I want to share some thoughts on something almost everyone pays attention to, but nobody talks much about: Twitter followers.

I don't have a ton of Twitter followers like a lot of the folks I follow, but still from time to time somebody will ask me how they can get more Twitter followers.

While I really think if you're just trying to build a Twitter following, you're doing it wrong (more on that later), there are still a few really practical things you can do to build your Twitter community. After all, the benefits of having a community that you can engage with sometimes means finding a job opportunity (has happend to me twice), an answer to a difficult business or technical problem (happened to me many times), or even finding somebody to partner with on a project (has also happened to me).

The Practical

Here's a few things I've noticed really tend to get people to follow you:

1. Tweet cool stuff.

Seriously, just talk about things that are cool or interesting, and people will want to listen. Especially if you find a niche topic to address. For example, @ElijahManor has over 30,000 Twitter followers, and while he doesn't just tweet the same stuff all the time, he's become known as a great person to follow for great content on JavaScript, .Net, and Open Source Software.

Another one in this category is inspirational tweets, or comedy tweets. There are some people who tweet things that are inspirational on a regular basis, so people end up following those accounts to get that regular inspiration. Same thing with comedy accounts like @HonestToddler and @ZooeySiri. I follow these accounts because they give me a good laugh every time thier status update appears in my feed.

2. Make something rad.

Another way that a lot of people I follow have attracted lots of Twitter followers is by making something awesome. Whether it is creating a font, designing a t-shirt line, building a Wordpress theme, writing a book, creating an easier way to markup text, developing a JavaScript API library, launching a cool Kickstarter project, starting a conference, or making anything else you can imagine that people will use and enjoy.

The most extreme examples of this type of Twitter attraction are musicians and actors. Those guys make music and movies that we all love and enjoy, so of course we have some level of interest in the things they have to talk about on Twitter. While you might not star in a blockbuster summer hit movie, you still can make all something that people will take interest in, and when you do chances are your audience will be interested to follow you on Twitter.

3. Speak somewhere.

I see this all the time in the tech community, but it applies for plenty of other industries too. When you get a chance to speak about something, you are instantly viewed as a reliable source on that topic. So naturally people want to hear more of what you have to say.

Whether you get to speak at a big conference, or a smaller niche event, or even an ad-hoc community group, make sure you share your Twitter handle at the beginning and end of your talk so people can keep the converstation going with you.

4. Have a reputation for engaging people back.

One of the most important things - if not THE most important thing - you can do to build your community in the Twitter-verse is to engage people, and treat the medium for the powerful tool that it really is: an arena where you can interact with people in your industry or outside your industry that you otherwise wouldn't typically interact with.

I'm always impressed when people who I view to be "twitter famous" respond to my tweets on Twitter. It always makes me want to engage them back. It makes you realize that everybody on Twitter (except for maybe spam accounts) is more than than an avatar and a Followers statistic. They are real people to get to know and engage with.

As a web designer, I've found this to be particularly meaningful because the majority of my peers are not geographically near to me. So having a medium like Twitter where I can engage with other creatives and developers has truly become my social sphere in this industry. And regardless of how cheesy that may sound, it's pretty epic when you think about the fact that without a medium like it, I'd be limited to engaging in casual and professional conversations with the people I only know locally, or who I could text or email.

And on that note...

The Philosophical

But while I have those practical suggestions, I almost always tell them first that the best way to grow their Twitter community is to have genuine interactions with people on Twitter. I also tell them that you should look at it like a community to engage with rather than as just a microphone and an audience to broadcast to.

One of the silliest things I've seen on the global marketing scene in recent years (apart from QR codes) is the idea of building a Twitter following as a marketing end in itself. It's that idea that if you've achieved a huge Twitter following (regardless of the fact that huge is completely subjective) you've somehow achieved some level of marketing success.

The reason this is so silly is that it assumes that just because you have followers, they are listening to you. And it assumes that just because you are talking, people care. Neither of which are in fact true.

It also assumes that Twitter's greatest value is as a channel for which to broadcast content, and it seems to be the prevailing notion about social media as a whole.

But the idea that social media's greatest virtue use is as a platform for broadcasting and rebroadcasting content/products/services is silly. Here's why:

Relationships matter most.

In my experience, people care far less about what you have to say than they care about their relationship to you. If their relationship to you is valuable to them, then what you have to say will be as a result. If their relationship to you is insignificant to them, then likely what you have to say will have little significance as well. Not always, but often.

This is part of why I have a different perspective on Twitter, and social media, than the one I'm criticizing. Don't get me wrong, broadcasting certainly has it's place. But I'm far more interested in engaging with people in my community and cultivating relationships than just broadcasting a message, or hearing that type of messaging.

Sure, it's cool to hear about a new product or service. But it's more cool to get to know somebody a little better because my relationship with a person is almost always more valuable than my utility for some product or service.

My best suggestion is to take the time to change how you think about social media services like Twitter on a broad level and cultivate the perspective that it's greatest value lies in engaging with a community of real people you've built relationships with. If you do, I think you'll find that the benefits of using social media tools this way far outlast the benefits of a mere broadcasting platform.