I'm no expert at this twitter thing, but a few people have asked me how to build a twitter following, so I'll give it a shot. The thing about twitter is that there are multiple-ways to build a following and very different ways to host an active account.
The auto-follow/business account
You can choose to follow people like crazy and hope they follow back. Lots and lots of businesses go this route with other businesses following them back. Often these accounts focus on products or services. They might rely on auto-posting, often posting the same thing every few hours via a web service. To engage with followers, they will hold giveaways, but most of the content is impersonal. Not all businesses are like that on twitter, but quite a few are, and more power to them. If you love a certain brand, it might be worth it to follow them to find out about deals and giveaways.
The super famous account
This is an account for someone or something so famous that everyone will follow them even if they are autoposting, their assistant is posting, or they only follow 3 other people. In the book world this means well-established authors and agents. Agents on twitter don't have to do anything to get followers. Everyone with a book idea will follow them, so don't be offended if they don't follow you back.
The floundering account
These are the accounts for people who think they should be on twitter, but either don't like, don't get it, or don't get active. Twitter is confusing for everyone when they first start, but everyone starts with 0 followers. If you're lucky you have a few friends who tweet. But if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the ADDness of twitter, don't fear. Keep reading.
The growing account
The growing account on twitter consists of an account that actively engages with others on twitter, steadily building an engaged audience of followers. They do this by participating in online twitter chats, #ff (follow fridays), and building relationships with other tweeps. Sounds easy, right? But how do you do it?
1. Focus on people and topics that interest you. My twitter following started with other natural parenting tweeps back when it was theconnectedmom. I kept that account because I'm genuinely interested in those tweeps' lives. I've lost some along the way due to a shift in my tweeting focus, and I've unfollowed some myself, but a good core of my followers are from those days. When I switched it to being my author account I sought out other writers and agents. I tried to respond to their tweets. You would probably be shocked by the number of people I have had dinner/lunch/breakfast/drinks with that I met initially on twitter. I've made some genuine, real life friends online, which leads to tip #2.
2. Be engaged with your audience. Do not, do not, do not spam twitter with auto-posts asking people to buy your book or like your FB page. In fact, don't autopost ever. The only cross-posting I have set up is from my author FB page to twitter and that's only since I rarely post on the FB page and when I do, I know it's something I would also tweet. Don't think of twitter as your advertising channel, think of it as a networking tool and a place where you can actually make friends and have discussions with your peers.
3. It is okay to post about your book news and such. Ok, so, no, you shouldn't use twitter as your advertiser, but you know what? I have NEVER been annoyed with a tweep with whom I've genuinely engaged on twitter that has posted about a book deal or a cover reveal or that you can preorder the book. If 99% of your content is engaging and personal, you can totally share all the good news and links you want!
4. There is strength in numbers. Take advantage of twitter chats, online communities, and writing groups to help you find people to follow. There are several writing chats that take place weekly or monthly. Look for hash tages like #yalitchat, #kidlitchat, and #askanagent. It's a great way to strike up a conversation with people who share your interests, especially if jumping into your twitter streams feels like walking up to a stranger at the store and commenting on their conversation.
5. Don't expect it to happen overnight. Every once in a while someone with a great, established blog gets on to twitter and instantly has a following. But that's rare. Most of us aren't as wildly funny, thought-provoking, or instantly lovable as though folks - and that's fine! Build your twitter following slowly. It's more likely to stick that way, and it will give you a chance to get comfortable in your new handle.
To follow back or not?
I used to follow back everyone who followed me with the exception of strange businesses or those with xxx in their names. I don't anymore. I couldn't keep up with my stream, so now I try to pay attention to who I am tweeting with a lot or people who engage with me and then follow back (although I'm woefully behind on my follow-backs).
Taking breaks from twitter
Sometimes you have deadlines or sick kids or it's too pretty to spend all day following your stream. Sometimes you need to actually get some work done! Will you lose some followers if you go on an extended twitter hiatus? Probably. Some people use services that clean their account of tweeps who haven't posted in a while. This isn't the end of the world. And a twitter break can be really good for the soul.
I love twitter. I am much better at it than I am at commenting on blogs. I enjoy it more (although I read tons of blog posts - just don't comment). You could say it's my social media of choice, but if you get on there and can't get into it, that's okay. If everyone loved twitter as much as I do, the site would be down all the time anyway. But give it the old college try and I'll see you in 140 characters or less.