- Be famous - Famous people will have followers, lots and lots of followers, no matter how dull their feeds are, just because people find them or their work interesting. Famous people often follow only other famous people on Twitter, so, from a small business point of view, following them is only useful if you are personally enriched by their Twitter feeds.
- Be polarizing - People feel that there are a number of truths that cannot be expressed in our society and are irritated by the many rules and double standards of discourse. So when someone tweets these inexpressible things, those people find a nice Twitter niche fast. It's safer to retweet something someone else says "ironically" or "informationally" than it is to go out on a limb and tweet it yourself. "Retweets are not endorsements," after all. However, Twitter has had a significant amount of vigilantism lately, so polarizing is only something you want to be if your brand is built around it. Say, if you're a comedian, or a politician, or both. Others may tweet anonymously with some safety, but that's not possible for the small business. Be outlandish or overly political with caution.
- Be funny - Funny people, famous or not, will gather a following on Twitter because they're rare and humor is appreciated.
- Be an expert - People who have in-depth knowledge of some science, art, or practice also get plenty of followers. These people border on being famous without being really famous. Most of the world may not know about them, but if they are the foremost expert in the field of anything, a large number of people worldwide will be interested in reading their thoughts.
- Know a lot of people in real life - A socially expert, gregarious person can develop a decent Twitter following just by informing the people she knows about her Twitter feed. Put a link to your Twitter account in your Facebook status or on your Pinterest page. If you're a likable person, you can easily get followers this way.
- Join in a passionate Twitter conversation - the #FF (Follow Friday) hashtag has been used to make connections and advertise interesting Twitter accounts, but this is overused and not very interesting. Does anyone really care if you follow someone else? Only if you're famous or otherwise very unique. However, participating in Twitter conversations can get your followers if you offer something novel, relevant or insightful to the conversation. You'd be surprised by the bump in followers one good conversation (or argument) can bring you.
- Tweet interesting, real, helpful, original content - Pictures, jokes, fun facts, reportage of interesting events, opinions (cautiously). People are looking to be entertained and informed. Think of what entertains and informs you and people like you and how you might put that into 140 characters and/or an image - that's good stuff.
- Any combination of the above - If you're famous, polarizing and funny, you can tweet pretty much whatever you want and it will get favorited and retweeted ad infinitum. If Jon Stewart were to tweet a picture of his dog's new puppies - well, we'd better hope Twitter has the bandwidth.
What if you aren't famous, polarizing, funny, or a widely recognized expert in your field? What if your business is, say, an orthodontist in a small city? You're not famous, you're not the foremost expert in orthodontic practice, and being polarizing would only cost you customers, not earn or keep them. Look to the last tips then. See if people you know in real life will connect to you, particularly people in your field. Converse with them on Twitter. Offer some useful knowledge that you have about tooth structure or managing the expense of braces. Answer questions people have about crooked teeth. Give a few tips and tricks away, and generally show that you know what you're talking about and can solve real problems. Tweet Before & After pictures of your successes. Give your patients and their parents an incentive to connect with you on social media.
Most importantly, regularly update your Twitter feed and answer any questions or solve any problems that your patients address to you on social media. You want to be seen as involved, responsive, interesting, and three-dimensional. That is the way to get your name out there and to turn Twitter users into patients.
Twitter - and the rest of social media - may seem like a waste of time, but more people, and especially more young people, are using online methods of experiencing and communicating with the world. You definitely want to be a part of that.