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9 steps to build a qualified Twitter following

qualified twitter followingNew data this week shows that 51% of US companies have a Twitter presence. Most of those that embarked on the Twitter land grab in the last few years have focused primarily on building up as large a following, as quickly as possible.  This is what most social media “gurus” have built a living on, during that time.

I’ve heard Katie Paine call Twitter followers an “old school metric” and I couldn’t agree more.

Building an audience on Twitter can not and should not be automated.  The whole point of Twitter for (most) companies — as a popular social media tool/channel — is to reach and build relationships with buyers and customers (or other stakeholders).  This is in support of sales, customer service, communications and reputation management.

Increasing the Likelihood for Action

So, the question to ask yourself is, do you know how qualified your Twitter following is?  What percentage of those that follow you really matter to your business, be they customers, prospects, potential buyers, partners, employees or industry influencers?  I believe that target number should be 80 percent.

The metrics that matter are ones that show what action followers take on content companies share. Specifically, what is the ratio of action taken on tweets to number of tweets published? If you know that the vast majority of Twitter followers are there because they want information and connections that helps them solve a problem, do their job better or learn something new, and you offer that information, the more likely they will take action

How do you get there?  It takes work, but a little bit of time each day is all you need, and it takes vigilance because Twitter unfortunately is (still) being gamed by spammers.

Here are 9 steps to get you started (assuming you already have a Twitter channel and following):

1. Check the bio - This is the 160-character description of the individual or entity behind the Twitter channel.  What does it say about their job and interests?  Look for a match with what you offer; for example do they identify themselves as being in IT, healthcare, etc.?  If it’s an entity, is it a partner, customer or potential partner?  Is it a media site you want to keep up-to-date?

2. Click on the bio link - If the bio doesn’t tell you enough, click on the link below it to see where it takes you.  Often times, this is a blog or LinkedIn or Facebook profile.  See what insight those sources give you about the person/entity.

3. Look at the first few screens of tweets - If there is little information in the bio, check the most recent tweets, as they tell you a lot about that person and how they are using Twitter.  Do they tweet about the topic area or problems that match what you offer?  How often do they tweet?  Is it a one-way channel or do they interact with others?  Who are the others they interact with and what are their bios?  Do they use it mostly for work, personal or a mix of both?

4. Leverage your social media listening - If you are not monitoring who is talking about you on Twitter (and elsewhere), you should be.  When you see someone mention you on Twitter, go to their profile and qualify them as above.  If they match the profile for your audience and don’t already follow you, follow them.

5. Vet those follow notifications - When you receive the e-mail from Twitter notifying you that someone new is following you, click on the link to their profile and check them out based upon the questions above. If they don’t match up at all, consider blocking them (and definitely do so if they are a spammer).

6. Use caution with services like TwitterCounter - This service has great value in showing you how much your Twitter following has grown over time.  But if quality is more important to you than quantity, be careful using the part of the service where you opt in to being followed by its “featured” users.  Based upon my personal experience, very often these are individuals going for quantity in terms of their following without regard for how well the match is.

7. If needed, scrub your existing list - Go to your Twitter page on the Web, click on the “follower” number and evaluate those already on your list using the criteria above.  This is time consuming, but helps you get as close to that 100% qualified list as possible.  Another service to use for this is Friend or Follow.

8. Engage! - It’s true what they say about getting as much out of Twitter as you put into it.  Twitter should be a two-way channel.  Share tweets from those you follow that you think will help your followers.  In addition to following those that mention you, reply to them to show you’re listening and care about what they have to say.  They’ll likely follow you back and be more inclined to retweet what you have to say.  This feeds the organic growth of your followers and increases the chances that more new followers are qualified.

9. Leverage a follower audit tool – Probably the best one out there is from Simply Measured. You can use it to export your Twitter followers to an Excel spreadsheet, which gives you much of the information above in a list to save a lot of time in analysis. It offers this on a one-time basis for free in exchange for a tweet about the service, but it also has premium options for deeper, real-time insight into both Twitter and Facebook followers.

Why is all of this important?  Quality matters with social media because the ROI is more important that ever.  For more and more companies, the expected ROI will be hard impact on business.  The more qualified your Twitter audience (the same steps can be applied for other channels as well), the greater business impact it will have.

Of course for some, quantity is just as or more important and there is the benefit of serendipity that comes from that.  But as with every social media tactic, it should be done based upon goals and strategies, and that helps determine the right balance between quantity and quality.

Where do the scales tip for you?  If toward quality, what other steps would you recommend?