you post, write about, or discuss, they never talk to you, retweet you, or share any of your links. And yet, after weeks or months of time, they’re still a follower or friend of yours.
  • You choose to follow or friend someone, and they then follow or friend you back. You like what the person posts, writes about, or discusses. You retweet them, comment on their activity, and try to engage with them. No matter what you do, however, they never respond (except, perhaps with invitations to be their friend on other social networks).

I call this relationship the “silent partner.”

For those watching at home, there are key subtleties to the “silent partner.” First, they are always connected to you by their own will. They chose to follow or friend you, not the other way around. And, for Twitter, it’s not always an auto-follow, either. Second, they’re not the New York Times or Mashable accounts; big names or key influencers in their respective fields who post and share content but don’t engage with specific individuals, even if you make an attempt to do so. They’re personal or corporate accounts who are otherwise talking and sharing with others, just not you.

What mystifies me about the “silent partner” is, well, their silence.

For me, I’m curious about the value you bring to their network. After all, they’re connected to you for a reason. You couldn’t possibly be that boring, chatty, or annoying to them, otherwise, they would have severed the connection long before now. And it’s not because the “silent partners” have massive numbers of followers or friends, where my posts would be small ripples in their community pool. Some of the accounts I’ve studied have very manageable numbers, and my chatter would be noticeable. Not to mention, I regularly engage with accounts with thousands or tens of thousands of connections; they’re talking back to me.

Based on these assumptions, it seems that neither the content you produce nor the size of the partners’ communities are clear, straightforward causes of their silence. So, what could it be?

For the “silent partners” who follow but never engage, my guess is that they pay attention to only a core piece of their community, using either Twitter lists or groups within Facebook, for example. Perhaps they desire the status of having a large number of friends or followers and focus only those who matter to them. Or, maybe they’re reluctant to let go of those they’ve attached themselves to and simply put up with you. In any case, they tend to fit the classical profile of the “lurker”: the person who simply reads and consumes without contributing back.

As for the “silent partners” with whom you try to engage with but never get a response back, that’s a trickier assumption. It could be the same thought as above, but they’re obviously ignoring you for some reason. Maybe what you say isn’t worth their time. Maybe you haven’t passed some sort of litmus test to be “worthy” of their engagement. Maybe they’re just watching to see what you’re all about.

Overall, the concept of the “silent partner” is one I want to examine further.  I’m considering directly contacting some of mine to see if my assumptions are correct.

What about you, my dear followers? Do you have similar experiences? Or are you yourself the “silent partner” of your community? I’ve love to hear from you. That is, if you’re willing to break your silence…

Update (10-25-10): After a few additional months of observation and some excellent feedback from my fellow twitternauts, I wrote a follow-up post to this entry. I’ve introduced three additional theories on why “silent partners” exist.