I've been getting this question more and more lately, as Twitter becomes more and more mainstream and the business benefits of Twitter are more and more talked about.
First, a word of caution. When engaging in any social media, you want to do so authentically - it will involve a fair amount of your participation, both give and take. Your first step once you join Twitter should probably not be to go follow 1,000 people. First of all, you very possibly might not be able to due to recent limits set by Twitter. This act seems kind of spammy, and that's the last thing you want to do in social media. You should aim to let your community grow organically. That said, there are a few things you can do to get started.
The first thing you absolutely have to do once you sign up for a Twitter account (though you can do this before signing up for Twitter, but you won't be able to do much beyond this), is start monitoring who and what people are saying about your company. Go to Search.Twitter or Tweetscan (it may be worth it to use both, or even additional Twitter search engines, as they don't all pick up on everything) and search for your company name, your executives' names, perhaps your competitors' names. You'll see all the recent tweets that mention that name or phrase. What's also great about these services is you can subscribe by RSS to this thread so you'll be able to keep tabs on new posts about your company. When someone does talk about your company - respond, favorite the tweet perhaps if it's favorable, and start following the person.
A very close second most important thing to do once you're on Twitter is to actually engage in the Twitter community. If you want people to follow you, you need to give them a reason to. Post interesting tweets, respond to others (see first point above). As noted in my word of caution, you want to be an authentic participant in the community. One of the wonderful things about Twitter is that you have to opt-in to receive someone's updates (follow them). So, you need to think of ways to warrant a follow. I've been pretty impressed with Whole Foods in this regard. I started following them, though I'm no Whole Foods nut, because of their interesting tweets like "TOTD" (tweet of the day), and interesting food-related tweets like plugging food festivals across the country.
Those are really the two most important things you can do on Twitter. But, if you're still interested in ramping up your Twitter following, here are a few additional ideas:
- Go back to Search.Twitter and search on more general phrases that relate to the audience you're trying to reach. Subscribe to those updates and respond/follow as appropriate.
- Check out the directories, like Twellow. Twellow is a directory of Twitter users categorized by industry or interest. There are a few other cool services, like Twubble and Twits Like Me. ReadWriteWeb posted a great article on these services here.
- Follow those who follow you. People like to feel like you're listening to them and that they're engaging in a two-way conversation with you. A follow-back is a great way to set that environment.
- Check out who your followers are following. They are likely interested in similar topics, and are a natural extenstion to your existing network.
One more thought to consider before you get going: Will you be setting up a company Twitter account or will various employees have personal Twitter accounts (or both)? At HubSpot, we recently launched our company Twitter account @hubspot that a few of us monitor and update. There are also a bunch of us who have our own personal accounts, including our CEO, CSA, VP Marketing, and lots of others from across the company, including myself of course. The question is which brand you are building up - your corporate brand, or your personal brand (which in turn contributes to the company brand as well). I like the mix of both, though a lot of marketers may not have the bandwith to support more than one Twitter account. Either way, the first thing you must do after reading this post is to reserve your company's name on Twitter before someone else does.
If you want to see some companies out there who are doing a great job on Twitter, check out Zappos or Whole Foods. If you want to see a full list of companies on Twitter, check out the new Social Brand Index (and it wouldn't hurt to get listed there, too, while you're at it).
Have you had any luck building a following for your company on Twitter? Do you have any additional techniques that worked for you? What have you learned from other companies on Twitter - good and bad approaches? Leave a comment and let's discuss.