It's trendy to complain about Twitter being overwhelming, and to say that whatever value the social media site once had has been drowned in a sea of incorrect, boring, or fatuous tweets. While the first reply to these complaints is, "Learn how to pare down your Twitter streams," sometimes that can be tougher than it seems.
For example, in your job you might be expected to follow all of your coworkers' work-related streams, and dropping an annoying coworker might be seen as slacking off. Or your cousin who tweets incendiary political sayings 50 times daily also happens to be the guy who freaks out the minute his follower count drops, and you have no doubt he'd make a scene at Thanksgiving over you unfollowing him. You're a fan of employment and/or your aunt's pumpkin pecan pie, so your Twitter stream stays cluttered with tweets that make you roll your eyes. What to do, what to do?
Nobody's here to judge you on why you don't just unfollow certain accounts on a social media platform in which participation is completely voluntary. (And if you are here to judge, take it to the comments.) We're here to tell you how to handle your overfull, irritating Twitter stream.
To reduce your frustration without reducing the amount of useful, informative, or entertaining messages in your feed, try these three strategies.
Step one: Make lists
Twitter's list feature is your new best friend in social media. First, because it will force you to sort through your followers and categorize them. Second, because the list feature permits you to make private lists, and these private lists are where you will corral the Twitter streams you find annoying, overly voluminous, or boring.
Twitter lists aren't just handy for avoiding any social or career-related awkwardness. You should also use them to sort the Twitter feeds you follow by topic, by purpose, or by social connection. Basically, you're going to have the best of all possible Twitter worlds: Some lists will help you suck down information from a variety of sources, some lists will help you jump into conversations with other people on Twitter, and some will help you avoid awkward social or vocational conversations because they're where you exile the feeds that are neither informative nor entertaining, yet still apparently necessary for maintaining your social media profile at work or among your friends and family.
If you've never set up a private list in Twitter, it's very easy. Go to your profile page, and click the "Lists" option. A pop-up window will ask you, first, to give your new list a name and a description, and then to choose whether the list is public or private. When in doubt, go with "private." Once your list has been created, you can go through the feeds you follow and add the relevant ones to the list.
If you've made a Twitter list public that should be private, you can use the "edit" function to change the setting. Click the hyperlinked name of the list you've created; in the upper left corner, you have the option to edit or delete your list, so you can change the privacy setting or nuke the thing altogether.
The great thing about private lists is that the accounts within them don't ever know. (I confirmed this using a few different Twitter accounts and private lists.) So the four career-related contacts you've confined to the "Put the keyboard DOWN and get fresh air" list will never know they're not on your Twitter A-list.
Step two: Look only at the lists important to you
Now that you've set up your lists in Twitter, forget ever going to Twitter.com to look at your stream again. Both HootSuite and TweetDeck will let you customize your application display, so take advantage of that to set up the lists you want to see, and omit the ones you don't.
Worried that someone you've put on the exile list is going to mention you in a tweet and you'll miss it, thus prompting an uncomfortable incident? Set up a column within TweetDeck for your mentions, and whenever someone retweets you or mentions you, you'll know. Although HootSuite's "mentions" tab ostensibly performs the same function, some users are reporting that this isn't working as well as it should.
Now that you've handled the Twitter irritation problem on the desktop, solve it for all your mobile Twitter browsing. UberSocial (on Blackberry, iOS, and Android) is a free app that supports all the features from Twitter.com--which means you can view or create lists. Download it and train yourself to just steer straight to your lists.
Step three: Set up another, protected account
If you're using Twitter primarily as a consumer--that is, it's become your de facto stream for news, eavesdropping on people, or looking at pictures--and you still can't drop people for social reasons, you're in luck. Nobody is really going to notice your level of nonparticipation dropping even lower, so just abandon your first account and set up a second one. Make it a protected account with a pseudonym--you can strictly control who follows you--and start following the Twitter accounts you find the most useful.
Voilà! You still have your original Twitter account for social reputation management (like avoiding awkward conversations with people when they notice you've unfollowed them), and you also have a clean, unpolluted stream of Twitter content you can sip from at your leisure.