By Alyssa Gregory

Building a following on Twitter is not about racking up the numbers, especially if you’re serious about using Twitter to promote your business through networking and forming real relationships. You can have thousands of followers, but if they are not followers who are actually interested in your tweets, you might as well have zero.

The quickest way to effectively ramp up your Twitter following is by seeking out people who care about what you’re putting out there — your target audience, customers, colleagues, others in your industry — and follow them. In many cases, these people will follow you back, and you’ll start to grow your community.

Finding the right people to follow isn’t always easy to do, though. When you consider the 200+ million accounts on Twitter, it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack, and it can be a major time suck.

To help you streamline the process and save time as you work to grow your Twitter presence, follow these five tips for finding the right people to follow.

1. Hashtags

Hashtags (i.e. #smallbiz or #smallbusiness) group tweets that are related to the same topic. They are a great way to search for users who tweet about specific topics, and get your own account found when someone else searches.

Here are two useful resources for understanding, searching for, and using hashtags:

  • Hashtags.org: Provides information on hashtag trends and shows who is using which hashtag.
  • Twubs: A resource that allows Twitter users to form groups around popular hashtags.

2. Directories

Twitter directories can simplify the process of finding and following the right people on Twitter. I like Twellow because it’s easy to sort by category, and once you sign in you can follow people right from the site. You can also create your own profile to help people find you.

3. Lists

Twitter Lists are a great way to find people in a specific niche, and when you find a relevant list, you have a collection of people who might be good to follow. You can start by seeing what lists people have put you on, and how other people you follow are listed, then follow people from there.

4. Retweets

If you’re active and engaging on Twitter, you will probably find that you get a steady stream of people who retweet you and mention you in their tweets. Although you may already be following some of these people, these tweets can make you aware of new people you should be following.

Nutshellmail is a great tool for tracking retweets and mentions so you can follow back. You can use the service to track keywords, hashtags, and more in Twitter, as well as activity on other social networks.

5. Twitter

Many of us use social media dashboards like HootSuite and TweetDeck to manage Twitter, but yes, you can actually use Twitter to find people to follow. Ditch the dashboard for a minute, and go back to the good old web to use some of the tools within Twitter.

Here’s a rundown from Twitter on how you can use Twitter to find people to follow.

All of these tips will be even more effective if you are active and responsive on Twitter, and focus on the relationship part of social networking. It’s not going to happen overnight, but the more you put into the process, the more you will get out of it.

What are your favorite ways to find new people to follow on Twitter?

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