Like many, when I first began using Twitter, I couldn't make a lot of sense out of it. I had very few followers and had no idea why I should bother broadcasting messages to so few. It was much too easy to add followers, but I didn't want to do that and look like I was begging for followers. I also knew that I didn't want to get caught in the trap of tweeting pure nonsense (like what I had for lunch), though some of my early tweets no doubt reflect this insecurity.
In the beginning, I added my friends and also some acquaintances from college. I asked their advice and added slowly. I was surprised when I began being added by others. I tried to post useful information, links, and comments about things I was interested in. This is largely still what I do. I know it risks offending some because I post in the areas of religion and politics. (I am a Christian minister and hold relatively liberal political views.) I try not to be condescending with my views, though my sarcastic sense of humor likely comes across the wrong way (and I should tone it down).
I joined Twitter back when they posted every update from every person you followed in your “stream.” (The Twitter “stream” is simply the flow of updates you receive on your home page or in your Twitter client.) This allowed you to “listen in” on conversations that people you followed were having (via @ replies), find interesting conversation partners, and follow them. Now, Twitter only shows conversation (@ replies) in your stream if both you and the one you follow are following that person. It's a little more difficult to find people now.
To find followers, some people resort to mass follows. They go into other people's follower/following lists and try to follow as many as they can, hoping some will follow back. I don't like this because it appears to be nothing more than an attempt to get a large list. On Twitter, I'd rather have a smaller, more tightly-focused list of people that will have interesting things to say and will be good conversation partners.
So, how do I go about building my Twitter community today? I begin with posting content. I post links to my blog and I post links to articles. Lately, I try not to overdo this. For every link of my own I post, I try to balance it with links to others' articles or RTs of others' content. I also try to maintain a ratio of 10 replies (@s) to every non-reply tweet I make. I do this to be participatory. No one likes someone who does nothing but talk, whether it's about themselves or something else. Real conversation flows; it's a give-and-take. So I want to demonstrate that I am a conversationalist, not a broadcaster.
By the way, those who use Twitter to broadcast are in the right, too. To each his own. It's simply not how I choose to use Twitter, and these posts is about “my” Twitter philosophy.
In the next post, I'll list some specific guidelines I use in posting and in building my follower/following lists.