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As a smart marketer or business owner, you are likely aware of the benefits of blogging and publishing helpful content on a regular basis. Doing so establishes you as a thought leader, allows you to rank well for relevant search keywords, and, as a result, brings more traffic to your site, which generates more leads. The classic inbound marketing example!

But how about social media, and Twitter in particular? How do you get more followers to spread your message to lots of people?

Sorry to disappoint... you really don't. Save that for the outbound. But here's what you can do on Twitter:

  • Connect with and listen to your customers and prospects.
  • Get new ideas for blog posts, products/services, etc.
  • Help others, and answer their questions.
  • Promote others' material/products.
  • Give credit to others.
  • Establish your Twitter account as a must-follow in the industry.
  • Promote your products/services. (Yes, it can be done after all! But do the other suggestions continually, at least 80% of the time.)

If you're new to Twitter and have yet to gain a following, you can do many things today to become a "must-follow account" in the future. Here are four tactics to get you started.

1. Use Twitter's search to connect with prospects

Do you ever wonder how many people talk about your services every day on Twitter? What exactly are they talking about, and what question do they ask? Finding the answer is easy; just use Twitter search.

Go to http://twitter.com/search, and use the following advanced search operators:

  • Use near:"city" to find local results (e.g., tennis near:"new york" or near:"albany, ny").
  • Use within:25mi, for example, to narrow down your search range by distance, in miles, to the city you've selected.
  • Use -http (minus sign http) to make sure that none of the tweets contain links.
  • Use ? (question mark) to show only tweets with a question.
  • Use "tennis lessons" (in quotation marks) to search for an exact phrase.
  • Use OR to find tweets that have any of the words in your search query (e.g., why OR what OR how OR where).

Mix and match any of those search operators, and you might end up with a search query similar to the following: tennis ? -http near:"new york" within:45mi. You'll see tweets that include the word "tennis," have a question mark, contain no links, and come from somebody within 45 miles of New York City.

What now?

Let's say you provide tennis lessons and do tennis partner-matching in New York. Here's your action list:

Action: Answer the question, then follow this user and add her to the Twitter list "nyc tennis players." You're likely to be followed back.

Action: Follow these users and add them to the "nyc tennis players" and "nyc tennis matching" lists. If you have time, offer to play! They are potential customers of your partner-matching program, so use your time wisely. Or, simply send them to the tennis-matching part of your site (if they are able to find a partner instantly) or recommend a partner from your "nyc tennis matching" list.

Action: Follow this account, add it to your list "nyc tennis influencers," and engage! The account is likely to follow you back. You'll get more exposure for your upcoming tweets, blog posts, announcements, etc.

Action: You have to be in! Standard procedure: reply to the user, follow her, and add her to the list. Attend the event, and connect with a number of potential customers.

2. Find content ideas for your blog via a Twitter search

Delete "near" and "within" from your search, and you'll see a much more lively list of tweets. Learn what people are asking and what kind of information will help them. Take note, and do one of the following:

  • Answer with a tweet or two (if it's short enough), and open conversation.
  • Send links to useful articles (written by somebody else).
  • Send links to your blog.

If you do not currently have any blog posts related to a question, check Google's Keyword Tool to see the estimated monthly search volume. If the topic is popular enough or is highly relevant to your business, write a new post and use the best keywords to attract more traffic! Next time anybody asks a related question, you know where to send them.

3. Be the best local resource for industry Twitter lists

Every time you spot local users talking about services/products related to your business, add them to the list. Depending on what they say, you can add them to a private list, a public list, or both.

The following are four best-practices for creating Twitter lists:

  1. Customers (private). Make sure to read that list regularly. It's a great way to learn what customers are up to and to gain their loyalty.
  2. Prospects (private). Every time somebody follows or mentions you, ask yourself if she is a right fit for your services. Is she likely to become a customer? Remember to check her location.
  3. Influencers or (industry) influencers (public). This list should include journalists, popular bloggers, and celebrities within your industry.
  4. Location-based lists. These are lists of locals (and not necessarily those related to your business).

Add lists related to your business, products, and services. Coming back to the example of tennis lessons and the tennis partner-matching program, consider the following lists:

  • NYC Tennis Players
  • NYC Tennis Matching
  • Tennis Courts/Clubs in Brooklyn... or Queens, Uptown, etc.
  • NYC Tennis Coaches
  • NYC Tennis Stores

Others on Twitter can access and follow your public lists, and you can refer people to the lists: They add value! It's important to note that you can now stay on top of everything that's going on locally. That is sure to create new connections, ideas for blog posts, or even business development deals!

4. Become a must-follow person in your industry

By monitoring what's being said, engaging, re-tweeting, and following others, you will start gaining followers yourself. But you won't achieve overnight success! Use Twitter to convey how passionate you are about your business and to genuinely help others; they will notice you and will want to do business with you. They'll even start promoting your services for you.

One big mistake that companies continue to make is that they "push" messages and treat Twitter as another outbound marketing channel. For instance, recently @ragusauce angered some dads by spamming them on Twitter, and when dads replied... nothing happened. That was a horrible use of Twitter: @ragusauce had a chance to open a conversation and connect to prospects. Instead, small business owner TJ Gallivans used the opportunity in his favor, showing big brands how social media should be used.

Another example is L'Oreal, which realized that it needed to participate in social media. But instead of doing just that, it created a fake blog, praising its own products. Pushing your own product is always easier than earning the attention, of course; but, needless to say, people always find out about it. To quote Gary Vaynerchuk, "People have awesome 'bulls**t detectors.'"

As you gain Twitter followers, use your opportunity to reach others wisely and genuinely— by posting relevant articles, reviews, and—following that 80/20 rule: promoting your own services at a level that's less than 20% of your overall participation.

Good luck, and share your success stories with others!

(Image courtesy of Bigstock: Small Golden Fish)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Slavik Volinsky is an online marketer at AmsterdamPrinting.com, a promotional products company. Slavik blogs about inbound marketing and related fields. Follow him on Twitter via @svolinsky or subscribe to the Promo & Marketing Wall blog.