Twitter is a very good starting point. It has gone to mainstream and it is a simple medium to understand. In this post I hope to go through some of basic points you should keep in mind when trying to establish a presence there. I have been moderately successful there although an account of mine has yet to reach the magical barrier of thousand followers. Maybe I should apply some of my own advice better. :)
Basic ToolingBesides blogging I am quite active at Twitter (see @bebraw). That said my personal account isn't particularly popular. But I don't really care. I mostly tweet so I can write blog posts (those linkdumps) later. For me it's just a part of a larger strategy.
BufferI use Buffer to schedule my tweets and aim to get at least two tweets out per day. Buffer comes with a browser plugin so whenever you notice something interesting, just hit the button, compose a tweet and add it there. It will get sent eventually. Buffer also provides simple analytics (do people actually click?) and provides multiple targets beyond just Twitter. Of course that's going to cost but if you are in it professionally perhaps it's worth it.
TweetDeckIn addition I use TweetDeck to keep track of it all as Twitter's default UI isn't particularly efficient. The greatest thing about TweetDeck is that it allows me to manage multiple accounts at once. In addition I schedule @jsterlibs tweets there. TweetDeck isn't perfect but it's just fine for something like this.
Examine cdnperf source for exact solution. I ended up using simple-twitter client. For scheduling you could consider using my library, taskist. It is fairly simple to integrate into a project and allows configuration driven scheduling definitions.
Twitter APIThe Twitter API is quite versatile and it is simple to build automation against it. Besides just tweeting you could easily build following automation (ie. follow on follow) although I suggest being careful with these kind of things. It is very easy to end up spamming your "activity" making it look really bad for your followers. Also things like analytics (link through proxy) are feasible. Imagination is the limit.
TacticsJust having some nice technology available isn't enough. It can make your life easier but cannot guarantee success. As social networks are, well, networks that means network effects apply to them. In effect this means hubs will develop and dominate over the rest. The bigger you get, the faster you can grow. This also explains why it is so difficult to grow when you are small.
GoalsGrowth doesn't have to be the only goal. If it was, people would just buy followers. Yes, that's possible but also morally somewhat shady. What's the point in inflating some arbitrary figure?
I know this might sound cliché but your goal could simply be connecting with people. Some companies use Twitter as an effective feedback tool. In fact it is very simple to get connected to very known people. They are just one tweet away after all. Of course whether or not they answer is another story but you might get surprised.
In my case it's more about archiving observations and links I find interesting. This in turn allows me to create content myself. In JSter's case I also maintain a mailing list based on the data and use it also at the blog. That way I can guarantee a continuous stream of content and work on it further. Simple observations lead to something more substantial sometimes.
Resonance and FocusI think it all comes down to one concept - resonance. The better your marketing and message resonates with your target audience, the better. You can almost feel it. Sometimes you just manage to hit the nail and favs (favoriting) and RTs (retweets) will follow. Of course followers too.
I believe this is also the reason why my personal account has grown so slow and @jsterlibs has grown so fast in comparison (from 0 to over 600 in a year). It comes down to resonance and focus. My personal account doesn't have a clear focus and I'm totally fine with that. On a more commercial setting you'll want to optimize resonance.
@paintFACT is a very good example of focus. The guy, Marco Bucci, tweets roughly once per week. That's enough. There is likely some celebrity factor involved here. But let's face it. The content is so good and focused it's easy to relate to if you are interested in digital painting. Also the lax schedule means you won't get spammed with content.
Tweet ScheduleThat said maybe a tweet per week isn't quite optimal for everyone. If Marco was more aggressive with this, he would try a tweet or a couple per day. On the other hand the quality might suffer. But this would allow him to reach larger audience perhaps.
I have settled around two tweets per day myself. I still have to work a bit to keep the content flowing but I find it somewhat manageable. If I spend a while digging ten good links and quotes, it will keep me good for almost a week.
RTs, Favs, InteractionSome say fav is a poor man's RT. The ultimate insult. I wouldn't go that far. But there's a definite difference. I for instance favorite content which I find interesting but don't want to share with my followers for a reason or another. Perhaps it's too obscure or just something only I would find interesting.
When RTing it's important to keep in mind that it's also an opportunity to gain a follower. People like to get mentioned. Mentioning provides a nice way to let people know you are there. This in turn may lead to conversion in case they find the content you are producing useful. So when RT:ing, please try to mention the source (ie. via @bebraw) so the original author gets pinged. Simple yet powerful. And you just might make someone's day. Yes, we are that shallow.
In addition commenting on some tweet may lead to interesting results. In some ways Twitter is a very conversational medium. Anyone can pitch in at any time. That's both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes things get blown out of proportion due to the strict character limit. It is difficult to communicate nuances in a limited medium sometimes and irony can be lost in translation. Also your jokes probably sound less fun than you think they do.
FollowingMaybe it's just me but the whole term "follow" sounds a bit creepy. Oh well, that's what we are stuck with. That said sometimes the easiest way to gain a follower is simply to follow someone. And if you get followed, consider following back out of courtesy. If I notice someone I follow is spamming my activity view, I don't think twice to unfollow, though. That is the cost of automation I think. If you do automation wrong, you'll just piss people off.
Maintaining a PresenceAs I mentioned earlier tools like Buffer and TweetDeck are somewhat invaluable. In addition it is possible to develop some simple automation on your own. It all depends on your goals. TweetDeck is fine if you want to adopt a more interactive tactic. If you just want to get that tweet or two out per day, perhaps Buffer or a custom hack is the way.
The nice thing about Buffer is that it allows you to send the message to multiple platforms at once although that comes with a cost. If you can afford it, perhaps it is worth it. But on the other hand it might be equally attractive to develop something similar on your own. It's not rocket science.
Besides getting content out it is important to spend some effort on design. Make sure your Twitter image looks good. Same goes for the profile page and description. Small things that make a big difference.
ConclusionI hope this post gave you some idea on how to approach Twitter. It is a valuable medium that can be a powerful marketing tool when applied right. Personally I want to move more towards automation. I am also interested in working on analytics to know which content resonates and what doesn't. Maybe tweet timing can be optimized somehow. In addition it would be somewhat interesting to make it easier to generate quality content (ie. analyze popular tweets and such) but that's another story.
It would be very cool to hear what kind of approaches you are using. Is there some specific technique you would like to share?