Recently I’ve noticed people repeatedly following and unfollowing me on Twitter. This morning, my good friend Michelle Naranjo explained why this is happening.To understand this phenomenon, you need to know a little background on Twitter following/unfollowing.

Twitter bars users from following more than 2000 people until they are followed by 2000 people. This is intended to curtail spam accounts that follow thousands of people, though I’m not entirely sure how you spam people who don’t follow you and hence don’t get your updates any way. (Another topic for another time.) So for the new Twitter user, the follow/unfollow is a way to get past the 2000 limit. The reasoning is, you keep following people, some follow back, some don’t, but if you keep rotating the “pool” of followed/followers (by unfollowing most people), you’ll get to 2000 followers much faster than if you had just waited for actual relationships built on value and mutual respect.

But the wrinkle is that I am seeing the same behavior by long time Twitter users with follower counts far in excess of the 2000 limit. Here’s how Michelle explained it to me. These users are targeting other users with large followers/followed lists because new users go to these lists to find new people to follow. (I know, it’s complicated.) So the thinking is that I have around 5000 followers, therefore new users might look at my list for suggested people to follow, and these veteran users who are gaming the system trying to add followers en masse want to be at the top of my list so they get found and followed more readily. They can move to the top of my lists by “renewing” their membership, by unfollowing me, then following me back, hoping I then follow them back. (I automatically drop anyone who unfollows me and I never follow them again, because I’m not interested in playing these games.)

This is just the latest in a series of games played by people who see you and me as numbers, notches in the social media belt, and not as people worth engaging with, or who have something of value to say and who are looking to be informed by others. I call this Twitter Friend Optimization (TFO).

Before I understood this dynamic, I was “flattered” that such popular Twitter people were inclined to follow me, but now I just find it insulting and a waste of time.