It’s that time of year again. The school year is upon us, and everywhere you look there are “back to school” specials and sales so kids can start the year with a fresh, new look. So why not jump on the bandwagon? Here’s your chance for a fresh, new start in the social-media world.

Below are some helpful tips on how to build quality audiences on Twitter using your current contact lists (because starting from scratch with zero followers or fans can be hard).

People often first find out that your firm is on Twitter because you follow them and they receive a notification. Once you follow someone, that person can choose to follow you back (which is what you want).

Here’s what users say they look for before returning a follow:

1.     Relevance. Is the Twitter stream of interest to them? Relevant items might go beyond topic, to include location, network, profession, etc.

2.     Engagement. Does this person retweet and interact or just spew links? Has she updated the account in the last day or so?

3.     Humanity. Is this a real person or just a robot? Is he someone most people would want to become acquainted with?

Follow Twitter users who interest you and also those who, based on the above criteria, are likely to follow you back. Below are a few ways to find these targeted profiles.

When you first create an account, Twitter will make several recommendations using their algorithms based on your identified interests, industry, etc.  Look through these and follow accounts that interest you. Follow whomever you want—you can always adjust the people you follow later with no consequence. (Following people on Twitter does not require their approval the way requesting someone’s friendship on Facebook does. And if you decide to un-follow them later, they’ll likely not be alerted to it.) You can also see suggested users to follow at any time by going to your Discover tab and then to Who to Follow. 

1.     Upload Contacts feature. Similar to Facebook, Twitter lets you upload your email lists and then invite contacts to follow you on Twitter. This is a great way to simply alert people that you are on Twitter for the first time or to remind them you’re available through this channel. It even allows you to preview your invite.

2.     Twitter’s search tools. Twitter’s Advanced Search is an awesome, underused tool. Are you looking for clients within a certain geographical location? Do a lot of your clients or ideal prospects work for the same company or partner with similar companies? Which hashtags would your ideal Twitter follower use? All these things can be used to help you find relevant people to follow.

Following these simple guidelines will help you build up your networks. Just remember: It’s the quality—not just the quantity—of people in your audience that will make the difference in your prospecting efforts.

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Amy McIlwain is a professional speaker on social media and President of Financial Social Media, an online marketing firm specializing in the financial industry. She can be reached through her website www.financialsocialmedia.com and on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.