*No, don't worry, I haven't lost my mind and become a spambot.
The other day I was asked how to increase followers on Twitter and although I gave a (140-character) reply, I thought it was worthy of exploring further. I wanted to say that the better question is to ask how can I increase engagement with twitter followers? Or; how can I make sure my tweets are relevant, interesting or useful to my followers?
Everyone who uses Twitter quickly understands that its power doesn't come from one-way, broadcast style communication but instead from conversations and interactions (such as retweets). It's much more valuable to an organisation or an individual to have regular, useful engagement with its followers than to have lots of followers.
For example, a parish Council might have a customer base of just 1000 people living in a small village. If it joins Twitter and starts to have regular, useful conversations with say, 50 of those people, they will be (real world) connected to most of the other residents of the parish. If you are helpful and informative, listening to them and answering their questions, they will re-pay you by spreading the word of your latest event, or what's happening with road works.
But likewise an organisation or a person might have hundreds of thousands of followers, but if they never converse with them the value they can detract from it is immediately limited (certain celebrities, I'm looking at you).
However, it's true that to get started building your community, you will need followers. This is where you can use those listening skills. Organisations can search for people who are tweeting about, or interested in, the topic they want to discuss and follow them. Listen to what they're saying, answer their questions, suggest useful (non-salesy) links, re-tweet their queries and generally try to be useful.
Your tweets should be human, funny, kind and empathetic; never commerical, boring or repetitive. The customer insight you can get from twitter is phenomenal: your customers will tell you more about them than you ever thought possible. That's why you've got to listen and be interested in what they say.
You can also read and comment on their blog posts, like their facebook pages and watch their youtube videos - it all helps to build your understanding of that person or group of people.
Fixating on the number of followers you have is like fiddling while Rome burns; it might make you feel better but it won't get you anywhere. Instead focus on developing relationships, having conversations and publishing useful content. Before you know it the followers will come.