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When Twitter Lists first came out, I didn’t really use them, mostly because I’d already been using Twitter for so long that it would have been too much work to retroactively go back and add all my followers into lists. I started using them for new followers and quickly found myself disillusioned: Lists are limited to 500 members per list which made it difficult for me to organize my followers in the ways I wanted to.

While I am hugely appreciative to all the wonderful people who’ve included me on lists (I’m on 247 Twitter lists as of my writing this! You people rock!) and I have 2 main lists that are very important to how I use Twitter, I only recently realized the real power of Twitter Lists.

Twitter Lists let you follow people without actually following them.

Remember when I was complaining about hitting the Twitter Follower Limits? To recap, the number of people that you are allowed to follow is tied to the number of people that are following you. Because of this, following accounts that aren’t going to follow back is detrimental to your Twitter account because it limits how many you can follow.

Following a news feed or a celebrity would hurt you in the long run because they wouldn’t follow back. From a Twitter standpoint, they’d prefer that you save your “follows” for people who will follow you back and have built their follow limits accordingly.

But when you add a Twitter user to a List, their updates show even if you aren’t actually following them. For example, I don’t actually follow the @breakingnews Twitter feed but I have it on my Top Friends list. When I watch my Top Friends list in TweetDeck (or on the website), I see the BreakingNews tweets just as if I were following them even though I’m not actually following the account at all. In the same way, I have a whole list of celebrities I’m interested in that allows me to watch their updates without ever actually following any of them if I don’t want to.

Is it fair to these accounts that I’m able to follow them without actually giving them a genuine “follow”? They are still getting my eyeballs on their updates, my clicks on their links, my retweets on their content. Would I use a fake “list follow” on a real user that follows people back? Of course not. But until Twitter changes the algorithm to enable us to follow whoever we want regardless of our own follower count, it’s a very helpful workaround.

How do you use Twitter Lists?