Both brands and individuals can build up massive followings on Twitter by being good net-citizens and sharing content that people value. It’s also considered polite to reciprocate by following people back when they follow you. As a result, Twitter accounts can end up following thousands while direct message spam can reach monumental proportions.

Twitter SpamShould brand community managers or individuals accept spam as a cost of social media marketing on Twitter? Will reducing the number of accounts being followed by thousands have a negative impact on reach, influence and branding? Is eliminating direct message spam worth the effort?

A Look at the Numbers

Over a three day period (1/19 – 1/21) more than 15,000 Twitter accounts were unfollowed by my personal account. Many of the accounts unfollowed were obviously connected to some sort of automation software because over 600 unfollowed me immediately. However, on the third day (see below) the attrition rate dropped dramatically to only 61 in 24 hours.

Unfollows - 24 Hours

In total, unfollowing 15,000 Twitter accounts led to a 2.9 percent follower attrition rate over three days. It also dropped the number of lists my account was on from 913 to 904 – a one percent decrease.

Unfollows - 7 Days

However, when normalizing the attrition over the last 30 days the damage is very minimal – only losing 205 followers or .9 percent. That’s a small price to pay in the battle to eliminate spam.

Unfollows - 30 Days

Real Feedback

Surprisingly, out of every account that was unfollowed only two negative tweets were sent my way (see below). On the other hand, five tweets were very positive in nature. It’s safe to say that any negative impact on my personal brand was negligible.





Accepting spam on Twitter is not a cost of doing social media marketing – community managers can do something about it. Additionally, impacts on reach, influence and branding are negligible at worst. Now the hard work of scouring my Twitter lists for people I know and trust to re-follow begins. However, the elimination of direct message spam in my inbox makes it all worth it.

Image Credit: Vince_Lamb


Chad Pollitt

Chad Pollitt

Director of Marketing at digitalrelevance
Chad is a decorated veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and former Army Commander; member of a Forbes Top 100 List and the VP of Marketing at DigitalRelevance. He authored "51 Things Your Mother Taught You About Inbound Marketing" in 2013 and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and LinkedIn Pulse.
Chad Pollitt
Chad Pollitt

General SEO | 8 Comments

8 thoughts on “What Happens When You Unfollow 15K Accounts On Twitter?

  1. Chad, How much spam were you getting? Did you measure? I “only” follow less than 1000, and get a small handful a week. Annoying, but not too much. Thanks!

    • Raj:

      Take your handful and multiply it by 15. I didn’t actually keep track of the spam filling up my inbox, but I can tell you it was massively annoying. A lot of the spam appeared to be from phishing victims. Now the annoyance is gone and I don’t have to worry about it anymore :)


    • No problem Ian – Check out crowdbooster(dot)com for the analytics. Believe it or not I used the iPhone app “Unfollow” in lieu of software or a script to unfollow all of the tweeple.


  2. Doesn’t Twitter just allow you to refuse emailed DM notifications altogether?!

    I do my best not to follow spammers or unprofessional people (no keyword rich Twitter description or photo) back in the first place so, with 5000 relatively clean followers, I get only about 2 DMs per day and these are mostly people I just followed who believe in sending a DM welcome message. If I get a spammy DM from someone I didn’t just follow, I click through and unfollow immediately if they aren’t a customer.

    Customers of mine can do whatever they like. =)

    Sometimes a DM welcome message is appropriate as it sends me to their LinkedIn page or Corporate Facebook page but DMs are mostly spam and I could easily configure my email account to send all Twitter DMs to the delete folder. I don’t like the idea of sending an automatic DM myself and I’ve rarely ever sent a DM for any reason because I assume most people send them directly to spam or have them unchecked in Twitter’s settings.

    If you had 65,000 followers, you were getting 26 DMs per day even if you were careful not to follow spammers and clueless people back.

    I can see why you were frustrated but, as I noted on your G+ feed, I believe you could have found a way of filtering “DM Users” out of your following and not had to delete everyone.

    Still, while Twitter limits would force a professional to unfollow those who do what you did in order to continue to be allowed to follow new people, one benefit of what you did is that a professional would check you out on Google+ and LinkedIn and maybe follow you there as an alternative.

    • Allen:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I think a lot of the spam was from accounts that were phished. My decision to do this came from the gut – like many, I don’t seem to have a spare second of time (family, Slingshot, Army NG). After spending the last three years deleting 300+ emails per day (DMs were just a small portion) I went on a complete opt-out/email elimination tear. Twitter was low hanging fruit in the process.

      I don’t regret it – I have a very clean inbox now :)


  3. Hi Chad,

    To answer your question I do think that if brands want to take the approach to follow many users then spam is something they are going to have to put up with at present.

    Brands, and everyone really, need Twitter to do more to eliminate the spam flying around, whether it be “genuine spam” (from a real person, but still unappealing) or those “OMG what are you doing in this [link]” phishing direct messages that are flying around. Perhaps better blocking or junk options need to be developed for us to use.

    I manage several twitter accounts for a number of clients and I am loathe to continuously monitor DM’s as the vast majority are spam. However I need to because some genuine customers reach out to them via direct messaging.

    Personally I agree with your approach. Without better filtering/spam blocking tools available at the moment I think you were more than justified to unfollow these spamming accounts. It’s your choice.

    However, some people seem to put so much stock in their Twitter followers/Facebook friends – taking noticeable offence to these actions – I don’t place much stock in it myself, rather taking the view that I stopped being useful or informative to them.

    More people should think about the reason they were unfollowed/unfriended in the first place, maybe we should look more inside ourselves generally for the why rather than focusing on the person who unfollowed/unfriended.

    So, to answer your question again, yes you might suffer some statistical decrease in reach, influence, and branding – as you have shown – but I think some people forget that social media is not suited for broadcast marketing methods. Nor is it a follow back game. As long as brands and anyone using Twitter for that matter continue to share valuable and engaging content (not just on twitter, but across their wider marketing mix) then NO, they would not suffer any real adverse effects.


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