Let me start off by saying that Guy Kawasaki is smarter and more successful than I'll ever be, he leverages Twitter like a master, and over the years I've learned a lot from him and his columns.
I was recently reading a post from Guy entitled How to Use Twitter as a Twool. There's a bunch of great advice in the post, but I found one piece of advice that I just couldn't swallow:
"Get as many followers as you can. I recently explained what I do to get more followers. Ignore people who tell you that it's the quality of your followers not the quantity. They're trying to make friends, not use Twitter as a tool. And, truth be told, there are only two kinds of Twitter users: those that want more followers and those that lie. You can follow me here."
Mr. Kawasaki, for the record, my pants are not on fire. Twitter is the Swiss Army knife of communication tools; not everyone needs that big ol' knife to get the job done.
For some businesses his advice makes sense: the bigger your following/audience, the more people you can reach. That works if you've got a product or service that can be used simulatenously by tens or hundreds of thousands of people, like Whole Foods, Marvel Comics or Alltop (Guy's business.)
However, having a big Twitter following is time consuming. It's not like getting new subscribers to your ezine where there's no expectation that you'll subscribe to their ezine, or even check out their profile.
I don't have anywhere near the followers Guy has, but I still get 40 - 50 new followers a day. I then check out the profiles and recent tweets of my new followers at the end of the day to see if I want to follow them back. That adds about 30 minutes to my day, every day! I could set up an autofollow back, but I strongly recommend against that as it just increases the number of spammers who clog up your Twitter feed.
If your business doesn't have that size client base—at flyte we generally have 20 active projects at a time, and do business with just over 150 companies during the entire year—quality trumps quality every time.
If this is the case for your business, you might use Search.Twitter.com to find people who need your products or services, or who are talking about your business or industry. For us small business types with a small customer base it's more likely we'll find people talking about our industry than our business by name. Professional organizers might search on "clutter" or "mess", accountants might search on "1040" or "tax rebate" and college admission consultants might search on "SAT" or "college application".
Similarly, if you run a business that's geographically challenged—like a florist, dentist or a restaurant—I'd recommend focusing on local Twitter users. You can use tools like Nearby Tweets or Local Tweeps to uncover tweeters in the hood. Additionally, many smartphone Twitter apps have a "nearby" feature. Follow these local people and chances are they'll follow you back. Also, find out if there are any "tweetups"—where Twitter users get together in real life—in your area and attend those.
Currently there's an army of Twitter users with 15K or 22K or 40K followers who are all following that number plus 10%. This is due to the limits Twitter puts on users to prevent spammers from overwhelming the system. These people are constantly following and unfollowing people to increase their number of followers. What value do these people bring to your business? Will they ever buy from you, or will they just clog your Twitter feed with unnecessary noise?
Twitter is a conversation, not an arms race; despite what Ashton Kutcher might think the first one to a million (or even a billion) followers doesn't "win." Also, a large following of people who are only there to get more followers is not the kind of "engaged" audience that most of us small business owners want.
If I had a business like Alltop.com I'd want as many followers as possible, but as a small business owner with a well-defined audience, I'm more interested in quality over quantity...even if Guy thinks I'm full of it.
If you'd like to learn how to get started on Twitter and build a quality following, check out my collection of how-to videos at The Ultimate Twitter Video Guide. Here's one of the videos about, ironically, how to get more followers on Twitter. ;-)
Oh, and follow me on Twitter!