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How a monkey filtered my social network for quality relationships


Who are the most important people in your life? If you had to curate your network to the top 5, 50, 100, 200 most impactful individuals, who would make the cut?

The ‘Dunbar Number’ suggests that managing more than 250 stable relationships is improbable.

Anthropologist Robin Dunbar’s research is based on primates – the correlation between the size of their neocortex and the size of their troops. Plot us (larger, less hairy monkeys) on the graph and you could estimate that our ideal social group size is somewhere between 100-250. Cynics will find fleas in my argument, but from my (failed) experience of trying to manage too many connections, it’s a good enough framework for me.

There’s a bottomless pit of Linkedin, Instagram, Twitter, IRL, and other ‘connections’ available to us now. Surface-level consumption culture has infiltrated the way we treat our networks. We scroll through our interactions with our circle of connections like we’re scrolling through an Instagram feed. Pausing to like the occasional bikini pic (or work achievement) but rarely connecting with any real depth.

I’m not dismissing the value of 2nd-degree connections, there’s proof they’re powerful in the advancement of your career. But if your relationships and influencers now default to 2nd-degree connections because you’re overwhelmed and distracted, you’re missing out on the point of relationships. How much insight, accountability, connection, contribution, conversation and relevance could you experience from committing to a meaningful group of connections?

I’ve been guilty of not following my own advice. In my keynotes, I show research and strategies on how your immediate network is foundational to your happiness and fulfilment in life. Yet I’ve been careless or selfish, letting many insightful and meaningful relationships slide.

I decided to use my favourite social network as an experiment in applying ‘Dunbar’s Number’. With the goal of building more quality connections in my life. Today I culled the 2000+ people I was following on Twitter down to +-220. I’m leaving some spots open for new connections and recommendations. I’ll keep adding/removing individuals as the year progresses but keep it under 250. Right now my core group might be weighted towards certain topics I’m studying or exploring and it might shift later on, that’s ok. Every tweet I see is now important to me. 

The incredible thing about our global connected network is that you have access to almost anyone’s thoughts, writing, videos, books, and mostly SFW images.

Everyone has their favourite social network, but I like Twitter because it’s where people share ideas. On Twitter, you’re mentored (from a distance) by some of the greatest people on the planet. Valuable voices rise above their peers in most twitter niches but no one is exempt from counterpoints or criticism.

You’re more likely to engage a well-known person on Twitter through quality contributions than have them reply to your cold email. Almost untouchable luminaries of our time are sharing their (topical or deep) thoughts in real-time on Twitter. An underappreciated aspect of the medium.

My previous strategy on Twitter was to follow as many diverse groups and voices as possible. A schizophrenic timeline filled with extremes; red pill misogynists and combative feminists, Trump lovers and haters, principled bootstrappers and VC funded founders, closet racists and social justice warriors, athletes and scientists, socialists and communists, musicians and accountants, vegans and hunters, and many more…

My timeline was a living breathing representation of my view that you can learn something from everyone in this diverse world. It kept me in the loop on views I never would have been exposed to, but it was noisy (and on a case by case basis, dogmatic) as fuck.

I love Twitter but the algorithm has also frustrated me lately. It rewards people on my timeline who post often and link to each other’s content in weird syndicates. Or people who post inflammatory statements to gain comments or start ‘outrage wars’.

[Be wary of morally suspect people (or Presidents) who use Twitter as a primary marketing channel for their e-product, business or psychopathy. They’re incentivised for views, clicks and mentions at all costs.]

The Twitter algorithm was also skewing content to accounts near my current location, less than ideal for someone who travels a lot. Or heaven forbid I liked a tweet because then I’ll see EVERY tweet and REPLY and LIKE that person posts FOREVER. The flip side being that people on the other side of their fence completely disappear from my timeline even though I follow them.

I’ve taken many of the people I used to follow and put them on separate twitter ‘Lists’. I’ve kept these lists private lest my ‘grouping’ of some individuals offends them. I’ll check in on these lists from time to time to assess the general themes, voices, industry conversations and goings-on. I didn’t want to delete these people from my realm. There are people on my lists who have WILDLY different views than my own. I want to be reminded that I live in my own fishbowl. I want to be confronted by different ideas and opinions to keep me intellectually honest. Some more info on the culling and my lists…

  • Stopped following certain friends because they’re not active on Twitter and we keep in touch via other platforms/networks
  • Stopped following people who use Twitter only to re-post their Instagram/FB/Linkedin posts. I’ll follow them on those channels if I need to.
  • Stopped following people who have been inactive for many months
  • Corporate/Editorial/Podcast/Team-run accounts go into different lists. I focus on following individuals who manage their own account.
  • I scroll through my Lists daily but quickly. I won’t feel guilty if I don’t contribute to these conversations.
  • Some of my lists titles include; Academic/Research, Sport/Golf, Biz/Finance, Editorial, Creative/Art, Health, Personalities, Lifestyle/Travel.

There are some great curated public lists available in a variety of niches, if you want to dip your toe into the ‘listpool’ without having to do your own heavy lifting start with someone else’s curated list in the niche of your choice.  

In my core feed of 250 people, I’m committing to active engagement. Some of them I know, some I want to get to know, and some accounts have historic or global relevance. I’ll try this out for as long as it makes sense to me, a focus on quality over quantity.

Hopefully, my monkey brain can keep up.

Best of luck,




1. Follow me on Twitter

2. Dunbar’s Number

3. Putting people into lists through the twitter app/website is painful. I saved about 20hrs by using @Jack should acqui-hire this developer

4. Unfollow people who haven’t been active on Twitter you can use]

5. A simple article on how to find twitter lists in your niche