One of the first questions I hear when I talk about Twitter is: "How can I get more Twitter followers?"
At which point I shake my head, because the question I'd like to hear first is "What kind of people should I want to follow me on Twitter?"
On Facebook, Twitter, or any social media site, the quality of engagement is more important than quantity of followers. However, the more qualified followers, the better. After all, you can write the most witty, useful, amazing tweets ever known to mankind, but if the right people aren't tuned in, what's the point?
You shouldn't expect to join Twitter and have 1,000 potential clients or customers following you the next day, but there are some strategic ways to build a follower base on Twitter:
1. Think about who you want your followers to be. There are lists out there of tweeters who will automatically follow you back. Sure, following a lot of these people could help you bulk up your numbers, but if you're an ice cream shop in Maryland, do you really want Joe, the insurance salesman from Texas, for a follower? I didn't think so.
Before you start looking for followers, think about what you're trying to get out of Twitter, and what kind of followers you want. Potential and current clients and/or customers? Potential employers? Industry thought leaders? Local socialites? A general mix? Target your efforts, and slowly build your follower base to get the most out of Twitter. If you still want a list of people to follow, try Twitter directories such as wefollow, or the ones mentioned in this Mashable post. Directories organize tweeters by subject, so finding people here will help you follow people with your same interests, who should be more likely to follow you back.
2. Complete your profile. It's easy to at least look legitimate on Twitter before you actually know what you're doing. When I decide whether or not to follow people on Twitter, I look at their picture, their bio, and their last few tweets. If any one of these components is missing or awry, I'm less likely to follow.
Before you start trying to build a follower base on Twitter, make sure you have a picture on your profile, you have a relevant bio, and you've already started tweeting. For your picture, use a professional headshot, show off your personality, or, if you're tweeting for a business, use the company's logo. Use your bio to quickly tell readers who you are, and what you're likely to tweet about. And think, before you tweet, if someone would opt not to follow you if they saw what you were about to write. Actually, think before you tweet in general. (Right, Ray Rice?)
3. Follow others. If you're already on Facebook and LinkedIn, dig around there to find people you actually know who are already on Twitter, or post a "Who else is on Twitter? I want to follow you" type status. If you follow people who know you in real life, they're likely to follow you back. Then, you can follow people who you don't know, by seeing who people in your circle are tweeting about. Chances are, they will follow you back too. You can also follow people you meet in real life-after a networking or social event, do a quick search on Twitter for the people and companies you talked to. This will help people remember you, and build your follower base.
4. It's not about you. Twitter gets a bad rap, and yes, many tweeters live up to the stereotype. But just because you're on Twitter doesn't mean you're obligated to tweet about what you had for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and every little thing that goes on in between. The best tweeters (the kind you want to follow, and the kind you want to follow you) hardly tweet about themselves at all.
Instead of tweeting updates from your life, which is probably relatively mundane (sorry), tweet about others. What are your colleagues doing? What great posts have bloggers in your community authored? Tweet positively about others, mention them with an @theirtwittername, and soon, people will realize that you are a great promoter for them, and will promote you in return. After all, it worked for Paris Hilton.
5. Hashtag, retweet, and reply. This is the how-to part of making Twitter not about you. Jump in and tweet about relevant hashtags, and anyone who is following that subject will see you. Retweet the best tweets you see from your business contacts, reply to questions, and lend a helping hand when you can. Make yourself into a valuable person to follow, and followers will come to you.
6. Add people to lists. Create lists of the people you follow. You can sort your lists by industry, by the way you know the person, by geographic location-or any system you dream up. Adding people who aren't following you to a list can help you catch their attention, because your listing will show up on their profile, thus increasing the chances they'll follow you. Adding people who already follow you to a list can start an engagement, getting them to tweet about you, and attracting the interest of their followers. The best kinds of lists flatter people. When you categorize someone as a "Social media, marketing, brand, (insert industry here) guru," they're going to want to brag about it by tweeting to thank you.
7. Welcome your new followers. Once a day, or once a week, send out a simple "Thanks for following" tweet. Include a joke about the time of day, or a recent news event, to personalize it. This starts an engagement, and gets people tweeting back to you-exposing you to their entire network on Twitter. However, DO NOT auto direct message new followers. Many tweeters have direct messages set to text message them, and there's nothing more annoying than getting a formulaic "Thanks for following! Check out our website" text to your phone every time you follow someone new.
8. Integrate, integrate, integrate. Put your twitter handle on your website. In your email signature. On your business cards. Of course, this mainly applies if you're using Twitter for business purposes. If you're going to tweet about, well...private...aspects of your life, you probably do not want to broadcast your Twitter handle over your professional network. But beware: there's a good chance that someone will find you anyways.
Now, it's your turn. What did I miss? How did you grow your number of Twitter followers? What other posts would you like to see about Twitter?