With 78% of small businesses gaining new customers via social media, there’s no surprise that Twitter is at the top of just about every small business owner’s mind. One of the most common things we hear from our clients is that they know they should be on Twitter but don’t think they have the time or resources to make it worth the effort.

In fact, as a small business owner, you should already have one of the most important resources you need for Twitter: your mission statement. Twitter is a vehicle to help share and advance the mission of your organization, to grow awareness surrounding it and to engage others who may find it relevant. By sticking to your mission and leveraging resources available to you, you can develop a quality following that won’t monopolize your time or break your budget.

Gaining Twitter Followers

Quality Followers Start with Quality Follows

Finding and following relevant users is one important way to begin growing your presence on Twitter, but that doesn’t mean you want to go out and follow all 241 million active users. Adhering to these best practices while maintaining your Twitter account will steer this tactic in the most effective direction:

  • Find and follow influencers: Chances are you already know many of the influencers in your industry. If you are looking for more, there’s a new tool – Buzzsumo – that ranks social influencers by keyword. Follow these influencers and look for tactful – but not obnoxious – ways to engage them.
  • Follow users carefully: A user might have a relevant bio, but their tweets might not align. Our general rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t read or share their content, then you shouldn’t follow them.
  • Avoid spam users and followback accounts: While Twitter regularly cleans out spambots, many accounts exist to increase followers. Fluff followers aren’t going to convert into business and won’t do anything to help your Twitter brand.
  • Never pay for followers: There are many companies that offer to increase your Twitter followers for a fee. Yes, these services will increase your numbers. No, they will not be quality followers.

Craft Quality Posts for Shareability

Now that you are following quality users, you need to establish a way to engage them and to attract new followers. The key to building a strong following on Twitter is to post often and to post interesting and relevant content. It sounds a lot easier said than done, right?

Start by developing an editorial calendar. Sit down with your team and plug in any important items that you should be tweeting about – company milestones, events or new product releases. Then think about the topics you’d like to cover in general. It’s more than likely that you’ll cover many of the same topics monthly, but if your business is seasonal or is affected by the holidays, you’ll want to adapt your messaging accordingly.

Once your calendar is established, use a social dashboard like Hootsuite to help you schedule your content. To keep up with shareable content, look to publications surrounding your industry and to those you follow for ideas. Buzzsumo can help here too, as it functions as a search engine and ranks content on its shareability across social platforms. It’s a great way to ensure the content you share is relevant to your audience.

When tweeting, it is good practice to include hashtags and calls to actions when relevant – read more, retweet and share – to increase the chances of your content being found and shared. When you receive mentions and retweets, remember to acknowledge those who share your content, engage with those who share similar ideas and always respond to customer service concerns – good or bad. This type of engagement will improve not only your visibility, but your reputation as well.

Evaluating Your Success

Running analytics on your Twitter account will give you an in-depth look at what is working and what’s not. Many analytics programs provide you with more statistical breakdown options than you may need; hone in on the key metrics that correlate with your broader business goals. (See also: How to Assess Social Media Campaigns.)

Through Hootsuite Analytics, you can not only look at follower statistics, but also at what content is being clicked on and shared. Eliminate the content topics that aren’t working to ensure that more of your posts are of interest to your audience.

Followerwonk is another great tool to analyze your account. The free version will allow you to look at the gender, language and location breakdown of your followers, which is useful if your business targets a certain demographic.

The biggest piece of advice we give our clients is to be patient. Your Twitter page isn’t going to garner 10,000 followers, 50 retweets and 100s of mentions overnight. Start with a strategic plan, tweak it according to the analytics and with time, you’ll develop a quality following on Twitter.