This is the social part of Twitter. The part that will make you feel amazingly special to be loved by complete strangers or a bit like you have reverted back to middle school where you really care a lot about how many signatures you have in your yearbook. The key is to come up with an initial goal for the ratio of how many followers you have to how many people you follow. Get that initial ratio then scale up later.
Finding people to follow
Ok, great, you have a profile. Feel free to change it all the time and notice the different kinds of attention you get. Your next step is finding people to follow, because remember - the whole reason you are here is to get information. Even if you are here to spread your own information (or brand), keep in mind that nobody is here to learn about brands. They are here to get real, useful, timely information. So it is ideal if the kind of information you want is somehow related to the kind of information you plan to offer. Then the people you follow will be a good source of followers (your next challenge). Either way, you have to look at all the crap the people you follow tweet, so you probably want to make sure they are relevant to you. This is a complicated relationship for anyone who struggles to get followers, but for now, lets just focus on finding people who you really want to follow. A good place to start is the import services Twitter provides, where you can add contacts from your address books. Then start searching for the things you are here for in the discover section. Nanotechnology news? VC firms? Shamanistic herbalists? They are all available. Find a hub (an account with many followers and following very few) and check out who they are following. Odds are they are the cream of the crop in that field, as well as perhaps some personal friends or family.
Ok, now comes the hard part. First remember your goal here because inevitably, you will be swept up in the desire to get more followers, even if you don't need them. It's only human. But try to resist, because as soon as you do, you end up in a losing battle. Here are your options:
1. Content provider
The only good way to get followers is to offer content that people want. If you are a direct source, that's the best. People will naturally come to you because you are (hopefully) the only place to get the content you provide. This is the point of Twitter. Everything else is just noise (aka attempts at making Twitter a money-making business - but I will talk about the importance of having a revenue stream in your product from day one in another post).
If you have time, you can also be a curator - someone who finds the best content on Twitter or on the web and shares it with his or her followers. This requires a strict adherence to your topic of interest. Nobody wants to follow a nanotechnology curator who tweets about shamanism.
A follow is the only currency someone without content has. Most people just start following people in hopes of them following back. This is fine, and for most the only option, however you will never have a positive follower/following ratio. There a few tricks to this: first try to find people who follow at least as many people as they have followers - this almost ensures that he or she will follow you back. Second, don't follow people who haven't been active in the past week or so, they likely won't get to following you back in any meaningful time frame - the last thing you want is to follow someone who not only doesn't provide you with any content but doesn't even follow you back. Third, follow everyone who follows you. Then go through a week or so later, check that they are still following you or unfollow them. This is time consuming so I get back to my point that the only worthwhile way to get followers is by providing something useful to them (other than a follow).
You can always just buy followers. This is useful if you have an account just to show you exist - aka to have a Twitter link on another website with '58k' next to it. Key words are 'on another website'. If you really want credibility on Twitter, buying followers won't work because it isn't growing a community around your content. However, if you actually want to engage with other people on Twitter, it won't really work too well because you won't have any followers who are really interested in what you have to say - they all just followed you because you paid them. But it can be a good way to get started, I am not fundamentally against it for brands.
Next post: How to tweet