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One of the biggest mistakes newbies make with marketing on Twitter is this: They put all their effort into crafting the perfect tweet, and don’t give much thought to following people. Heads up: This is probably the single most important thing one can do to create a meaningful social network.

Twitter is basically an ongoing, worldwide social gathering. Like any social gathering where your goal is to network, you want to seek out like-minded, interesting people who would be interested in what you do and what you have to share.

The Twitter search bar is the best way to find these people. Type a keyword or two into the search bar (you can include a place if you want to focus on a certain city or location), and a number of relevant Twitter accounts and tweets should come up.

Should you follow everyone who pops up? Absolutely not. The key here is to find people who are willing to engage with you and follow you back. Take a look at each profile before you follow that user. If the number of people he or she is following is close to the number of people following him or her, then there’s a pretty good chance that person will follow you back. If they have hundreds of thousands of followers but are only following a few hundred, then it is highly unlikely they will follow you back or even interact with you.

Spending a moment or two examining a profile before you hit the “Follow” button will also help you to avoid following automated Twitter accounts (a.k.a. “bots”) that will only spam up your feed. Take a look at some of the user’s tweets to make sure they’re not repetitious or obvious spam. There is a surprising amount of fake Twitter accounts out there — most of them encouraging you to buy followers. Do not get caught up in this. The followers you buy will typically be other fake accounts, and you’ll have just spent hard-earned money to tweet to basically no one.

If someone follows you, it is generally good Twitter etiquette to follow that person back. However, use the same tactics above to determine if that account is a bot or a human. And if it is a human, first ask yourself: Is this person using Twitter to engage in genuine conversation, or just putting out spam?

Once you have followed a large number of people, it is a good idea to start using lists. Twitter lists organize the people you follow into groups. For example, if you want to make a list of local Twitter users, click the “Settings” icon (the little gear wheel) at the top of the page and select “Lists.” Then click “Create List” and give it a name and description. Say you create a list for “Sarasota Peeps.” Now when you run across anyone tweeting in and around the city, you can add him or her to this list. When you want to see only what local users are tweeting about, you simply zero in on your Sarasota Peeps.

You can make a list about any topic, and you can make that list public or private. What’s more, you don’t have to be following someone to add them to a list. This is very handy for keeping tabs on the competition or keeping up with all those famous people who you know won’t follow you back.

Keep in mind that once you’ve followed 2,000 users, there are limits to the number of additional users you can follow. This limit is different for every account and is loosely based on the ratio of your number of followers to the number of people you are following. Every so often it’s a good idea to look at your followers and unfollow people who aren’t following you back. If they are people you still want to keep up with, simply add them to a list.

There are many automated programs out there to handle following and unfollowing, but the more hands-on you are with your Twitter account, the more familiar you’ll be with the people you’ve chosen to interact with your network. And interaction is what Twitter is all about.

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